One of the striking images in the show refers to the impasse between Palestine and Israel as the conflict drags on. It is very simple, yet conveys a powerful message of hope. From both countries’ flags, he has created the silhouette of a gun; the ‘trigger’, though, has been transformed into the head of a dove – a subtle, but smart adaptation. By showing the image at a 45 degree angle, the ‘gun’ becomes a peace dove spreading his wings, flying freely over the Israeli West Bank barrier.
Bar is renowned for his ‘double-take’ imagery. He plays with what he calls the ‘negative space’ and ‘positive space’, in which a second image can be discovered within the first image. Another example of his clever use of negative space is ‘Which Came First?’ In the swirl of a question mark we see the head and neck of a chicken appearing. The dot is changed into the shape of an egg. Working with negative and positive space means that Bar will look at things from more than one perspective.
“I try to consider the other side’s view, I see things that other’s don’t see, or won’t see,” he explains. “I feel as though I am the kid saying “but the king is naked” in the tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Often I feel like that”. With his balanced perspective, it qualifies Bar to make piercing commentary on countries in conflict, and to expose their current and social situations.
The show is filled with propaganda symbols, peace signs, guns, rifles, bombs, skulls, military helmets, and barbed wire, to which Bar gives his own twist. It gives the show a certain poignancy. Whilst we shouldn’t have illusions that Bar’s work will resolve the conflicts between warring nations, his work does, though, breathe a sense of urgency, immediacy and call for action into these ever continuing situations. Through his work, he makes it possible for people to more easily relate to the conflicts, rather than trying to understand the diplomatic and political attempts to resolve such conflicts behind close doors.
200% met with Bar in the peaceful environment of Highgate Wood, his ‘office’, where he works every day from 9am until 3pm, to discuss his new show.
200%: For this show you approached people via Facebook, in countries currently engaged in conflict, to post materials, of up to 1cm in size, to your home in London. Were you overwhelmed by the response?
Noma Bar: Yes, I was. I have received, flags, maps, photos, children’s books, magazines, carpets, newspapers and even currency from North-Korea, which is actually illegal to send outside of the country. From this material, on one page, I created a meeting of two countries whom are in conflict such as Israel and Palestine, Greece and Turkey, India and Pakistan, US and Cuba. With my dog-shaped cutting machine, from the material sent to me, I cut it into shapes such as peace signs, guns, bombs etc. I’m forcing warring countries to live peacefully alongside each other.
200%: Your work is journalistically informed, and you address political subjects in your work. Does that stem from your childhood in Israel?
NB: Absolutely. As a child, I saw everything in one of the most controversial places in the world, Israel. I’ve seen corruption from both sides, Israel and Palestine. I was in the army for three years. I’ve been in all this crap, been part of systems to which I didn’t belong, but I had to be there. From 18 to 21 years of age, I was in the Israeli Navy, fighting with an M16 on my shoulders and sleep with a M16 under my pillow. If I’d chosen not to do it, I would have been incarcerated for three years. I have experienced the ‘men’s culture’ and seen what happens to men when they are together, how deadly and corrupt it can be, and I escaped from that. I’m almost forty years old. I see people in their twenties going out onto the streets and I totally relate and understand about their protest against corruption, against politicians’ cover-ups.
NB: I want to tell a story as well as I can, in its more simplistic form. Although I haven’t completely analysed it, I think that the minimalism in my work may be a reaction to the saturated, visual world in which we live. There is so much, data / information; its everywhere, such as blogs, television, promos, and computer games, that it becomes almost surrealistic.
I have the ability and talent to strip everything back to a minimum, whether it’s a complex book by Murakami or a Hollywood film such as Pulp Fiction. I’m like an Roentgen machine, as I’m able to see the skeleton of the story immediately. I don’t like ‘overdoing’ especially when there is no idea behind it.
Also, I live a modest life in London, which is reflected in my work, that, I consider to be quite modest, also. Previously, I lived a modest life in Israel; living a life like that affects your thinking and behaviour. You realize that you don’t need a lot to survive. You need two or three things and you need to know what you like.
NB: Perhaps. I try to peel things back such that they become exposed, which is also reflected in my work. I’m not cheating in the use of 3D or renderings as I use my computer in an effortless way, meaning that, if I’m doing 3D, it’s a real 3D. In my work I’m trying to achieve some honesty with regard to the shapes, the messages behind the piece, and to provide something about which to ponder.
Noma Bar, Cut the Conflict, Rook and Raven Gallery, London. Until 21 December 2013.
