An exhibition curated by Vincent Honoré, Director, DRAF and Patrizio Di Massimo with works by Paul Chan, George Condo, Keren Cytter, Simon Denny, Patrizio Di Massimo, Simon Fujiwara, Amy Granat/Cinema Zero, Thomas Houseago, Bethan Huws, Nathaniel Mellors, Laure Prouvost, Pietro Roccasalva.
Exploring indexical motifs such as the dissolution of language, the theatricalised body and the “breakdown” of an image, the project questions how a notion such as “exhaustion” can be formally enacted. The exhibition is the outcome of a twelve months dialogue and research between curator Vincent Honoré and artist Patrizio Di Massimo about contemporary practices and curatorial projects. Most of the artists invited in the exhibition had been asked to participate in this conversation by either entering into a collective dialogue, sharing references or sources, proposing new works and interventions.
Language informs many of the works on view. Abused and manipulated to the point it cannot be conceived even as an imperfect tool for communication, language is characterized by collapses, stammers, fragmentations, collages, ellipses, mixed idioms or unknown tropes. This peculiar manipulation forces language to its dissolution. The same is applied to the body. Choreographed, distorted and fragmented, this “anxious” body manifests the convulsive aspects of the human condition through the burlesque. Body and language can only be overtly theatricalised for them to reflect any intimate existential needs (creativity, History, history of art, decay, religion, eroticism, etc.). “The work of art for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.” (Felix Guattari in Chaosmosis)
Such (mis)treatments of language and body naturally lead to the image’s breakdown. Because the works “take by force a structure that was on the verge of asserting itself” (as Felix Guattari wrote on George Condo’s paintings in an early text, 1990), they generate disquieted and often humorous images: incongruous, absurd, anachronistic, kitsch, regressive or hybrid works. It is through this methodical and rhizomatic manipulations, borrowing of classical codes in an iconoclastic approach, that the works eventually address a crisis of the standard representative modalities, and of creation itself.
More Pricks Than Kicks borrows its title from the first book published by Samuel Beckett. This collection of short proses, in particular their witty and dry humour together with the formal qualities of Beckett’s style (as analysed by Gilles Deleuze in his essay The Exhausted), confers its tone to the exhibition. More Pricks Than Kicks intends to create a platform to question creation in its more sinister quality, contemporary time in its less graspable entity. The works are not fixed proposals but active processes: exhausted since themselves are necessary failed attempts to exhaust a form, a medium, a system, a notion. Their linked dynamic is formed by a methodical crisis that cultivates accidents, a crisis that accepts exhaustion as the paradoxical core of any creative dynamic.
Paul Chan (born 1973 Hong Kong, lives in New York). Paul Chan works with video, drawing, collage, text, installation and collaborative site-specific projects. Engaging such fundamental topics as war, religion, philosophy, and desire, his works include a recent large-scale production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in two neighborhoods of New Orleans. […]
Oh Stexts, 2009, wall texts. Oh Stexts is a recent continuation of Paul Chan’s Alternumerics project, started in 2000: a series of customized fonts, in which each letter or digit has been replaced by fragments of texts inspired by various sources. The fonts can be downloaded for free on the artist’s website, so that anyone can use them to explore, as he intends, “the fissure between what we write and what we mean”. Oh Stexts is a collection of texts written by Chan using some of the fonts belonging to the Sade for Fonts Sake series. These fonts have the ability to mutate any attempt to type on a keyboard into a Sadean fantasy; each one of them is based either on a character from Sade’s novels or on actual persons, as diverse as tabloid icon Monica Lewinsky or poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Paul Chan exploits computer fonts making to create monstrous poetic pieces that escape from his control; he goes one step further than the many experimental writing techniques developed along the 20th century. Thus, this quite basic technology, made to be easy-to-use and immediately efficient (“what you see is what you get”) is diverted to annihilate language, and at the same time, expanding its boundaries.
George Condo (born 1957 Concord, USA, lives in New York). George Condo engages with history of art and gives his “abstract-figurative” version out of it. Freely using a ”pre-existing” imagery (Velazquez, David, Picasso, Comics, etc.) with in a non nostalgic way, his paintings and sculptures reinvent what he had called “existential portraits” of contemporary modern subjects. He paints portraits, vanities, still lives, “a whole collection of things”.
Couple on Mattress, 2005, oil on canvas. St. Jerome, 2007, oil on canvas. A humorous element you “could call it a kind of harmonic resolution of opposites”, which “rather than ways of seeing, involves ways of thinking” (Condo). A humorous element, that, far from being superficial, “takes by force a structure that was on the verge of asserting itself.” for a “destabilising, vague, shimmering, disturbing effect” (Guattari on Condo, in a surprising early text). This humour can be generated by absurdity, displacement, misplacement, distortion, hybridity, idiocy, caricature, etc.
Keren Cytter (born 1977 Tel Aviv, lives in Berlin). Keren Cytter writes novels and directs plays, but she is mostly known for her videos and films that portray characters entangled in complex relationships, simultaneously connected and alienated from one another. Inspired by direct experiences and observations of her surroundings as well as the films, plays, and novels of such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, John Cassavetes, Roman Polanski, Jack Smith, Jorge Luis Borges, Tennessee Williams, and Samuel Beckett and mainstays of popular culture like soap operas and science fiction, her work is carefully scripted and produced while maintaining an immediate sense of spontaneity and unpredictability.
