Posted in Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on January 12, 2010
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Bike Bloc

Posted in Sited work by chrisfremantle on December 1, 2009

Brian Holmes writes very well, and his piece Into Information on Productivist strategies suggesting informationist strategies is very provoking, but for sheer compelling, articulate, quality writing, read The Decade to Come.  He ends with a link to the Bike Bloc video.

You can also hear something tantalising in the Guardian podcast from the Arnolfini where Bike Bloc is being tested.

C words at the Arnolfini

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on November 16, 2009

Nina Möntmann’s essay for the e-flux journal, (Under)Privileged Spaces: On Martha Rosler’s “If You Lived Here…” is a useful analysis which could almost be written about the C Words show at the Arnolfini.  Many of the same issues are raised.

This essay was commissioned on the occasion of “If You Lived Here Still…: An Archive Project by Martha Rosler,” an exhibition of the archives of If You Lived Here… running from August 28 to October 31, 2009, at e-flux in New York.

The essay sets out the context of homelessness in New York in the 80s and 90s (for which we could substitute our own circumstances of climate change in the first decade of the 21st Century).  It is precisely the market, as unquestioned driver, which is challenged by both exhibitions.

It discusses the role of the institution, then the Dia and now the Arnolfini, and the decisions leading to this form of work being programmed, concluding by linking this work to wider discussions of ‘institutional critique’ or ‘new institutionalism’.

If You Lived Here… was, like C Words, initiated by an artist/artist group, and drew in work by a number of other artists, through a cluster of linked elements.  The character of documentary art raises questions about the role of art in public life, the reference to things that have, or are, taking place outside the gallery, and the questions that need to be raised about presence and absence, about knowledge and the senses.

One of the precursors to If You Lived Here… is evidently Joseph Beuys’ Free International University at Documenta 6 in 1977. In each of these cases, from Honeypump in the Workplace, through the Reading Room as Asylum Seeker’s home, to PLATFORM’s tent/boat/quadricycle, each seek to make the pedagogical space also a visceral, somatic space.  Each of these works disrupts the artworld production/exhibition/distribution structure.

“Art that can not shape society and therefore also can not penetrate the heart questions of society, [and] in the end influence the question of capital, is no art.”  Joseph Beuys, 1985

Of course the question of time plays a role, and we must be careful not to fall into a narrative structure that values avant gardism, making Beuys the greatest because he is the earliest, and PLATFORM an afterthought, as if it took 30 years for an idea to travel from Kassel, via New York, to Bristol.  Furthermore, whilst Möntmann’s essay provides an effective ‘art history’ of a work, it also leaves many questions hanging, such as the inability of members of the ‘artworld’ attending events during If You Lived Here… to do other than sit silently.

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What art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on November 6, 2009

C Words: carbon, climate, capital, culture, How did you get here and where are we going?
Arnolfini, Bristol

The collaborative practice PLATFORM articulate their work as research, campaigning, education and art. As a result of their long-term project Unravelling the Carbon Web (2000-) PLATFORM have been quoted in the financial and environmental sections of newspapers on subjects including hydrocarbon legislation in Iraq, and Shell’s role in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. At the same time their opera And While London Burns… (2007) was widely reviewed and they are currently the subject (perhaps) of a major retrospective at the Arnolfini.

But this is not a solo show.  PLATFORM have, in microcosm, demonstrated the Movement of Movements: simultaneously inhabiting the Arnolfini (at their invitation) are Ackroyd & Harvey, African Writers Abroad, Hollington & Kyprianou with Spinwatch, the Institute for the Art & Practice of Dissent at Home, the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, the Trapese Collective, and Virtual Migrants.  Plus Amelia’s Magazine, Art Not Oil, Carbon Trade Watch, The Corner House, Feral Trade, FERN, Greenpeace, Live Art Development Agency, new economics foundation & Clare Patey, Sustrans – Art & the Travelling Landscape, Ultimate Holding Company and others.  In parallel Ursula Biemann’s Black Sea Files, Peter Fend and Barbara Steveni are also exhibiting.

The PLATFORM aspect touches on several key points in 25 years of work – the walls have been lined with recycled timber and this frames a tent, a boat, a quadicycle, an image of a strategy game on a burning world stage, and a discussion.  There are a lot of words in the Arnolfini at the moment, but this is an exhibition, not just a pile of documentation.  This is activism brought into the gallery, but it is as animated as activism.  There are events going on regularly, and between the many different contributors and the team of co-realizers, I don’t think you can just walk into the gallery, walk around and say “Seen it” without someone engaging you.  It fights against being objectified, whilst still acknowledging the need for something aesthetic to engage with.