Text: TS. Images: Noma Bar. From top to bottom: US-Iran, Israel-Palestine, Israel-Palestine, North Korea-South Korea, Greece-Turkey
Underneath the curvy, swirling white roof of Zaha Hadid’s futuristic new building, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, the voices of a future generation were heard as the Serpentine Gallery hosted their eighth Marathon session. This year’s theme was 89plus, and for two days, emerging practitioners born in, or after, 1989 were brought together with influential thinkers of other generations.
The founders of the 89plus project, Hans Ulrich Obrist (Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine gallery) and Simon Castets (Director of the Swiss Institute/Contemporary Art, New York) selected the year 1989 for particular reasons. In that year, the Berlin wall collapsed, marking a new era of the post-Cold War period and the introduction of the World Wide Web, which saw the beginning of the universal availability of the Internet. The idea behind the Marathon, though, was not to organize an ‘Idols for Artists’. The organisers were not seeking to forecast artistic trends or predict future creations; rather, they wanted to bring together individuals from a generation whose voice is only starting to be heard.
During the summer of this year, at the Manchester International Festival, Obrist curated the ‘do it 20 13’ exhibition which included an Homage Room, as he explains. “We conceived a room that featured living artists’ reactions to instructions originally created by artists that are no longer with us. For example, Tracey Emin did an homage to Louise Bourgeois, Wade Guyton to Richard Hamilton, Tino Sehgal to Felix Gonzalez Torres and Olafur Eliasson to Francesca Varela”.
In Obrist’s view curating is as much about the future as it is about the past. He quotes the German art historian, Erwin Panofsky, who once said: “If you want to build the future you very often build the future out of fragments from the past”.
“I am also interested in the idea of how to curate the future, in a very different way than ‘do it’, more in a generational way,” he continues. “What fascinates me is that this truly the moment where a completely new generation emerges, i.e. those born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They are the first generation to grow up with the Internet. About three years ago, whilst Simon Castets and I were both in Yokohama, we had a discussion about the fact that we were not familiar with many artists, designers, or composers of the generation who are now 23, 24 years old, or even younger. In the intervening period, as it continued to arouse our interest we started to systematically map out the arrival of this new generation”.
I asked Castets if they made a list of criteria for which 89plus voices would be included in the Marathon. “89plus is fuelled by an ongoing open call for submissions to 89plus.com, where we maintain a private database of work by innovators from all fields. When selecting participants for the Marathon, there was no specific ‘criteria’ per se. Instead, we were interested in bringing together some of the most exciting 89plus innovators and creative practitioners from all different fields – art, music, design, technology, literature, science, mathematics – with international experts who are major influences for this generation”.
I attended the second half of the Saturday afternoon Program. This included readings by a new generation of poets of their work, an interview with a teenage ‘tech’ entrepreneur and presentations on the Internet and digital technology – turning the Marathon into a mini ‘Wired’ magazine conference.
Some of the poems’ content was confrontational, including some profane language, but provocative. The public’s favourites – including mine – were Crispin Best (who once wrote a poem called “Dick”, that goes: “My dick is so big, it looks like a close-up of a dick”) and Rachael Allen. Best’s delivery was vivid as he read out his witty poems. Allen stood out with her heartfelt poems, her incredible diction, as she delivered the densely written paragraphs, and a dazzling cadence of sentences.
The poetry block was followed by an onstage interview between Castets and Nick D’Aloisio, a 17 year old ‘tech’ entrepreneur, who first came to the fore with his iPhone app ‘Facemood’. The app predicts the mood of a user, on the basis of their Facebook status update. Previously, no one had looked at Facebook in a context of sentiment and mood, so it was an unique app. It gained D’Aloisio recognition from Apple and they featured the app as a stock favourite on their curated list. Castets asked at what age he developed the app, suggesting twelve. D’Aloisio answered: “no, that was when I was bit older, about fifteen”.
The interview was short and sweet – just like D’Aloisio’s most renowned app, ‘Summly’, which he also developed when he was fifteen. The vision behind the app was “to simplify the way we receive information”. D’Aloisio explained: “Most young people consume content merely via their phone, but the ‘real estate’ makes it difficult to traverse through text containing huge amounts of information. People prefer to consume their news in concise, short, and easy digestible chunks. The application I developed took long form content and, algorithmically, condensed it into a short paragraph”. This time, D’Aloisio received the attention from Yahoo, who acquired Summly in 2013.
D’Aloisio is interested in the immediacy of information and, when asked about the future plans for Summly, he revealed he would like to bring a visual element to the content. “Consider a news article, or a piece of text: most articles are one dimensional, merely textual; others are two-dimensional, as they contain some images; some may be 3D, but not many. I’m thinking why can’t they be end dimensional? Why can’t you have 10/ 15 different ways of telling a story in a different context? I like this idea of seeing each one of those dimensions at a summary, in effect as it’s a short consumable piece that lends itself to a phone”.
