Which exhibitions, events and publications were the most important, most cutting-edge or most affecting of 2016? The Kunstkritikk Best of cavalcade sums up the art scene of 2016 in contributions written by our own staff and specially invited guests. Today’s contribution is by Daisuke Kosugi, an artist based in Oslo. He is currently participating in the Sparebankstiftelsen DNB Grant Exhibition 2016 in Oslo and will in 2017 relocate to Brussels for a nine month residency at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre. His film The Lost Dreams of Naoki Hayakawa (with Ane Hjort Guttu) was shown at the 11th Gwangju Biennale for Contemporary Art, South Korea, and will premiere in Oslo at Kunstnernes Hus in January 2017.
Caught up in the universal body
I live near the Vigeland Park, the most popular tourist attraction in Norway. In this park, Gustav Vigeland’s interpretation of life and death is presented in bronze and granite sculptures portraying naked human bodies which represent different ages, sexes and roles within a family.
The bodies are quite simplified, or one might say abstracted, in order to communicate different emotions such as joy, happiness or struggles.
In this summer of 2016 another type of abstracted body existed in this park: Pokémon Go users in the virtual landscape. Even if I didn’t play the game myself, I couldn’t help noticing the programming of the “Pokémon hotspots”. The groups of individuals stopping and leaving one after another at specific coordinates in the park made it clear that in the Pokémon world the body is universal, it moves in a numerical grid. And when your mobile phone hits a spot on that grid the same event is triggered in everybody’s virtual world in spite of all the different social and political realities of those bodies.
Zhou Tao, Blue and Red, 2014.
As I was watching the video work Blue and Red (2014) by Zhou Tao at the 11th Gwangju Biennale: The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?), I was constantly trying to configure the algorithms of the bodies in public spaces. Why were they there? What was happening to them?
The video opens with a night scene of a large white structure in the shape of a sphere, lit in artificial cyan. The video continues with sequences of Asian people of different ages engaged in various activities: standng, waving, sitting and sleeping in the park or street, awash in reflections of flickering artificial light from the large dome. They are filmed in an “objective”, static manner and from a comfortable distance. The atmosphere feels festive, as if these people had gathered in a public space waiting for an event.
However, the narrative is constructed so that in between these sequences another type of images comes in: A pile of sandbags blocking the street, hung with a banner with peace marks in Thai; a pile of sandbags next to the dried-up river that looks like it recently flooded. Suddenly the sound of gunfire shakes the video frame. Subsequently, more intense and ambiguous relationships between human bodies and the public space appear – still static and distant. My understanding of the bodies in the open area changes. Why are these human bodies here? My assumptions vary from participation in a local festival via homeless people sleeping in the street to involuntary temporary inhabitants fleeing from a natural disaster. They could also be occupying the streets in political protest.
The only constant was the depiction of human bodies on the ground in an open area. My experiences and imaginings do not help me understand what these human bodies are experiencing in the video; the only thing I get is a lingering sense of oppression.
Daria Martin, Soft Materials, 2004. 16mm film.
Am I capable of understanding others through representations of bodies? While in Stockholm earlier this year I watched the 16mm film Soft Materials (2004) by Daria Martin in the exhibition THE NEW HUMAN at Moderna Museet.
In this film two professional dancers interact with robots, which were developed by scientists at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Zurich. The robots are not pre-programmed, but learn through experience. Their bodies look nothing like androids: they look like DIY robots with lots of insect-like antennae that they use to recognize stimulation through physical movement.
I do not know how I could possibly communicate with something so unfamiliar. Yet the dancers in the film follow the robots’ movements, gently touch them and let the robots touch them in return. In my view, the choreography of the dancers appears to be a specific vocabulary of abstracted body movement developed in Western contemporary dance, or I could say a universalized abstraction of body movement.
The intimacy between the dancers and robots was captured in beautiful compositions through framing with close-ups and bokeh – the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image, in front of or/and behind the object in focus – an aesthetic quality developed in the history of photography. The beauty of the frames was enhanced by the optical grainy texture and colours of 16mm film and by the sound of the projector echoing into the room, combined with the beam of light. It was a beautiful experience – as was the experience of seeing my own emotional projection onto the robot, which I understood as a potential other. Yet it occurred to me that this experience is limited to others who share the same visual language, and that this is the limit of my understanding of others through abstracted bodies and movement.
Is there any way to grasp what is out of my reach?
Alexa Karolinski and Ingo Niermann, Army of Love, 2016.
During the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art: The Present in Drag I watched a video work titled Army of Love (2016) by Alexa Karolinski and Ingo Niermann. The project was initiated by Ingo Niermann through his novel Solution 257: Complete Love (2011, Sternberg Press) and developed with filmmaker Alexa Karolinski.
This staged documentary was shot at a public spa in Berlin, exploring relationships that exist in a group setting complete with costumes made by the clothing label Hood by Air. To me it evoked associations of a hyper-estheticized reality TV or video campaign: slow moving human bodies floating in the pool with sensual underwater lighting.
This “utopian” proposal (the artists’ words) takes its starting point in the inequity of receiving sensual love, which, in many societies, is reserved for the “young and attractive”. The artists seek the possibility of including equal chances of finding sex and love for the subjects of the social welfare system. In an interview with Berlin community radio, Karolinski and Niermann state that they are not aiming to fixate Army of Love as an ideology, but want to spread an idea that can change, develop and adopt to the needs of society. This approach is apparent in the voiceover, with people answering questions like “What do you find attractive in yourself?” or “How do you see yourself in the Army of Love?”. We hear sex activist Matthias Vernaldi, founder of ”Sexybilities – Sexuality and Disability” and a qualified social worker, as well as activist Stephanie Klee, who focuses on sexual assistance.
One of the interviewees says “When you take someone in your arms, you realize really quickly and intensely (…) how much love did this person receive? (…) Actually feeling comfortable in the arms of another person reveals so much disparity, which I think illustrates an atrophying, an atrophying of something that’s hardwired inside all of us.”
I’m not sure if I have the same ability to understand others by holding them in my arms. Yet I wonder if it is a fundamental ability of the body to sense, and not only through perception and language, any and all oppressive conditions. Can technology recreate this communication, or is this something that is not reducible through abstraction or combinations of numbers?
Back in my apartment in Oslo, I look at the baby yoga and massage place next door. I am imagining a baby in an arm that is bio-technologically produced, and a mom/dad on the other side of the world, sending their love through the virtual world.
List of inspiring events and performances:
Heresies #3: Automation by Hannah Black, in Podium, Oslo.
Munchmuseet i bevegelse: I’m Every Lesbian – Oslo by Sofia Hultin, the session led by Mathilde Decaen, Oslo.
The Ventriloquist Summerschool 2016, Public Programme: Susanne Winterling in 1857, Oslo.