December 31, 2015

Berlin Art Lovers: Berglind Ágústsdóttir on Brutal Honesty

Portrait of Berglind Ágústsdóttir. Photo: Karolina Daria Flora

I got to know Berglind Ágústsdóttir in 2010, when she performed a homage to Valeska Gert's candle dance in Südblock, as part of the accompanying program of the Valeska Gert exhibition that I curated together with Wolfgang Müller in Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin. In 2014 I saw her again, this time performing in the gallery Kling og Bang in Reykjavik. Since then I've been following Berglind Ágústsdóttir on social media - checking out her Radio Mix Kassette and the experimental music festival she organised this summer 2015. Whereas many artists try so hard to be uncompromised and unadapted, Berglind is a natural free spirit, with nothing forceful to it. It's funny, but it's rare to find an artist to be unique and authentic. We talked about brutal honesty, emotions, and doing your thing. 

December 27, 2015

Open Letters: a Correspondance with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 10

This is the 10th letter in a series of letter writing about art between Ignacio Szmulewicz and me. I've never met Ignacio in person but yesterday we did speak on Skype (only with voice, neither of us being "presentable" enough for video).

Hello Ignacio,

We just talked on Skype and you told me that you will be changing continents next week so that our correspondence will no longer be transatlantic. You noticed we were in opposite mindsets: you, anticipating 2016, having “trouble to differentiate fantasy from reality”, whereas my mind is only moving slowly in its direction. Nature has a way of slowing me down like that, as if time is (blissfully) standing still. I’m a little anxious for it to move on once I get back to Berlin. 

I read your letter aloud to my friend Kovo (the letter had this beautiful sound to it that sought its way out) and he, being a French philosopher, recommended me, upon hearing your lamentation on blue sky, to read Charles Baudelaire : “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume.” ("Dreams and fairy tales are children of the mist.") You talked about clouds, abstraction, and free thinking; Baudelaire about how England, Flanders and half of France is plunged in fog, and Venice bathes in lagoons, creating an idealism that makes one dream and imagine the beyond - “art made up of studio dreams and the faraway look of the imagination lost on the grey horizon.”

It made me think about how art writing can touch upon elements that make up the invisible setting of culture, like the experience of light. Regarding contemporary art’s discourse, I’m thinking more about the discotheque with its strobe light projected on a fog produced by the machine. Or what about that particular brightness that comes from artificial lighting - did it lead to neon savviness and a flashbulb intellectuality in the arts?

The Velvet Underground performing. Photo: Steve Schapiro

And what about sweat? Has an art writer ever considered something random as transpiration? Grace Jones did when writing her memoirs I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. Only an unconventional, open mind like the one of Grace Jones can come up with such an unlikely element of culture: “I was, abstractly, sweating on the front cover of Living My Life, either because I had been in a fight after some kind of argument [...] or because I had just sex with someone, somewhere. Or perhaps I was thinking about the world around me, and what was happening after all those parties, and all that togetherness. The sweat of the 1980s, of anxiety and threat, was very different from the no-holds-barred 1970s disco sweat.”

If you haven’t read Jones’ book yet, I can strongly recommend it. But you asked me a question: do I contradict myself? What first comes up to mind, is that I sometimes have to revise my opinion about an artist, and I must admit that this process (yes, it’s a process) is painful, it hurts. I have a nice story about my favorite Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (the one with the basket of broken eggs and the pot of mussels), and this story was told to me by his widow Maria Gilissen. Broodthaers disliked Max Ernst’s work. Yet, once he came upon a catalogue that made him turn his mind about Ernst. So he bought it and brought it back home (he was very particular about his library), but after one day studying it, he stormed out of his study and told Gilissen to throw it out immediately: he had been right about Ernst anyway. 

I would like to know about your library. Do books weight you down at a moment like this, when you’re moving? 

I didn’t answer your question about the discussions I have when talking about art criticism. Let me answer by asking a question: what are new perspectives in art criticism? 

Warm regards,


December 17, 2015

2016 Prediction: Art Critics Are Getting Together!

Last year I wrote a few predictions about 2015, of which I remember two. One was about how the boy’s club is going to breath its last. It was definitely breathing more shallow in 2015, wasn’t it? I also remember that I said that clubs and critics will be the next big thing. I was quite visionary on this one. I feel that art criticism and collaboration are getting more and more real. This collaboration can be on a mirco-level, with art critics quoting and referring to each other, acknowledging each other’s writing, communicating on Twitter, etc., or even more, by writing together, or featuring each other’s work. It was a lot of fun this year to research for the series on wordwide art bloggers, and feature guest bloggers like Sujin Jung in South-Korea, Claudio Cravero based in Saudia-Arabia, and Quinn Caroline Hannah in Canada, while writing letters about art writing with Chilean art critic Ignacio Szmulewicz. The collaboration is also going to extend more and more to other media, with art criticism being such a, as art poet and writer Fred Joiner calls it, “mixed media” writing. I tried to do so myself in 2015, doing literary curating at insitu and literary dining at Entretempo Kitchen Gallery, or teaching together with radio-maker and art writer Craig Schuftan about VLOGS and podcasts at Node Curatorial Center. With my online art criticism course for Node, we even published a notebook The Future Is...  Science Fiction in Art Writing and another one with blending genres is coming up soon. 

