17 Nov 2014 2014, Anthropology, archaeology, Dieter Roelstraete, Frieze, Iratxe Jaio and Klaas van Gorkum, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, microhistory, panel discussion
Installation view of Mariana Castillo Deball's work "It rises or falls depending on whether you're coming or going. If you are leaving, it's uphill; but as you arrive it's downhill" (2006) in the Latitudes-curated exhibition "Extraordinary Rendition" at NoguerasBlanchard in 2007. Photo: Roberto Justamante.
One of the many interesting events that took place during Frieze week, was a panel discussion titled "Adventures in the Field: The Anthropological Turn" (from there you can download the audio or mp3 file) moderated by Beirut-based writer Kaelen Wilson-Goldie with the participation of artists Iman Issa (Cairo & New York) and Naeem Mahaiemen (Dhaka & New York), and curator Dieter Roelstraete (Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago).
As Frieze magazine's Associate Editor Christy Lange explained in her introduction, the discussion followed on Wilson-Goldie's recent feature "The Stories They Need" published in the October issue of Frieze magazine, where the writer digs into the notions previously raised in Roelstraete's well-read essay "The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art" (2009, e-flux journal). Her text also brings in new artists names whose work have reflected an interest in the tools and methods of anthropology, including some of the participating artists in Roelstraete's recent show 'The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology' (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 9 Nov 2013–9 Mar 2014), an exhibition that continued to delve on the subject of artists involvement with anthropology that will seem to take curator to his grave, as he himself stated during the panel.
During the discussion, both Roelstraete and Wilson-Goldie refer to the so-called "anthropological turn" or "historiographical turn", as a sequel to the "archaeological turn", the "educational turn" and many other turns (from Hal Foster's "ethnographical" or "archival" impulses, to the narrative, the pedagogical, the documentary, the social, the relational, the curatorial...the many turns) that have succeeded one another in recent art production – and as he also points out they all get mentioned preceded by "so called...".
Detail of Mariana Castillo Deball's work "It rises or falls depending on whether you're coming or going. If you are leaving, it's uphill; but as you arrive it's downhill" (2006). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Roberto Justamante.
But why this impulse of looking back? As Roelstraete suggested in his presentation, it might respond to the fact that our present has been so depressing (Ebola, Isis, Ukranian crisis) and oppressive (from Bush's regime onwards through the 2008 global economic crisis) so artists can almost be forgiven for wanting to look back. Artist Naeem Mohaiemen, clarified that artists don't look back to hide from the present but that the present is too brief, it's not over, and meanwhile looking back allows them to shed light on a particular long-time span hoping to have an impact on thinking about that particular moment. To conclude Roelstraete noted that the impulse artists might follow is because they want to "leave the studio to go to the museum (or the kunsthalle)".
Installation view of Simon Fujiwara's "The Museum of Incest" at the 2009 "Provenances" at the Latitudes-curated exhibition at Umberto di Marino, Naples. Photo: Danilo Donzelli.
Wilson-Goldie's text concludes that the artists as anthropologist is most likely "a storyteller or fabulist using the techniques of anthropology to tell again or tell differently, a story of encounter." This has certainly been very much on our minds as well as in the conversations we have maintained with the artists we have worked with in projects such as "Provenances" (2009 at Galleria Umberto di Marino, Naples) or "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes ..." (2011, Meessen de Clercq, Brussels), and of course with other artists we have met in recent months.
This resonates in with a notion that has been stuck in our heads for a while and that emerged during Sean Lynch's lecture last September at Halfhouse's workshop: that of the artist' work as a "meaning place". He explained that for him when an exhibition ends the work becomes a conversation, and that those residues and the way they circulate can often be far more interesting than its intrinsic parts.
On an archaeological note, a project called "The Materiality of the Invisible" looks intriguing. It is a fellowship run by the Jan van Eyck instigated within the framework of NEARCH, a European network of archaeological institutes and university departments. The following artists and art collectives have been selected out of some 300 applicants: Leyla Cardenas, Joey Bryniarska, Martin Westwood, Matthew Wilson, Rossella Biscotti and Klaas van Gorkum & Iratxe Jaio, the latter with whom we have collaborated (in the exhibition series Amikejo in 2011 and a solo show at ADN Platform earlier this year). The fellowship "offers a hitherto unknown opportunity to research in practice the interaction between artists and archaeologists, to work together in close confines, to profoundly exchange information and to thoroughly questioning both professions in an age of change and fluctuating cultural attitudes".
Above: Iratxe Jaio & Klaas van Gorkum, "Work in Progress" (2013). Video (14’ 22”), 739 polyurethane sculptures, and 47 moulds. View of their exhibition "The Margins of the Factory" at ADN Platform, 25 January–30 April 2014. Photos: Roberto Ruiz.
- Latitudes'-curated exhibitions "Provenances" (2009 at Galleria Umberto di Marino, Naples) and "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes & des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne" (2011, Meessen de Clercq, Brussels).
- (Beautiful) publication that accompanied Roelstraete's "The Way of the Shovel" exhibition.
- Recently published "Art, Anthropology and the Gift" (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014) by Roger Sansi, Senior Lecturer in Anthroplogy at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.
- The subject of how one remembers exhibitions emerged during the symposia "When Does an Exhibition Begin and End?", an event we convened and moderated last June together with Heman Chong at Singapore's National Library.
