Category Archives: Art

Inside Fukushima – Part 1

Friday, 04.03.2016

We start the trip at 9:40am and leave Tokyo headed in north-westward direction. We drive along the highway through Chiba Prefecture and towards Ibaraki Prefecture. After shortly stopping in Iwaki City, we continue to follow the Joban Expressway up North. This highway which spans around 300km in its entirety had been closed off in a 20km radius between Hirono and Tomioka after the Fukushima disaster and was only accessible with an official exemption certificate issued by the government authorities. However, it was reopened to the public on the 22nd of February 2014.[1] Shortly after, the construction of the route Namie to Minamisoma was continued and finished on the 6th of December 2014.[2] The last part, a 14.3 km long stretch between Namie and Jobantomioka was finally opened on the 1st of March 2015. Radiation exposure is displayed at 6 points on this route.

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A plate along the Joban Highway showing the outside radiation in micro Sievert per hour. Taken Friday, 04.03.2016, 16:36:08.

Driving along the highway, overhead plates show the current radiation exposure in micro Sievert per hour. Somewhere close to the town of Tomioka (Futaba district) the measurement increases to as high as 5 μSv/h (micro Sievert per hour). To put these numbers in perspective, whereby 10 μSv/h translates to immediate physical danger and an urgent requirement to relocate at once, 5 μSv/h presents a high risk of harm and requires you to relocate as soon as possible; even as low as a number as 2 μSv/h presents an elevated risk and the need to take safety precautions. At the moment of the highest outside radiation the Geiger counter does indeed show the value measured inside of the car as 2 μSv/h. Not only the urgent piercing beep of the counter makes this experience a stressful one, but also knowing that even inside the car, whose metal plates act as a shield from radiation exposure, the radiation is so strong as to pose an immediate threat to human health made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Never having been knowingly exposed to such an amount of radiation at once, for such an extended period of time, I feel like I can sense my body being irradiated. This is of course impossible, but serves as a personal proof of the way in which something so intangible and invisible, and at the same time so hostile to the human organism, could cause severe mental stress and a feeling of being reduced to ones bare and unprotected life. I remember my father’s concerns about this trip and cannot help wondering if, in this very moment, I am doing anything harmful to my potential future offspring.

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One of many radiation measurements inside the car. Taken Friday, 04.03.2016, 16:41:50.

The view along the highway is defined by fields whose surfaces have been lowered to a few decimetres. This reduction of surface level is due to the extensive excavation of irradiated soil, which in strenuous, labor-intensive work is dug up and stored in massive black bags. The latter are even more defining of the landscape than the strangely lowered squares of land. The black bags are almost everywhere. Rows and rows, mountains next to mountains of squarish bags bursting full with dirt, once source of life, they are now through the impact of human technology turned into toxic radioactive waste.  I ask myself, from this moment onwards, what is this matter that they contain? Is it nature or is it something else?

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Rows and rows of decontamination bags, filled with radioactive soil.

The night is spent at a local Ryokan in Minamisoma-Shi, a city who has been severely affected by the impact of the Tsunami. Being located high enough on a hill the elderly owners’ house was just spared by the hungry flood. However, due to the radioactive contamination all around they had to discontinue their occupations as organic farmers. In an attempt to keep his most prosperous collecting spots a secret and maybe also in a desperate grip on normalcy, the husband, Mori-San, continues to collect the local Hatsutake mushroom. This is a mushroom variety, which is highly sought after, but as mushrooms tend to pull out the radioactive elements from the ground, it will remain inedible for the next decades, maybe centuries. Mori-San and his wife tell stories of how gravely the local community was affected by the disaster. When the Tsunami ate its way inland many citizens evacuated to a Shrine, located at the top of a hill. However, tragically enough, the elevation proofed to low and all of the refugees there fell victim to the merciless waves. Now, tales are being circulated of the ghosts of the deceased haunting the area. Strange instances of ghost-sightings are amassed and shared between residents. Deeply impacting and irreversibly altering everyone’s life, the disaster has entered the oral culture.

(To be continued in part 2 and part 3)

[1] http://www.fukushimaminponews.com/news.html?id=314

[2] http://www.fukushimaminponews.com/news.html?id=442

All images and content ©Theresa Deichert, 2016.

