Saturday, 31 December 2011

Contemporary Art in Majorca ain’t as bad as what it oughta (be).

CCA Andratx (Majorca), Andratx

29 September 2011 - 4 March 2012

Photo: The Long Labb


Having lived in Spain I already knew that Madrid and Barcelona had a lot to offer in terms of contemporary art. Three years ago I visited family in Palma de Mallorca and was surprised to find a whole host of contemporary galleries showing international artists (Richard Billingham and Mark Francis were among the British artists represented). In addition to the commercial galleries Palma boasts two top class “exhibition halls” (Salas de exposiciones). One of which, La Caixa Foundation, is a bank which has other major exhibition centres in other major Spanish cities. Palma also boasts the Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum.
I returned to Palma for Christmas this year and set about investigating what’s on when I came across “CCA” in the town of Andratx (30mins drive from Palma, or an hour on the bus). CCA is “the largest centre of contemporary art on Mallorca”. The bus driver had never heard of it, but it was actually well sign posted, although a little way out of the town. The space is amazing and CCA is a must for any contemporary art lover visiting Mallorca. Andratx is a small, but international town with a large German retiree population. However, CCA is caught in the trap of trying too hard to appeal to everyone. Locals (Spaniards and Germans alike) are catered for with its children’s room, ESPAI (an exhibition space for artists residing in Mallorca) and a commercial print room. More hardened international visiting art aficionados look to be challenged by the best Mallorca can offer. There were four main exhibitions on in the centre when I visited, which has four wings around a quad. One side is taken up with four artist-in-residence studios and a cafĂ©. The reception, shop, print room and a children’s room take up opposite side. The two other sides are called the Kunsthalle and the Galleries.
The first two exhibitions were both eclectic group shows housed in the Kunsthalle wing of the building. The first, in Kunsthalle I, comprised of works from the AFM Collection and I was pleasantly surprised to see work by Phillip Allen, Varda Caivano, Martin Creed, Jim Lambie, Martin Boyce (2011 Turner Prize winner) and many other international artists. The curatorial team of the Art Foundation Mallorca is made up of (CCA director and co-founder) Patricia Asbaek (DK), Barry Schwabsky (US) and Friederike Nymphius (DE). All three are well known experts in Contemporary Art, travelling all year round to the leading art fairs, exhibitions and events taking place on the international art scene to identify the most talented artists and their best pieces for the AFM Collection. This show is a star-studded blockbuster but has no discernible theme, other than its baffling labelling system and the strip-light overload on the ceiling echoing Creed’s work, assembled in neat geometric shapes. The second show, in Kunsthalle II, celebrates 10 years of the centre’s artist in residence programme. The work from selected artists over the last decade was generally good, diverse and…Nordic. The owner of CCA is Danish, but the most represented Nordic nation was Germany.
Thoralf Knobloch Kaminfeuer (2004). Photo: The Long Labb

I had no idea Thoralf Knobloch had done this residency and, as always, it was a pleasure to see one of his paintings. Jonathan Meese (also German) was another highlight although we were spared the full force of his overindulgent self-obsessed gay Nazi porn show installation (which I was lucky enough to catch while in The Hague recently). You can read more about that here, the show’s still on until January 15th so, if you’re in the Netherlands in the next couple of weeks…go on, have an unforgettable experience.
Jonathan Meese. Photo: The Long Labb