The new expansions I see in art writing, are:


What about visual art critical story telling? Museums are already on it (check out the Whitney Vlogs, or the Metropolitan Museum’s ones), but art magazines are still hesitating. How to express art criticism visually? Frieze started in 2015 to post art video’s and it wasn’t great. The best example of 2015 was Adrian Searl’s vlogging for the Venice Biennial. (of course, I’m too modest to nominate myself, vlogging while following Sleek editor Will Furtado on the Venice Biennial). I love the way Searl totally doesn’t fit into the expectations of the mainstream international art market and doesn't care, looking a little clumsy and not slick at all. At a certain moment he gets so close to the camera as if he's going to whisper the secrets of the art world in your ear. When interviewing artists, he manages to get a few words out of them that explain everything - and on top of it all, he manages to be critical - even more so than in his art reviews, where I sometimes wish he would be more bold. 

Photo in Mary Brown, "Art, Activism, and Artprize", The Rapedian

Blogging with Impact

It’s no secret that art blogging doesn’t make money, and unlike Garance Doré’s fashion blog it hardly draws crowds. Yet a few of them manage to attract a different kind of capital. ARTS.BLACK for instance, run by Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jessica Lynne is only one year old, and they are great in getting their message out in a way that also transcends the blog website. I've been following them on Facebook for just a few months, and saw they were featured at the  Chimurenga Library Pan African Space Station, and leading a critical discourse panel at the ArtPrize Hub, Taylor Renee Aldridge started with the following disclaimer: "ArtPrize is founded and publicly supported by the DeVos family, a family that has been publicly known to espouse and fund far right causes and conservative politics. While we are happy to share our work with you today through this platform we are in no way affiliated or in support of the DeVos family and the causes that they support. Being that the nature of this conversation is Art and Activism it would be inappropriate and contradictory of our practices to not address the implications around corporate philanthropist or their influence on cultural institutions. We do not desire to make this the focus of the discussion this evening however it is an issue that is quite relevant to the topic at hand."

Fred Joiner talking about poetry at TED Washington, 2012

The Spoken Word 

Can art criticism also be listened too? The poetry performances of art critic and curator Frank O'Hara's are legendary, and I love listening to Eileen Myles reading her art writing aloud. Fred Joiner, himself a poet and an art critic based in Bamako, told me about the MoMA 2015 poetry event, in which poets read their poems inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. Fred Joiner himself does a great job. Listen to his great talk of 2012 about the collaborative process of poetry writing (I would like to expand his arguments to art writing itself). Fred Joiner writes poetry in response to art, like this one about Malian textile artist, Abdoulaye Konate’s 2008 Dance of Kayes, which was selected as the winning poem for a poetry contest as part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art’s exhibition The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.  

Mixed Interests

How about an art critic being also a cultural critic? One of the art bloggers I follow ardently is Miss Milly B based in Capetown. Let's say she is one of those rare writers who has an opinion that isn't afraid to  "raise the roof and discomfort people". She doesn't shy away from pop culture either and while talking about it, she doesn't sound shallow. She writes on various branches from fashion to music videos, and my favourite essay of hers lately is the one on cultural appropriation: "If I served on an imaginary court of cultural appropriation judgment, my sentence would not be a harsh one. It would be simple: Just Leave Us Alone Already. Stop studying us. Stop probing us. Stop touring our townships. Stop copying our hairstyles. Stop making millions from TV shows about us. Stop photographing us. Stop appropriating our languages, which you don’t speak, by naming your game lodges or fashion labels in them. Please, just leave us alone."

Guest Blogger Sujin Jung Reporting from South-Korea: A Special Dinner Date

This is the fourth story in the fiction art writing series of Seoul art blogger Sujin Jung. To close off the year 2015 Sujin Jung visited an exhibition at DDP and talks about the latest "micro-trends" in art: food, mapping, science, entertainmentism, and Youtubers. 

Today, I have a dinner date. I am planning something special for him as I booked a table at a fancy gourmet restaurant operated by star-chefs or cheftainers (chef + entertainer). This popular restaurant’s name is ‘Art in food’. The restaurant says it is because when many people taste food here, their first impression is ‘This is art!’ This is quite interesting to me. As a person who is working in the art world, ‘art’ doesn’t always means ‘great’ or ‘decent’, it is rather neutral or I would say complicated, and sometimes even bad. Well… I myself use that expression a lot too though… Anyway the name is so true; there is art in food, and also food in art, like 'food artist'. 

Waiter: May I help you? 
She: Yes, today is our special day, so… What would you like to recommend for us tonight?
He: Yes, What is today’s menu?


Waiter: Oh you mean, are you asking what is ‘Today’s organic’? Every day, we recommend one thing under the name of ‘Today’s organic’. Well it could also be called ‘Today’s menu’ like this gentleman says. Here, we consider three things when eating; mentally organic, physically organic, and emotionally organic. And ‘Today’s organic’ is ‘Airplane mode’.

