Monday, October 27, 2014

Art Walkabout, Whitechapel – Raven Row, Union Pacific, Whitechapel Gallery, Carlos/Ishikawa

 Korakrit Arunanondchai at Carlos Ishikawa

During my very first week in London I first went to the Whitechapel area for a Jack the Ripper tour. Yes, silly I know but I have always had a slight fascination with him and it was something to do. The tour was interesting to degrees and tedious at times but more then anything it makes you have a narrative context to how old and how seeped in history London is. Of course the era of Jack the Ripper is so recent comparative to London’s very-very long history but you get the point. The streets, the alleyways and the buildings are much more intact then could be imagined. There is a dense, eerie sort of history in the city that gives it weight as well as beauty.

Well back to the point. This past Saturday I went to Whitechapel for a second time with the purpose of seeing art in the renowned and newer galleries of this area. It was a refreshing sort of day.  One of those days in which things felt accomplished and that is very much due to the stellar quality, diversity and downright surprises seen on this walkabout.

I started off at Raven Row, which has a dense, and thorough show of the artist KP Brehmer.  I was unaware of Brehmer’s art but was very well introduced to it after seeing this exhibit. Brehmer was (he died in 1997) a political artist in that he visualizes via charts, graphs, and systems of information coding to thus reveal capitalist structures and systems. Don’t roll your eyes yet though. Brehmer’s type of art is perhaps vaguely overthought but there is actually a poetry to it. Perhaps this is due to Brehmer’s proclivities towards music, that most liberating of formula based creation. 

The coding, graphing, mapping and symbols via stamps, flags and a variety of other things in Brehmer’s earlier works was a means to express Capitalist Realism, a now decontextualized movement in which the likes of Sigmar Polk, Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg applied to reflect upon markets and consumerism. Oh the 60s, how fruitful they seemed.  Through these systems Brehmer had formulas in which to create abstractions of line and color as well as incorporation of text.  What relieves some of this headiness is Brehmer’s incorporation of the everyday in his works. This comes thru not only in politically pointed pieces such as when he graphs workers’ happiness and other emotional levels in large scale but  this can also be found in his video works that seems ephemeral, diaristic and loose.

Brehmer’s work may not be your cup of tea but it is something that felt important and frankly refreshing to see in its considerations and attempts to make some sort of change even if it seems idealistically preserved in contrast to this day and age.

Next was a visit to Union Pacific, a very new space, a short walk from Raven Row. On view is a group show. This includes, Olga Balema, Adriano Costa, Jan Kiefer, Aude Pariset, Max Ruf, Yves Scherer, Julie Born Schwartz and Pedro Wirz. The theme is something to do with the Union Pacific train, the I-Ching, and Magellan.  But seriously they lost me right away with their PR but onto the show.  It is one of those shows that feels like other shows you have seen numerous times before. A certain cadre of artists in a room together and it is ‘cool’ so who cares if it is ‘good.’ Well I don’t have much time for shows like this but going downstairs there was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment with the video projection by Julie Born Schwartz. Entitled, Love has no reason, 2014, this 18 minute video was engaging and conceptually full.  There are masks, there is an accented older man talking about masks, there are bodies practicing, there are questions about what it means to be happy to exist, there is opera. There is a something that seems not quite there yet with this piece but there is richness, and a potential of even deeper and more visual abilities with just a little more time and budget.

The show is sadly not on view anymore but seek out Born Schartz’ work and pop into Union Pacific for their next show. I’m curious to see which way the wind will blow this gallery.

Then off to the big space in town, Whitechapel Gallery.  This is a revered institution and London loves having their institutions in big old buildings with fabulous cornices, wraparound stairs and wood everything. I love how it feels in these spaces. Anyways, I came to see the Richard Tuttle show, Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language. I liked it. Well, I know that's an easy thing to say but it actually was an A-ok show.  Sure there are things to complain about, like for me, the second floor was too cluttered and some of Tuttle’s poems were just too embarrassing to bare but hey, it’s Tuttle, that’s his thing, and he is certainly allowed to be himself at his own show. I really loved the smaller works right to the left in the fist floor galleries. They are from his Section VIII series from 2007 and they are almost hand-sized works that slightly jut out from the wall and have miniature assemblages of fabric, wire, mesh and wood. They were downright endearing. They also reminded me of John Chamberlin’s small early collages of paper and thread that I saw at his retrospective at the Guggenheim. Both of these instances were surprising and a breathe of fresh air.

