Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making Worlds, Building Bridges at the Venice Biennale

A project that will redefine the exhibition venues at the Arsenale and Giardini was approved by the Biennale Board on 12th December. At the Arsenale, the Italian Pavilion in the Tese delle Vergini area will be enlarged, expanding into another facility and facing the adjoining Giardino delle Vergini. The Pavilion will be linked by a new entrance to the Arsenale via a bridge to be built between the Garden and the Castello neighbourhood. The board is hoping the renewal will be in place for the 53rd International Art Exhibition (7th June - 22nd November 2009).

The Biennale intends to rename this new facility as "Padiglione Italia". The Board also proposed the City Council to change the name of the historical building in the Giardini area, that is to bear the name of "Palazzo delle Esposizioni" of the Venice Biennale. This will emphasize its new nature, considering that this facility will be open all year round both for exhibitions and for the audience.

La Biennale di Venezia
Making Worlds
The 53rd International Art Exhibition
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Friday, December 12, 2008

Whitney Announces Curators for 2010 Biennial

Carol Vogel reports in today's New York Times that Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari have been selected as curators for the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Bonami, fifty-three, is a seasoned Italian-born curator with an international reputation, while Carrion-Murayari, twenty-eight, is a homegrown senior curatorial assistant. Bonami will serve as curator for the biennial, with Carrion-Murayari acting as associate curator.

“It seemed like a good fit on a lot of levels,” said Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s chief curator. “Francesco is well known to the Whitney”—he helped organize the Rudolf Stingel retrospective in 2007—“and he has been thinking about and looking at biennials. Gary is about investing in a younger generation of curators. Not youth for youth’s sake but tapping into the way they see.”

This year, the biennial spilled over into the Park Avenue Armory for part of its run. At other times, it has spread into Central Park. The 2010 edition, it seems, will be a more concentrated affair, occupying only the museum’s landmark Marcel Breuer home. The two men also said they were considering weaving works from the Whitney’s holdings into the biennial, which would be a departure. “We have talked about using the permanent collection,” Carrion-Murayari said. “We definitely want to consider it.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Abu Dhabi to Stage Independent Exhibition at Venice Biennale

Abu Dhabi—Although the United Arab Emirates as a whole will have its first-ever pavilion at the next Venice Biennale, from June 7 – November 22, 2009, Abu Dhabi has announced it will mount its own independent exhibition as well, reports Artnet. The show's goal is to represent the "contemporary visual arts and culture from the perspective of Abu Dhabi and beyond."

The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage has tapped Paris–based curator Catherine David to organize a "Platform for Venice" for the biennale, which will see her produce a survey of the city "visually interpreted by photographers, artists, and filmmakers from the region and abroad." David directed Documenta 10 in Kassel in 1994–97, the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam in 2002–04, and will curate the 2009 Lyon Biennial. (ARTINFO)

La Biennale di Venezia
Making Worlds
The 53rd International Art Exhibition
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Frohe Weihnachten!

Johann Dieter Wassmann, untitled, Dessau, 1895. Albumen silver print, 18 x 23 cm

Always the first with new technology, and saddened in the knowledge that once again this year I have faint chance of getting around to posting Christmas cards to MuseumZeitraum’s many friends, I have decided to experiment by sending greetings harnessing the latest in communications awareness. So here’s a warm cheerio this holiday season to you and yours, via Google-alert. Knowing full well that every damn one of you has a Google-alert on yourself (what a vain lot we are in the art world - as Sarah Thornton will attest to), if you clicked through to see whose company you're keeping in the blogosphere after receiving your alert, happy holidays from all of us here at MuseumZeitraum! And as long as you’re here - gathered together on this cold winter’s night (unless you're still in Miami) - how about joining in the festive moment by adding a greeting down below.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all… Gute Nacht.

Jerry Saltz & Roberta Smith, Daniel Birnbaum, Paolo Baratta, Gabriel Orozco, Jeff Wassmann, François Pinault, Knight Landesman, Charles Guarino, Tony Korner, John Baldessari, Yve-Alain Bois, Paul Grabowsky, Ai WeiWei, Abigail von Bibera, Francesco Bonami, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Onkwui Enwezor, Walid Raad, Harold Rosenberg, Charles Saatchi, Roman Abramovich & Daria Zhukova, Ed Ruscha, Beatrice Buscaroli, Luca Beatrice, Jochen Volz, Savita Apte, Tom Eccles, Hu Fang, Maurizio Cattelan, Vanessa Beecroft, Francesco Vezzoli, Sally Smart, Magdalena Sawon & Tamas Banovich, Jan Verwoert, Jennifer Higgie, Jörg Heiser, Mary Boone, Jeff Poe & Tim Blum, Paul Chan, Doug Aitken, Zhao Bandi, Benjamin Buchloh, Jim Hart, Lee Rosenbaum aka CultureGrrl, Amy Cappellazzo, Dara Mitchell, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Roger Buergel & Ruth Noack, Paula Cooper, R. Crumb, Larry Gagosian, Jay Jopling, Tacita Dean, Hal Foster, Sarah Thornton, Damien Hirst, Laura Hoptman, Rosalind Krauss, Holland Cotter, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Jan Avgikos, Ute Meta Bauer, James Elkins, Sussane Ghez, Thomas Crow, Richard Flood, Pamela Lee, Molly Nesbit, Michael Kimmelman, Lynn Cooke, Isabelle Graw, Jori Finfel, Tim Griffin, Don McMahon, Jeff Gibson, Michael Kuo, Scott Rothkopf, Elizabeth Schambelan, Kyle Bentley, Alexander, Scrimgeour, Laura Hoffmann, Barry Schwabsky, Carolie Busta, Nicole Lanctot, Lloyd Wise, Germano Celant, Dennis Cooper, Arthur C. Danto, David Frankel, Bruce Hainley, John Kelsey, Kazue Kobata, Donald Kuspit, Rhonda Lieberman, Greil Marcus, Declan McGonagle, Ida Panicelli, Robert Pincus-Witten, Peter Plagens, John Rajchman, David Rimanelli, Katy Siegel, Philip Tinari, Jack Bankowsky, Jean-Hubert Martin, Rosa Martinez, Maria de Corral, Cordula Grewe, Andreas Gursky, Lenore Manderson, Giancarlo Politi, James Meyer, Renee Price, Michael Lewis, Abigail Solomon-Goreau, Ulrich Keller, Hal Foster, Chrissie Iles, Hou Hanru, Peter Galassi, Maria Morris Hambourg, Sylvia Wolf, Madeleine Grynsztejn, Chris Ofili, Gerhard Richter, Peter Schjeldahl, David Zwirner, Carol Vogel, Kathy Halbreich, Sir Nicholas Serota, Iwan Wirth, Eli Broad, Steven A. Cohen, Brett Gorvy, Tobias Meyer & Cheyenne Westphal, Richard Prince, Dominique Lévy & Robert Mnuchin, Michael Govan, Marc Glimcher, Annette Schönholzer, Marc Spiegler, Alfred Pacquement, Matthew Slotover & Amanda Sharp, Barbara Gladstone, Matthew Marks, Agnes Gund, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, Dakis Joannou, Bernard Arnault, Sadie Coles, Julia Peyton-Jones, Donna De Salvo, Don Rubell & Mera Rubell, Ann Philbin, Paul Schimmel, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Michael Ringier, Jose Mugrabi, Alberto Mugrabi, David Mugrabi, Chris Kennedy, Olafur Eliasson, Harry Blain & Graham Southern, Peter Doig, Bruno Brunnet, Nicole Hackert, Philipp Haverkampf, Marlene Dumas, Gavin Brown, Victoria Miro, Mitchell Rales, Yvon Lambert, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Banksy, Emmanuel Perrotin, William Acquavella, Victor Pinchuk, Cai Guo Qiang, Maureen Paley, Thelma Golden, Ralph Rugoff, Robert Gober, Iwona Blazwick, Richard Armstrong, Massimiliano Gioni, Reena Spaulings, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Shaun Caley Regen, Liam Gillick, Miuccia Prada, Francesca von Habsburg, Christian Boros, Nicholas Logsdail, Subodh Gupta, Peter Nagy, Casey Reas, Anita Zabludowicz & Poju Zabludowicz, Guy Ullens & Myriam Ullens, Laurent Le Bon, Thomas Kinkade and Anna Wintour.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Making worlds of our own

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Hôtel de l’Étoile, 1897, 140 x 51 x 26 cm.