Nowadays, everybody is pursuing ‘organic’ things in their life. In this context, ‘organic’ means well-being, healthy. People are so temperamental. They created the artificial for their well-being in life, and now they want to go back to something raw. The same with art: before, art works refused to be defined, rejecting to be read as only one category, but recently there is a tendency to define everything which is really hard thing to do since everything keeps transforming, expanding, and intercrossing. Well…you know, recently, ‘mapping’, ‘infographic’ has been seen frequently in contemporary art. Well… these kinds of whims might be incomplete tug-of-wars

She: Hmm… Well, today is your day, what do you think, darling?
He: Is ‘Airplane mode’ the name of the food?
Waiter: Yes.
He: Well, we need something more sensational. You know, our contemporaries always need something exciting, mate. 

Chanoh Lee

Waiter: Alright. There is one perfect menu for you contemporaries. It is called TGIF.
She: Oh, what is the ingredient of this food? 
Waiter: Basically, it is a capsule.
He: A capsule? 
Waiter: Yeah, it is the perfect thing for the busy modern man. In this capsule, there are not only materials, but also emotions. If you take this one, actually, you don’t need to go out in search for that Friday mood. Only one capsule. Boom. Finished!
He: Hmm…It sounds like drugs…well, maybe we could say it is similar in that both want to be more and more stimulating but each stimulation lasts only so short…
She: Well…yeah… today’s trend is ‘Micro trendy’! By the way, does it truly work…? 
He: I don’t know… whatever… Is there any decent cuisine?


Waiter: Then…what about this kind of food? 
He: Hmm well…pasta? Fine, not bad… what about you?
She: Yeah, not bad…good haha, let’s just try this, I am so hungry… 
He: By the way, what kind of pasta it is? 
Waiter: It is made by insects. 

Oh… Science and food. Science and art. ‘Convergence’ is the most popular word this year. Especially something that is plus technology. Technology is developed more and more, and it affects our life a lot on all levels like art, design, etc. The most distinguished thing in technology which affects my field and life was the 3d printer.  The world is getting complicated…… and well... I am so looking forward to see what will come!  


Waiter: Well... Maybe if you think pasta is a bit boring for your special day menu, what about trying this at that table?
He: Wow, is it for youtubers? 
She: Wow, yes I think so. Wow, especially for food porn! Actually I don’t get it, this food porn. However, I really respect some ‘youtubers’. They are the real artists in the moving image generation! Do you know what the most ironic thing of this year is?
He: Well… I don’t know. 
She: Both ‘Food porn’ and ‘Cleanse detox juice’ caught popularity at the same time this year! Such an ironic thing, isn’t it?
He: Right on, haha! Anyway, we are in the trendiest restaurant at the moment, thanks to you, darling haha. 

That is so true. Wow! A desk for food show is formed! This year, food related entertainment TV programs fetched the public. In fact, entertainment is going into everything in our life nowadays. Recently, one art critic says there is a new trend in art world, and that is ‘entertainmentism’. I thought that is so right. Well… that everyone can approach contemporary art, or something professional, in a funny and easy way is a very good thing indeed. But, it is always a bit worrying that it might fade away soon…. Or get too distorted… only for popularity’s sake…

She: Well, anyway I do not want our special night to be watched by everyone. I am sorry, and thanks for your explanation about this menu, and this desk… well, everything, but I think we should leave. 
He: Ok. Sorry again.
Waiter: No problem!

So, we went home and made pasta the way we usually have it. And that night… it was so special!

DDP (gallery moon)  
Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park or It could read as ‘Dream, Design, Play’! DDP is a new building in fashion town. It is built by Zaha Hadid. The concept of architecture is ‘Metonymic Landscape’ so its shape is streamlined. It feels like I am in the space or in a cave. The most interesting thing is when I see this building from the outside: it looks like so dynamic, but inside, it feels like so static… maybe this is because it is too wide…haha. Anyway, I like this building in that there are so many trendy (well or ‘micro trendy’) things happenening!

December 16, 2015

Art Blogger of The Week: Sally Deskins near Pittsburgh, USA

Photo: Thompson Higgins

Sally Deskins found me before I found her. She contacted me for her blog Les Femmes Folles to talk about art criticism and feminism. I knew the subject of art criticism tends to be masculine (it's easier to publish about (white) male artists in mainstream art magazines (and I don't know many art magazines that are not mainstream, except for some online, independent ones, like the critical Africa Is A Country ). But is the gender of the art critic also dominantly masculine? When it comes to an art critic with established "authority", I guess I can only name Roberta Smith. Since 2011 Sally Deskins challenges in her blog such inequalities. Les Femmes Folles, also named LFF, is even more than a blog, Sally Deskins calls it an organisation, one that hosts events, talks, conferences, and exhibitions. It even publishes books - indeed, a micro feminist press! You can check her interview with me here, and to know more about  Sally Deskins's feminist engagement, read my interview with her below: 