Upon entering the galleries wing you come across Wall Sculpture (04.11.11 – 04.03.12), an exhibition by resident artist Paola Ricci. The corridor-esque gallery space was filled with drawings on tracing paper pinned to the walls, hairs stuck to paper (also pinned to the walls), envelopes, strings, lamps (on the floor) casting shadows of the artworks, a linear sculpture made from pointed sticks that reminded me of giant tooth-picks (but were probably barbecue skewers) and sheets of paper (pinned to the walls). The show reminded me of several resident “exhibitions” at the Centre for Drawing at Wimbledon College of Art where, as with this exhibition, I sometimes got the feeling that the artist – pushed for time on a short residency – looked for playful and readily available ingredients to fill the space quickly. Ricci’s work is playful and it’s not by coincidence that her choices of materials are light and ephemeral. Paradoxically, however, you are left with the feeling that her intentions are profound and weighty. Much of what she’s doing in this exhibition falls very much into the language of drawing more than sculpture.
Paola Ricci, Wall Sculpture, Mixed Media (2011). Photo: The Long Labb
The second exhibition in the galleries Unintended Sculptures (10.09.11 – 01.11.11) is by Danish photographer Henrik Saxgren who photographs objects and occurrences which he sees as unintended sculptures. These cool, sexy, large-scale prints are easy on the eye and inviting to like. Exotic places and strange manifestations seduce you. We are told that the artist starts with the assumption that anything in the world can potentially become an art object. The artist has travelled extensively, documenting man-made objects, left to weather, decay and get taken over by the natural environment. Alternatively, we may initially view natural landscapes only to eventually notice the scar of man’s interference. Technically the photographs are superb but the project failed to take me beyond the initial intrigue and challenge my perceptions, feelings or beliefs.
Henrik Saxgren, Unintended Sculptures series.
Photo: The Long Labb

Between the two gallery shows lay a couple of paintings of waves and one abstract reminiscent of Toma Abst, by British artist Rebecca Partridge. In another small, almost hidden, space (ESPAI) resident artist Olimpia Velasco is showing In Non Places (29.01.11 – 27.11.11). These two mini-exhibitions seemed a bit shoehorned in and wouldn’t have been missed if they had not been included at all. In general, although much of the work was good, there was too much of it and no clear theme to the two Kunsthalle shows. It would have been better to delay the AFM Collection show in Kunsthalle I and allow the CCA Collection 10 Years of Residency Programme show to breath and take over both halls. This was an opportunity for the curator to really celebrate the work achieved by the resident artists – perhaps stars like Knobloch and Meese could have been invited back to produce larger showstopper centrepieces. I really regret that this didn’t happen. On the other hand there is a buzz created by such a large amount of work, almost like a degree show. Perhaps this is the intention: to create a lived-in feeling of a space used by artists-in-residence. The residencies are clearly a successful and thriving part of the centre. They only last for about a month and there are four studios so there is certainly a dynamic turnover and output long may it continue, here’s to another ten years.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Top 10 Contemporary Political Artists: 2, Mark Wallinger

I have a recurring, niggling thought, when making this list, that somehow really political artists shouldn't make saleable works (commodities), that the gallery space is inadequate for really political work and that artists shouldn't really work alone: the collective being a political statement in itself.  We have seen examples of collective practice (Casagrande, Chapman Brothers) and artists engaging their public outside the gallery space (Deller, Starling) but these areas remain, perhaps, underrepresented in my list and my number 2 spot goes to the 2007 Turner Prize winning British Artist Mark Wallinger (coincidentally 1997 was the same year Nathan Coley [my number 3] was nominated).
State Britain, 2007

Gene Ray, in his paper for the book The Sublime Now (ed. White & Pajaczkowska, 1999) concludes that the "cultural avant garde" can still make a political difference, but Ray sees the Internet as a more likely forum for political action and interaction than the gallery space.  I think the gallery space can still be used in the manner that Ray calls for.  “State Britain” (2007), where Mark Wallinger recreated Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest is one example.
“On 23 May 2006, following the passing by Parliament of the ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Act’ prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, the majority of Haw’s protest was removed” ( 
 Considering Wallinger’s work in a sublime context we can begin to appreciate its genius.  Not only did Wallinger use pubic money (taken from the state coffers) to re-make something the state had banned, he also managed to place the protest within the government exclusion zone –