While Daniel Birnbaum is busy weltenmachen for the 53rd Venice Biennale next summer, here at MuseumZeitraum we’re no less frantic making rooms to house the constructed worlds of Johann Dieter Wassmann for our September 2009 opening. Despite our all-too-well chronicled financial difficulties earlier this year, MuseumZeitraum is back on track, a little wiser and a little leaner maybe, but still surviving. In the current climate, can you ask for much more?

Here’s a photograph of Johann Dieter Wassmann’s charming Hôtel de l’Étoile, 1897, installed in the museum’s newly completed entry for a recent function. Several galleries are also near completion, as are staff offices, which, while meagre, are functional.

Until the winds of change bring some warm breathe of hope to our beleaguered planet, plans will remain on hold for completion of the museum’s conference room, library, café and conservation facilities.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Christov-Bakargiev appointed director of Documenta 13

Writing in Rupert Murdoch's The Australian, Corrie Perkin reports that Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has been appointed new artistic director of Documenta 13. Christov-Bakargiev has until 2012 to research and plan her exhibition. Like her predecessors, the curator will travel internationally to observe current art practices. In recent months, the ten-person selection panel, which included Kathy Halbreich, associate director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Joseph Backstein, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow, whittled down the list of candidates to six. Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, who was on the Documenta 13 selection panel, describes the German event as the “art Olympics.” She says the artistic director’s role “is probably the plum job in the art world because of its high profile, but that high profile also makes it problematic. Carolyn’s appointment will cause a lot of discussion, as these things usually do.”

No Expense Spared As Arab Nations Party Their Way to the Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale is to play host to the first pavilion from the United Arab Emirates next year.

If anyone is in any doubt that the Gulf states are a coming power in art and culture, then lay it to rest. The Venice Biennale - that barometer of the ebb and flow of artistic trends - is to play host to the first pavilion from the United Arab Emirates next year. If there's a political message here, it's that the UAE is not just building cultural palaces - witness Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island, where a performing arts center by Zaha Hadid and a Guggenheim museum by Frank Gehry are also being constructed - but also producing artists, though none have yet been named for Venice. One thing's for certain: no expense will be spared.

Meanwhile, in Qatar, the vast new Museum of Islamic Art in Doha opened to the public on Monday. Designed by IM Pei, it houses a stupendous collection of Islamic artworks; the chair of the board is Sheikha Mayassa, daughter of the emir. The opening celebrations were apparently lavish: wonderful food, a performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and all the movers and shakers in attendance - Tate director Nicholas Serota, British Museum director Neil MacGregor, both the outgoing director and the director designate of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. No demon drink, of course - which certainly makes a change from boozy British art parties, not least Monday's Turner prize.

The Guardian Newspaper 12/2/2008

La Biennale di Venezia
Making Worlds
The 53rd International Art Exhibition
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Manhatta (1921)

Making worlds... making cities.

Manhatta (1921), an experimental film by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand. A modernist vision of old New York, this 10 minute delight was restored over the past two years and screened at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this month. For more on this landmark work, here's an article in The New York Times.

Paris-Vienna-Düsseldorf (1892-1897)

Making worlds... making progress!

The early modern photographic works of Johann Dieter Wassmann.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I can see Saturn from my house.

Ragnar Kjartansson (Iceland), God, 2007.

Turin, Italy – What was billed as the opening night of Daniel Birnbaum’s 50 Moons of Saturn for the Turin Triennale became instead a celebration of the triumph of democracy as the champagne flowed long into the night, first at the Triennale and later at the palazzo of collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, honouring the victory of President-elect Barack Obama. If not for all the art on the walls and a lot of people speaking Italian, we could have just as easily been in Chicago’s Grant Park with Oprah for all the joy oozing from the crowd over the election of the United State’s first African-American president.

Nicolas Sarkozy could have spoken for each and every one of us when he wrote in a personal note to Obama, “As we all face tremendous challenges, your election brings to France, to Europe and across the world tremendous hope.”

As for the art, it was good, it was very good, but you might better go to the Triennale’s website for a description, the night belonged to Obama. And by the way, if you’re leaving one of the Venice Biennale openings for Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos… in a few months time, and a handsome young Icelandic artist asks to borrow money for the cab ride home, you can kiss those lire goodbye.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Making Worlds: Speculations on the 53rd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia 2009

04.11.08 Leipzig-München-Milano-Torino IC89

With 5 hours down and 10 to go – Leipzig to Turin by rail – I thought I’d peck out a post via iPhone and a very intermittent IC/3G line. Connections permitting, tomorrow night I’ll join Daniel Birnbaum for the opening of 50 Moons of Saturn at the Turin Triennale. Eight months from today, we’ll meet again for a week of openings celebrating Daniel’s directorship of the 53rd Venice Biennale.

Much praise has already been lauded on Daniel’s choice of artists for Turin, but his picks for Venice remain shrouded in secrecy. If I have any luck in lifting the shroud in Turin, I’ll report back; in the meantime, speculation remains rife as to his interpretation of his chosen theme for Venice: Making Worlds.

In a statement released Friday by Biennale president Paolo Baratta, Daniel is quoted as saying he’ll be looking at relationships between key artists and successive generations. “A number of historical reference points will anchor the exhibition. These artistic roots are still active, productive. They give energy to the branches of the tree of art, and perhaps also to that which emerges today, to the ‘sprouts’. I would like to explore strings of inspiration that involve several generations and to display the roots as well as the branches that grow into a future not yet defined”.

The key question arising then: where to begin? How deep can one dig in looking for roots when curating a contemporary art exhibition? On the first leg of my journey from Leipzig to Munich this chilly November morning, it was hard not to imagine Caspar David Friedrich at every bend in the river… leading one to ponder Anselm Kiefer kicking off his career photographing himself in Friedrichesque poses, in emulation of the romantic icon, aka Wanderer Over the Misty Sea. In 1980, Kiefer represented the Federal Republic of Germany in the 39th Venice Biennale, completing the tree – roots, branches, sprouts – but does the curator reach as far back as Friedrich for inclusion?

Likewise, the work of Johann Dieter Wassmann has weighed in with enormous influence over the past century, even if his work is little known outside the German art world. Wassmann was in attendence at the opening of the very first Venice Biennale on 30 April 1895 – he had travelled to Venice that spring to consult on the city’s woeful sewerage system – but his art work has never been shown in Venice subsequently. The first to grasp his importance was Kurt Schwitters, followed by Duchamp, Cornell, Rauschenberg and many others – the roots, the branch, the sprout – but does he too deserve a place in Venice? Those of us here at MuseumZeitraum would certainly like to think so, but it will be for Daniel to decide how deep the roots run.

We can rest assured he won’t be following the Museum of Modern Art’s canonical model of the 52nd Exhibition. Some may make it, Louise Bourgeois (pictured) and Elizabeth Murray would be strong contenders, but it’s unlikely the big boys will be leaving 53rd Street.

More likely, Daniel will be scouring the margins of European intellectual circles for artists influenced by fellow philosophers and theoreticians. Figures such as Edmund Husserl and Gilles Deleuze will wield a strong hand. Artists under their gaze would include Paul Chan, Tacita Dean, Doug Aitken, Stan Douglas and Pierre Huyghe.