Art scene

There was some discourse about the amount of women featured recently at the Miami Art Fair which was awesome and I hope a growing trend. In general, trends for art direction might include more globally-minded artists creating work with knowledge of the world at large daily through social media, and with this recognition that their work, too, could be seen worldwide via just an upload (see Fiona Amundsen for example); environmentalist-focused art (see Barbara Roux, for example); social justice-themed art (see Leslie Sotomayor, for example); and a growing technological / new media field with online art (see Alinta Krauth, for example). Even considering the excitement at Miami Art Fair, what has not changed enough is the representation of women in art collections, exhibitions, texts and commercial galleries. A whole issue of ARTNews was dedicated to the issue last summer. LA-based artist Micol Hebron is curating an ongoing collaborative project dedicated to showing visually the gender break-down of commercial galleries via posters by artists that is now worldwide, that I’m a part of, called Gallery Tally. In fact, as Griselda Pollock recently wrote, women are still left out of the story by mainstream museums, and this impacts our understanding of history. As Susan Bee keenly wrote for the Brooklyn Rail special feminist issue last year, “…even when woman artists are shown, the wall texts, catalogues, and reviews too often situate their work in relation to male artists, as if that is what makes the work valuable.” There are of course other collectives, galleries and groups still addressing this issue today, including, albeit on a small level, my blog, Les Femmes Folles, which is a forum for women in all forms of art, and I’m thankful to now know of your blog! But the fact is, it is still an uneven playing field and not enough people recognize this—or the importance of recognizing this. 

I create and write in a town with less than a handful of galleries in West Virginia, near Pittsburgh. One recently opened by two art students so hopefully that will shake things up. Otherwise, Pittsburgh has a really outstanding and growing art scene with diversity and encouragement from various nonprofits for experimentation and growth. I have had the opportunity of having a solo exhibition at Future Tenant which is run by art administration students,  and enjoyed collaborating, and in an exhibition there curated by one of the curators of the Andy Warhol Museum which was really exciting because their curating always proves innovative and exploratory, which I admire. Last month I was in an experimental show at Most Wanted Fine Art, looking at the art of blogging, which I write more about below … 


I started Les Femmes Folles, the blog, in 2011, after an exhibition featuring the work of five women artists curated by the late artist Wanda Ewing, my friend and mentor. Long story about how the exhibition, titled by Wanda, came to be, but I was producing a performance event inspired by the female writers of the Beat movement and invited her to curate an art exhibit to accompany it. It was amazing, and inspiring; I was in awe of the talent and the strength in the work and messages by Wanda, Leslie Diuguid, Rebecca Herskovitz, Jamie Lamaster and Lauren van Wyke!  I was in stoked that there were other women using the body in their work and doing it simultaneously with strength and grace. I wanted to know more about them, see more of their work–but was unable to find almost anything. Then I started looking online for other work about women artists and did not find much (locally, at the time I was in Omaha, Nebraska). I was also an arts writer for the newsweekly there, and began to notice the majority of exhibitions I was writing about featured men…so I pitched a new column idea to a few publications to write solely about women and feminist issues in art, including conversations among artists and professionals, as well as reviews and timely feminist topics. No one was interested, so I asked a few community members what they thought of the idea of starting my own blog, and everyone was really excited and supportive, so I did! I asked Wanda what she thought of having a blog to feature solely women artists, and was encouraged to do it! Wanda being right there, “of course use my exhibit title, the drawing I made for the show, anything, just do it!”  It debuted to some major excitement, and followed up with six more shows (and counting) as well as readings, panels, books and other collaborations. I also have a long story about how it began, as well as about Wanda Ewing, on the blog if anyone wants to go there and read it.

I like blogging because it offers a more raw perspective on art, unedited and free to write whatever I want!  I assume other bloggers are as well, so it’s a great gritty alternative to the more formal art publications which are of course, important too. But blogging adds a nice personal aside to that—and, my own story is a testament—my column idea was rejected, so I started my own blog.

As far as being connected to other bloggers, yes and no. Lots of artists and writers also keep blogs, and I’m in a few art blogging online conversation groups. I am not literally in a solid, regular, meet-up bloggers group however, that would be fun! I am in this “Art of Blogging” exhibition right now, at Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery in Pittsburgh, which is really interesting. I’m also an artist and my blogging definitely impacts my artwork—many times directly, as in my work exhibited in this show, alongside other artists who blog, or bloggers who create.  I think it is a really great curatorial idea for a show; the curators are really great promoters, and are hosting some blogging awards, and next to each artwork, including the artist’s statement and a bit about their blog. It’s interesting to see the variety of works and how people work their blogging into their work or vice versa. These two particular pieces of mine are from my Voice series that I started after LFF debuted. I grabbed quotes from interviews about being a woman or being a woman artist, and scripted them alongside a series of body prints (inspired by Yves Klein’s Anthropometries).  So as blogging and interviewing all these women is helping me find my own way as a woman, it is also evidence of so many ways to be a strong woman, whatever that means in the form of these abstract body-print forms.


My undergraduate degree is in studio art, drawing. But after that I spent five years in nonprofit administration doing fundraising, events and promotion. I got a Masters in nonprofit administration, then decided I just wanted to write about art, so I wrote a column about the art scene in Omaha for the newsweekly there for a few years before starting LFF as I mentioned before. 

