Wednesday, 6 January 2016

→ excavating phantasmagoria (after Kaunas Biennial 2015)

fantasmagoria was a form of theatre which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection.

Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance was the main Kaunas Biennial 2015 show (finished on 31/12/2015), curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. "A damn good title!", as Agent Cooper might have said. The title draws from the concepts of phantasmagoria (19th century "almost real surreal" horror theater, from the times of pleoramas, dioramas, padoramas, myrioramas, phantom rides, panoramas, magic lanterns and peep-shows) and distance (the space between two points). The ideas of distance and phantasmagoria are not the subject of the show, however, but a metaphor for contemporary art exhibitions, according to Bourriaud.

Based on the link between science, poetry and spiritualism, Threads is an exhibition about art as a system that connects itself to a different time and/or space.  The artwork as a telegraphic device, entering into contact with something happening somewhere else, in another realm, world, place or times. (Nicolas Bourriaud)
According to the curator, “the exhibition strives both to approach the form of fantasmagoria and address the way today’s artists include the notion of distance in their works. In a globalized and digitalized world, how does art deal with transportation, with real time communication? What is the current shape of presence/absence dialectics? How do artists present absent realities?”(Virginija Vitkienė)

Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance unites eighteen artists working in very different media (dominated by installation artworks). The title not only unites, but also highlights each of the works' "phantasmagorical" and "connective" aspects by re-contextualising them. Highlights? In certain cases excavates, where no phantasmagoria was seemingly present beforehand.

Attila Csorgo
One of my favorite works is Attila Csorgo's gently geeky poetic contraption Clock-work (2015): a three-dimensional curve projected onto the wall casts the shadow of (the symbol for) infinity, with a second hand moving round in circles, as propelled by ticking of the mechanism at the bottom. Installation itself looks like something from the 19th century - one of the popular spectacles, that later gave birth to the film. Like the 19th century visual illusions, Csorgo's work is based on science and meticulously engineered devices. Unlike the 19th century illusion, Csorgo's work is not just a visual spectacle - it is also an analytical glance into the fragments of reality that might not be noticeable otherwise, as well as a "thread" back into the world of phantasmagorias, shadows and mechanical timekeeping.

Amalia Ulman's Stock Images of War (2015) is a video piece of poetry. A TV screen in a small room loudly recites a poem to the soudtrack of the war, supplemented by brash animation of the text. I am assuming it is original poetry - although, it could also be an accumulation of phrases from online sources. I have found no information about this arwork, beyond the fact, that it was created to supplement an exhibion (under the same title) of very delicate wire sculptures.  The video can be considered in relation to its very prominent soundtrack, visual effects and vocal poetry tradition, but in Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance the video is primarily a tardis into the distant horror theater of war.

Darius Ziura's autobiographical work The Monument to Utopia (2015) is a collaboration and a re-connection of three friends: Darius, Serge and Slava, who had met during military service twenty-five years ago. The work is authored by Ziura; it includes a statue made by Slava, a film about the making of the statue and two tons of books stolen in Dublin by Serge (another currious subject, which I hope to explore somewhere later). Twenty five years of separation, eight years of stealing books, two hours of film; thousands of miles between Vilnius, St Petersburg and Dublin are contained in this memorial, which collapses physical and temporal distance between the three men. Like in a theater of shadows, their ghostly presence rises from the objects and suggests undelying reality and possible authenticity.

An exhibition - like a book - is a structure, where each element is exposed to the title and appropriated by it. The title Threads: A Fantasmagoria About Distance tints every artist in the show. Some works employ obvious links to the metaphor, such as flickering light by Carsten Holler, creaking doors by Julijonas Urbonas or live webcams by Roberto Cabot. Others, however, benefit from some excavation, to regenerate unexpected semantic aspects of text/artwork that might have got burried as the work evolved.

Title is the viewing lens into phantasmagoria of the art show.


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