We can also assume several of the Italian artists chosen for Turin will be making a command performance in Venice. Rarely has a director had the opportunity to look so closely at Italy’s contemporary art scene in the year prior to their appointment, allowing something more substantial than the usual token inclusion of Italian artists.

Few curators know the work of contemporary artists here in central and northern Europe as well as Daniel either, so we can expect his choices to be well conceived – let’s just hope they’re not too predictable.

Regionally, there is considerable pressure this year to include a larger number of artists from Asia and the Middle East; with traditional funding tenuous at best (Deutsche Bank announced Monday it has withdrawn funding from the German Pavilion), it may be tempting to rely on better-funded institutions in Dubai, Shanghai, Tokyo and elsewhere in the region for assistance. Government officials from Hong Hong met this week with Paolo Baratta, releasing a communiqué signalling closer cultural ties with the Biennale. The origins of art movements in these countries are poorly known in the West, so here too there is considerable scope for delving deeply into the psyche of the region, arcing fully from the roots of the cherry tree to the blossom.

His choice of title – Making Worlds – was the moniker for an exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery earlier this year, so let’s hope he gives the Kiwis a ‘fair go’. Neighboring Australia has been a wasteland for contemporary art in recent years, so it seems unlikely he will find much of interest in the land down under.

Also interesting will be how he handles Africa and the Americas. The Africans are represented more and more in the Pavilions, but after Robert Storr‘s debacle it will be curious how Daniel chooses to handle the sub-continent in the big tent. Jochen Volz, curator of the 27th São Paulo Biennial and a colleague of Birnbaum's in Frankfurt, is helping to organise the international section, so Latin America will be thoroughly covered. We may well see artists such as Juan Araujo, Mabe Bethônico and Marilá Dardot. Additional curators assisting with selection include Savita Apte (India and Art Dubai), Tom Eccles (Glasgow), Hu Fang (Guangzhou) and Maria Flinders (Art Basel).

The big loser is likely to be North America; well-represented in the Pavilions, in the commercial fairs and in the 52nd, it may be tempting to give short shrift to this part of the world in lieu of emerging artists and nations.

And then there’s Beuys.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Making Worlds
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
La Biennale di Venezia
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Monday, November 03, 2008

Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos

On Friday, Venice Biennale director Daniel Birnbaum announced the title for his 2009 exhibition will be Making Worlds. Carrying on from his thinking for the Turin Triennale, 50 Moons of Saturn, which opens Wednesday night, Birnbaum appears set to continue his longstanding interest in the metaphysics of space and time. In the opening passage of CHRONOLOGY (Sternberg Press: 2005) he writes, “I tend to return – eternally – to the Eternal Return.”

The life of Johann Dieter Wassmann (1841-1898) was one similarly preoccupied by the metaphysical qualities of space and time – both in his art, as well as in his professional role as a sewerage engineer. In this, the International Year of Sanitation, there are some surprising parallels to be drawn between the field of sewerage management that Johann Dieter Wassmann personified in the nineteenth century and the current art climate that Birnbaum will be divulging with Making Worlds.

Out of the miasma

Until the microbiological discoveries of Robert Koch in Germany, Louis Pasteur in France and John Snow in the UK, among others, disease was seen to spread from miasmatic causes, arising from poisonous exhalations exuded by putrefying animal remains, rotting vegetation and stagnant water: bad environments generated bad air, which then turned pestilential.

The great sanitation works of the mid-century, many of which Wassmann was involved in engineering on the Continent, were directed at expunging waste in order that air might be cleared of miasmas. As the English social reformer Edwin Chadwick described it, “All smell is, if it be intense, immediate, acute disease.” While these engineering works made significant gains in improving the health of urban dwellers, it was not, as Wassmann, Chadwick and others believed at the time, a result of their elimination of miasmas.

Koch’s landmark discovery of microbiological causes for diseases such as tuberculosis (1882) and cholera (1883) led to the most radical paradigm shift in the history of modern sanitation engineering. (It should be noted that these were also the years Wassmann began in earnest his boxed constructions.) No longer was plague and fever attributable to a spatial and temporal presence of this veil of miasma, rather disease was defined microscopically by the presence of bacteria transferable by contaminated water supplies or direct contagion. Suddenly and irrevocably the engineer was forced to cease thinking in the broad, indefinite and expansive terms of the miasma, instead focusing his efforts on the microscopic and definitive world of bacterium.

In our current climate of economic despair and recession, it could be said that the collapse of the global financial system has thankfully lifted a similar miasmatic veil from the art world – one which for too many years has painfully led to a wholesale and myopic belief in the corrupted values of the commercial art market. With this miasma now clearing, it is indeed a critical moment in space and time for Daniel Birnbaum to be exploring the constructed worlds of those artists whose integrity has remained intact through these years of deceit and folly.

Here at MuseumZeitraum Leipzig, we anticipate with earnest Daniel Birnbaum’s vision of a post-miasmatic world.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Making Worlds
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
La Biennale di Venezia
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Sunday, November 02, 2008

La Biennale di Venezia

Biennale President invites nations to open their Pavilions for the rest of the year

, 31 October 2008

The President of the Venice Biennale, Paolo Baratta, along with the Director of the 53rd International Art Exhibition, Daniel Birnbaum, met today in Venice the representatives of the nations participating in the 53rd Exhibition, to be held between 7th June and 22nd November 2009 in the Giardini and the Arsenale main venues (vernissage 4th, 5th and 6th June), and elsewhere in Venice.

The President, Paolo Baratta, began the meeting by informing those present that the Biennale has approved the project by which the paper documents of the Historic Archive of the Contemporary Arts (ASAC) will be moved to the Padiglione Italia (Pastor Wing) in the Giardini, comprising the historic archive, documentary archive, books, catalogues and periodicals. Moreover, by the 53rd Exhibition 2009, the Padiglione Italia will already have been reorganised to offer more space and activities for the public and for educational purposes, with areas also set aside for artists at the exhibition to work. The rooms on the principal facade of the Padiglione Italia will be transformed to provide a bookshop, while those facing the canal will offer a bar-cafeteria, and those towards the Pastor wing will house educational activities, with room for workshops, seminars and meetings.

The transfer of the ASAC to the Pastor Wing, with reading and consultation rooms for researchers and visitors, will transform the Padiglione Italia into a place dedicated to the arts, and able to operate throughout the year. President Baratta also invited the participating nations to follow the example of the Biennale and offer a more frequent use of the Pavilions in the Giardini, and not only for the major exhibitions of visual arts and architecture.

The President also sent special greetings to the countries present for the first time: Andorra, Gabon, Montenegro, Pakistan, Principality of Monaco, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates; greetings were extended to those countries that will take part again in the next Exhibition: Iran, Morocco, New Zealand and San Marino. For this edition, too, there will be selected collateral events, organised by international institutions, which will hold their exhibitions at the same time as the Biennale. The catalogue will be published by Marsilio. The Director, Daniel Birnbaum, is working on the 53rd Exhibition with the help of an international group of experts: Jochen Volz (artistic organiser), Savita Apte, Tom Eccles, Hu Fang, Maria Finders (correspondents).

Inviting Daniel Birnbaum to indicate the main themes of his exhibition, President Baratta recalled that alongside the international exhibition, the Padiglione Italiano would also be opening its doors, organised by PARC - Department for the quality and safeguarding of the territory, architecture and contemporary arts at the Ministry for Cultural Affairs – for which the curators are Beatrice Buscaroli and Luca Beatrice.