Besides blogging, I’m currently a graduate student in art history, looking at curating with a feminist perspective. Les Femmes Folles totally impacted my choice of study, focusing on feminist issues in art, and women in art, etc. Interviewing so many women in art about being a woman artist definitely served as an impetus to dig more into the issue with graduate research.

I’m also a freelance writer, reviewing art and books, with a focus on women in art and seeing art with a feminist lens. So, my blog similarly impacts my perspective with this writing.

And, I’m also still a practicing artist! As previously noted a lot of my art comes directly from my blog, and some of it indirectly.  I met writer Laura Madeline Wiseman via a LFF interview and another event I was producing a few years ago, and she asked me if I’d like to do a collaborative book together! So our first collaborative book was Intimates and Fools, in 2014, which actually just won a Nebraska Book Award for cover design and illustration! That is really exciting. That started the Les Femmes Folles Books collaborative series which is an outgrowth of LFF. We also then started on our next project together, Leaves of Absence, exploring nature and the body, which will be out Jan. 1, 2016 from Red Dashboard books. 

I’m also a mom and a wife which is another interview, but seeps into all of my work directly and indirectly as well. 


I wish I were business-savvy and able to turn the blog into a profit-making venture, or even a bartering venture. I should be, considering I’m married to an economist. But I’m shy and understand there are so many artists out there asking for donations for major projects that I help promote. Being a freelance writer doesn’t pay the bills either. I’m hoping that once I graduate I can find a way to get paid for some of my labor! I do have one advertisement on my blog but it’s never paid anything to speak of. The books I sell, the annuals, I don’t make any money from either, nor my other projects with Madeline Wiseman. I sell art occasionally, but it barely pays enough to buy supplies. It is literally a labor of love, though I’m fortunate to be able to pursue it, it would feel much more solid—not just for me, but for art in general—to get paid. That’s the thing with art, isn’t it, it’s given away (or it’s expected to be). I hope someday to have a column or regular space in a major publication to write about women and feminist issues in art. I’ll keep submitting and plugging away! But LFF will remain.

December 15, 2015

How I Got To Nuremberg: Catching a Train, SoulCycling, and Transparency

Nuremberg Lebkuchen. Copyright: Stanislava Dimitrova

Sleek Magazine sent me to Nuremberg to cover an exhibition titled Transparenzentaking place in both Kunstverein Nuremberg and Kunstverein Bielefeld. Nuremberg is in Bayern and it was a 5 hour train ride from Berlin. I’m always excited when I have the possibility to get to know Germany a little better. So I packed enough food for five hours (my greatest fear is to be without food on a train), and I took my Kindl because a train ride is the ultimate occasion to read. I didn’t get any reading done though. The company I travelled with, was too entertaining. Gudrun Landl joined from press office N, and art critic Thomas Bettrigde went together with girlfriend Zuma and her cousin Alex. The trip started with us running on the platform to get to our train cabin and, not succeeding to do so, we had to run in two étappes. It was all very exciting and we felt very much alive, blood streaming through our veins. This is the way every visit to an art exhibition should start - you have to feel alive and not half dead. The fun had only started. Zuma had been so genius to bring a bottle with bubbles and then, when our tongues loosened, we started talking about anything but art. This is, by the way, also how a visit to an art exhibition should start - free your mind by talking about the opposite of art, which is surface culture so the art will hit you even more. That’s how we talked about how the fashion brand Urban Outfitters is for old people and how Oprah bought 10 percent of Weight Watchers so it could be saved from bankruptcy. We talked also about the benefits of a membership at Soho House, and discovered there aren’t any really (we had some insider news about this). And then there is this new phenomenon trending in the USA, called SoulCycle, one that makes you drench in sweat and it’s basically indoor cycling in steamy rooms. Zuma told me she’s critical how very white SoulCycle in New York City is (only it’s cleaning personnel being black) but Thomas is a huge fan and he can't wait to go again when he's back in NY for Christmas. We ended up talking about Real Housewives and I discovered that Baraba Krüger watches it as a kind of research for her artistic work. 


Five hours train ride went by like nothing, and I ended up making a deal with Thomas that I would quote his part on the Bielefeld exhibition for Frieze Magazine, since I would never be able to see it. This is how things were looking bright when we arrived in Nuremberg, inside the train at least, because outside it was raining like hell. We all had hoped to visit the Christmas market of Nuremberg, but then discovered upon arrival that it would only start a few days later. This left us with the other touristy attraction, the Nazi rally grounds, and none of us were up to that. That left us with food tourism - and we got excited about the prospect of eating the legendary Nuremberg Würstchen. We were also considering buying Nuremberger Lebkuchen (ginger bread) to bring back to Berlin. Na, we realised then, nobody in Berlin will believe that those 3 cookies cost 10 Euros, whereas you can buy them in Lidl for 2 Euros. In the evening we were at the opening of the Nuremberg Kunstverein and you can read about it in detail  in Sleek Magazine Online. Quoting my colleague Thomas turns out to be a little difficult because his review is in print in Frieze Magazine but why don’t you go buy it, huh. After the opening the Nuremberg people brought us to a bar that looked like a Berlin bar, with sofa’s, second hand chairs, looking a bit trashy, with a party going on in the basement. We, the Berlin people, were of course disappointed, and we left the Nuremberg people behind to go to a typical traditional Nuremberg restaurant nearby to eat those long awaited Würstchen. Ah good times... And why am I revealing all these things, that have nothing whatsoever to do with the art that I saw in Nuremberg? For the sake of transparency, my dear reader, for the sake of not holding back anything to you. We art critics call it "Radical Vulnerability". 

