A visual voyage reveals the rarely seen inner universe of the religious schools of Shi’ite Islam over hundreds of years, through an harmonious coalition of both recent photographs and historic records. When Naser al-Din Shah travelled to Iraq in the late 1800s, he brought back a fascinating collection of photos depicting not only the Shi’ite holy places, but also antiquities and scenes from contemporary life. Hitherto unpublished, these photographs reveal a cultural wealth that today seems more threatened than ever before. “Insight” seeks to create an awareness for the cultural diversity of the region. These photographs document the continuity of Shi’ite Islam as well as the losses and dramatic changes that have taken place since. Alongside those, Hans Georg Berger’s recent photographs bring a different look on the topic. Intimate portraits and discrete observations of sacred ritual are borne from a stance of respect and curiosity. No other western photographer has delved as deeply into this enigmatic world. Years of listening and trying to comprehend have established the necessary mutual trust to capture the many layers of faith and daily life. The accompanying book published by Kehrer Verlag extends the focus of the exhibition with written contributions on Berger’s approach, on teaching methods at the religious academies, and on the calligraphy which was added to some of the photographs.
If an artwork is damaged, does it continue to be regarded as art? Apparently not. At least not within the gallery and museum system. All marred art inevitably falls into oblivion, but its lack of monetary worth doesn’t preclude its aesthetic and social values. Salvage art—a term borrowed from the art insurance lexicon—refers to work removed from art circulation due to accidental damage. Founded by artist Elka Krajewska, the Salvage Art Institute rescues said objects from the invisibility of perpetual storage by insurance companies, in order to highlight their survival past their total devaluation. The exhibition No Longer Art – which is part of the program Stop making sense, it’s as good as it gets – exposes a fragile contingency at the heart of art’s identity, beyond the capitalist world it was born into. Its castaway pieces are subject to a peculiar and transformative logic, as they are thrown into art’s nether world but are often still relatively intact. Their identity is discarded and, in theory, they emerge as something entirely different.
Irving Norman, M.F.I. Complex, 1981 © Crocker Art Museum Association, Sacramento; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY / Lene Berg, Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache, 2008. Courtesy the artist / HKW image by Sebastian Bolesch
After the Second World War, the battle of the systems also involved the arts and culture in a symbolic arms race. One prominent example was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization founded in West Berlin to consolidate an “anti-totalitarian” intellectual community. The CCF subsidized countless cultural programs from Latin America to Africa and Southeast Asia, developing a network of journals, conferences, and exhibitions that advanced a “universal” language of modernism in literature, art, and music. By 1967, a major scandal erupted: the CCF was secretly bankrolled by the CIA as a form of propaganda to support an anti-Communist consensus in favor of U.S. hegemony. The exhibition Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War is devoted to the global dimension of cultural politics in that era and to the changing meanings attributed to modernism. The artworks and archival materials on show explore the friction between the political instrumentalization of art and artists’ struggle for autonomy. It’s thoroughly illustrated how modernism became a signifier for individual freedom and was tantamount to establishing Western cultural hegemony in the 20th century. Thus, the CCF is in a way returning to its 10-year-anniversary location, Berlin’s former Congress Hall, today’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
© Robert Rieger
Advocating for the integration and inclusion of people from migration and refugee backgrounds, and all kinds of minority groups, lies at the core of The Power of the Arts initiative. Through different expressions of culture — like music, art, theater, and dance — a deeper sense of understanding is fostered across the board. This year’s winning non-profit initiatives touch on numerous issues of discrimination and inequality. Label m invests in youth subcultures and the flourishing scene of young talents in Saarbrucken. Sprayers, skaters, rappers; they all herald the creativity emerging from this often underestimated city. Through Weissensee academy’s *foundationClass program, refugees who want to follow an artistic path are given an opportunity to prepare themselves for applying to art schools. In Saxony, Banda Internationale uses music to neutralize hate, tear down prejudices and connect different cultures. A further aim is to render integration successful and create a more open community where democratic exchange doesn’t merely exist as an idea. Meanwhile, Un-Label seeks to do exactly what its name implies: remove labels and fight against putting people into boxes. Discriminatory boundaries and biases are banished using the means of performing arts.
“You can avoid people but you can’t avoid architecture.“
Whether through questions about gender and sexuality, or by investigating architecture’s imposing ability to manipulate our physical actions on a daily basis, Monica Bonvicini consistently explores themes of power and control. Her multidisciplinary approach—videos, installations, drawings and sculptures—touches on identity as well as socio-political and economic issues with a hint of humour. Conceived for the large exhibition hall of the Berlinische Galerie, Bonvicini’s new installation, amongst other things, investigates the term “facade” and its function in the built environment. The institutional viewing space is often the subject of her work and thus, Bonvicini’s site-specific, power-conscious and gendered allusions to the norms of architectural and artistic modernism quite literally operate on the boundary between artwork and spectator.