Following on from the President, the Director of the 53rd International Art Exhibition, Daniel Birnbaum, outlined the salient points of his exhibition and indicated its title: Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos…

Birnbaum stressed that the 53rd Exhibition will not be divided into sections but instead weave a few themes into an articulated whole, and he pointed out three aspects in particular:

· the proximity to the processes of production, which “will result in an exhibition that remains closer to the sites of creation and education (the studio, the workshop) than the traditional museum show, which tends to highlight only the finished work itself. Some of the works - declared Birnbaum - will represent worlds in the making. A work of art is more than an object, more than a commodity. It represents a vision of the world, and if taken seriously it can be seen as a way of worldmaking

· the relationship between some key artists and successive generations: “A number of historical reference points will anchor the exhibition. These artistic roots are still active, productive. They give energy to the branches of the tree of art, and perhaps also to that which emerges today, to the ‘sprouts’. I would like to explore strings of inspiration that involve several generations and to display the roots as well as the branches that grow into a future not yet defined”.

· an exploration of drawing and painting, with respect to recent developments and the presence in the latest editions of the Biennale of many videos and installations: “the emphasis on the creative process and on things in the making will not exclude works in classical media”.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Next year's Venice Biennale to break with tradition

ROME (AFP) — Next year's prestigious Venice Biennale art show will focus on the creative process, breaking with longstanding museum-style exhibitions, organisers said Friday.

Titled "Making Worlds", the international show, to be held June 7 to November 22, 2009, will be "closer to the process of production and the venues of creation and training -- the studio, the laboratory -- than traditional museum-style exhibitions", said next year's curator Daniel Birnbaum.

Swedish-born Birnbaum, currently head of Frankfurt's Stadelschule Art Academy, is an art critic and philosopher.

"A work of art is more than an object, or a product. It represents a vision of the world and, if taken seriously, can be considered as a way of constructing worlds," he said in a statement.

Among countries to take part for the first time in the 53rd edition of the "Mostra" are the United Arab Emirates, Gabon, Montenegro, Pakistan and South Africa.

Iran, Morocco and New Zealand will be staging a return.

The 2007 edition awarded a Golden Lion lifetime achievement to Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, who will become the first African to clinch the top honour.

The theme for the 52nd Biennale was "Think with your senses -- Feel with your spirit" and hosted 77 national pavilions, as well as artists from around the world.

Editors note: Daniel Birnbaum is presently curating 50 Moons of Saturn for the Turin Triennale, which opens this Thursday, November 6 and continues until February 1, 2009.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the Origin and situation of the Germans

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Et in Arcadia Ego, 1887. 20 x 16 x 12 cm.

As autumn approaches, with the world around us seemingly in free-fall, I thought it might be useful to reflect for a moment on the very birth of our tempestuous modern era. In recent weeks I’ve been looking at the rise of modernist sensibilities in the work of the pioneering German artist Johann Dieter Wassmann. Johann’s later works would come to wholly encapsulate the energy and hopefulness of the modern era, but his early works express an anxiety and apprehension not unlike that which grips us in our current deleveraged age.

In posts over the past several months, I’ve been looking at this contemporary anxiety through the melancholy of Daniel Birnbaum’s upcoming 50 moons of Saturn for the Turin Triennale. By the 1880s, Johann Dieter Wassmann similarly found himself troubled by a deep melancholy, one which he responded to initially by retreating into the romantic past of his forefathers, a response having clear relevance today. From here, I’ll hand it over to Maime Stombock, quoting from her seminal essay, A Carpenter’s Tale:

“It is this very relevance, a relevance permeating his entire oeuvre, that imbues these works with the ability to not only leap through time, entering into our 21st century lives, but more importantly to side-step the rat race of time, a trait unique to the arts in general and great art in particular. I can imagine no sweeter compliment befalling a man whose life’s ambition was to re-unite the wonder of space with the splendor of time, all the more so given how thoroughly disenfranchised the two have since become. The works from these early years would become known as the “Dresden Boxes” after their extended display in a Dresden clinic. (Their brief popularity played a small part in the eventual establishment of Dresden’s Deutsches Hygiene-Museum in the 1920s, an institution that thrives even today.)

“Despite his considerable achievements, Johann felt increasingly troubled as the century hastened toward its close... His suspicion that the deliberate progress of modernity was fast bearing down overwhelmed him with regular fits of fear and uncertainty. When he first caught sight of this brooding monolith his response was to back-pedal his way out of the 19th century and into his romanticized view of an earlier, less pressured era. As he came to feel more at ease with the medium of the wooden box he staged his retreat by venturing into works that he hoped might help him to combat this anguish. Here his creative impulse was most Germanic: a return to the ancient wood, with Goethe looming large, although his influences were equally eclectic. His great love of the American Transcendentalist authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau is apparent in several works. He had grown fond of their writings while living in Washington, D.C., where he consulted on a long overdue sewerage system for the nation’s capitol during Restoration—the first in the world to be built of concrete, a pioneering design solution born of necessity amid the poorly-drained swamplands of the Potomac.

"Whether conscious or not, his impulse to celebrate the ancient wood twenty years later can be read as an unsurprising response to the soulless concrete, brick and mortar that dominated his professional life. Johann had long found solace in the wood, a passion so deeply imbedded in the German psyche it was the subject of the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus’ classic Germania; or, On the Origin and situation of the Germans, recorded in the year 98. For Roman readers, Germania served to explain why these primitive arcadians were such barbarians. For the Germans themselves, Tacitus’ portrayal of them as little more than arboreal hunters, gatherers and warriors was taken as a compliment. Germania eventually became a raw staple in their literary diet, all the more so after the first native translation was published in Leipzig in 1496.

“For Johann, delving into the ancient wood was an essential catharsis, just as it would be a hundred years later for his compatriot Anselm Kiefer. In a letter to his brother Wolfgang, dated November 10, 1885, Johann writes that from the moment his saw broke the grain of his rough planks of birch, oak, pine, beech, ash, walnut, elm or whatever else might be at hand, he was magically propelled through the looking glass, moving into the wood, first physically—as he cut, planed, joined and finished the timbers—and then mentally—as he deliberated what world might inhabit the inner space of these exquisite boxes.

“His experience of the wood spared none of the senses, however. The sweet freshness of pine, the acrid harshness of elm that burned the eyes and throat, the gentle pleasantries of oak: he genuinely believed as his father had that the souls of men inhabited these timbers and only by cutting into them and experiencing them fully could these souls find release. He reminded Wolfgang of the stories their father would tell them as children, the stories they would insist on hearing again and again of the family workshop in the years that followed the Battle of Leipzig, a time when their father himself was just a child. The terrible destruction of the city and surrounding villages had left such an abundance of floorboards, panelling and structural timbers that Leipzig’s woodcutters found no cause to fell a single tree for three years, instead harvesting their bounty from the rubble. But unlike fresh cut timbers, which house only old souls, August commanded to his sons that recycled timbers uniquely house the souls of those more recently departed.

“The oak parquetry of Madame Troufold’s salon, gracefully planed and mitered by their grandfather to make a small corner cupboard, had overwhelmed the workshop for a week with the perfumed elegance of a life cultured beyond their dreams. The softly worn pine floorboards of Herr Zächer’s bäckerie, despite being scrubbed with bucket and brush each morning, had brought such hunger to the journeymen when they cut into them to frame the carcass of a veneered chest of drawers that they finished their daily bread before noon, venturing out to find more before returning to their work. The walnut panelling recovered from Kapitän Brunheld’s library, the walnut that their grandfather fashioned into several fine wardrobes, had surrendered thick smoky tobacco, aged whiskey and a thousand tales of Saxon glory before the wardrobes left the shop. And the narrow ash planks from the stairway of Fräulein Nau’s bordell, the planks their grandfather had hoped to shape into dough bins, brought work to such a halt and lowered the integrity of the conversation to such a degree that he gave up in disgust, burning them as firewood, although the smoke from the fire provoked one of the men to partake in a debaucherous drinking binge lasting three days, ending with his arrest for committing unnatural acts in the public square.

