Albert’s Way

Francis Alÿs has a knack for turning his walks into art. In Albert’s Way, however, his walk is limited to the four walls of his Mexico City studio. For 10 hours per day during 7 days he circled the periphery of the room, adding up to the 118 km of the Camino Ingles, a pilgrimage route from El Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela. His inspiration came from Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, known for being the only Nazi leader at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials in 1945-46 to admit his guilt: Rumour goes that while jailed in Spandau, Albert Speer walked in circles in the prison patio, pacing the exact distance from one city to another and imagining the places he’d be passing through on his virtual tour around the globe.


Solar Breath

In Solar Breath (Northern Caryatids) (2002) Michael Snow records the movements of a curtain in his rural log cabin in Newfoundland, Canada, about an hour before sunset. In it we observe beautiful gentle flutters that occur alongside dramatic gusts which blow the fabric into large balloons only to slam it back into the glass, and out again. Snow says, “While on one level Solar Breath is merely a fixed-camera documentary recording, it is also the result of years of attention”


In the Blink of an Eye

I discovered Greta Alfaro‘s work a few weeks ago while dining at Monkey Town 5 in Barcelona. Monkey Town is an immersive dining experience combining gastronomy and video art. In other words, guests watch a programme of video art while being treated to a delicious five-course meal and plenty of wine. The evening was opened by In Ictu Oculi where we see a flock of vultures ravage a feast carefully set on a picnic table in a barren landscape. With this dramatic start, Greta Alfaro set the tone for what was to be an extraordinary and highly thrilling night. 

“From its title (meaning ‘in the blink of an eye’) onwards, Greta Alfaro’s In Ictu Oculi (2009) is concerned with the viewer’s experience of time: the eye is yours. The work’s title, which alludes to the brevity of human existence, is shared with a number of vanitas paintings from the seventeenth century, and, like them, Alfaro’s video treats the stuff that surrounds us as coded references to our own demise. A dinner table, laden with plates of food and wine bottles, its chairs waiting to be occupied, stands in a scrubby, semi-mountainous landscape, a breeze flickering its tablecloth. The table’s placement, in the centre of the frame (the shot is still), makes unmistakeable allusion to painted conventions – the Last Supper, the Supper at Emmaus. And yet the occupants, when they arrive, transform the table’s Biblical and epicurean suggestions into something nightmarish and deathly. The stilled moment of the painted meal becomes subject to cinematic time: movement is change. Vultures descend, from nowhere, their bulk and scrabble bringing instability to the implied order of the scene. Yet the meal’s duration, and its strange quietness (aside from the flapping of wings and chink of claw on plate) lend it a human quality: this might be the soundtrack to a medieval banquet. The birds here, like Hitchcock’s, act out repressed human desires (to gorge oneself): they’re us, with the mask off.”

Text by Ben Street on Saatchi

In Ictu Oculi by Greta Alfaro, 2009. Single channel video (HDV, 16:9, colour, sound). Duration: 10:37

Greta Alfaro enjoys documenting the process of destruction, meanwhile commenting on capitalism, consumerism, and the transience of life. A similar concept was explored in her piece In Praise of the Beast (2009), where two wild boars find a giant wedding cake abandoned in a snowy landscape. Watch what happens:

In Praise of the Beast by Greta Alfaro, 2009. Single channel video (HDV, 16:9, colour, sound). Duration: 14:58

And speaking of documenting destruction, Sam Taylor-Wood and Ori Gersht also have an interesting take. See here


Gringo

Francis Alys is a Belgian architect turned artist. He went to Mexico City in 1987 to help with a rebuilding program after an earthquake and has been living in Mexico City ever since. He abandoned his career as an architect and started working in a number of media including photography, video, installation, and painting. Alys is an avid wanderer and much of his work draws inspiration from the streets around his studio in Mexico City.

Being Belgian, Alys occupies an interesting position as a foreigner and an immigrant. From his stance as an outsider he presents his version of reality by taking the mundane and shifting it slightly into the absurd or the poetic.

Humor is very important in Alys’ work. He says, “Laughter is a symptom of incomprehension… a simple manifestation of the defeat of intelligence.” But While Alys may make us laugh, he also makes us think, at the core of his work we often find the more brutal implications of city life.

In his video El Gringo, Alys explores the discomfort of being an outsider. Gringo, the Latin American name for Americans is usually used to generalize all white foreigners, this video is a comment on the social tendencies to group people together based on their appearance. In the video the viewer follows the camera down a rural path, a few pot hounds approach and start circling the camera and barking wildly. They get increasingly riled up and begin snarling and baring their teeth. The camera suddenly drops and we are left to assume that the man behind the camera has been bitten. Everything is still for a little while until the dogs return and start sniffing and licking the camera.


It Rains In My Heart

SoHo SoAp/Rain Damage by Shigeko Kubota 1985. Video, 8:25 min, color, sound.

SoHo SoAp/Rain Damage
Shigeko Kubota. 1985.
Video,  (color, sound) 8:25 min.


Seduced by Art

Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present is an interesting exhibition which presents paintings of the great masters alongside photography from the 19th Century to the present. The exhibition allows and encourages the viewer to see how painting has influenced photography, and also serves as an introduction to the history of photography.

As well as paintings and photographs the exhibition also includes videos. “Still Life” by Sam Taylor-Wood, and “Big Bang” by Ori Gersht were, for me, the most memorable pieces in the exhibition.

Still Life

The concept for this video is very simple yet very beautiful. The artist, Sam Taylor-Wood, has recorded a bowl of fruit slowly rotting. We observe the whole process of decomposition, from the first glimpse of fuzzy mould growing on the apples, peaches, pears, and grapes, to the end where all that remains are some small grey lumps. A fascinating video!

Bing Bang 

Israeli artist Ori Gersht froze a bouquet of flowers with liquid nitrogen and then recorded as it exploded and shattered into a thousand pieces. It’s shocking, beautiful, and mesmerising all at once. Gersht says, “I’m interested in those oppositions of attraction and repulsion, and how the moment of destruction in the exploding flowers becomes for me the moment of creation.” (Here you can see a slightly better version of “Big Bang”)

I’m also including another video I found by Ori Gersht, “Pomegranate”.

Seduced by Art is now showing in CaixaForum Barcelona and will be showing in CaixaForum Madrid from the 18th of June.