“I’ve been giddy ever since birth. I feel like I’m standing on a planetary sphere that has no scale or direction, no above or below.” – Felix Kiessling
Extensive fieldwork and research into our natural surroundings is a constant force inherent in Felix Kiessling’s subversive practice. Perception of space, our visible environment and “man-made truths” are there to be challenged and consequently defied. In his solo exhibition Neuordnung II at alexander levy gallery, Kiessling almost playfully interacts with the world, trying to overcome physical limits in regards to pre-existing relations. For one of the pieces on show, Erddurchstechung (global piercing), the artist anchored and aligned two metal pipes vertically in the ground at two precisely antipodean points of the Earth, in order to shape an imaginary connecting line. Thus, two points that couldn’t be physically further apart from each other, merge into one. Dividing lines of geographical and socio-political nature dissolve, giving way to a theoretical unity and interconnectedness on a global scale. The oft-appearing element of hubris reminds us of our placement in the world, in terms of space and time, and demonstrates that the planetary laws and realities we’ve shaped are not indisputable.
© Felix Kiessling
Poster by Karl Holmqvist
Gathering more than 240 independent publishers in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Miss Read is dedicated to building community and creating a public meeting place for discourse around artists’ books, conceptual publications and publishing as practice. The art book fair suffuses art, graphic design, literature and publishing and seeks to cultivate dialogue within various thematics, and essentially give impetus to further cross-pollination between disciplines. Like every year, the fair will be accompanied by a series of lectures, discussions and workshops with the common mission of exploring the boundaries of contemporary publishing and the possibilities of the book. Among other events, the renowned ARCH+ magazine will be celebrated alongside a panel discussion on critical architecture theory, utopias and discursive practice. The 5th Conceptual Poetics Day, a recurring element of the bookfair, will explore the imaginary border between visual art and literature in the form of readings, lectures and performances.
In a small village close to Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, arts and culture take center stage as contributors to the growth of a country and its younger generation. Initiated as an idea in 2009 by the German artist and theater director Christoph Schlingensief (1960-2010), the international art project Operndorf Afrika provides a platform for cultural encounters, workshops and collaborations. Schlingensief envisaged the initiative as a meeting place where people from different backgrounds are able to work as artists and exchange views. Over the last few years, that seed has grown from mere abstract plans into a full-fledged community that includes sustainable homes, education, health care as well as a bedrock for the area to evolve its singular artistic expression and set an example the world over. Operndorf is essentially a center where ideas can be cultivated as people from across the globe merge in one location. Here art paves the way to a thriving community, cross-cultural dialogue and much-needed postcolonial discourses building up a new image of Africa.
“The Operndorf is a project that arouses hope – hope that there can be a relationship between Europe and Africa, which is based on reciprocity and not on dominance. Hope that culture can contribute to the development of children and the development of a country.” — Horst Köhler, former Federal President of Germany
A profound love for words and images shape Pascale Obolo’s world and artistic output. Hailing from Cameroon and raised in Paris, this prolific creative works between publishing, journalism and cinematography. Bureau N met with her in Basel during the I Never Read art book fair where she’s the first exhibitor to represent independent publishers from Africa. As the founder of the African Art Book Fair and the contemporary art journal AFRIKADAA, Obolo seeks to foster artistic voices from Africa, offering them increased visibility and a platform for widespread discourse.
When did you establish the African Art Book Fair?
It’s a very young project. We started in 2016 at the Dakar Biennale, but before that we founded AFRIKADAA, an art journal created by a collective of artists, art critics and book lovers. The idea is to present each issue’s content in an actual exhibition space. We want to have a platform where we can show the artists we collaborate with whether they are from different parts of Africa or the diaspora. Most national museums are not interested in showcasing this kind of artists, they go for safer choices. So the journal acts as a sort of laboratory and a curatorial exercise. Also, we invite various writers from around the world to contribute, and thus the result is a great mix of academic writing, clearly journalistic pieces, and experimental texts.
How did your collaboration with I Never Read come about?
INR is the one who found me and initially we were thinking of joining forces during the Art Paris fair but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get financial backing. Then later on, we picked up the discussion again and they invited me to talk about the projects I’ve been involved in and introduce them to indie publishers from Africa — a completely unknown scene to them. It’s the first time that an African publisher is exhibited at the fair, so that’s very interesting.
What kind of books did you bring with you this time for the fair?
We selected three books (award-winning artist Marc Johnson with lacune féconde, books by artist Sammy Baloji from Galerie Imane Farès and others) and as well as the upcoming issue of AFRIKADAA, which will be out in September 2017. We publish three issues per year plus one special edition. Last year we collaborated with the Centre Pompidou for their group show “Museum On/Off”. The museum gave us a carte blanche to propose ways on how to reinvent the museum in the future. I suggested a fictional museum including artists that I knew the Centre Pompidou had never exhibited before. We decided to do an extension of what we did there and create “paper museum” of sorts for the special issue.
How many publishers did the African Art Book Fair have first?
Not that many, maybe 25. From different places in Africa. We also invited three artists from South Africa who use the book as their artistic medium.
What would a potential collaboration between the African Art Book Fair and I Never Read look like next year?
We actually have plenty of ideas. For the next edition of the fair in Dakar in May 2018, we’re thinking of doing an exchange with Basel and mixing publishers from the north with publishers from the south. It will be more of an artistic project and we’ll question the role and existence of fairs in the contemporary world. Why are there so many nowadays? And what purpose do they serve, especially for independent initiatives.
Running parallel to Art Basel, the annual Swiss Art Awards exhibition, organized and conceived by the Federal Office of Culture since 1899, provides a representative overview and unique insight into contemporary art and architecture in Switzerland. It shows the works of the artists that have been invited to the second round of the Swiss Competition for Art and Architecture, and aims to encourage the cultural movers and shakers originating from Switzerland. A definitive index for art professionals and art lovers alike.