in Reviews | 09 SEP 08
Featured in
Issue 117

Like an Attali Report, but Different

Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, France

in Reviews | 09 SEP 08

Heman Chong, Teardrop Inversed (2008)

On the same day that Cosmin Costinas arrived in Paris for his curatorial residency at the Kadist Art Foundation, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government released a report ‘for the Liberation of French Growth’, compiled by a commission led by Jacques Attali – economist, ‘public intellectual’ and special adviser to the late socialist president François Mitterand. The report contains some 300 recommendations for free-market reforms designed to increase social and economic ‘mobility’, diminish dependency on public sector jobs, relax labour laws and privatize education. Whether or not these fundamental transformations to France’s socio-economic structure can or will be implemented remains to be seen. While most commentators recognize that such change is inevitable, some see the report as just adding more fuel to the smouldering fire of ideological confusion, stoked by Sarkozy’s recruitment of leading socialists into his centre-right government, which forms a smokescreen through which the feasibility and impact of reform are difficult to discern.

The relationship of the Attali report to this exhibition about art and political imagination is coincidental and metaphorical. ‘Like an Attali Report, but Different: On Fiction and the Political Imagination’ links local debates to wider conditions of neo-liberalism under global late capitalism and, according to Costinas, posits a historical paradigm for understanding those conditions. Costinas’ focus away from classical understandings and categorizations of political art towards the fertile ground of ‘fiction and political imagination’, distinguishes this exhibition. His judicious selection of art works and his provocative installation rejuvenate commonplace artistic terms such as ‘fiction’, ‘narrative’ and ‘reality’, which too often suffer from being over-employed, under-conceptualized and inadequately historicized.

Heman Chong peppered the entrance with 3,000 grey-scale tear-shaped stickers (Teardrop Inversed, 2008). Like a horizontal swarm of dirty tongue tracks, upended raindrop stains or misshapen pixels, the amassed marks create a kind of visual static smack in the purview of Pushwagner’s painting Klaxton (1990), from which identical googly-eyed heads peer, framed by countless windows set in swaying high-rise buildings that recede into the distance ad infinitum. A sense of sci-fi alienation arises from the diligent repetition in both works, which evoke rampant standardization and increasingly attenuated, or virtually mediated, relationships between the individual and the collective. Much further along, the harsh impact of reality on those relationships surges from Greg Bordowitz’ Fast Trip, Long Drop (1993), which imagines a concrete, if constantly shifting, horizon for AIDS activism in spliced documentary footage, role-playing and vintage film clips. His attention to the inter-subjective potential of friendship and family under grim circumstances reminds us that politics begins at home.

Multiple spectres of the Soviet era haunt this exhibition. In Mona Vatamanu & Florin Tudor’s Vacaresti (2006) the artists, working on foot under glacial conditions, map out the floor plan of the Vacaresti monastery in Romania, which was razed by Nicolae Ceausescu. A black and white photograph shows Anatoli Osmolovsky sitting perched on the shoulder of a mammoth statue of poète maudit Vladmir Mayakovsky (Mayakovsky/Osmolovsky, 1993), like one of those taunting demons from Saturday morning cartoons. Ciprian Muresan’s video Cipollino (2008) endows an acclaimed communist children’s book with a ponderous philosophical voice-over, cleaving the connection between text and image.

Deimantas Narkevicius’ strange Revisiting Solaris (2007) and Yael Bartana’s compelling Mary Koszmary (2007) work off each other in unexpected and appreciable ways. In the former, astronaut Chris Kelvin (played by an elderly Donatas Banionis, who also took the role in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film) lands on Solaris, whose waterscape is figured by photographs taken by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis in the Crimea at the turn of the century. Bartana’s film, set in an abandoned stadium built from the wreckage of the Warsaw uprising in 1944, has the boyish left-wing politician Slawomir Sierakowski entreating Jews to return to Poland before a small audience of Scouts. These works are radically different in aesthetic and intention, but the images of the aged Banionis as Kelvin, whose words fail to connect with his interlocutors, and of the youthful, assertive Sierakowski, whose words are all too inflected by propaganda, merge together like some weary and eager Janus-faced portrait of hope and abandonment, unearthed from the compressed strata of former Eastern bloc history – two minds, two sets of memories, two imaginations of unattainable depth and complexity.

Taken as a whole, the works in ‘Like an Attali Report, but Different’ simultaneously invite and deter thematic totalization, but a clarion call still rings through the show. Addressed in equal terms to the political and the art establishments, it says: the fiction of Utopia is not only politically bankrupt but is also the least imaginative aesthetic solution for coping with our contemporary condition.