At the Friday afternoon Critical Tea Party there was an interesting discussion about combative art.  Is this exhibition trying to tell you what to think?  Is it propaganda for a leftist agenda? It certainly wants to say: you are complicit in all of this.  Do you the world to be like this?  Just because you are comfortable, is it ok that everything goes to hell and damnation?  Is this what you call justice?

Underlying PLATFORM’s work is a deep understanding of radical educational theory.  Yes, shock tactics are applied, but to the end of making each of us think for ourselves.  Propaganda is about one truth, and there isn’t one truth here.  Here there is one question: what future?

But we can also ask the question “Where is the art?”  For me, I can’t answer this by saying that the installation of the boat, with the chairs placed next to it like a bow wave, is the art, though that has formal aesthetic elegance (and I do like a bit of formal aesthetic elegance).  Of course the art has been taking place in public over the past 25 years, and this is a gallery.  The danger is that all you can put in the gallery is the evidence of something that happened somewhere else. So, for me, it is important that what is in the gallery is something which is present, here and now.

And is this a PLATFORM show?  Or a group show?  Are PLATFORM curators?  Is their work the most important?

And what about the education, research and campaigning?  To discount them from the aesthetic of the practice is to fail to understand its roots in the work of Joseph Beuys.  His idea of social sculpture is central here.

Or to put it another way, Hal Foster says that there is a fault line travelling through the term ‘art history’ because he says that art is judged on its own terms, not, as with history, enmeshed in the world.  If we accept that art is only judged on its own terms (some strange connoisseur’s estimation of PLATFORM vs Beuys vs Kaprow vs APG)  then we dismiss the world.  Whereas PLATFORM want us to understand that life can be art and art life.

So we are left with more questions, but they are in sharp focus.

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Radical Nature at the Barbican

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on August 31, 2009

Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009 is an important exhibition.  Much has been written about it in the papers and on the Eco Art Network.  It is a really valuable opportunity to see seminal works by a range of artists and architects.  I hadn’t seen Beuys’ Honey Pump, nor the film of UkelesTouch Sanitation, nor Smithson‘s film Spiral Jetty, nor any of the Harrisons’ Survival Series (1970-1973).

But I finally worked out the essence of my problem with the exhibition.  The title frames ‘art and architecture’ and there are works by both artists and architects included in the exhibition.  The artists and architects included, particularly the works from the 60s and 70s are radical, there’s no question about that.  But the real radicalism of some of the artists and architects is in the scale of their work, and in the exhibition this is only really conveyed in the Center for Land Use Interpretation work The Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  Even the film of Touch Sanitation doesn’t convey the eleven month performance of shaking 8,500 sanitation workers’ hands and saying to each of them “Thank you for keeping New York City alive.”  The exhibition feels like its driven by a curatorial focus on artwork as object, rather than artwork as question or consideration of context.

The real shared territory between artists and architects is in thinking at scale about boundary, organisation, information, energy, metaphor, systems and people; not the superficial similarity of objects.

Think about Hans Haacke’s Shapolsky et al., Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971,  shown at the Tate’s exhibition Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970 a couple of years ago where he focused on the ownership of tenaments in New York by one family through a network of businesses.  This would have been as relevant an introduction to social ecological concerns.

Think about the Harrisons’ work Peninsula Europe (2001-2003)which presented the European peninsula as single entity considering the role of the high ground in the supply of fresh water to the population.

Think about Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s work 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (2000-2005) which involved the strategic planning of the whole Pittsburgh river system area.  Goto and Collins “addressed the meaning, form, and function of public space and nature in Allegheny County, PA.”  They developed the Living River Principles which were used as a tool for lobbying public officials.  They worked with a team of volunteers to develop monitoring systems documenting land use, geology, botany and water quality.

Or PLATFORM’s work Unravelling the Carbon Web (2000 ongoing) which asks us to understand the social and environmental consequences of oil through multiple iterative works drawing attention to the oil industry and its associated networks to Universities, Government and other corporates, working with inhabitants, NGOs and Unions along BP’s Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and in Iraq.  The purpose of this work is social and ecological justice, but it is also to relate this distant business to the lives of people living in London and the UK.