Castets wanted to know D’Aloisio’s thoughts about the fact that screens are becoming smaller and smaller and whether it will affect the way in which we consume information? “The next step is a wearable computer, similar to a watch on your wrist or Google glasses. As the screen information will be adjacent to your eyes, it means that the content we can see has to become more and more concise due to the format of the screen’s ‘real estate’ and an [individual’s] attention span”.
Another talk that grabbed my attention was that of Leng Lee’s presentation on Codecademy, an online interactive platform offering free coding classes. Lee started with an rapid-fire question: “What will the world look like if we have a generation who can all code?” Lee commented that “the current coders are mostly men, ‘nerds’, who write programs that mostly appeal to them. Lots of apps and technologies are still supply driven. That can change if more people learn how to program”.
By 2050, Lee predicted, that the future coders will be kids and more women who can develop technology that is custom made to their needs. “That diversity of talent will change what tech we have and ultimately the world in which we live,” Lee attested. “Imagine disabled people who can code and create technologies that are more suitable for their requirements. Most technology is created by people living in the Western Society, focussing on their needs which does not, necessarily, meet peoples’ needs in the Third World. Imagine people living in the Third World who can code themselves, catering to their own needs.” Another insightful presentation that offered a glimpse into future.
As I was unable to attend the entire Programmes’ sessions, I ask Castets if he sees any common denominators in this new generation, and whether collectively they have a specific outlook on life? “89plus is conceived as a long-term project that will span 20-30 years, and as such, it is still very much in its infancy. It is too soon to make statements about this generation’s outlook on life, although we are beginning to see patterns emerge, which is very exciting. One of those patterns is the influence of poetry, whose importance has been transformed by the digital revolution. Following the success of the poetry participations in the Marathon, we are planning the inaugural 89plus exhibition, that will focus on poetry”.
The only remark I could make about the Presentations I attended was that I found them quite traditional, as most were given in the form of a PowerPoint show. I expected this 89plus generation to showcase innovative and dynamic ideas, delivering their stories in a more visually engaging and entertaining manner for the audience’s experience.
Of course, the stories are about the content and some of the topics that the 89plus Marathon wanted to explore, including “how new technologies can lead to a global dialogue that will engender difference rather than homogeneity” and “how the Internet has enabled new forms of political protest and activism”.
Thus, despite my remark above, I would rate the 89plus Marathon an A+.
Written by Thierry Somers, Image: Serpentine Sackler Gallery © 2013 Luke Hayes
A visual spectacle could be found at the inaugural exhibitition of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery with ‘Today We Reboot The Planet’ by Adrián Villar Rojas. Orginally, the building was a gunpowder store built in 1805, with two central vaulted spaces, the Powder Rooms. Bricks overlaid on the gallery’s stone floor were not cemented in place, which caused a scraping sound to be heard as you walked around the space. In one of the rooms, the Argentinian artist transformed the detritus of life, capturing them in earthy material, such as clay, concrete, wood and steel. Fantastical and, simultaneously, disconcerting as though you were visiting the earth two hundred years later to see the archealogical remnants of a world that was destroyed.
Suitably impressed by the level of work that was presented at the second edition of Frieze Masters, a fair that showcased work made before the year 2000, ranging from the ancient era and old masters to the late 20th century.
As a consequence of the successful, inaugural, edition in 2012, the fair this year was slightly larger as the number of participating galleries increased to more than 150. Dealers who showcased both at Frieze London and Frieze Masters, last year, presented work of the same artist from their stable at both fairs. This year, though, the dealers who showcased at both fairs, didn’t present work of the same artist at both fairs anymore, making their stable of artists work more complementary over the two fairs. Also, more and more dealers displayed only the work of a single artist on their stand at Frieze Masters, such as Alison Jacques who dedicated their stand to Lygia Clark, Victoria Miro to Alice Neel, Timothy Taylor to Sean Scully, and Bruce Silverstein to Aaron Siskind. It was a delight to experience these mini-museum shows at the fair.
Pilar Ordovas, owner of Ordovas Gallery, who mainly programs historical exhibitions, considers Frieze Masters a very interesting fair due to the variety and the scale. “The fair was slightly larger than last year – let’s hope it does not become larger – with many new strong additions in the 20th Century side strengthening further that section,” she comments. “One of the most interesting aspects was the number of British artists wandering around, as soon as it opened, looking at the works. To me, it highlights one of the most interesting aspects: the diversity in work at the fair that attracts them”.
