Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chronicling the car bombs of Lebanon

Walid Raad and the Atlas Group is presenting a mixed-media installation at The Kitchen, a performance and exhibition space in Chelsea. Raad seeks to explore the contemporary history of Lebanon - specifically the wars from 1975 to 1991 - by collecting and archiving fragments related to the conflict. I had seen the exhibition, but the statistics, ephemera, and video on view seemed thinly stretched over a barely articulated concept. And the allusion to invented documentation didn't help: What was real? What was invented? And why fabricate any of it? However, the subject interested me.

Tonight Raad gave a lecture in conjunction with the exhibition. He seemed dispassionate as he described his group's ongoing investigation into the use of car bombs in Lebanon - and in particular a specific blast that occurred in Beirut on January 21, 1986. In a visual presentation and subsequent video, he showed maps of the area, the buildings that were damaged, the kinds of cars that were used, the political cast of characters, and so on. It was hard for me to gauge what anyone in the audience would take away from all this, except that terrorism is so much in the news. But when he answered questions from the audience, something like an agenda seemed to emerge. No one had been held accountable for some 3,600 car blasts in Lebanon; data were available, but they had never been archived, and archiving could lead to accountability.

More broadly, Raad is interested in what happens to cities in the aftermath of these attacks, and to their definitions of time and space. This certainly resonated for me: Each day I pass the former site of the World Trade Center on my way to work, where overheard conversations often distinguish between "before" and "after" and devolve into "where were you when..." Raad wants to know how we cope when the interiors of buildings - and of people - are literally thrown outside, and the demarcation between private and public is blurred. Papers from the Twin Towers floated around Brooklyn. We open our bags to let the NYPD look inside. And we start to suspect our neighbors.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Warriors, cows, and skyscrapers - new video art

Video art always seemed inane to me until some point in the late 1990s, when I saw Bill Viola at the Whitney Museum and Iranian artist Shirin Neshat at P.S. 1. Since then, P.S. 1 remained one of the best places to see engaging examples of the medium, particularly in the dungeon-like underground viewing space. This is another good time to see international video art in the former school.
A little role-playing before dinner
In video artist Cao Fei' s work, China's socio-economic upheaval takes the form of elaborately costumed adolescents who role-play in an indifferent urban landscape. But if you don't stay for the entire film, you'll miss the best part - when they return home to eat dinner with their distracted families.
Bureaucracy in the woods
German artist Clemens von Wedemeyer also stages his actors, who in one film play Russian immigrants seeking visas to Germany. We see them stepping through an imaginary metal detector to reach a park, and although the Russian dialogue is not translated, their air of resignation is palpable - and hilarious.

Wolfgang Tillmans at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center

An exhibition of large-scale abstract photographs by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans opened today on the third floor of P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center. I had never seen the portraits for which Tillmans is better known, so the significance of his transition to abstraction may have been lost on me. Nevertheless, I loved his stylish explorations of pure enamel-like color and the implied effects of motion, like ink dissolving in water. They evoked for me the cool elegance of his compatriot Gerhard Richter, whose photo-based oil paintings I saw at MoMA a few years ago. Worth a trip to Queens, even on a frigid day!

A peony grows in Brooklyn

This beauty bloomed on the steps of a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. Thanks to Pinky for her superb photograph!