New Museum Triennial: Surround Audience
New Museum, New York
25.02.2015 – 24.05.2015
Joint Second Prize
Entry in English
The phrase ‘Surround Audience’ sounds like it could be the name of an EDM party, a function in a home theatre system, a Quickmeme caption, or Michael Fried’s worst nightmare. It is actually the title-cum-motto-cum-slogan of the 2015 New Museum Triennial, which at first glance appears to be some mixture of these descriptors. The current Triennial, curated by Lauren Cornell and the artist Ryan Trecartin, is the third instalment of an event that has quickly realised its ambition of becoming New York’s leading exhibition of on-trend global contemporary art. As if this weren’t enough, the current Triennial aspires to expand into a kind of aggregative platform: hosting performances, publishing a poetry collection, and sponsoring residencies, research projects, and a web series.
Visitors to the Triennial will indeed feel themselves surrounded, even overrun, by competing appeals for their attention. These bids are so numerous and elaborate that at times the show seems less like an art exhibition than a tech convention or a curated Tumblr. To be fair, such heterogeneity is endemic in biennials, which tend to be at cross-purposes in trying to craft a cohesive, timely statement from disparate works chosen for divergent reasons. Depending on one’s age, taste, and stimulus threshold, this tension might be a distracting nuisance, or perhaps a problem worth reflecting on. Those of selective,delicate, or ‘critical’ dispositions should by all means visit the Triennial, but are advised to regard it as three more or less separate exhibitions; these are described below in ascending order of their presumable appeal to such an audience.
The first of these is loud, shiny, cool, and young. It basically amounts to a trend forecasting report, which is not surprising given the participation of the soi-disant collectives K-HOLE and DIS, which unapologetically compare or even equate their art to consulting, advertising, and merchandising. This ploy arguably has less to do with Warhol, who flirted with tragic irony, than with the more purely cynical Koons or Hirst. It also resembles the logic of the VICE media empire, in which being perceived as hipster, Millennial, and tech-savvy trumps actual content. K-HOLE’s ad campaign, which is somehow more inane than their pseudo-trend normcore, features slogans like ‘HATRED OF CAPITALISM’, which in this context is so ludicrous as to almost be an insult to capitalism. While the ads are easy enough to ignore, at least once inside the museum, the same can’t be said for the DIS contribution, The Island ( KEN ) ( 2015 ), in which a stress-relieving luxury shower will doubtless serve as a popular selfie station, as well as a platform for the Red Bull-sponsored DIScourse ( sic ) of invited theorists, some of whom identify as Marxist. #accelerationism #srsly?
In a feat of curatorial legerdemain, this part of the Triennial showcases post-internet art without actually using that now unfashionable term. If this art and much of the debate around it were deservedly criticised as forms of self-promotional branding, they also promoted the McLuhanite fantasy that The Internet Changed Everything, ignoring the ways that digitalisation has reinforced existing socioeconomic divisions. The problem was not that post-internet is a utopian notion, but rather that its dystopianism was merely atmospheric or gestural. It is one thing to surround an audience with reminders of its immersion in techno-spectacle; it is another to explore why this matters.
As an artist, Trecartin has taken such inquiries further than some critics realize; the scrappy, Ritalin-addled character of his work can disguise its perverse genius. As a curator, he and Cornell have chosen some works that can’t quite live up to his example. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané uses a VR gaming headset to immerse viewers in a laser-scanned rendering of an endangered Brazilian ecosystem ( Phantom, 2015 ) without seeming to register the flagrant contradiction between these environments. Josh Kline does some clever things with face substitution software, only to brandish them clumsily in an installation that recalls the overtness of Ed Kienholz ( Freedom, 2015 ). The most interesting and problematic of such practices belongs to Juliana Huxtable, whose four prints from the series ‘UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING’ ( 2015 ) are coupled with a life-size 3D-printed sculptural avatar of her body by Frank Benson ( Juliana, 2015 ). While Huxtable’s work provocatively integrates the histories of Afrofuturism, black militancy, and cyber-feminist theory with the contemporary efforts of transgender activists, it also exemplifies the contradictions of a post-Fordist identity politics in which self-styling, no matter how radical, can simultaneously produce value through the commodification of difference.
The second ‘exhibition’ within the Triennial, while much less conspicuous, forms the bulk of the show and consists mainly of work by emerging artists born outside the North Atlantic. Given that New York remains the most provincial and self-obsessed of the art world’s major centres – witness the New Museum’s 2013 show ‘NYC 1993’ – this is welcome, even subversive. That said, the selection is skewed toward artists working in the EU and within familiar, market-sanctioned modes. Beijing-based Guan Xiao juxtaposes repurposed camera equipment with constructed artifacts to track the emergence of new techno-animisms in The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture ( 2012 ). The Indian artist Shreyas Karle has mined the Bollywood imaginary to produce the Daniel Spoerri-esque Museum Shop of Fetish Objects ( 2012 ), which casts a sly eye back on the exoticising impulses of its host institution. Georgian-born Ketuta Alexi-Meskishvili contributes a captivating suite of semi-abstract photographs; these stand out in a show where abstraction, painterly or otherwise, is noticeably absent. However, although such works are perfectly well executed, they often fail to problematise their status within the emergent, increasingly dominant category of Global Contemporary Art, in which artworks tend to present their own singularity in paradoxically generic or universalising terms.