“…the edge of this exclusion zone bisects Tate Britain. Wallinger has marked a line on the floor of the galleries throughout the building, positioning “State Britain” half inside and half outside the border” (  
While perhaps the literal meaning of the work is to challenge notions of free speech and to highlight erosion of civil liberties, it also raises questions about authenticity.  Does a replica demonstration do the same job as the “real” demonstration?  Can the real demonstration be considered an original, even though it was comprised of mass produced media imagery?  Can a replica be Art?  The last question certainly requires us to reconsider Benjamin’s definition of Art, where a photograph cannot be considered Art, as the power of Art lies in its “un-reproducibility”, its uniqueness: the power is in its “aura” (Benjamin, W 1943).  State Britain could also be seen as an act of collaboration (with Haw) but not in the sense that niggles me for Wallinger still claims sole credit for the artwork, the ego is still there.  Something else niggles me about this work - it was put up for sale by Wallinger's gallery Anthony Reynolds - a strange decision.  It should come as no surprise that after the Tate Commissioned the work they also selected Wallinger for the Turner Prize short-list (a different kind of politics is emerging here).
Ecce Homo, 1999
Wallinger is well know for State Britain, Ecce Homo (his commission for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square) and for winning the so-called "Angel of the South" Ebsfleet commission in Kent (his giant White Horse).
Half Brother, 1995
Those who have known him longer will remember his photo-real paintings of race horses ("Race, Class, Sex and "Half Brother") which featured in his first nomination for the Turner Prize in 1995.   These early works addressed issues of race and breading as well as immigration (Race, Class, Sex) are depictions of four horses, all offspring of an Arab stallion brought to the UK.  They also tackle part of British Identity.  I saw Mark Wallinger's show No Man's Land at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2001.  According to the gallery:
No Man's Land marks an increasing interest in metaphysics and in systems of belief.
In No Man's Land Wallinger returns to explore religion or rather critique the particular belief system of Christianity.  Is Wallinger reminding us that we are on borrowed time, not on Man's land but God's?  Previous works Ecce Homo and Threshold can be read as exploring Christianity with sensitivity.  Ecce Homo was made in 1999 in the build up to "the millennium" an event that Wallinger felt was extremely secular, like watching the noughts go round on your speedo.  2000 years since what? asks Wallinger.  Ecce Homo is a life sized statue of Christ wearing his crown of thorns, awaiting judgement by a lynch mob.  When placed on the fourth plinth however, the life-sized scale becomes instantly small, vulnerable, human and the sculpture communicates to us as one of us (it could be me up there on the edge of that plinth, on my own).  Threshold to the Kingdom is a video of people coming through arrivals at London City Airport.  Slowed down and accompanied by Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus (written to be sung in the Sistine Chapel) the moment when people come through the double doors reminds us of the arrival at the gates of heaven.  People meeting and greeting their loved ones who have been away for too long remind us of Christianity's promise that we will be reunited in the afterlife.
Prometheus (Installation), 2001

In Prometheus Wallinger refers to a bygone belief system through both the title and the endless loop of the video.  In the Greek myth Prometheus gave life to clay (creating mankind) but was punished for doing so by Zeus who had him tied to a rock and an eagle eat his liver everyday, only for it to grow back at night.

Prometheus, 1999
Prometheus is also a comment on the phrase "playing god", both in the Greek myth and in Wallinger's content.  Prometheus is, after all, a video of an execution by electric chair.  The two minute video plays on an endless loop which rewinds and begins again and again, reminding us of the myth but also of the perpetual stays of execution that US prisoners have to endure (Dead Man Walking for example).  As the video rewinds, the unpleasant noise and the sped-up twitching of Wallinger's fingers and toes remind us of an electric shock.  In fact the victim is not exactly Wallinger but Wallinger's alter ego "Blind Faith" - the blind man character who appeared in the 1997 video Angel.  In the No Man's Land exhibition Prometheus was displayed as an installation, made all the more harrowing as the viewer, upon entering the room, is given a god's eye view of the electric chair which is mounted on the wall.  Close-ups of the victim's hands are displayed on walls to the left ad right revealing the words LOVE and HATE tattooed onto his fingers.
Is Wallinger religious and reminding us that we are not to play god?  Or is he critiquing a belief system through the title of the character "Blind Faith".  No matter.  He is making us look at ourselves and our values.