A Xmas Gift Guide for Art Lovers

It’s that time of year again when we voluntarily expose ourselves to the self-inflicted torture that is Christmas shopping. Less than a month before the big holiday most of us turn into reckless warriors, the high streets our battle fields, where we fight the equally merciless and desperate fight for buying presents. This year will be different. This time around we will manage to complete our gift shopping in time. We will not have to go out on Christmas day to buy just about ANYTHING to please our greedy relatives and our guilty conscience. At least this is what we tell ourselves the moment we shove our elbows into that one person blocking our way to the bargain bin.

I have to admit, I am the worst when it comes to Christmas gift shopping. The anxiety inducing thoughts of the Christmas highstreet battle ground have kept me from going out and getting presents many times. Thank goodness for online shopping, invention of the last-minute gods, and friends and family who kindly agreed to ‘just give love’ those years. However, this year I vowed to be better at gift shopping and giving. Still not ready to face the crowds, my new strategy is online-shopping with a plan!

Doing my gift-research, I have compiled for you art-lovers out there an art-themed gift guide. Wether it is for your hip and artsy friends or to secretly impose your love of art onto your art-ignorant relatives, there is something for everyone (and every wallet-size) in this list.

Andy Warhol and Pop Art inspired gifts:

1. Heattech Fleece Polo Neck, Uniqlo, £7.90 for her and £12.90 for him
2. Andy Warhol Journals – Set of 3, via the Tate Shop, £12
3. Interview Magazine Subscription (12 months), £72
4. Rimmel London Pop Art Nail Polish, via Superdrug, £3.99
5. Central Saint Martins Cut-out Bracelets and Earings, Topshop, £8
6. Ribbed Funnel Neck Top, Topshop, £15

 

William Morris inspired gifts:

1. Needle amd Thread Floral Embelished Dress, through Harrods, £185
2. William Morris Paperblanks Planner, via WHSmith, £11.99
3. Tickets to Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy at the National Portrait Gallery, £14
4.  Konplott Ich-und-Du Flower Necklace, £155.50
5. H&M Lace Bra and Briefs, £7.99 and £5.99

 

Pussy Riot inspired gifts:

1. H&M Sleeveless Dress, £29.99
2. American Apparel Beanie, via asos, £13.90
3. Tatty Devine Russian Floral Statement Necklace, £150
4. “Art & Agenda: Political Art and Activism” Coffe table book, £40
5. Paint Your Own Baboushka Kit, via asos, £9

Political Beauty & the Fence of Melilla

“When you strike the word ‘beauty’ and the word ‘politics’ together, you create the spark for a revolution” Philipp Ruch

The memorial comemorating the victims of the Berlin Wall.

The ‘Zentrum für politische Schönheit‘(Centre for Political Beauty) or short ZPS is a Berlin-based association of artists and activists headed by theatre director Philipp Ruch. They describe themselves as an ‘assault troop’ (Sturmtruppe) who aims to establish “moral beauty, political poetry and human liberality.” Since 2010 the group has raised awareness for political matters and unfairness, such as the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. It does so through actions that dissolve the boundaries between art, theatre performance and activism. Floating in a politically charged space that is yet to be securely defined the ZPS’s actions are based on conceptual performances, internet-raised awareness and the public’s willingness to become an accomplice. All of it is translated into direct, often shocking and (thought)provoking action or ‘hyper realistic theatre plays.’

The Berlin memorial after the crosses have been taken down. Photo (c) Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit, 2014

1 November 2014, Berlin government district: around lunch time a handful of members of the ZPS armed with a drill and a wheelbarrow dismounted seven white crosses which are part of a memorial to commemorate the victims of the Berlin wall. A couple of days later the white crosses, shown in a video message published by the ZPS on YouTube, resurfaced at the boarders of the European Union. Meanwhile, the ZPS started an Indiegogo campaign to crowd-source the funding of a trip to the European outskirts. The centre hopes to transport busloads of people armed with bolt clippers to the outskirts of the EU to deconstruct the fence that separates the Spanish city of Melilla from Morocco. Leaving Berlin on the 7 November, the day of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the trip is part of an action conceived of to raise awareness for European boarder politics and the mass of sub-Saharan refugees who in their attempt to travel to and cross the border get killed and injured.

African refugees pointing at one of the crosses (or a look-alike) of the Berlin memorial. Photo (c) Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit, 2014

However good the intentions, this kind of political art-activism employed by the ZPS is as radical as much as it is problematic. Firstly, how are they radical? The ZPS’s actions are original and profound. The ways in which the group operates seem to take art-activism one step further to where it has been previously residing; that is mostly in symbolism. Art-activists like Liberate Tate (with admittedly very different incentives for their activism) often engage in gestures of protest that remain inherently symbolic. For example, ‘License to spill’ (2010) saw the group staging an oil spill at the Tate Summer Party to raise awareness for the controversial and environmentally unethical conduct of the oil company BP, the primary sponsor of Tate.