There is talk that, in two years, Frieze Masters is already becoming a serious competitor to Tefaf in Maastricht, although, Ordovas thinks for Old Master, Ceramics, and Sculpture dealers this might not be the case. There is also talk that Frieze Masters, may become a serious competitor for their own contemporary fair, Frieze London. It might be the reason as to why the organizers of both fairs have made a re-design for their contemporary fair. They worked with the architects, Carmody Groarke, on improving conditions for showing and viewing art by introducing larger public areas, wider aisles and new layouts of the galleries. For this to be feasible, the number of galleries has been reduced. Another adjustments is the wooden floor painted grey and the light is not as direct and harsh, as in previous years, as they spanned a white cloth across to the ceiling which filters the light. Walking around the fair has a more relaxed atmosphere: it feels like you’re walking in one space, the galleries don’t feel like separate islands, and, as it is more spacious, you can view and appreciate the art better.
It remains to be seen, though, whether visitors will notice these improvements. One dealer told me that last year visitors who attended the contemporary fair also came to view the Masters. This year, they came directly to visit Masters but didn’t bother to visit the contemporary fair.
The issue is that during Frieze week, there are so many other art events organised in Town. Besides three fairs, there are a lot of great shows in museums and galleries, openings and receptions and auctions occuring. “You are going to cherry pick the best specially if you have a limited time so it is unlikely one would do three fairs”, Ordovas comments. “Many collectors with whom I spoke only attended Frieze Masters. I personally think there are too many fairs and it is not possible to keep the quality and freshness, especially when the same clients visit many of them, unlike in the past when one was tapping into local markets and dealers who could repeat the material but still make it look fresh”.
It is inevitable that those who visit both fairs will make comparisons between them. Those who walk around the fairs may have the impression that some of the art displayed at Frieze London is weird, loud, superficial and immature when compared to the art displayed at Frieze Masters, which is profound, in-depth, and has an appreciation for skill and beauty.
This is not a value judgement. Indeed, it is that the Frieze organisers, who have expanded their portfolio of fairs over the last two years, have created two fairs in London that complement each other and which cater for the taste of whomever comes into town.
Text: Thierry Somers
Alice Neel, Purvis, 1958, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 66.4 cm, Victoria Miro; Aaron Siskind, Bruce Silverstein Gallery; Lygia Clark, Alison Jacques Gallery; Alice Neel, Sheila, 1938, Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 45.7 cm
Elmgreen & Dragset, But I’m on the Guest List, Too!, 2013, Victoria Miro
There were some artists in the Frieze Sculpture park that used mirrors as material for their sculptures, such as Jeppe Hein and Marilá Dardot. The artist duo Michael Elmgreen & Ingvar Dragset, used the material to comment on the amount of vanity and superficiality in the art world and their work is definitely the funniest in the Sculpture Park.
The words from their title is likely to be heard regurgitated at many entrances to PR personnel who hold the clipboard to determine whom may gain access to the ‘must be-seen’ events in Town. The door, slightly ajar, as the person, not on the guest-list, shoves a foot to prevent its closure, whilst trying to convince the PR person to allow them access by saying, “I’m with the artist”.
When I first saw this, it felt like I was standing face-to-face with an image from the Pink Floyd record sleeve, ‘Division Bell’, created by Storm Thorgenson, founder of Hypgnosis, who sadly passed away this year. The image was of two faces in profile, made out of steel, creating an impression of seeing only one face as viewed full-frontal.
Plensa’s wooden sculpture was beautifully positioned in the park with the trees in the background, but there was something odd about the perspective: when you walked around the sculpture it turned out that the face was only one meter wide, appearing to have been squashed in to a given space, making this work as surreal and intriguing as Thorgenson’s work.
The artist continues her series of self portraits wearing masks of her photographic idols. Previously, she has portrayed herself as the photographers Diane Arbus and August Sander. At Frieze, she welcomes Henry Fox Talbot as a new member of her ‘spiritual’ family. Talbot invented the calotype process, a precursor to photographic processes. Standing in front of Wearing’s work it looks as Mr. Talbot made his invention in the Eighteenth century as there is something very presidential about the portrait making him a contemporary of George Washington, but the British photography pioneer actually lived in the nineteenth century.
Sasnal also sought inspiration from an inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, who is known for his pioneering work on long distance radio transmission. Notice how the Polish artist makes subtle reference to the Italian’s work by depicting the inside of his ear as an antenna of transmission.
Sasnal’s compatriot, Marcin Maciejowski, has an eye for a tableau that has occurred many times during the Frieze week: the reception area of an opening to a show. The artist has made a tender portrait of a beautiful girl who is prepared to serve drinks, but her mind, though, seems to be not in the here and now.
Quite mesmerizing as, when you looked into the mirror, it felt as though you were standing in a fog.