- For more information on the exhibition "The Margins of the Factory", download the pdf of the exhibition guide (in English).
- Hal Foster, 'The Artist as Ethnographer?' in 'The Return of the Real'. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996.
- Hal Foster, 'An Archival Impulse', Fall 2004, October No. 110, Pages 3-22, 2004.
- Suely Rolnik, 'Archive Mania', e-book within the Series: dOCUMENTA (13): 100 Notizen - 100 Gedanken, Hatje Cantz, 2011.
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14 Oct 2013 2013, Frieze, interview, Iratxe Jaio and Klaas van Gorkum, Max Andrews, MUSAC
'Work in Progress', 2013, production still. All images courtesy: the artists
The image of ‘work’ and the relation between art and labour Max Andrews: I’d like to talk about your current project, provisionally titled Work in Progress, set in the Lea-Artibai district of the Basque Country where Iratxe grew up. It began with your curiosity about the informal factories in the area where women trim moulded rubber parts destined for the car industry. What drew you to this subject?
Iratxe Jaio & Klaas van Gorkum: When we encountered these groups of women sitting in a circle in their makeshift workspaces, surrounded by crates and boxes, performing tedious repetitive tasks together, it struck us as an incredibly complex and layered image. Although it echoed a traditional and communal way of life in what is still a mainly rural area, instead of spinning wool or mending fishing nets these women were working with abstract industrial forms which had no direct use-value to them. A closer inspection of the pieces revealed the brand names of multinational corporations such as Renault, Mercedes and Volkswagen. The women are from countries like Moldova, Peru or Senegal, yet it’s a scene that is at once domestic, local and Basque, while being replete with the contradictions of global capitalism.
MA: You are dealing with a representation of working, while also interweaving your own labour by making a film.
IJ & KvG: We have a long-standing interest in the image of ‘work’, and in the relation between art and labour. So we took this scene as the starting point for a cinematic analysis of production processes, both in these semi-clandestine workshops as well as in the main factory itself. Our approach has been strictly dispassionate, free from any superficial attempt to give the workers a voice. Instead, we focused our camera on the disciplinary conditions and rationalization of these processes, reproducing them in the montage by breaking up complex scenes into smaller units and stitching them back together again.
MA: How has Jorge Oteiza’s Laboratorio de Tizas (Chalk Laboratory, c.1972–4) – thousands of small sculpture-studies made by the late Basque sculptor, yet never conceived as art works per se – come to play a key role in the project?
IJ & KvG: To extend the analogy between editing a movie and working on an assembly line, we wanted to ‘splice’ ourselves into the relations of production at the factory by inventing an artistic task that resembled the one already being performed by the workers. So we hired the factory workers to make synthetic resin casts of Oteiza’s ‘Tizas’. Turning Oteiza’s experimental sculpture laboratory into a mass-production line, and recording it on camera is, in essence, a formal exercise that juxtaposes the production of Modernist sculpture with industrial manufacturing. It also allowed us to stage an image of the artist at work, and to superimpose it onto that of the wage-worker, ultimately presenting both as ideologically loaded social constructions.
Producing time in between other things, 2011, installation view at MUSAC, León.
MA: Is this project also a way for you to obliquely address the idea of Basque sculpture, from Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida through to Ibon Aranberri or Asier Mendizabal, for example?
IJ & KvG: The legacy of Basque Modernism loomed over this project long before we decided explicitly to include a reference to the work of Oteiza – although, in hindsight, it seems inevitable. But to speak of ‘Basque sculpture’ is to turn it into a closed-off category. We prefer to consider how the political function and significance that was once attributed to the language of abstract sculpture in Basque society holds up under contemporary conditions.
MA: In combining a study of the serial production of art with a social investigation into industrial manufacturing, you’re also reflecting on yourselves as cultural labourers. This was an important motif in your 2011 work Producing time in between other things (a project I co-curated with Mariana Cánepa Luna). Do you find it hard to be artists who make objects?
IJ & KvG: Oteiza once said that it wasn’t he who made the sculptures, but that the sculptures made him a sculptor. And now that he is a sculptor, why should he create more? In a way, we have been travelling in the opposite direction. We’ve always referred to ourselves as artists who do not make objects, and we only started making things to be able to address the notion of practice itself. In Producing time in between other things, for example, the 50 ornamental wooden legs we manufactured were simply a by-product of the task we had set ourselves: to learn how to use the woodturning lathe left by Klaas’s late grandfather, a retired factory worker. We took his place behind the machine, and recorded our activities on camera, not just as a ‘measurement’ of the passage of time required to gain a certain skill, but also as a reflection on how the disciplinary conditions of the wage-worker’s spare time inform our notion of artistic freedom and vice versa. Yet we’re also very much indebted to those thousands of ‘How to ...’ videos on YouTube, from cooking a steak to casting polyurethane action figures. Considering the generosity of all that is being shared between the producers and the viewers of these videos, is it any wonder that actually eating the steak doesn’t even enter into the picture? Max Andrews–Iratxe Jaio and Klaas van Gorkum live in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and have been working together since 2001. They recently completed a residency at LIPAC, Buenos Aires, Argentina. They will present a solo exhibition at FRAC Aquitaine, Bordeaux, France, opening on 4 October.