Liberate Tate, “License to Spill”, 2010

In contrast, ZPS complements the symbolic removal and dislocation of the crosses with a direct call for action through its Indiegogo campaign. At the time of writing the campaign has raised around 21.700 Euro, enough to bring two busloads of people to the EU border. Through contributing their money, as well as through the possibility to go on the trip, the general public, you and me, can become an active and vital part of the action. An action which potentially shares responsibility between many and at the same time multiplies impact is, in principle, admirable.

A schematic drawing outlining the cruel mechanisms of the Melilla fence. (c) Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit

Nevertheless, there are several problems with the ZPS’s activity. As direct as the act of bringing people to the border and physically destroying the fence is, as much is this act a calculated theatre performance. I would be surprised for Philipp Ruch to be as naïve as to believe that this act will bring immediate improvement to the refugee’s situation let alone the associated policies. Secondly, the comparison that is made between the victims of the Berlin wall and the African refugees is quite simplistic and flawed. While in both cases people are suffering from a type of cage-like border constructed to restrict their freedom, there is a massive difference between forcefully separating a people that belongs together and separating two people with different cultural backgrounds from each other. Just because it says wall refugees on the package it doesn’t contain the same thing. No doubt in both cases human rights were and are violated, however the circumstances are very different. In this sense, the activism of the ZPS is too idealistic and it seems not completely thought through. Nevertheless, it is at least partly successful in the way in which it has already raised a lot of awareness for the issues of the European refugee policy. It remains to be seen how exactly the activism of the ZPS will play out this weekend and next week, and moreover, how the media will react. In any case, I will be following closely.

9 must-see contemporary art exhibitions this November

As I pointed out in my last post, the German cultural season has hit London with full force. Two major museums are showing big retrospectives of German artists. But of course there is a good amount of brilliant British and overseas art currently on display too. Bypassing the super blockbusters of Rembrandt, Turner, William Morris and co, I present to you the 9 must-see exhibitions of contemporary art this November.

Sigmar Polke , Untitled (Quetta, Pakistan) 1974–1978 Glenstone © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

1. Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010, Tate Modern9 October 20148 February 2015, This promises to be a grand multi-medial retrospective of an artistic career that span 5 decades.

Anselm Kiefer, The Orders of the Night, 1996.

2. Anselm Kiefer, Royal Academy of Arts, 27 September – 14 December 2014, Kiefer’s monumental work as to be seen in person. It is then that the effect of his massive canvases with thickly laid on, relief-like paint truly unfolds.

3. Mirrorcity, Hayward Gallery, 14 October 2014 – 4 January 2015, This exhibition brings together London-based contemporary artists which are united by a common reflection on what it means to live in the digital age. Although this show has had mixed reviews, it is the first major museum exhibition dedicated to this topic.

Steve McQueen, Still from Ashes, 2014

4. Steve McQueen Ashes, Thomas Dane Gallery14 October – 15 November 2014, McQueen’s new video work is visually stunning and meditative, while the story of the film’s protagonist is tragic.

Ryan Trecartin, Still from CENTER JENNY, 2013

5. Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Zabludowicz Collection, 2 October – 21 December 2014, The two artist collaborate again to create a super-modern, hyper-digital immersive nightmare. Trecartin’s schizophrenic films are complimented by Fitch’s grotesque gallery environments.

Exhibition view of Tracey Emin The Last Great Adventure is You

6. Tracy Emin The Last Great Adventure is You, White Cube, 8 October – 16 November 2014, Uber-critic Jonathan Jones of the Guardian loved this tour de force of the female nude. I am curious what the fuss is about.

Shinro Ohtake, ‘Radio Head Surfer’, 1994-95. Courtesy of the artist and Take Ninagawa, Tokyo

7. Shinro Ohtake, Parasol Unit, 12 October – 12 December 2014, The Japanese artist re-appropriates the scraps of our consumer society to intricately detailed laborious works of art.

Zhanna Kadyrova, Latent Forms

8. Premonition Ukrainian Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, 9 October – 3 November, Showcasing art mostly from the period before the recent dramatic political developments , it will be interesting to see if clues and predictions of unrest exist in the works or if this is  only ambitious expectation.