“Wolfgang’s reply to his letter was that old men tell tall tales, so leave it at that, but Johann was undeterred, at least for the moment. While this period was both cathartic and crucial in defining the roots of Johann’s dissatisfaction, and while his output might seem to us today to be quite charming, within the decade he too would come to question the romantic overtones in his response.”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In memorium

The Dresden Boxes (1881-85)

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Schutzen Euere Klempnerarbeit (Protect Your Plumbing), 1883. 70 x 49.5 x 7 cm.

“[Johann Dieter] Wassmann created his first box works in 1881. As an engineering lecturer at the University of Leipzig, he was anxious that creative thinking was being discouraged from education. Relying on the Enlightenment understanding that ‘knowledge is… a kind of visual field and that vision, like science, illuminates reason,’ [Robert Schubert, Brief notes on radical evil, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 1997] he attempted to attract his young male students’ attention by juxtaposing peculiar diagrams of the human body from medical journals, bottles, medical instruments and other paraphernalia in odd ways. Works like Protect your Plumbing 1883 and Amputare 1881 were to encourage interest in dealing with issues like syphilis and the treatment of infectious disease (respectively), but also to encourage questions towards modern medical practice and the way it viewed and treated the human body. Foucault’s Pendulum 1884, demonstrating the earth’s rotation, indicates broader concerns which transpired in his later works. After hanging in a Dresden clinic for some time, these became known as the Dresden Boxes (1881-85).

“Wassmann recognised the power of objects through his fascination and, as times changed, a humanist concern for the loss of imagination. In order to subvert the logic and rationality of industrialisation, he juxtaposed everyday, discarded objects in often unexpected relations to allow them to act as conduits to individual consciousness. Sitting in their boxes, the now fetishised objects elicited personal narratives from the viewer, sometimes with unsuspected and/or revelatory connections.

“It is also interesting to note his use of a grid-like device to compartmentalise his objects and images. A practicing sewerage engineer, Wassmann thought nothing of using a grid as an ordering principle for keeping waste and disease away from the populace. But in his art-work it was a visual device used to delineate space and simplify viewing, as well as instigating questions of the Enlightenment association between perception and knowledge in a clever, sometimes amusing, way. This was to become an important symbol of Modernism, particularly with artists like Malevich (Suprematism) and Mondrian (De Stihl), who saw it as a spiritually liberating organising principle, and the American abstractionist (Josef Albers, Sol Le Witt), who used it as a structural format emphasising form, colour (light) and space.”

Kirsten Rann, curator
Bleeding Napoleon: The Art of Johann Dieter Wassmann (1841-1898) exhibition brochure, 2003
Melbourne International Arts Festival 2003

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Foucault’s Pendulum, 1884. 40 x 45 x 33.5 cm.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The birth of the modern

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Untitled, Mexico City, 1897. Albumen silver print, 18 x 23 cm.

As a pioneer in the field of sewerage management, Johann Dieter Wassmann travelled extensively through the 1880s and 1890s, designing and overseeing the construction of waste disposal systems in Europe, the Americas and the Asia/Pacific region. He took passage on his final voyage in 1897, travelling to Cuba and Mexico, where he consulted with Mexico City officials on the ponderous task of devising a gravity sewerage system for an ancient city built in a lake at the bottom of a valley.

Most of Wassmann’s overseas travels took place prior to his gaining an interest in photography, leaving previous adventures largely undocumented. By 1897, however, his photographic skills were well-honed, as was his dexterity with the new hand-held roll film cameras widely available at the time, allowing him a degree of mobility and spontaneity unimagined until the late 1890s. Nowhere is this more evident than in his breathtakingly modernist vision of Mexico City.

This portfolio is often compared to the early work of Manual Álvarez Bravo, but any similarity may be more attributable to content than either style or intent. Wassmann’s motivation and sensitivity sits more comfortably with that of his fellow Europeans, sharing more closely the strong geometric, volumetric and spatial concerns of Aleksandr Rodchenko, Boris Ignatovic and Eugéne Atget, whose work would, of course, only come a decade or more later. All the same, the birth of the modernist vision, arising at any number of places and over a number of years, expressed itself universally with an energy, originality and clarity unencumbered by all that came before.

The untitled photograph I’ve pictured above is often cited as one of Wassmann’s most pioneering works, an image of absolute purity, reduced to minimal geometry and form. Die Mut zur Lücke, as Kurt Schwitters would later confide: the courage to leave things out. The charm of this image, however, also rests subtly in its content. Johann was, after all, a sewerage engineer; he has chosen here to record curbing and channelling and the passage of storm water on its journey to a drain somewhere beyond the picture’s edge. Like Rodchenko, he has placed his photograph beyond personal ego, elevating it rather to the service of a larger societal good, that of technological advancement. This subtext of the utopian dream so evident in the early modernist movement is without precedent in the history of art.

Over these past three years, I have done my best to place this blog in the service of a larger good as well, that of raising our understanding of the foundations of modernism itself. To this end, I have often merged Wassmann’s work into the contemporary dialogue, as in my discussions of Roger Buergel’s leitmotif “Is modernity our antiquity?” during last year’s Documenta and currently with Daniel Birnbaum’s “50 moons of Saturn” for the upcoming Turin Triennale. It is my conviction that without a thorough understanding of the great hopes of the modernist dream, it is impossible to assess the failings of the modern movement today. Toward this end, I hope our efforts to better understand the works of Johann Dieter Wassmann have brought readers a measure closer to understanding what expectations we should hold for the contemporary artist.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

50 moons of Saturn and the force of Imagination

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Todesstrecke (Deathtrap), 1897. 16 x 16 x 7.5 cm.

“WHAT imagination is, I have sufficiently declared in my digression of the anatomy of the soul. I will only now point at the wonderful effects and power of it; which, as it is eminent in all, so most especially it rageth in melancholy persons, in keeping the species of objects so long, mistaking, amplifying them by continual and strong meditation, until at length it produceth in some parties real effects, causeth this and many other maladies. And although this fantasy of ours be a subordinate faculty to reason, and should be ruled by it, yet in many men, through inward or outward distemperatures, defect of organs, which are unapt, or otherwise contaminated, it is likewise unapt, or hindered, and hurt. This we see verified in sleepers, which by reason of humours and concourse of vapours troubling the fantasy, imagine many times absurd and prodigious things, and in such as are troubled with incubus, or witch-ridden (as we call it), if they lie on their backs, they suppose an old woman rides, and sits so hard upon them, that they are almost stifled for want of breath; when there is nothing offends, but a concourse of bad humours, which trouble the fantasy. This is likewise evident in such as walk in the night in their sleep, and do strange feats: these vapours move the fantasy, the fantasy the appetite, which moving the animal spirits causeth the body to walk up and down as if they were awake. Fracast. l. 3. de intellect., refers all ecstasies to this force of imagination such as lie whole days together in a trance: as that priest whom Celsus speaks of; that could separate himself from his senses when he list, and lie like a dead man, void of life and sense. Cardan brags of himself, that he could do as much, and that when he list. Many times such men when they come to themselves, tell strange things of heaven and hell, what visions they have seen; as that St. Owen, in Matthew Paris, that went into St. Patrick's purgatory, and the monk of Evesham in the same author. Those common apparitions in Bede and Gregory, Saint Bridget's revelations, Wier. l. 3. de lamiis, c. 11. Cæsar Vanninus, in his Dialogues, &c. reduceth (as I have formerly said), with all those tales of witches' progresses, dancing, riding, transformations, operations, &c. to the force of imagination, and the devil's illusions. The like effects almost are to be seen in such as are awake: how many chimeras, antics, golden mountains and castles in the air do they build unto themselves?

