ARSENALE I: POST QUALITY CONTROL

7 Sep

As its name suggests the Arsenale is part of the former naval yards where La Serenissima built and sustained its seagoing dominance from the 13th century onwards. Now, with the inclusion of the Corderie (formerly used for rope making), the buildings form an exceedingly long, thin gallery. Somehow I missed the notoriously ghastly and universally castigated work offered this year in the Italian pavilion that is part of the complex, but by all accounts I did myself a favour.

IN WHICH THE CURATOR STARTS AS SHE MEANS TO GO ON (RANDOMLY AND NOT VERY COMPETENTLY)

At the part of the Arsenale I did access, Song Dong’s installation is a discouraging omen to put at the building’s entrance. It’s the first of several “parapavilions” supposedly intended for “mutual exchange” between artists but with results that more closely resemble mutual and incestuous masturbation. This parapavilion comes from the Steptoe’s Yard/Load of Old Junk school of art that enjoys a perennial and baffling popularity with certain artists and curators.

It’s big, if that counts as a merit. The fact that it’s made from reclaimed bits of old building lends the thing its only vaguely interesting trait: that musty, stifling smell of old wood irreversibly permeated with the odours of work or life. Unfortunately this aspect seems too poetic and Proustian for somebody so apparently unimaginative to have done it on purpose. I think I probably laid that on the work myself so I didn’t just turn around and walk straight out again. This could be the lazy work of a huge swathe of artists from anywhere in the world.

HEALTH AND SAFETY REGULATIONS ARE USEFUL

The only thing I wanted to know about Roman Ondák’s dark room installation was how to get out of it. Repeated later with Meris Angioletti; another darkened room, another immediate and total failure to engage. This is quite a common thing at large art exhibitions. When there are a hundred other things to see, losing your audience within the first few seconds is not a sensible tactic. Let’s just be glad that EU safety regulations mandate a clearly labelled and illuminated exit from these darkened banality cubes. I love you, green icon of a fleeing man.

POST BLACK

Andro Wekua’s quasi-architectural models are sometimes apparently or really made of concrete, sometimes forming complete, plausible structures and at others just stage set façades. All of them are distressed and battered like a model village after civil war in 1:12 Land. Very evocative and with no hint of the twee or condescending; these things have been well made, with serious intent. We have an artist, here.

Nearby there’s some paint thrown at a plinth, a neon triangle and Franz West’s second parapavilion is a pathetic dog’s dinner, seemingly the result of undergraduates who all hate each other floundering without guidance in the first year of their art course. Rashid Johnson reminds everyone that he is black by putting references to famous black people in all of his works, which look a bit like the mantelpieces of OCD sufferers. Thanks, Rashid. Congratulations.

Johnson’s Wikipedia page refers to him (hilariously) as “post black”. Brilliant, how does that work? To be fair, this may be the kind of stupid label that’s been put on him by somebody else, especially when he seems to be going out of his way to make work that’s “very black” as opposed to “post black.”

I know that not everyone agrees, but I’m 100% in favour of artists being defined by their work instead of what they look like or what their background is: this includes a wish that some artists would stop letting themselves be defined precisely and exclusively by what they look like or where they come from and not by their work.

In any case, “post black” is a ridiculous phrase. Does it mean somebody is still black but nobody else can tell any longer? That they refuse to use the word “black”? Or that somebody has somehow deliberately stopped having the skin colour generally referred to as “black”? I’d like to be post white, please, who do I need to see about making it happen?

YOUR DRUNKEN SMARTPHONE SNAPSHOTS ARE ART

The Chinese (or should I say “post Asian”?) duo calling themselves Birdhead cover a large amount of wall with their unframed A3 prints documenting what passes for artistic bohemianism in China: getting totally pissed, mild horseplay, pulling faces, taking blurry pictures of random junk that you see and you think is funny when you’re totally pissed. There’s nothing remotely resembling a critical distance or an engagement with anything resembling an issue or an idea.

Either of these two tactics would be acceptable, but all we get is the impression (again) that artists spend most of their time getting drunk and that they only call themselves artists because they’re unemployable and they can’t be bothered to do any work… which is obviously reinforcing a stereotype that those of us who actually work and use our heads in the profession could well do without.

At least coming from China they can perhaps be excused a little for keeping things studiously shallow and unchallenging, since over there you (plus your family and friends) can be disappeared and tortured for saying the sky is blue or shit stinks, let alone publicly exhibiting signs of intelligence or individuality. Ask Ai Weiwei. What’s your excuse, European and American artists?

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One Response to “ARSENALE I: POST QUALITY CONTROL”

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  1. ARSENALE VI: FILM PROJECTOR MORATORIUM, PLEASE « CAREER SUICIDE - 15/09/2011

    […] is also a black and white photography=SERIOUS merchant, as seen previously with Birdhead’s B&W prints of themselves getting liquored up then riding each other like horses and on numerous occasions elsewhere, in Shannon Ebner’s work, and Dayanita Singh’s, and […]

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