Jane and Louise Wilson. Still from Undead Sun, 2014

9. Jane and Louise Wilson, IWM Contemporary, 15 October 2014 – Sun 11 January 2015, Produced to mark the centenary of the First World War Jane and Louise Wilson’s film explores the construction of narratives of the time.

The Krauts & the Tommys – A glance at the German/British Relationship

Subconsciously and then consciously I have noticed, over the last few months, more and more articles about Germany, German culture  and German leadership. Identified as a sign of German efficiency her ability to strip herself of unnecessary decision-making, articles regarding the latter often focus on Angela Merkel and her choice of jackets; in my eyes this women has perfected the concept of #normcore.

Decision detox. While her fashion sense remains questionable, Angie choses to focus on the important things.

This is not a completely recent development. More or less frequently, all major English newspapers have had their bit to share on our chancellor, our country, our football. However, it seems that especially in the wake of recent economic developments, the UK has become more interested in exploring their (often ambivalent) relationship with Germany.

Caricature via the Guardian

Now there is a major exhibition, as well as two massive retrospectives of seminal German artists picking up on cultural mouthpieces of German culture. They seem continue where Gerhard Richter and the major exhibition in 2011 at Tate Modern left of.

Gerhard Richter, Erschossener 1 (Man Shot Down 1), 1988 depicting Andreas Baader, co-founder of the terrorist organisation Red Army Faction (RAF) and arrested in June 1972.

Popping up on the cultural landscape are numerous museum shows with a ‘German flavour.’ For instance, there is the British Museum exhibition “The Other Side of the Medal – How Germany saw the first World War,” which examins German history through a selection of medals and their engravings. In this context, both the Observer and the Guardian ran buzzfeed-style lists of things that ‘made modern Germany.’  The weight that is attributed to sausages’ contribution to the development of our country, however, seems rather questionable to me.

With Anselm Kiefer  at the Royal Academy, which just opened this Saturday, and the Sigmar Polke retrospective at Tate Modern, scheduled to open next week on the 9th of October, two major London museums turn their full attention to German artists.

Anselm Kiefer, Wege der Weltweisheit: die Hermanns-Schlacht,1978

What these artists, have in common is that they reflect and are a reflection, if not magnification, of German history and historical developments.  Kiefer, for example, is well-known for his work’s occupation with Hitler and the resulting collective silence in  post-war  German society.

Arguably, these exhibitions then come to surface in a process, wherein the British try to understand and come to grips with Germany’s political, social and economical development after the war. After all Germany, as a country, has made its way out of their (self-inflicted) misery like a well-plucked phoenix ascending from the ashes. In a time of Scottish referendum, terrorist threat and possible economical downfall, it seems the Empire is looking for an example or a backup-plan to follow, when and if they have to struggle to their feet again; Something they never had to do before.

Unendlicher Spass – Infinite Jest

Millenials,  Generation Y, Generation Me – Its demographic spans those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s and I am myself part of it. We are a generation that, according to Jean Twenge author of the book Generation Me (2006), is characterized by a strong sense of community, tolerance and confidence, but at the same time also a sense of entitlement and narcissism. Growing up in a post-Cold War world, we witnessed the delimitation of actual and metaphorical boundaries, the sheer unstoppable increase of consumer culture and, most importantly, the beginnings and the rise of  the internet. Especially the latter was and is, as we all know, the catalyst that would change our lives forever.

Paradoxically, in today’s #YOLO-culture of seemingly infinite possibilities and opportunities, of #self(ie)-indulgence and generally accepted exhibitionism we often find ourselves in a state of perceived immobility and depression. The perpetual hunt for never-ending entertainment, for infinite jest, leaves us feeling empty and dissatisfied – A party that lasts forever is bound to become repetitive.

Peter Coffin, Untitled, 2008
Peter Coffin, Untitled, 2008

The exhibition Unendlicher Spass (Infinite Jest) at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, named after the book with the same title by David Foster Wallace, is concerned with this I at the beginning of the 21. century, the I of the Generation Me. The I which has boundless options and is simultaneously utterly unable to cope with this abundance. While in today’s world every nobody has theoretically the same chance of suddenly becoming somebody – be it through casting and reality shows on TV or by being discovered on the internet – there is also this sense of longing for normality, banality, and the average. This is reflected in such concepts as normcore, a fashion and lifestyle trend striving for the bland anti-style.

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Still from Helen Marten, Evian Disease (2013), watch the full video here.