"I appeal to painters, mechanicians, mathematicians. Some ascribe all vices to a false and corrupt imagination, anger, revenge, lust, ambition, covetousness, which prefers falsehood before that which is right and good, deluding the soul with false shows and suppositions. Bernardus Penottus will have heresy and superstition to proceed from this fountain; as he falsely imagineth, so he believeth; and as he conceiveth of it, so it must be, and it shall be, contra gentes, he will have it so. But most especially in passions and affections, it shows strange and evident effects: what will not a fearful man conceive in the dark? What strange forms of bugbears, devils, witches, goblins? Livater imputes the greatest cause of spectrums, and the like apparitions, to fear, which above all other passions begets the strongest imagination (saith Wierus), and so likewise, love, sorrow, joy, &c. Some die suddenly, as she that saw her son come from the battle at Cannæ, &c. Jacob the patriarch, by force of imagination, made speckled lambs, laying speckled rods before his sheep. Persina that Æthiopian queen in Heliodorus, by seeing the picture of Perseus and Andromeda, instead of a blackamoor, was brought to bed of a fair white child. In imitation of whom belike, a hard-favoured fellow in Greece, because he and his wife were both deformed, to get a good brood of children, Elegantissimas imagines in thalamo collocavit, &c., hung the fairest pictures he could buy for money in his chamber, ‘That his wife by frequent sight of them, might conceive and bear such children.’ And if we may believe Bale, one of Pope Nicholas the Third's concubines by seeing of a bear was brought to bed of a monster. ‘If a woman (saith Lemnius), at the time of her conception think of another man present or absent, the child will be like him.’ Great bellied women, when they long, yield us prodigious examples in this kind, as moles, warts, scars, harelips, monsters, especially caused in their children by force of a depraved fantasy in them: Ipsam speciam quam animo effigiat, fœtui inducit: She imprints that stamp upon her child which she conceives unto herself. And therefore Lodovicus Vives, lib. 2. de Christ. fœm. gives a special caution to great-bellied women, ‘That they do not admit such absurd conceits and cogitations, but by all means avoid those horrible objects, heard or seen, or filthy spectacles.’ Some will laugh, weep, sigh, groan; blush, tremble, sweat, at such things as are suggested unto them by their imagination. Avicenna speaks of one that could cast himself into a palsy when he list; and some can imitate the tunes of birds and beasts that they can hardly be discerned: Dagebertus' and Saint Francis' scars and wounds, like those of Christ's (if at the least any such were), Agrippa supposeth to have happened by force of imagination: that some are turned to wolves, from men to women, and women again to men (which is constantly believed) to the same imagination; or from men to asses, dogs, or any other shapes. Wierus ascribes all those famous transformations to imagination; that in hydrophobia they seem to see the picture of a dog, still in their water, that melancholy men and sick men conceive so many fantastical visions, apparitions to themselves, and have such absurd apparitions, as that they are kings, lords, cocks, bears, apes, owls; that they are heavy, light, transparent, great and little, senseless and dead (as shall be showed more at large, in our sections of symptoms), can be imputed to nought else, but to a corrupt, false, and violent imagination. It works not in sick and melancholy men only, but even most forcibly sometimes in such as are sound: it makes them suddenly sick, and alters their temperature in an instant. And sometimes a strong conceit or apprehension, as Valesius proves, will take away diseases: in both kinds it will produce real effects. Men, if they see but another man tremble, giddy or sick of some fearful disease, their apprehension and fear is so strong in this kind, that they will have the same disease. Or if by some soothsayer, wiseman, fortune-teller, or physician, they be told they shall have such a disease, they will so seriously apprehend it, that they will instantly labour of it. A thing familiar in China (saith Riccius the Jesuit), ‘If it be told them they shall be sick on such a day, when that day comes they will surely be sick, and will be so terribly afflicted, that sometimes they die upon it.’ Dr. Cotta in his discovery of ignorant practitioners of physic, cap 8. hath two strange stories to this purpose, what fancy is able to do. The one of a parson's wife in Northamptonshire, An. 1607, that coming to a physician, and told by him that she was troubled with the sciatica, as he conjectured (a disease she was free from), the same night after her return, upon his words, fell into a grievous fit of a sciatica: and such another example he hath of another good wife, that was so troubled with the cramp, after the same manner she came by it, because her physician did but name it. Sometimes death itself is caused by force of fantasy. I have heard of one that coming by chance in company of him that was thought to be sick of the plague (which was not so) fell down suddenly dead. Another was sick of the plague with conceit. One seeing his fellow let blood falls down in a swoon. Another (saith Cardan out of Aristotle), fell down dead (which is familiar to women at any ghastly sight), seeing but a man hanged. A Jew in France (saith Lodovicus Vives), came by chance over a dangerous passage or plank, that lay over a brook in the dark, without harm, the next day perceiving what danger he was in, fell down dead. Many will not believe such stories to be true, but laugh commonly; and deride when they hear of them; but let these men consider with themselves, as Peter Byarus illustrates it, If they were set to walk upon a plank on high, they would be giddy, upon which they dare securely walk upon the ground. Many (saith Agrippa), ‘strong-hearted men otherwise, tremble at such sights, dazzle, and are sick, if they look but down from a high place, and what moves them but conceit?’ As some are so molested by fantasy; so some again, by fancy alone, and a good conceit, are as easily recovered. We see commonly the tooth-ache, gout, falling-sickness, biting of a mad dog, and many such maladies, cured by spells, words, characters, and charms, and many green wounds by that now so much used Unguentum Armarium, magnetically cured, which Crollius and Goclenius in a book of late hath defended, Libavius in a just tract as stiffly contradicts, and most men controvert. All the world knows there is no virtue in such charms or cures, but a strong conceit and opinion alone, as Pomponatius holds, ‘which forceth a motion of the humours, spirits, and blood, which takes away the cause of the malady from the parts affected.’ The like we may say of our magical effects, superstitious cures, and such as are done by mountebanks and wizards. ‘As by wicked incredulity many men are hurt (so saith Wierus of charms, spells, &c.), we find in our experience, by the same means many are relieved.’ An empiric oftentimes, and a silly chirurgeon, doth more strange cures than a rational physician. Nymannus gives a reason, because the patient puts his confidence in him, which Avicenna ‘prefers before art, precepts, and all remedies whatsoever.’ 'Tis opinion alone (saith Cardan), that makes or mars physicians, and he doth the best cures, according to Hippocrates, in whom most trust. So diversely doth this fantasy of ours affect, turn, and wind, so imperiously command our bodies, which as another Proteus, or a chameleon, can take all shapes; and is of such force (as Ficinus adds), that it can work upon others, as well as ourselves. How can otherwise blear eyes in one man cause the like affection in another? Why doth one man's yawning make another yawn? One man's pissing provoke a second many times to do the like? Why doth scraping of trenchers offend a third, or hacking of flies? Why doth a carcass bleed when the murderer is brought before it, some weeks after the murder hath been done? Why do witches and old women fascinate and bewitch children: but as Wierus, Paracelsus, Cardan, Mizaldus, Valleriola, Cæsar Vanninus, Campanella, and many philosophers think, the forcible imagination of the one party moves and alters the spirits of the other. Nay more, they can cause and cure not only diseases, maladies and several infirmities, by this means, as Avicenna de anim. l. 4. sect. 4. supposeth in parties remote, but move bodies from their places, cause thunder, lightning, tempests, which opinion Alkindus, Paracelsus, and some others, approve of: So that I may certainly conclude this strong conceit or imagination is astrum hominis, and the rudder of this our ship, which reason should steer, but overborne by fantasy cannot manage, and so suffers itself and this whole vessel of ours to be overruled, and often overturned… I have thus far digressed, because this imagination is the medium deferens of passions, by whose means they work and produce many times prodigious effects: and as the fantasy is more or less intended or remitted, and their humours disposed, so do perturbations move, more or less, and take deeper impression.”

Robert Burton
The Anatomy of Melancholy

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Turin Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Thursday, August 28, 2008

George Orwell: blogger.

Night before last an hour’s rain. Yesterday hot & overcast. Today ditto, with a few drops of rain in the afternoon. The hop-picking due to start in about a week.