December 10, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 9

Ignacio Szmulewicz and I have never met but we talk about the weather as if we are old friends. Any letter should have an update about the weather, don't you think? Even those of art critics. This is the 9th letter in the series, and we're just starting!

Susan Sontag

Dear An,
I’m so glad that you refresh my memory of Susan Sontag. Every once in a while I read her essays for no particularly reason. I find that most of her life was based on the conflicts regarding critical thinking. On the one hand she was really committed to the idea of “la erótica del arte” (the eroticism of the arts). On the other hand, she was very affected by the events such as the one that took place in Sarajevo in 1992. In the documentary Regarding Susan Sontag she spoke on the meaning of critical thinking on the verge of such dramatic events.
I find that most of our lives consist of a series of detours taken to explore our contradictions. We can believe in the power of arts to transform and also experience the limits of every artistic intention. 
I talked about this with a friend of mine last weekend. She said that one needs to continuously expand one's knowledge of the world to get in touch with the dramatic conditions of all the people. I find that a very hard, very drastic, and very exhausting thing to do. But she was right about one thing. The pleasure of any art experience, including critical thinking as you put it well, doesn’t necessarily mean an abstraction of the world. Much of the current dislike with contemporary art has to do with this dilemma. 
In the same conversation I said to my friend: “I just still haven’t found something so compelling in the world so that I felt that the art experience isn’t enough”. And that doesn’t mean that there are no compelling things. On the contrary, it just means that I haven’t experienced anything more enlightening than the life of two lost poets in the search of a lost poetry movement in Los detectives salvajes by Bolaño; or the agony of a forbidden love in The piano by Jane Campion (for quoting two examples). 

Doris Salcedo
I think that critical thinking can be able to connect in such a profound way with the core and expansion of the artwork that it can show others the beautiful experience of being lost in a human creation. Creation that most of the times was conceived in different eras, distant spaces, or by other cultures. In that way, critical thinking has a diplomatic purpose, in the good sense of the word. It holds the key to understanding the collective nature of feelings, political intrigues, or cultural difference.

Wim Wenders, Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987

You ask me about the weather. Here in Santiago the absence of any kind of clouds is a synonym of the people being happier and happier. What I miss most of the south is the rain and the clouds. I feel so trapped in the huge blue. On the contrary, my imagination just gets empty by the look of that endless cyan gamma. Clouds, so said Leonardo, are one of the most fascinated objects of painting because of the connection with abstraction and free thinking. But I also have to learn that the myth of nature it’s connected with the idea of being in an immersive world in which it’s impossible to come out. The passive and endless calm of being in the clouds (like on a Win Wenders movie) has to be continuously broken or interrupted by touching the ground. I feel that critical thinking is an opportunity to get in touch with the most volatile  of nature phenomenons but also with the cracks of the soil in which all civilization has been uplifted (Doris Salcedo’s work in the turbine hall is precisely about that).

Leonardo da Vinci

What do you think about the contradictions of critical thinking? Have you experienced some? What kind of discussions do you get when you talk about art criticism?

I wish that you could send some of those beautiful clouds to the dry weather of Santiago,


December 8, 2015

To Pull A Dream Into The Morning. Volksbühne, KN, and DOC11

Ben Mauk, The Maker, 2015

Doesn't winter make you turn inside? I'm more susceptible to poetry in this season. It soothes the existential gloom. And the heaviness that normally frightens me away from theatre, now makes me go. The other week, for instance, I saw René Pollesch' theatre piece Kill Your Darlings at the Volksbühne, talking about love in times of neoliberalism: "Warum bringt sich eigentlich niemand mehr aus Liebe um?" 

And then, last Friday, there was the KN's exhibition Cloudbusting where a few sentences struck me in a way I had to jot them down. I read the first one in a video piece by Katie Armstrong: "I pulled a dream into the morning." The sentence appeared on the screen among other ones that were in the process of being written, deleted and rewritten - visualising the hesitation that goes with writing, but also the one that accompanies waking up. Let me repeat it again for beauty's sake: "I pulled a dream into the morning."

A second sentence caught my ear in the video by Karolina Sobecka: "Remoteness is an important aspect of clouds." Can a sentence hold a whole philosophy? And then there was Ben Mauk's video The Maker: "If a cloud can look like anything, then, by definition, everything looks like clouds." It's the first visual storytelling by my colleague writer Ben Mauk. When we met a while ago, we bounded in our love for IMovie. Mauk's video is barely moving though: it consist of still images, a series of photographs - and there's a little death, a stopping of time, in each of them. 