It is only in our third hypothetical show-within-the-show that such contradictions are engaged thoughtfully and productively. One can imagine re-curating the Triennialinto a tighter, more powerful exhibition featuring the work of about a dozen artists. Some pieces would engage new technologies from a position of critical immanence. These would include Li Liao’s Consumption ( 2012 ), in whichLi worked five weeks of twelve-hour shifts at a Foxconn plant, earning just enough to buy one of the iPads he was helping to manufacture; Aleksandra Domanović’s SOHO ( Substances of Human Origin ) ( 2015 ), which proposes an alternative genealogy for technicised embodiment through 3D-printed sculptures patterned after the Belgrade Hand, an early prosthetic developed in 1960s Yugoslavia; and Exterritory’s Image Blockade ( 2014 ), a research project based on neurobiological experiments with conscientious objectors from an elite Israeli military intelligence unit. ( One can’t help but notice that this piece, easily the most confrontational one in the Triennial, is installed in what must be the most inaccessible location in the New Museum, in the far corner of the topmost floor ).
A second strand would comprise moving-image work made in speculative or essayistic modes. While such an approach is hardly uncommon, especially in Europe, its still-considerable potential is demonstrated by artists like Nicholas Mangan, who renarrates the recent history of resource extraction in Micronesia from the perspective of a limestone pinnacle ( Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009 ), or Oliver Laric, who locates a surprising degree of pathos in the transformation of animated characters, updating classical myths of metamorphosis in a moment of Tinder romance and imposed vocational ‘flexibility’ ( Untitled, 2014 – 2015 ). Especially noteworthy is Basim Magdy’s marvellous short film The Dent ( 2014 ), which nods to Alexander Kluge in its parabolic style and its subject ( circus elephants ), interweaving references to ecology and biennialisation with lustrous double-exposed shots of clouds, forests, and construction equipment.
The last group one might wish to extract from the Triennial includes artists working in a more poetic mode, favouring obliquity, facture, and restraint. Olga Balema exemplifies this orientation in her untitled contributions: two large plastic sacs containing rusting rebar, decaying images, and water ( both 2015 ). It is easier to trip over these unprepossessing floor sculptures than it is to grasp their quasi-abstract, semi-organic form, which seems to equally recall tidal pools and IV bags. Kiluanji Kia Henda’s prints combine the idioms of conceptual photography and traditional Angolan sona drawing to suggestively indicate the vicissitudes of global development ( Rusty Mirage, The City Skyline, 2013 ). And in one of the Triennial’s most memorable pieces, Not How People Move But What Moves Them ( 2013 – ongoing ), the Czech artist Eva Kotátková has covered a large wall with pottery, architectural fixtures, and wire sculptures of unclear origin and function. These elements become props in a obscure and bewitching tableau vivant, which transforms the precedents of Jirí Kovanda and Rebecca Horn into a compelling drama of constrained movement. In such moments, the phrase ‘Surround Audience’ assumes a markedly different connotation, one that the Triennial only intermittently endorses. Here, it is not a meme or a brand; rather, it becomes a problem, an injunction, and above all a point of departure.