Or even Peter Fend, one of the most interesting artists, whose work with the Ocean Earth Development Corporation actively seeks to challenge the relationship between art and business by developing approaches to ecological problems through the means at the disposal of artists – colour theory, conceptual synthesis and the use of emerging tools such as satellites.

All of these works:

  1. Are of a scale which touch on or encompasses whole political, social and ecological systems.
  2. Involve communication between artists, scientists, politicians and inhabitants (i.e. in multiple and complex ways, rather than from singularly from artist to audience).
  3. Foreground the connections between living and non-living structures, such that the work is relevant to our daily lives, rather than objects for aesthetic contemplation.
  4. Blur the idea of the artist, raising the question “is it art?” because the work and the artist are also  economist, environmental scientist, planner, etc..
  5. Raise the question, “Who made the work?” breaks down the idea of the artist as individual, because the work is made through the input of a range of people.
  6. Embody diversity of description (something very problematic in museum contexts).
  7. Embody and make relevant all phases of the life-cycle of the art.

Whilst much of the work in the exhibition is also characterised by the above points, it has not been chosen to emphasise these points.  Rather it has been chosen because it meets a different set of criteria, criteria of objectness.  Thus there are at least five works that involve plants in the gallery – Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s Farm, Hans Haacke’s Grass Grows, Simon Starling’s boat for Rhododendrons, Henrik Håkansson, Fallen Forest, 2006.  But the differences between these works, between ironic comment and practical application is lost.  The Harrisons’ work is of a practical character “What can we do in these circumstances?” where Starling’s work has an ironic purpose, raising questions about nativeness and protection.  Haacke’s work Grass Grows is a work that demonstrates the Manifesto he wrote in 1965,

…make something which experiences, reacts to its environment, changes, is nonstable…
…make something indeterminate, that always looks different, the shape of which cannot be predicted precisely…
…make something that cannot “perform” without the assistance of its environment…
…make something sensitive to light and temperature changes, that is subject to air currents and depends, in its functioning, on the forces of gravity…
…make something the spectator handles, an object to be played with and thus animated…
…make something that lives in time and makes the “spectator” experience time…
…articulate something natural…

Hans Haacke, Cologne, January 1965 republished in Art in the Land. A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art, ed. by Alan Sonfist, (New York: Dutton, 1983

The off-site project in Dalston, which I wrote about earlier, is a more interesting work than some in the exhibition, precisely because it was not curated, but rather made.

Nature and purpose of art

Posted in Civics, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 11, 2007

“You see in this country for instance (Britain) writers are not involved in the sort of things I’m doing, because it’s a much more settled society, writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence, the angst of the individual. But for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into that. Literature has to be combative, you cannot have art for art’s sake. The art must do something to transform the lives of a community, of a nation, and for that reason you see literature has a different purpose altogether in that sort of society – completely different from here….

And a writer doesn’t earn money in Nigeria, because although you have a 100 million people, most of them cannot read and write there, so literature has a different purpose. So here I am, I’ve written 22 books, I’ve produced 150 episodes of a T.V. programme which everybody enjoys, but I’m poor!

But that is of no interest to me. What is of interest to me is that my art should be able to alter the lives of a large number of people, of a whole community, of an entire country, so that my literature has to be completely different, the stories I tell must have a different sort of purpose from the artist in the western world. And it’s not now an ego trip, it is serious, it is politics, it is economics, it’s everything, and art in that instance becomes so meaningful, both to the artist and to the consumers of that art.”
Ken Saro-Wiwa from ‘Without Walls’ Interview

What am I reading?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on May 29, 2007

Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People, Heinemann

“As I stood in one corner of the vast tumult waiting for the arrival of the Minister I felt intense bitterness welling up in my mouth. Here were silly, ignorant villagers dancing themselves lame and waiting to blow off their gunpowder in honour of one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation. I wished for a miracle, for a voice of thunder, to hush this ridiculous festival and tell the poor contemptible people one or two truths. But of course it would be quite useless. They were not only ignorant but cynical. ” p2

What art have I seen?

Posted in Exhibitions, Producing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on May 16, 2007

The economics and geopolitics of the abolition

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on May 15, 2007

The wider historical context of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade by Hakim Adi and published on Pambazuka

This essay provides and alternative analysis for the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807 It addresses the role of Africans and working class people, and re-describes the history highlighting economic and geopolitical motivations of the ruling classes in Britain.

Variant Lauch

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on March 17, 2007
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