So reads George Orwell's diary entry for August 28, 1938, recorded in Suffolk, England, a chronicle now being trickled out in daily blog form 70 years on by the Orwell Trust. An intriguing idea and one well worth bookmarking. Accepting that we're all virtual anyway, why not skip back 70 years to learn how the blackberries are ripening this season.

Highly recommended.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Johann Dieter Wassmann, Nietzsche 306P, 1897. 37 x 28 x 10 cm.

I'm still in holiday mode as August winds to a close, so here's one last look back at our more popular posts from these past three years. Next week, we're back in business here at MuseumZeitraum, promise.

Today, on this 108th anniversary of the death of Nietzsche, it seems only appropriate to revisit Johann Dieter Wassmann's audience with the master and the creative outcome from this brief passing of souls. This post appeared on July 8, 2007. But first, here's rare footage of Nietzsche and his sister Elisabeth, believed to be recorded in 1899, not long before his death.

In recent posts I've been examining the first of three leitmotifs posed by the Documenta 12 team, "Is modernity our antiquity?" If I may, I'd like to skip ahead to the second question for a moment, "What is bare life?" as further means of addressing the first.

In 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown, often attributed to his contraction of syphilis, resulting in his admission to various clinics before he was moved to Naumburg, where his mother looked after him until her death in 1897. At this point his sister Elisabeth shifted him to Weimar, where she continued his care, as well as promoting his legacy and allowing the occasional audience with guests until his death in 1900.

It was in Weimar that Johann Dieter Wassmann briefly visited Nietzsche, but finding only a shell of a man he returned home to produce this work, depicting simply and eloquently the empty collar of the man, an organ stop with the name 'Nietzsche' printed on it, and an opium-stained bone apothecary spoon; a life stripped bare. These objects are placed against a dappled blue wall, reflecting Nietzsche's penchant for blue-lensed spectacles.

Johann's ability to take the contemporary moment of his visit with Nietzsche and so confidently convert it into the iconography of modernism speaks legions about the raw vitality of the modern movement at the dawn of the 20th century. In no time, however, modernity fell victim to the second law of thermodynamics, with entropy holding sway, but it was not until the close of the century that we realised the paradigm had simply collapsed en route.

Today it is essentially modernity stripped bare that we address as artists and curators, an ongoing post-mortem of abject failure. So in this sense is modernity our antiquity? The answer is not so clear.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

50 Moons of Saturn: Is there life on Enceladus, Major Tom?

The New York Times
August 16, 2008

Exquisite close-ups of fissures on a tiny frozen moon of Saturn will provide the latest clues in solving the riddle of how a 310-mile-wide ice ball could possibly be shooting geysers of vapor and icy particles.

Since the discovery of the jets in 2005, the moon, Enceladus, has jumped to near the top of the list of potential places for life in the solar system. A warm spot near Enceladus’s south pole powers the jets and may also melt below-surface ice into water, a necessity for living organisms.

On Monday, the NASA spacecraft Cassini made its latest flyby of Enceladus (pronounced en-SELL-ah-dus), passing 30 miles above the moon’s surface at 64,000 miles per hour.

Despite the high speed, Cassini was able to take razor-sharp images that, at seven meters per pixel, offer a resolution 10 times greater than earlier views. Scientists can now clearly see the V-shaped walls of the fractures, which are nearly 1,000 feet deep. Team members likened the accomplishment to taking a photo of a roadside billboard using a telephoto lens held out the window of a speeding car.

“If there is one set of images from this mission that illustrates how skilled we have become as planetary explorers, this is it,” said Carolyn Porco, leader of Cassini’s imaging team. “They are the most astounding images of any planetary surface that our cameras have so far taken.”

The observations should help scientists understand how geological processes can persist on such a small body, which is being heated by tidal distortions induced by Saturn.

A series of long fissures known as tiger stripes scars Enceladus’s south polar region, and earlier observations allowed the Cassini scientists to triangulate the origin of the jets within the fissures and show that the warm spots coincide with them.

In a flyby in March, Cassini flew through the plume and detected organic molecules, the carbon-based molecules that could provide the building blocks for life. Cassini also detected water vapor, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. The composition was surprisingly similar to that of a comet, scientists said.

At first glance, nothing in the landscape differentiates the active jet areas from other parts of the fissures. “We have a lot of interpretation to do,” Dr. Porco said. “The effects appear to be subtle.”

Comparison with other data taken during the flyby — like temperatures — should provide more clues.

The researchers see smooth areas on Enceladus that appear to be piles of ice particles that have fallen back to the surface. “Like snow,” Dr. Porco said. “We’re pretty sure we’re seeing that in these pictures.”

Paul Helfenstein, the team member who developed the technique for taking the high-speed, up-close pictures, said: “We can actually count boulders on the surface. We can look at details and distinguish fresh deposits.”

In the fall, Cassini is to make an even closer near-miss of Enceladus, passing within 15 miles of the moon’s surface.

Photo courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute, recorded on August 11, 2008 by the Cassini Orbiter.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Venice called on to stage a "Biennale for Islamic Dissent"

Naples, 11 August (AKI) - Islamic leaders have welcomed a proposal to stage an international forum at the Venice Biennale arts festival to promote debate in the Muslim world.

Ahmad Vincenzo, president of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals and lecturer in Islamic rights at Naples' Federico II University said the proposal was positive.

Carlo Ripa Di Meana, former president of the Venice Biennale, moved to dedicate the 1977 Venice Biennale to the theme of "dissent" in relation to the Communist countries of the eastern bloc, a move opposed by Moscow.

He has called for the creation of a similar "Biennale for Islamic Dissent" to enhance debate in the Muslim world.

But Vincenzo said the proposal advanced by Carlo Ripa Di Meana, should not be compared to the event that generated widespread debate among Communists in 1977.

"The Venice Biennale is a prestigious institution," Vincenzo told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"The possibility of having a great initiative dedicated to the Islamic world would certainly have vast interest, even though I don't think you could in any way compare it to the meeting of dissidents of the Communist bloc in 1977."

“I imagine that it would speak about dissent with regard to the regimes of many countries that have an Islamic majority. Not dissent towards Islam as a religion," he said.

According to the Muslim lecturer, few know that the distinction between religion and politics is part of Islamic history.

He stressed there was a profound difference between the situation in Muslim countries and those of the former Communist bloc.

"In these, there was in many cases a democratic opposition, capable in a certain sense to create a turning point in the entire country.

In the Islamic world, on the contrary, the opposition is often more totalitarian and anti democratic than the regimes they want to change. I am referring particularly to the fundamentalist movement of the Muslim Brotherhood."

Karima Moual, president of the Association of Young Moroccans in Italy, said he welcomed the proposal providing it was not designed to promote "anti-Islamic" positions.

"I believe that this initiative would benefit if it made people from the Arab Islamic world participate, rather than those who are hostile towards Islam," she told AKI.

"It would be interesting to invite Muslim intellectuals but also non-Muslims from Arab countries to debate the 'cancer' that is destroying the Arab-Islamic world.

"I believe that the real problem in our countries is the absence of debate."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is modernity our antiquity? (revisited).

In these lazy days of August, I'm revisiting some of our more popular posts from previous years, here our entry for July 18, 2007:

Dada and Surrealism were still years away when Johann Dieter Wassmann struck out with this monumental, if misunderstood, work, “Of the Stealing of Women” 1896. Never before published or exhibited, the work merges an early 18th century English case-law text, open to a page describing the (limited) rights of women from being, yes, that’s right, stolen, with a medical engraving of mid-19th century bandaging practices, all linked by a harmony of violin pegs and tailpiece. In his notes on the work, Johann enthusiastically describes the piece in terms that we now might read as empowerment and liberation, closing with an enigmatic quote from his beloved muse, Goethe: ‘Man sieht nur, was man weiss.’ One sees only what one knows. Some critics have hesitated at themes they (mis)read as bondage and repression, with one Australian curator going so far as to have the work removed from the exhibition BLEEDING NAPOLEON at the 2003 Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Personally, I believe the work can be read as a nod to the rising sentiment across Europe in support of women's suffrage. Three years earlier, in 1893, New Zealand was the first country to introduce universal suffrage, generating headlines world-wide. The use of an English case-law book would suggest some reference to the British empire here. The image of a woman bandaged suggests a play on the word suffrage. Violin pegs are, of course, necessary to tune the instrument, implying an adjustment or refinement of the social politic to enhance the role of women in 19th century society.