The artist Josephine Meckseper uses the vitrine as her medium in which she wants to critique political implications of the iconography of consumer culture. With a collage of objects placed into a vitrine, she addresses issues around capitalism, social class, nationalism and representations of women. A conversation with the gallerist unearths that the latter issue is addressed, by the featuring of a photograph of the Austrian born actress, Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler), who gained notoriety with her full frontal nude appearance and close-ups of her face in the throes of orgasm in the film ‘Ecstacy’ (1933). Her wealthy husband, Friedrich Mantl, purchased as many copies of the film as he could as he objected to what he felt was exploitation of his wife.
These days the debate about exploitation of women is very actual fuelled by women themselves, from, for example, Miley Cyrus and Emily Ratajkowski. These women, though, regard ‘exploitation’ differently. Cyrus has commented to the Wall Street Journal on her controversial appearance in the MTV Video Music Awards where she twerked against Robin Thicke’s crotch that “the critics are overthinking it”.
The Polish model, Emily Ratajkowski, who, uninhibitedly dances topless in the unrated version of Thicke’s video, ‘Blurred Lines’, doesn’t consider the video as being sexist. The director of the video, Diane Martel, who is a woman, considers the video as “pro-woman rather than mysoginstic”. In an interview with Esquire, Ratajkowski, understands that “the video may be perceived as sexist and appreciates the people who pay attention to that occurring”. She explains the intention behind the video: “We’re directed to have a sort of confidence, a sarcastic attitude about the whole situation. That eye contact and that attitude really puts us in a power situation” and added: “I think it’s actually celebrating women and their bodies”. The perennial discussion about exploitation of women not only occurs in Hedy Lamarr’s century but, also, in this century and, most likely, will continue in the next century.
Presented for the first time in Switzerland last year, and now for the first time at Frieze.
Undoubtedly the booth at Frieze were the most LOL was occurring.
This work was part of Van Lankveld’s new show at the Bethnal Green based gallery. Van Lankveld paints on relatively small canvases vascilating between figuration and abstraction, and, in which, hallucinatory figures can be detected, such as ghosts, ‘Scream’ masks, monsters or playful cartoon figures. Van Lankveld usually employs a subdued, monochromatic colour palette, but in this new body of work the colours are bold and have more contrast.
The Dutch artist creates her works by pouring diluted paint on to a canvas and she draws into the wet surface. It appears with this new body of work, that she has drawn less into the paint as the works are less figurative than her previous work, leaving more space for the artist’s interest in intuitive painting and coincidence can come into play. The paint still flows on the canvas, but the brush strokes are more sweeping and dramatic. It will be interesting to see, as a next step, if the artist will investigates producing her work on a larger canvas.
Text: Thierry Somers
Forthcoming article: Frieze Masters
Like a flower blossoming, there is a magical discovery when you unfurl the fans of Sylvain Le Guen. Gifted with an unbridled imagination, the Frenchman has created exquisite fans that include a fan based on a corset and the spreading wings of a peacock. For the French perfumier, Francis Kurkdjian, he created a fan in which the ‘leaf’ was made up of five layers of perfume tester strips that were impregnated with Kurkdjian’s perfumes.
Le Guen’s fans are a combination of ingenious creativity and extraordinary craftsmanship. They are produced with an incredible precision, which is required, as they are inspired by the craft of origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. It is his ambition to make the folding fan not only a complete fashion ‘accessoire’, but an ‘objet d’art’.
From inception to conclusion, Le Guen carries out all the stages of making the fan. He creates his own prototypes and models from rough to finely polished materials including serpentine bone, mother of pearl, aluminum, horn, tortoiseshell, ivory, ebony, pear wood and rosewood.
The inspiration for Le Guen to create fans comes from a diverse range of subjects, such as Marlene Dietrich, a Venetian mask or Matryoshka Russian dolls. To date, a fan based on a magazine has not been created. When we suggested to Le Guen to create a fan using the content of our four published issues, he readily accepted our invitation.
In three stages we’re going to show the creative process of how Le Guen creates the 200% fan. This first post will show the first steps of Le Guen cutting and assembling the fan leaf elements. In our next post, we’ll show the actual making of the fan sticks and the mounting of the elements onto the sticks. In the final post, we’ll present the final result wherein we will discuss the ins and outs of creating the 200% fan.
Text Thierry Somers, Pictures: Nathalie Baetens
Some people may perceive it as arrogant to title your first book ‘The Monocle Guide to Better Living’, thinking “who are you to tell me how to improve my life.” The editors of Moncole, though, can rightly use this title as the content fully delivers to the book’s title.