The Tuttle show was a nice thing to see indeed and to have an even more fulfilling visit to this institution, I was treated to Kadar Attia’s Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs Ladder as well.  Here Attia takes his system of gathering and arranging books on industrial shelves and in this case he used the materials of Whitechapel’s library to create an infinity box of sorts with mirrors and light in a surround of these books. It was a little ba-duh-dunt but hey, Attia still has lots of cred in my book for he had one of the few works at Documenta 13 that I enjoyed.  Attia’s work and the Tuttle’s show made me impressed and satisfied with Whitechapel’s international aplomb.

Lastly I did a small walk over to Carlos/Ishikawa to see Korakrit Arunanondchai’s 2557 (Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2) (with Korapat Arunanondchai). I really didn’t know if I was going to like this show because to be honest I am not a huge fan of the general aesthetic and trendiness of Arunanondchai’s work. I came in with that suspicion in tact but openly suspended and I have to say (admit maybe) that I really actually enjoyed the show. 

You walk into the gallery from a work yard muddy space and there is music (well at least when I entered) playing.  In front, almost aggressively so, there are mannequins wearing outfits of what is now trademark Arunanondchai textiles and design; denim, bleached denim, fire. The colors red, yellow, white and blue abound.

Then there is a large room and here there are more mannequins.  A cluster in front is wearing red Manchester United jerseys and they are pointedly watching a low, large flat screen TV that is playing a looping video piece. Additionally, there are other mannequins standing more to the periphery and to the back and they have an assortment of outfits that will re-occur in the video. There is a wraparound of paintings that are also cued back into the video and finally there are piles of beanbag and large square pillows covered with the same familiar trademark patterning. This seating is conflated by the presence of a deluxe massage chair, which is also covered in the bleached denim textile.

So there is all this stuff in this room but this is just background, surrounding, ambiance which has deeper narratives of consumerism and life as set design but for now let’s focus on the actual interesting part of this show which is the video. There are three parts to it and it is of Arunanondchai and his twinsie-more-norm-other and their mini journey to some sort of self-actualization. They go to a music festival, they go to a temple, they make paintings together, they plant a plant. Then there are other parts, parts that feel made at other times, maybe months or years apart. These include recording of performances, other shows, going to the hills, floating on water. Then there are interspersed edits of pop and current events like earthquakes, news casts and painting displays.  These are looped together and they seem awkward because there are degrees of successes and failures within each that might have been better separated. This build-up loop though seems to be important to Arunanondchai because it feels like some never ending cacophony. Which is sort of like how life is and definitely like his other aesthetic proclivities.

There is faux poignancy, faux ecstatic, faux coming of age. In this complete fakeness there is a self-reflexivity, a knowing of this and by knowing, being, embracing, and in becoming this cliché there might actually be a point of freedom. Maybe. I might be being too generous in my reading of this video, of this show but it took me to all these places of dislike, like, emotion, resentment, boredom and in the end I felt okay about it and about any grudge toward the baggage that comes with Arunanondchai’s type of art. At one point in the video Arunanondchai (talking in Thai) says through a series of clips reflecting on his art and how he may feel about it in the future that it is, ‘Sad, funny, ironic, this is all I have.’ Simple, yes, redundant yes, but there is something refreshing in being so able to be captivated by this whole mess we live in.

For those who like Arunanondchai’s work I recommend seeing this for those who don’t or are on the fence, give it a try. It is the first instance in which I feel he got to do what he wanted which is really for the viewer to spend time with the videos which are not the best things I have seen but have much more to them then expected. Also, use that massage chair! It’s really relaxing and it makes the absurdity of the show extra ironically sublime.