Yuko Kaseki at DOC11. Photo: Dadaware, Sigel Eschkol

On Sunday night, it was the language of dance that drew me in. Light engineer Asier Solana had invited me to a solo butoh performance Shoot Jeez My Gosh by Yuko Kaseki at DOC11. It's a performance on innocence and violence inspired by Henry Darger's paintings. Kaseki "abstrahises" the body to the extent that raw and pure poetry comes about. Let me quote the text of the flyer: "The birth to kill / Build to break down / Existence / To be erased / To be pasted / The invisible enemy / Imperceptible voice / The other side of the filter / The inside of the monitor / In order to be fooled / In order to deceive / Endless game of  / The World"

Henry Darger

December 4, 2015

I Love Art Gadgets 2: Make Time Run!

3 and 5 minutes sand hours

Another favourite art gadget of mine are the sand hours at the art bookstore. They come in different colours and in different minutes: 3 or 5. I bought the 3 minutes one, because I'm doing these meridian exercises in the morning and I have to hold those for exactly three minutes. At least, I'm trying to, and I reckoned the sand hour would motivate me to perform better. M. of the bookstore bought the 5 minutes so his kids can time the brushing of their teeth. M. from the entrance desk told me he likes to cook eggs 5min.50secs. and that's why he decided against buying the 5 minutes sand hour. "Do three minutes cost less than 5 minutes of time?" a customer asked. A legitimate question. "No," M. responded sec, "same price, we wouldn’t want to charge more for that little bit of sand." Very generous. So it's 19 Euros for 3 and 5 minutes, and although that's not cheap, they are selling really well. When I came back a few days later, time was sold out. M. told me that time sells even better than Andy Warhol. The success has turned Walther König bookstore people a little euphoric and now they are also selling a 1 hour sand hour. We got a little megalomaniac there on the spot and were calculating how much sand we would need for a 500 years sand hour. It turned out that 1051 kilos of sand are needed, but P. thinks that M. miscalculated on this one. I got the luminous idea of a performance at the sand hour stand, turning them upside down while quoting Joseph Beuys' "Was ist nun mit der Zeit?" That's when the bookstore people got fed up with me (always at that point I'm starting to get ideas...), and asked me: isn't it time to get to work?

1 hour sand hour

December 3, 2015

I Love Art Gadgets 1: The Unofficial Beuys Candle

It's really nothing to be ashamed of, although the bookstore people think one should be: the love for art gadgets. I find the art gadget business a very interesting business, one that reveals a lot about the art world. You see, it's not an easy one, the art gadget business. It can be really difficult to obtain the rights to do a gadget about an artist. Take Joseph Beuys for instance. It's not allowed to make gadgets of Beuys. I'm guessing that his widow is preventing it. Art gadgets are kitsch, of course, and one has to protect the reputation of an artist. Some artists are just unfit for gadgets, like Anselm Kiefer, it wouldn't work. But Beuys... he had humour and that translates well into gadgets. Walther König bookstore has some postcards of Beuys, but no objects. Yet, bookstore people are very clever (at least the Hamburger Bahnhof Walther König ones). At the desk there're selling an unofficial Beuys art gadget: it's rabbit candle, made out of beeswax, or so it seems. Haha, it doesn't say it's a Beuys, but of course everybody gets the picture. The bookstore people confirmed to me yesterday that it's the best selling art gadget of the year. Good old Beuys!

December 1, 2015

Feministing Philosophy. Sexing up Social Theory. Kegels for Hegel

Yesterday I was reading about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who published in 1895, together with a committee of women, The Woman's Bible. The idea behind it was to focus on the part of the Bible that talks about women, and to correct Biblical interpretations that were unfair towards women. That's more than a century ago, but we're still, in the 21st century, not much further, and I'm not only speaking biblically. Take philosophy, and in the art world in which I work, philosophy is used a lot, at worst in order to pepper the art so it has some substance. How many applications and artist statements start with a quote of a philosopher? What is nauseating about it, is that 99% of the time those philosophers are solely white men, luckily not all heterosexual (good old Foucault). Rarely women make it up to the canon of quotes. As it is, when they produce radical critical work, it's often shrugged off as "frustrated" or "amusing", not as something that boosts your art or application. Or it's just not considered to be philosophy. Take for instance Chris Kraus. I've been reading Chris Kraus' I Love Dick lately, and my favourite art critic and feminist poet Eileen Myles wrote in the foreword: "Kraus' ultimate achievement is philosophical ... When I Love Dick came into existence, a new kind of female life did, too." 

Last May, I met Alexis Salas and Sarah Luna at the Venice Biennial, together with my friend artist kate hers RHEE. All of them had been working together on a video Chicken Himmel (Bite Me Nietzsche) for Kegels for Hegel. Kegels for Hegel was initiated by Salas and Luna with the intent to bring together academics and artists to sex up social theory. It is, in their own words, "a conceptual art project that queers up the work of philosophers through song and music videos." This way Love Songs for G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx and Friends have come about. We got a little tipsy that day, or at least I did, and there and then we agreed upon a collaboration for Kegels for Hegel Pastelegram issue Death Drive, which materialised in three arty chicken stories I wrote, inspired by the video you can see above. You can read my stories here

Sarah Luna and kate hers RHEE at the Venice Biennial 2015 (photographer: probably me?)