It is not only the editor-in-chief of Monocle, Tyler Brûlé, who shares his globe-trotting itinerary with the readers of the Financial Times in his weekly column, that has the credentials to proffer such guidance, but also the editorial staff of the magazine who travel extensively around the world. Each of them has reported on the quality of life of cities around the world and have experienced various cultures and different life-style habits. Since February 2007, when the first edition hit the newsstand, the magazine has created a network of international Monocle correspondents, with the staff of the London headquarters comprising people from Japan, Korea, Poland and Columbia. Their collective knowledge on topics such as urbanism, transportation and manufacturing now culminates in an impressive 400-page book.
The distinct look and feel of the magazine is nicely translated into the book, mostly printed on the same matte paper as the magazine. The Monocle signature is present in the book with its sophisticated mixture of subdued photography and Satoshi Hashimoto’s playful illustrations and it is filled with information and inspiring stories, such as the chapter ‘Companies to learn from’, which showcases 21 entrepreneurs who translated a great business idea into a reality.
With its yellow linen cover and high quality printing, the book has the feel of a coffee table book. Andrew Tuck, who co-edited the book with Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi, told me, though, that he will be happy when he sees copies that are scuffed, in which people have bent corners of pages, pasted post-it notes on the pages, or written in the margins. “It should be a book that people use”.
200% spoke with Tuck in one of the new lofts of the Hotel V, Amsterdam. Tuck, who is on the verge of making more air miles as he will travel to Asia to promote the book, is wearing a stylish dark blue suit combined with designer sneakers that appear to have made some street miles. We discussed with him how different mayors run their city, which city is the best in the world for creative people to live, and the differences between editing a magazine and a book.
Andrew Tuck: Of course Monocle has its finger on the pulse in the sense that we know all about good restaurants, hotels and the kind of things to do in an evening. Since the beginning of the magazine, though, we tried to understand cities in a deeper way.
I present a programme called ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle’s 24 hour radio station. It’s a weekly show, one hour, looking at how cities are run, what are the best cities in the world and how you can improve cities. We are interested in the building blocks of how cities are created. From the early stages, we undertook a survey to find out in which city people would like to call home. We produced a list of the Top 20 cities, which has now been expanded to twenty five. That really resonated with our audience. We realise that lots of people who are reading Monocle tend to be those that live in cities. It’s a very urban readership, with lots of people travelling or who have families living in various cities around the world. As they travel, they are actually very astute experts themselves on what makes a good city. They know why they came to settle in one city or why they feel comfortable when they, say, arrive in Stockholm, and why they don’t feel comfortable in another city.
We have tried to unpack that over the years; everything from who are the best people to run your city, why it is important to have a great mayor, and the nuts and bolt of physically creating the infrastructure of a city, whether that’s constructing a cycle lane or how to transport people. There is a huge debate, in which we’re keen to participate, about what is happening in our cities. We think the debate around how you build a great city is becoming a little bit lopsided. On the whole, people tend to talk about smart cities and tech cities, and it’s great that places such as Canary Wharf in London or Seongdong in Seoul are being created. That is fine, but they are not places that people want to call home. We’re arguing about the smaller things that make cities liveable, saying it’s great that you have architecture that cost billions but, actually, often the provision of enough park benches is what makes a city feel comfortable and a place in which people want to stay.
200%: Together with David Michon, you edited the first chapter of the book ‘Ten cities to call home’, which includes Munich and Melbourne, but also Beirut, about which you wrote, “there are bullet holes in a lot of apartment blocks and too many posters of divisive politicians with insincere smiles”. Can you explain why you included Beirut in this selection?
AT: I think it’s important for people to appreciate that we’re not saying it’s only the most efficient cities that can be good. When we undertake the city survey, the places that keep appearing in the top twenty-five, for example, are Copenhagen and Zürich – small, wealthy cities that tend to get things right. When you speak to readers, though, and to others about what makes them return to a city again and again, they’ll start telling you about Buenos Aires or Beirut, which makes you realise that some places have something magnetic about them.
Often, we forget that people need a bit of chaos, they need a bit of grit, a little dirt in the way in which a city is run. The trouble being that, when you create very efficient, wealthy cities, they tend to be boring. We have to have a balance. That is why Beirut is included. We’re not arguing for all cities to be about peace and quiet.
200%: Are citizens of a metropolis better off with a mayor from a social democrat or conservative background?
AT: Oddly, I don’t think it’s either of those things. What you need is someone who can act as a CEO for a city. You want an ambitious person who cares about the people that live in that city. There are lots of things that can go wrong for mayors.
Often, especially in this time, when there is not a huge amount of money in Western cities, there is a real compunction on mayors not to travel, not to go and see other cities – that is crazy. You need a mayor who is pro-active, who goes out and observes what is being done by other cities, someone who is connected. Then, they become ambassadors for their city and CEOs. This can also mean, though, that they allow their city to function a little bit disconnected from the rest of the country.
