Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Berlin, Berlin

I had a week in Berlin, before going to my conference in Bremen.  I've really only had a couple of single days to myself in Berlin before this.  This time I wanted to see some of the collections from antiquity, and I began with the Pergamon Museum, which is named for the material it has from the ancient Greek altar of Pergamon, including quite a lot of a large and dramatic frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Gods and the Giants.  The realism and freedom of the figures is astonishing.  I also saw the gate of Ishtar built by Nebuchadnezzar, large and impressive, but only a part of a once much larger structure.  Here there is also an interesting collection of Islamic work, including carved stonework (part of the Mshatta fort), ceramics, metalwork and carpets.  Some highly abstracted designs, and the remarkable stylised Kufic scripts.  Later I went to the Neues Musem to see the head of Nefertiti and the other Egyptian antiquities.  Nefertiti was a very beautiful woman, and the sculptor has even shown some slight wrinkles - no Photoshopping in 1340 BC!

Then I looked for modern and contemporary art, starting with the Museum am Hamburger Bahnhof, which I had visited before - but the works by Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and more are worth a second look.  Also I hadn't previously seen the large room/sculpture of Bruce Nauman called Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care, nor the extraordinary 40 metre long Gartenskulptur (Garden Sculpture) by Dieter Roth.  There was also a special exhibition on Martin Kippenberger, a wild man of 1980s German art with a chaotically varied output, who died of "an excessive life" at the age of 44.

For abstract art there were two exhibitions that particularly interested me.  One was a large exhibition showing works of Paul Klee and Johannes Itten, with special reference to their use of colour.  The two artists knew each other and both worked at the Bauhaus.  I had vaguely heard of Itten as a colour theorist, but he was painting fully abstract works by 1915.  The works by Klee generally have some figurative reference, but there were a couple of abstract works by Klee in the exhibition.  The other "abstract" exhibition was a smaller exhibition of contemporary abstract drawing (not computer-generated), including works of Carsten Nicolai, whose large projection I had seen in Frankfurt.  No photographs for these exhibitions, unfortunately.

The last thing I went to was a strange hybrid, partly a collection of art installations and partly an extended ad for Olympus cameras.  You received a camera on entry, which of course you had to give back, but you were allowed to keep the memory card.  In general the installations were conceptually simple, but effective.  There was one from the British group United Visual Artists using lasers to make an illusory perspectival space.  Perhaps the most engaging was from the sound artist known as Zimoun, which consisted of a sort of tunnel made of large cardboard boxes.  Each box had a ball attached that was agitated by a small motor and drummed on the box.  The combined effect was meant to sound like a rainstorm, and it succeeded.

I haven't mentioned everything I saw, but a year in Berlin would not be enough to see everything.  I'm pleased with what I did manage to see.

Turkish carpet from around 1500 AD

Zimoun's sound installation

Monday, May 6, 2013

European Media Art Festival - Part 2 of 2

The exhibition for the Festival in Osnabrück mostly took place in the Kunsthalle, an art exhibition space which is in part a converted Dominican church from the 13th-15th centuries.  I didn't see anything really ground-breaking, but a number of the pieces were certainly engaging.  Nadal by Paul Destieu (France) consisted of four machines that threw tennis balls to another in a criss-cross pattern.  The arcs of the balls echoed the shape of the Gothic ceiling high above.  The work 500 by Bianca Patricia (Poland) showed a large projection of a small baby playing desultorily with a 500-Euro note (nearly $A700).  Scattered about on the floor were 50,000 1-Euro-cent coins (so 500 Euro worth).  And All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace by Donna Szoke and Ricarda McDonald (Canada) was a simple but effective installation consisting of a pair of eyes on a screen that moved to follow visitors, controlled by a Microsoft Kinect.  Disconcertingly, both eyes were right eyes.  I talked to Donna about this, and the idea was to introduce some strangeness to emphasise that this is a machine.

Kyosei - Coexistence by Lea Nagano (Japan/Germany) was a 360-degree panoramic video based on a view of Tokyo that referred to the earthquake and release of radiation from the Fukushima reactor complex.  The artist was in Tokyo when this happened.  Vanished Forest by Tviga Vasilyeva and Igor Line (Russia/Finland) showed a large image of a forest.  A touch-pad allowed the visitor to select a specific tree, and then sounds recorded from that tree were played.  The forest was an old-growth forest, but has been chopped down for its timber.