‘环绕观众’乍一听像是某个电音party的名字，又像是家庭影院系统的一个功能，或是Quickmeme搞笑图片的字幕，亦或是迈克尔·弗雷德的噩梦之最。实际上，这是2015新当代艺术博物馆三年展的展名 + 主题 + 口号。本次三年展由Lauren Cornell和艺术家Ryan Trecartin联合策展，虽然才是第三届，但已如愿成为了纽约顶尖的世界当代艺术展。它的抱负好像还不止于此，本届三年展力求搭建一个多元平台，可以举办演出，出版诗集，赞助驻馆艺术家、研究项目和网络视频系列等。
作为一个艺术家，Trecartin将这一探索进行了下去，其深度超出了某些批评家所言。他的作品看似杂乱无章，像是利他林副作用发作一般，但隐藏其中的却是他乖张的天才。作为一个策展人，他和Cornell挑选出的某些作品离他自己的水准还是有不少差距的。Daniel Steegman Mangrané让观众戴上虚拟现实游戏头盔，感受用激光扫描完成的对遭到破坏的巴西生态系统的再现（ Phantom，2015 ），但作者并未着墨于环境保护所面临的重重困境和尖锐矛盾。Josh Kline玩的是换脸软件，看似聪明，却弄巧成拙，让人一眼就联想到装置艺术家Ed Kienholz作品的代表性特点（ Freedom，2015 ）。最有意思也是问题最大的作品来自Juliana Huxtable，四幅由她出镜的取自名为UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING系列的照片，配上Frank Benson基于Huxtable原型创作的一个真人大小的3D打印雕塑（ Juliana，2015 ）。这一作品用挑逗和感官刺激的方式将非洲未来主义、黑人斗争、网络女权主义与当代跨性别运动结合在一起，同时也展现了后福特时代身份政治的矛盾，个人风格的塑造无论多前卫都可通过‘差异商品化’而产生价值。
第二个‘展中展’没有第一个那么显眼，却是本届三年展的‘中流砥柱’，作品大多出自于北大西洋以外出生的新锐艺术家之手。新当代艺术博物馆2013年的展览‘纽约1993’足以证明纽约仍然是艺术世界几大中心里最自成一统和最自恋的，此番‘开门喜迎八方客’的确有颠覆性的意义。虽说如此，但在作品的选择上天平还是倾向于欧盟国家的艺术家和那些按大家所熟悉的、经过市场认可的方式进行创作的艺术家。来自北京的关小贡献了作品《纪录片：地心穿刺（ 2012 ）》，她将改装过的相机脚架与带有手工痕迹的文物式的物品并置，记录新科技-泛灵主义的兴起。印度艺术家Shreyas Karle取材于宝莱坞的虚构世界，完成了一幅Daniel Spoerri式的作 品Museum Shop of Fetish Objects（ 2012 ），以一种狡黠的视角反观展览所在馆的‘殊异化’倾向。出生于格鲁吉亚的Ketuta Alexi-Meskishvili展出的是一组半抽象的照片，在这样一个绘画性抽象美明显缺失的展览中一经出现就足以吸睛。虽然这些作品在执行和呈现层面做的很完美，但却没能将自己与身处的大环境之间拉开足够的距离并上升到问题化的高度。目前，艺术家们正被日趋主流的‘全球当代艺术’这顶大帽子所扣住，很多作品的个性往往只用一般性或普适性的方式予以呈现，这不得不说是一种悖论。
只有在第三个所谓‘展中展’中这一矛盾才被重视，艺术家们经过深思熟虑，用丰富的表达方式加以呈现。看了这部分作品，我可以想象将这届三年展重新策划成一个更为紧凑、更有力量的展览，着重突出一部分艺术家的精彩之作，如某些以批判性的态度看待新科技的作品。这就包括李燎的《消费》（ 2012 ），艺术家在富士康的流水线上‘潜伏’工作了五个星期，每天12个小时，赚来的钱刚够买一个本厂装配的iPad；还包括Aleksandra Domanović的SOHO（ Substances of Human Origin ）（ 2015 ），艺术家为机器化的人类编写了别样的家谱，运用3D打印技术复刻了‘贝尔格莱德之手’，一种诞生于1960年代的南斯拉夫的早期义肢；以及Exterritory的Image Blockade（ 2014 ），讲的是一个神经生物学实验项目，实验对象为以色列一家顶尖军事情报机构中拒服兵役者。（ 这一作品在展馆中的陈列位置之偏反倒引起我的注意，由于其对抗冲突感乃本届三年展之最，遂被搁置于展馆最顶层的最远角。 ）
第二类我设想中应主推的作品在创作手法上以推知美学或叙事小品为主。这种手法并不少见，尤其在欧洲，但潜力依然巨大。Nicholas Mangan的作品就是一例，他从一个石灰岩尖顶的视角重新讲述了密克罗尼西亚有关资源开采的近代史(Nauru，Notes from a Cretaceous World，2009)；或者是Oliver Laric的作品，他在卡通形象的形体改变中发现了相当程度的情感诉求，结合约会软件Tindr和职业‘灵活性’的假象等当下语境给‘变形’这一古典神话命题赋予了全新的阐释。特别值得一提的是Basim Magdy所带来的精彩短片The Dent（ 2014 ），用寓言式的叙事风格和独特的故事题材（ 马戏团大象 ）向Alexander Kluge致敬，内容还涉及生态和双年展化，以闪烁的、双重曝光的云彩、森林和施工设备的影像呈现出来。
最后一类可以从本届三年展中挖掘出来的亮点是那些更具诗意的创作，对暧昧、虚构和克制情有独钟。这种倾向在Olga Balema的无题作品中一览无遗，两个巨大的塑料囊中装着生锈的钢筋，还可见腐烂的痕迹和水。相对于理解这貌似潮汐池和输液袋的半抽象、半有机形态，被它们绊倒倒是容易得多。Kiluanji Kia Henda的照片将观念摄影和安哥拉传统的sona绘画相结合，用一种克制和收敛的暗示来表现全球发展的兴衰起落（ Rusty Mirage（ The City Skyline ）， 2013 ）。本届三年展中最让人难忘的作品之一出自捷克艺术家Eva Kotátková之手，作品名为Not How People Move But What Moves Them( 2013至今 ）。一堵大墙被艺术家以陶土、建筑装置、来源和用途均不明的金属丝线雕塑所覆盖，这些元素构成了一幅暧昧不明却颇具吸引力的生动画面。Eva在装置艺术前辈Jirí Kovanda和Rebecca Horn的风格基础上求新求变，不仅故事更有看头，也更突出了身体受限、移动不便的主题。在这样的观展瞬间，“环绕观众”一词才有了截然不同的含义，遗憾的是，在本届三年展中未能贯穿始终。这并不是一个靠模仿复制的文化基因，也不是一个品牌，它已成为一个问题，一声号令，更是下次出发的起点。