200%: Can you provide an example of a mayor who operates a city in this manner?
Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Whether you agree or disagree with some of his policies, he had a clear vision: he changed the city and he sold that city around the world as a place in which to do business, not worrying about what was going on in the rest of America. He has been outspoken in what he believed the city should do, often disagreeing with the rest of America, for example, on immigration. He is incredibly keen on more immigration into New York believing that’s how the city will thrive and it’s great you have someone who is a spokesperson in that way.
Also, he has introduced a cycle share scheme and created 500 miles of bike lanes. Zoning regulations have been changed to allow small business to come into the city centre. You need someone that is willing to make big changes as cities compete against each other to enhance their economies.
AT: Well, of course, it matters if you are an extremist, but what I’m saying is that the best mayors very quickly realise who are their constituents; that they shouldn’t be answering to the central party, but answering to their people. That’s why I feel that you gain, in many cities, from mayors who are large characters who end up running their own mini country, and not thinking all the time about the national politics, such as Boris Johnson in London. He is supposedly from the conservative wing of politics, but has done well because he disconnects himself from that, focusing on the advocacy of London. You need somebody who is pro-business, who is a CEO, whom is willing to make real fundamental changes to a city.
200%: Bloomberg’s final term expires at the end of this year. What kind of city do you think he’s leaving behind?
AT: For me, the potential negatives are that he allowed a huge amount of new buildings to be constructed. There are tens of thousands of new buildings that have been constructed during his tenure as mayor. Many of those buildings, though, were developed by property developers who were only really interested in attracting wealthy people into the city.
I think what has come out in the election, so far, from the candidates who are pushing themselves forward, is this essense that they need to represent the whole of the city. I think that Bloomberg, an extremely successful and wealthy man, is seen by some to have been an advocate for the wealthy rather than about social inclusion. I think that is the chink in his amour.
Irrespective, for me, what happened in New York is impressive. Bloomberg was good at appointing lieutenants and people around him who truly understood New York’s potential. Amanda Burden, director of the Department of City Planning, is one such lieutenant. When you speak to someone like that you see the real depth of thinking that has occurred, which has resulted in the changes in New York. She changed the zoning law to enable cafes to have outside seating. Also, she thought about the speed at which the city moves. It’s a city that moves very fast. She believed, though, that a city should work at lots of different speeds. You should have places where you can slow down and you can stop. It has become a quieter city to that from twenty years ago, which some people may miss, but I think it’s a much more vibrant city, which is much more welcoming to people who are on a bicycle or walking.
AT: Creativity is made through difference. The important thing is that you are able to attract people to industries from all around the world, with a huge amount of skill sets. One of the reasons we are based in London is that we find it very easy to attract talent from around the world. Moncole has never wanted to come across as being a British magazine. Where I sit on the editorial floor, around me there are Columbians, Bulgarians, Koreans, Japanese, which makes Monocle extraordinary.
It’s very common for me, on that floor, to tune into a conversation that is happening in Spanish, or in Japanese, and that excites me. When we come up with solutions, or how to design the magazine, it’s not all rooted in one place. That is what Monocle is about. It’s trying to be a reflection of a huge amount of things happening around the world. I think that’s why we’re in London, which is a very successful, creative city.
200%: What about other cities in the world?
When you look around the world, there are other places that have huge sources of creativity, such as Japan. When we visit Tokyo or Kyoto, we observe a different kind of creativity, often based on craft, on a meticulousness that often doesn’t exist in the West. In China, you still see a belief in product making, sometimes the creative side is still a bit stifled, but that is even beginning to change. We see companies from Denmark going there, establishing a base and re-working their products together with Chinese people to create better industries.
200%: What of Berlin, which people call an artistic haven?
For Berlin, that’s true, it’s a good, creative city, especially for people who have an interest in the arts. There is something odd, though, about some cities where the rents are cheap and the cost of living is low. When you ask anyone in Berlin what they are doing, they are all going to be a writer. It has a similar ring to that of people in LA who say that they are actors, but are actually waiting staff. Sometimes in Berlin, people talk a good talk, but I’m not always sure that they are doing what they claim.
AT: Yes, incredibly different. The first few times we did a huge master plan of what the book should be. When we began to see the first pages, though, it wasn’t quite right. First of all, you lose all the advertising that you traditionally use when you’re doing a magazine, which delivers some kind of pace, some journey through the magazine. None of that was available. Suddenly you saw all of the stories pushed up against each other.