November 25, 2015

Human Madness. "The Sunflower House" by Dan Thy Nguyen and Irakiis Panaglotopoulos at the Queer Art Audio Festival, Berlin

Dan Thy Nguyen discussing his The Sunflower House.

There's only one thing I could complain about at Echos + Netze - Das Trans’tonale Hörfest, a queer art audio festival in Künstlerhaus Bethanien / Kreuzberg. They shouldn't have taken real grass for the visitors to sit upon. What about good old fake plastic? I was so deep into listening that I didn't notice my behind getting wet. Overall, however, the atmosphere was cosy at the trans-tonal festival, with comfortable chairs to lounge in, platforms to stretch out upon, and even a nice piece of chocolate cake, and a hot cup of tea or coffee. A perfect way to hear audio plays. Wolfgang Müller had invited me over. He was showing his Séance, which he created for our 2012 exhibition Gesture Sign art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture. Séance is a rather unusual play in the audio play genre: there's no sound but instead a visual gestural performance, one that is performed by Simone Lönne in DGS (German Sign Language). It talks about the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America (or even in the world), which was hunted to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. The last species died in the Cincinnati zoo on September 1, 1914. In the video Lönne gestures the passenger pigeon in its many variations and rhythms. To me, on this particular Sunday, it looked like a philosophic treatise on humankind: "Wandern: durchziehen, migrieren, bewegen, den Wohnort wechseln, gehen."

Séance at Echos + Netze. Photo: Wolfgang Müller

I had arrived late and found Wolfgang Müller together with a bunch of people in the act of listening in highest concentration. Das Sonnenblumenhaus (The Sunflower House) by Dan Thy Nguyen and Irakiis Panaglotopoulos was nearing its end. A talk with Nguyen followed and it took me a while to get what was being talked about. A pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, 1992. I do automatically associate Rostock with neo-nazis, but had never thought about how this image came about. Rostock-Lichtenhagen is a discursive weapon for leftists, Nguyen explained, but one with very little content. Later, on Wikipedia, I read that this 1992 riot is considered to be the worst mob attack against migrants in post-war Germany. Right-wing extremists attacked a refugee shelter and a residential home of Vietnamese contract workers while about 3000 onlookers were standing by and applauding. What Wikipedia didn't say is that the police did next to nothing and even withdrew during the mob attack, letting the extremists throw their Molotov cocktails and burn the house. Nobody was killed in the end, one of the reasons why this pogrom has been largely ignored. 

Nguyen himself came upon the topic in 2012 by googling on “human madness”. It didn’t take long for Rostock-Lichtenhagen to show up. This is how Nguyen set out to tell the story of the Vietnamese contract workers, and both the audio play and theatre piece Das Sonnenblumenhaus are based on interviews with time witnesses. Finding those, so he told us, was not an easy job - many of them are deported, or they mistrust media, or fear that exposure might lead to being attacked once more. Getting funding as such was troublesome for Nguyen - his project being considered to be a “multi-cultural” project, and not a “high culture” one. In a perverse way, he admitted, the year 2015 had brought his play to a broader attention, Pegida and new riots being a “lucky” coincidence for Das Sonnenblumenhaus. In 2015, Nguyen has been getting requests at least every two weeks. Yet, even now it seems to be impossible for the theatre piece to be performed in the theatre itself. "What happens in German theatre," Nguyen says, "is still very much, at least on the decision level, a playground of white, heterosexual men." Museums are more interested in the work, and so are schools.

Das Sonnenblumenhaus' strength is, however, not just based on “borrowed importance”. After Nguyen's talk I got the chance to listen to the full audio play. Das Sonnenblumenhaus doesn't start and end in 1992 but traces the pogrom back to a long pre-history in the GDR and forth to the long-lasting consequences. Doing so, a few myths get destroyed: the idea that anti-fa's can't be racist, the assumption that the white left helped the migrants out (in the story they rather disappoint by getting drunk) or that 1992 was only a one-time catastrophe. The pogrom has been systematically relativised, Nguyen told us. The fact, for instance, that the refugee shelter housed 1500 refugees instead of the allowed number of 300, has been labeled as "mismanagement" in the papers. 

Das Sonnenblumenhaus knows also how to transform its material into a good artistic form. The voices in the audio play are not those of the interviewed time-witnesses. Nor do the actors mimic an accent. Yet, the team of actors studied intensively the intonation, the slight pauses, and the little smirks, discussing the reasons for those and the way to include them in the play. In the play itself there is even a moment when the actors reveal themselves as being actors playing the vietnamese contract workers. "It seems to be an art work that acts as if it is a feature," so Wolfgang Müller noticed, "and a feature that acts as if it is an art work." Nguyen himself has high hopes for Das Sonnenblumenhaus, wishing it may "inspire reflection so that we're not imprisoned in a history of forgetting that keeps repeating itself."