Unendlicher Spass is set up in a cluster of rooms, often accessible in more than one way, whereby it is free to the visitor to decide in which order to view the artworks. The curatorial set-up, with no real beginning or end to the display, thus mirrors the infinite self-centred circularity of the Generation Me.

Joep Van Liefland, Video Palace #36 - Archive I (Shadow Hunter), 2014
Joep Van Liefland, Video Palace #36 – Archive I (Shadow Hunter), 2014

Artworks like Peter Coffin’s Untitled (2008) and Alicia Kwade’s Journey without arrival (2012) directly translate perceived immobility or pointlessness. Coffin’s work takes as its model the conveyor-belt packaging system of a New York electronics shop. Instead of goods, Coffin’s belt now transports a bundle of balloons in an endless loop, up and down, and around the gallery space. Kwade’s installation consists of a bike which has been bend to form a circle, making it impossible to ride it in any other way than around itself.

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Installation view
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Maurizio Cattelan, Spermini, 1997

The incessant occupation with the self is dealt with in Maurizio Cattelan’s Spermini (1997) in which the artist multiplies himself into scores of three-dimensional selfie-sculptures, spread out to swarm the walls. In Andrea Fraser’s two-screen video installation Projection (2008) the artist sits facing herself mimicking the patient on screen and the therapist on the other.

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Installation by Claire Fontaine including Untitled (The Invisible Hand), 2011, Untitled, 2008 and Untitled (Tennis Ball Sculpture), 2011
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Alicja Kwade, Journey without arrival (road bike), 2012

While some works, like Francis Alys’ Time is a Trick of the Mind (1998) show a more philosophical approach to the theme of cause and effect and circularity, it is especially Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s installation Living Comp (2011), that reflects the dystopian, dream-like state of the Generation Me most up-to-date.

In a sort of sculptural theatre with beds and benches spread across the room, the visitor is invited to consume Trecartin’s film Ready (Re’Search Wait’s) (2010). The piece is a tour de force of a home-quality video showing the artist assuming different roles and engaging in monologues that verge on self-indulgent hysteria. The whole assemblage is fast-paced and overlaid with flashing graphics. The artist presents an exaggerated, but shockingly accurate caricature of the 21 century I.

If you happen to be in Frankfurt, you can catch the last day of Unendlicher Spass (Infinite Jest) tomorrow.

(Dis)obedient Objects at the V&A

The exhibition entrance
The exhibition entrance

Disambiguation of disobedience.

disobedience
dɪsəˈbiːdiəns
noun
noun: disobedience
  1. failure or refusal to obey rules or someone in authority.
    “disobedience to law is sometimes justified”

These are not only objects of disobedience, these are objects of defeat and of victory, of pain and of triumph, but most of all of struggle.

They are touching, story-telling objects. They move you to tears, as much as they make you smile, and they embody in every possible way the object agency argued for so vigorously by Bruno Latour.

The danger of objects larger then their physical mass is reflected in the fact, that the museum takes on a design perspective. Expectedly, this is a seemingly fitting stance, possibly pre-determined by the very purpose of its standing as a chronicler and harp-bringer of all things design-related.

Forgoing any kind of explicit political message, staying on the save side, obviously, the exhibition let’s the objects speak. At the same time, the very fact, that they are still moving you deeply and are perfectly capable of telling the story of the human struggle, negates this imposed design-focused a-politicalness.

26 July 2014 – 1 February 2015

Entry is free.

The V&A provides you with a couple of printed How-to guides to take home and make your own ‘disobedient object.’ You can also download them here.

I also recommend the blog that accompanies the exhibition and explores individual objects exhibited and protests represented in more depth.

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Papier-mâché puppets from the American ‘Bread and Puppet Theater.’ The political theatre was formed in the 1960’s initially protesting against the Vietnam War and is still active today.

 

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The costumes and signs used by the Guerrilla Girls (formed in 1985 and still active) to protest against sexism in the art world and the under-representation of female artists in the canonic museums of the world.

 

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Examples of spoof newspapers printed and distributed to gain attention for political causes.

 

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Display of ‘book blocs.’ Signs that resemble book covers are used as shields in protests. These were first used in 2010 in Rome, Italy in student protests against budget cuts and the increase of tuition fees. You can read more about them here and here.

 

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More examples of protest signs.

 

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A bike bloc and sound installation using original sound footage from protests, as well as, sound material that responds to the exhibition.

 

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