We realised there had to be a different rhythm. In the magazine, but also in the book, it’s very dense in the way we lay out pages, but, actually, here in the book, we needed to create some space so that people could catch their breath. There is, for example, something that you would never see in the magazine, being a plain white page, and the title pages have large, minimal text, something else that we wouldn’t do in the magazine.
We had an amazing photography library and we commissioned lots of photography, but it was tough putting it all together in a way that felt like a nice family of images that all held together as you went through the pages. Whilst compilation of the book progressed, we took more and more things out and then we realised there was a need for more illustration to make it a bit more entertaining. It needed to be lighter and have some softer spots. It was an enjoyable, but complicated experience.
‘The Monocle Guide to Better Living’, published by Gestalten. Available at The American Book Center (www.abc.nl), €45
Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers with a contribution by Marie Drysdale
When I saw the title, though, also printed on the museum walls of the Manchester Art Gallery, it turned out it wasn’t a typo. It was done deliberately as this was the twentieth anniversary of a show that began life in 1993. ‘do it’ (also consistently written in lowercase) is conceived and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier and since 1993 hundreds of artist have been invited to submit artists’ instructions.
The instructions range from altering our social behaviour such as “When you are walking, stop and smile at a stranger” by Louise Bourgeois, to political with Ai Weiwei’s instructions how to make a spray device to block a CCTV surveillance camera, to a DIY Plinth where Peter Saville gives the visitor instructions for the fabrication of a cardboard display plinth on which they can place an item of their choice.
‘do it’ is a stimulating show that seduces you right upon entering when you are attracted by the smell of baked onions, garlic and jalapeno chilies when a volunteer of the Manchester International Festival is preparing a Thai chili paste based on the instructions of the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.
200% spoke with Kate Fowle, the director at large of Independent Curators International (ICI) and editor of the ‘do it’ compendium, about the 20 years’ history of the exhibition and the development of audiences’ interaction compared to that of the early days in 1993.
200%: These days audiences are able to more actively immerse themselves in art exhibitions, concerts and film (3D). Do you consider yourselves with ‘do it’ as a frontrunner for a new medium in which people can engage in the arts?
Kate Fowle: It’s a very modernist way of thinking to ascribe medium as the entry point to understanding an artwork. 3D does not make experiencing artwork anymore immersive if you are still a passive viewer. What ‘do it’ does, which is particularly different, is allow you to perform. ‘do it’ challenges one to create and give new language, and form to the instructions.
200%: Twenty years ago, when the project started, do you know if there was, initially, some reticence from the audience due to a lack of understanding of the concept of ‘do it’?
KF: When ICI first toured ‘do it’ in 1997 (four years after the first ‘do it’ in Austria), the project was accepted with open arms, probably due to the lack of accessible exhibitions in which people could participate. ‘do it’ was perceived as a sigh of relief from the traditional hierarchy produced between active artist/passive audience, which was still the most common way of experiencing art in the 1990s. Audiences still tend to think of exhibition spaces as sites of learning and so we think ‘do it’ audiences were particularly expectant and excited to learn through the creative process.
KF: Today we can document the ripple effects of ‘do it’ much better than we could 20 years ago. ICI and Hans Ulrich Obrist have organized a ‘do it’ archive exhibition where you can really trace earlier presentations of the project through slides, publications, and correspondence. We also advertised an open call on e-flux to collect “unofficial” ‘do it’ ephemera which proved a copious amount of incarnations and outcomes. In the show, which is currently on view in Manchester, we see a multitude of media such as video, websites, press conferences, and more, that is able to document and spread related information and outcomes much more quickly and to broader audiences through different channels.
200%: With each installation, did the artists have an expectation of how the instructions are likely to be interpreted by the audience, or is it their view that any reaction to the instructions is a good reaction?
KF: The artists providing instructions for ‘do it’ understand the open-ended nature of the project, and for them that is why it’s such an interesting project in which to participate. Seeing your work interpreted in many different ways around the world can be a thrilling. Recently, we discovered a box of ‘do it’ interpretations that Mike Kelley had been collecting in his studio over the years. For some artists, the reactions can be invaluable.
KF: Since 1993 the instructions have been translated into about 10 different languages. Yes, there are cultural and philosophical differences in understanding the verb “to do”, but that’s what makes for an interestingly heterogeneous project.
Interview conducted by Thierry Somers, Images from top to bottom: Lawrence Weiner, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Ai Weiwei, Peter Saville
‘do it 20 13’. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, realised in Manchester with Peter Saville, Richard Wentworth, Maria Balshaw, Natasha Howes and Kate Fowle. Alaina Claire Feldman, Exhibitions Manager at ICI, on behalf of Hans Ulrich Obrist and ICI for ‘do it’. Until 22 September 2013 at the Manchester Art Gallery.