‘Enacting Populism in its Mediæscape’ at Kadist Art Foundation, Paris. Review by Jo-ey Tang
Timed to the last the final two months of the French presidential election, and ending on the precipitous election day, ‘Enacting Populism in its Mediæscape’, curated by Matteo Lucchetti, operates within a shifting matrix of ideologies and temporalities, by staging a non-static exhibition that mirrors, reflects on, and embeds itself in the heightened realities of political representations. Drawing on the logics of Argentine philosopher Ernest Laclau, specifically his book ‘On Populist Reason’, an exegesis on the flattening of political identities in present-day societies, the exhibition space is set up to appear as a temporary political office, its walls painted in seafoam green, which has the calming effect of a hospital waiting room. The artists adopt the various forms in which political ideologies and economic exchanges are disseminated, in videos (Alterazioni Video, Nicoline van Harksamp, Société Réaliste), posters (Steve Lambert), and contracts (Anna Scalfi Eghenter, Superflex). Lucchetti calls it an ‘ambivalent space’, which is echoed in one of Lambert’s pseudo political posters, ‘It’s Time to Fight & It’s Time to Stop Fighting’, succinctly telegraphing the ambivalence and the urgency of the political present.
Nearly half of the works in the exhibition are out of reach from viewers in its totality, either in production, unavailable during gallery opening hours, or they extend beyond the time span of the exhibition dates. Any viewer will certainly miss part of the exhibition - too early, too late, or simply denied even the illusion of complete access. Thus, it self-reflexively questions the spatio-temporal limitations of contemporary exhibitions in addressing the representation of political ideologies: how does an exhibition situate itself to the contemporary political moment; and how could viewers situate their subjectivities in the context of such an exhibition’
The Paris-based duo Société Réaliste (Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy), incites the enigmas of history and how history outlives us. Purported to be the longest video ever made, ‘A Life to See’ (2012) takes all the frames of the seven feature films of Leni Riefenstahl, stretched to 885,768 hours, or 101 years, the life span of the controversial director. Each frame is played once for 59 minutes, in random order, and the audio is derived from all the sounds from the films compressed and played over each frame. The compression and expansion of visual and sonic records of an artist, as a figure in complicity with the state’s ideology, confer a heaviness to the still frame, a meditation on the role of artist. History is paused, but also is moving along to the intractability of time. Available online at http://www.alifetosee.net the video not only exceeds the time span of the exhibition, it is also predicated on the demise of the current form of the Internet as we know it.
On the other end of the temporal spectrum, Oliver Ressler’s ‘Robbery’ (2012) is a short video that is made up of just two still images, played back to back. One frame is of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy at a press conference and the other of looters at a grocery store in Britain in August 2011. Punctuated by the intertitles of ‘Daytime Robbery’ and ‘Nighttime Robbery’, the linkage between the looting carried out by working class youth and the states’ bailout to banks is blunt. Yet played only when the exhibition space is closed and viewable from the outside in the evening, its refusal takes a stance against viewers’ expectations of the role of artists making political work today.
Heman Chong’s ‘Simultaneous’ (2011) is the most engrossing and elusive work in the exhibition. A 12-hour real-time English to French translation of two short stories by Alfian Sa’at set in present-day Singapore (where the artist is also from), are performed by a reader and a translator, who were stationed at the entrance by the street-facing window. The viewer first encounters the process of translation up close, and later on again through a single speaker halfway into the exhibition space. This encountering and re-encountering creates a sense of disembodiment, a distancing of the present. Performed only on the day of the press preview and the first day of the exhibition and during the opening night, it is both a call and a death knoll to change, testing the will of the listeners as it recedes into background noise. All the hardware used in the performance: speakers, wires, tables, chairs, books, bottles of water, were removed thereafter. It not only calls into question the veracity of translation, but by enacting privileged information and disappearing from the exhibition, our inability to witness change, and the capacity for total knowledge. The privileged viewers are, thus, complicit in this movement of resistance that is the present. The event has always already happened. The viewer is always a partial witness in the transit of time.