The most complex was the ambitious installation The Way Things May Go by a consortium of students from several universities, led by staff members.  This consisted of 13 fairly small separate devices or installations, each of which could perform an action with at least two outcomes.  For example one device agitated ping-pong balls, some of which were yellow, until one jumped into a channel where it passed by a detector which identified it as either white or yellow.  Which colour the ball was determined which device would be activated next.  The installation was inspired by the video Der Lauf der Dinge  by Peter Fischli and David Weiss (also called The Way Things Go - it is 30 mins long - parts of it are on YouTube - check it out).  The project was to make a non-deterministic Lauf der Dinge.  I thought it didn't quite come off as an installation, as only one device was active at once.  The controlling software could have been written to allow say three actions at once.

The two that held my attention most were Versus by David Letellier (France/Germany) and Méchaniques Discursives by Yannik Jacquet and Fred Penelle (Belgium).  Versus consisted of two large black flower-like structures, consisting however of triangular and rectangular pieces,  that could change configuration via a hydraulic mechanism.  They exchanged sounds and movements across the space, and also responded to other sounds in the space.  A combination of incomprehensibility and menace, and a certain delicacy.  Méchaniques Discursives was a video projection by Jacquet onto a wall with quite a few prints (woodcuts I believe) and drawings by Penelle.  The two were designed to work together and did so very well.  The imagery was a combination of Dada and Steampunk (or perhaps Victorian electro-punk, as there were references to radio waves, and an anachronistic defibrillator). 

And there was a lot more!  The Festival was well worth the visit for me.

General view of the main space in the Kunsthalle.

 Detail of David Letellier's installation Versus.

Friday, May 3, 2013

European Media Art Festival - Part 1 of 2

I spent four days at the European Media Art Festival in Osnabrück, Germany (purely as a visitor, not an exhibitor).  The festival takes place here every year, and this was the 26th Festival, so it has been going for quite a while.  There were a lot of Germans here, naturally, but there was a strong international contingent, with people who are working in the U.S.A., Canada, and numerous European countries stretching from Russia to Great Britain.  I'm not sure that there was anyone exhibiting who is currently working in Australia or New Zealand, but I talked with a New Zealander who had a film in the Festival and currently works in Norway - this sort of mobility seems pretty common.

Osnabrück itself is a medium-sized city of about 150,000 people in north-western Germany.  I was able to stay in the middle of the old part of the city, which was obviously badly damaged in World War II, but there are still quite a few old buildings, including some of the towers that were part of the city's defences.  The festival venues were conveniently located close to where I was staying, and some of them made use of the old buildings.

Short films formed the greater part of the Festival, but there was also an extensive exhibition of installations, artist talks, workshops, and some live performances.  Within this there was an extensive stream involving University students from the German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland).  Generally there were about four things going on at once.

I was most interested in the exhibition of installations and in a series of showings of short films under the heading "Konstrukt Film oder filmischer Konstructivismus / Film as a construct or filmic constructivism" (most things were in both German and English).  There were nearly 40 short films in this series. It started off with early experiments in abstract film from the 1920s-1930s, including pieces by Oskar Fischinger, Lázló  Moholy-Nagy and Marcel Duchamp (Anémic Cinéma).  Then it went on to post-WWII pieces, mostly from the U.S.A., including pieces by Harry Smith, Len Lye (Free Radicals), Jordan Belson and more.  Included were a couple of "flicker films" that were really quite hard to watch.  The last session included works from about the last 30 years, including pieces from Larry Cuba and Takashi Ito (Spacy).  Apart from the Len Lye and Moholy-Nagy pieces, I hadn't seen any of these before, though I had heard of some of them.  Since my own videos arguably fit into a constructivist tradition I really needed to see these.

A film I didn't see, but now wish I had, was the longer film (over an hour)  Transcalar Investment Vehicles by Hilary Koob-Sassen (U.S.A./Great Britain).  This was awarded the main prize of the Festival, and an extract was shown at the award ceremony.  I suspect this film will go down as the outstanding event of the Festival.

The robots Vincent und Emily, by Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler and Carolin Liebl

 Performance  Special Effect by Peter Burr