Whatever its inner meaning, the work stands as a significant precursor to the explosive power Dada and Surrealism would have on the course of 20th century modernism.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Zeitraum & the progressive present perfect.

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Vorwarts! (Go Forward!), 1897. 57.5 x 31 x 9.5 cm.

Rather than pulling the shutters and closing shop as August approaches, I thought I’d revisit several of our more popular posts from these past three years. Last summer I devoted considerable time to airing the three leitmotifs posited by Documenta 12, most notably the first: Is modernity our antiquity? This summer I’ve been similarly perusing the themes Daniel Birnbaum has hinted at for his upcoming Torino Triennale, 50 Moons of Saturn.

The following is an extended version of a post that appeared on March 29, 2007 in the run-up to Documenta; the questions it raises are no less pertinent to Husserl’s phenomenology, which I anticipate will feature strongly in Birnbaum’s 50 Moons of Saturn:

On March 11, 1992 Anselm Kiefer gave a lecture in Adelaide that is still widely discussed in Australian intellectual circles. In it, he expressed intrigue that Aboriginals should possess such a deep-seated relationship with their art. He envied Aboriginal artists for what he saw as their ability to inhabit their work as deeply as they inhabited their land. He mourned Western art as a curtain descending into its own cultural morass, a no man’s land, a terra nullius of the soul. (He further asserted that the current state of decline in Western art commenced with the fall of Byzantium.)

Despite its quirky tales, its idiosyncratic logic and its apparently non-empirical structures, he argued the Aboriginal Dreaming offers us a far more valid user’s guide to the universe than any Western paradigm.

In bringing up the Dreaming in relation to antiquity and modernity alike, I may sound like a wayward musician wandering off-key mid-song -- stumbling with the present tense when it would seem more appropriate to speak of the Dreaming in the past, as Aboriginal antiquity -- but I have just cause for abiding in the hear-and-now. For one thing, these beliefs still dominate Aboriginal life, so to refer to them otherwise would be untowardly dismissive. But the more telling reason is that elders themselves are very specific in the syntax they use to describe their Dreamings -- always speaking in either the present or something close to the progressive present perfect tense when telling these stories. This progressive present perfect tense is the tense used for action that began in the past and continues into the present (e.g. I have been working on the railroad, all the live-long day; which is to say I was earlier and I continue to be working on the railroad).

It was as Aboriginal groups developed their own versions of Creole English in the 19th century that these thought processes became most apparent. Aboriginals stuck to the verb tenses that made sense to them, including the present, the past in referring to the recent past, the progressive present perfect in referring to the distant past, and similar progressive future tenses in referring to events linking the past and present to the future.

The use of this verb tense retains a core value in the Aboriginal world-view, which itself reaches back to Dreaming events, or to be more precise, their world-view reaches through to Dreaming events. Reaching back implies a reverse movement in time and history; reaching through expresses movement in space. And it is this very space -- the space of the Dreaming -- that they are cleverly describing in the present perfect.

But who’s been listening? Only a smattering of Westerners, such as Kiefer, have picked up on the possibility that a whole new wealth of philosophical puzzles and paradigms might rest in this linguistic clue -- a possibility the ancient Greeks had toyed with, and Western physicists inched toward from a different tack for the better part of the twentieth century.

The clue that lay unnoticed for so long in the present perfect is that the conceptual notions of time and history, past and present, have simply never entered into Aboriginal culture; that is, they never entered into Aboriginal culture until the arrival of Europeans. The anthropologist William Stanner remarked, “I have never been able to discover an Aboriginal word for time as an abstract comment... And the sense of history is wholly alien here.”

All clans naturally have a sense of the immediate past, or the past within one’s lifetime -- the known past -- but once a death occurs the soul is seen as returning to the land, not to be forgotten, but to rejoin the ancestors in an ongoing cycle of renewal. Talk of human lineage beyond living generations and the most recent to have passed away is rare, and even when referring to the recently departed there are elaborate taboos on how they can be discussed, if at all.

In the West, our belief in a linear sequence -- creation/past/present/future -- has, since the original sin, shaped and supported our notions of time, history, antiquity, modernity, progress and by inference, space. But among the Aboriginal people of Australia, the creation and the present aren’t linked in any linear sense by history; quite the contrary, they are defined in a purely spatial sense by the simple, direct and irrefutable existence of place.

And because the Dreaming defines place rather than history, the ancestors are just as much alive today as they were yesterday or they will be tomorrow, living as they do, in the realm of something close to what we in the West see as eternity. So by returning to one’s place in death, spatiality also imparts salvation, along with a measure of immortality, to the Aboriginal believer.

Among non-Aboriginals, the Dreaming has come to represent many things to many people. One who took a keen interest and whose influence was far-reaching was Mircea Eliade. Eliade was well respected for his views on a wide array of theological issues, but his conceit that ‘primitive’ creation stories, Dreamings included, were an effort to escape the parameters of time -- by means of retaining a continuous link to the mythical era of the ancestors -- shows the mark of his bias. As Eliade saw it, “spirituality introduced freedom into the cosmos. It allows the possibility of transcending the boundaries.”

Where Eliade ran afoul was in believing that the preponderance of place ascribed to by these cultures represented some sort of subconscious substitution, or ongoing rebellion, against the historical notion of time. How could they have? These people knew nothing about the historical notion of time. That was the West’s later doing (and our current undoing). So if time and history had never entered into their realm, where and how could they have come to replace or reject them? These boundaries requiring transcendence Eliade spoke of are constructs of Western culture, not universal boundaries and certainly not the Aboriginal’s.

In the first issue of the documenta 12 Magazine, the question "Is modernity our antiquity?" was broadened to ask, “Which modernity and whose antiquity?” but even this repositioning is problematic, for in the Aboriginal case it still suggests the Dreaming as an antiquity, imposing as it does linearity where there was none previously. If we take modernity as the late arrival the European, are we offering the Aboriginal anything more than an invitation to join our wretched terror of history?

By extension, we must ask ourselves if modernity has been anything more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing for the rest of us as well? Are not antiquity and modernity both simply the tormented march of History on its ill-begotten pursuit of Armageddon, and by implication salvation, as we await the Day of Judgment? God forbid.

To his credit, Eliade was one who saw it coming. He had once defined modern man by his ability to “consciously and voluntarily create history,” having as he did, “faith in an infinite progress.” Eliade went on to point out that modern man’s most adept means of creating history (and his own anxiety), from the seventeenth century onwards, was through the technology of war. This precocious new science took advantage of realignments in labor markets, and improvements in agricultural technologies, to create power alliances that made the Crusades look like a holiday in the Holy Land.

The sustenance for his faith in an infinite progress modern man drew from his belief in the constancy of a rapidly unfolding future -- a future-as-resource serving to fuel the military and economic dreams of the present. And only a conviction that the future was infinite could keep the prophesy self-fulfilling. Although, having said that, the prophesy was never wholly fulfilled, for as Kafka said, “To believe in progress is not to believe that progress has already taken place. That would be no belief.”

By the twentieth century, progress had become modern man’s beloved opiate, his one true religion. The faith that nourished his restless soul lay not in the memory of yesterday, or in the relief of today, but in the ill-begotten promise of a new tomorrow.