Der Spiegel, 2007, video, 4’30. The desire for a young body and the love of a man are at the centre of Der Spiegel (The mirror). The other women comment on her feelings and are continuously trying to manipulate the protagonist. As the “voice” of a pitiless society, they are driving the woman into emotional turmoil. The action reaches a climax when two men appear on the scene. Keren Cytter sets the theatrically condensed plot in an almost empty room. The only props are the mirror and the camera itself. Society is represented by the looks and comments from the others. Time and again the dichotomy between how the protagonist perceives herself and how she is seen by others is highlighted; the relationship between the individual and her social context is staged as a continuous process of collapse.
Simon Denny (born 1982 Auckland, lives in Auckland and Frankfurt). Simon Denny presents his audiences with situations that tend to foreground an engagement with associations of form, purpose and action. Constructions of everyday materials are combined with – and are often comprised of – domestic ready-mades and found imagery. His apparent crude modesty of form belies the poetic intelligence of the works coming-to-be and sculptural conceits. Denny’s art-making is rooted in consumption and presentation; considerations of performance and moments of recapitulation which embed the artist’s activity in his material – objects and images chosen in the first instance for the character and activity they already inhabit.
For More Pricks Than Kicks, Simon Denny will explore the notion of negation that lies in Beckett’s work: indeed, he was asked by the curators to handle the display of the artworks in the exhibition, and, after having accepted this challenge, announced that he “would prefer not to”, quoting Bartleby’s famous motto (mention source Bartleby as not Beckett). He will then plan “this installation through negation of explicit planning, by deferring all decisions, by passing all decision concerning other artists in the show and how their work is presented on to the other decision makers in the show.” At the same time, he will present a chapter of his recent project “Introductory Logic Tutorial Video” (2010), specially adapted to London’s context; each chapter is a double canvas mimicking a television screen, and depicting “a still from a non-existent video tutorial which taught basic propositional philosophical logic, and focused on certain defined ‘structures of argument’”. But, following the artist’s original will of being part of the exhibition by negating his participation, this work will be hanged outside the space.
Patrizio Di Massimo (born 1983 Jesi, Italy, lives in Amsterdam and London). Patrizio Di Massimo has used repetition and drift as a strategy in both his drawings (repeating the same motif) and his sound piece The Secret Proceedings in the Trial at Benghazi, 15 September 1931. The work is the registration of the juridical process made by the Italian Government to the leader of the Libyan resistance Omar el-Mukhtar that then brought him to decapitation (It is part of Massimo’s Libya project). “I found the document in English in an Arabic web-site and then I decided to ask an actor for reading it and do the voice-over. What stroke me the most about the document was that the trial was given in a three-fold way. To put it better the same interrogation was written three times in three different ways according to the juridical way of transcribing the proceedings. The three ways are: 1) The interrogation of the prisoner 2) The typewritten of the interrogation of the prisoner 3) The record of the interrogation of the prisoner. It is therefore a play of narrations in which the use of rhetoric, that creates the three different proses, is interweaved with the fact that Law is a branch of rhetoric in itself.” Another work, Untitled (My Father Emulating Me) shows an old photograph of the artist’s father in the 70s, at the same age than the artist when he discovered the photograph (23 years old). They look identical. The work becomes a somewhat cynical reflexion of the lack of originality, creation, difference in contemporary culture, the authorship and paternity, and impossibility to escape repetitions and sources.
Simon Fujiwara (born 1982 London, lives in Berlin and Mexico City). Encompassing formats including performance-lectures, published fiction, and collections of various articles and artefacts, the recent projects of Berlin-based Simon Fujiwara take shape as if scattered trails of evidence whose parts are more-or-less plausible. Each unearths an implicit myth of human origins and an explicit sexual archeology which together weave narratives that take us from our shared and most distant human past, to up close and personal with Fujiwara and his family history. e son of a British mother and a Japanese father, the artist unfolds a practice that is ostensibly a ‘journey of personal discovery’ about his own origins, or so the cliché goes, into a carefully constructed borderline of ethnology, eroticism, architecture and ancestry. Histories and biographies are written, rewritten – or faked –and gay porno stories hold just as much credence and cra as paleontological treatises. – Max Andrews & Mariana Cánepa Luna.
The Unwritten Erotic Saga of the Fujiwara Family 1975-2010, 2010. The Unwritten Erotic Saga is composed of 18 volumes displayed as a pile. The only text carried by each one of the 12,775 pages is a date and number since the lifting of Spain’s censorship ban on erotica, which corresponds to Franco’s death on November 20, 1975. The Saga could be seen as a symbol of the artist’s ongoing struggle to write Welcome to the Hotel Munber (2006 – ongoing), the fictive erotic story of his parents as they were running a hotel in Spain during the last years of Franco’s dictatorship. It is the physical framework in which the novel could exist. The last page of Volume 18 ends on November 20, 2010, which coincides with the 200th anniversary of the Mexican revolution – a former Spanish colony and the country where Simon Fujiwara travelled to in his attempt to write the novel. The pile made out of the 18 volumes of the Saga is approximately 1.60 m high, the height of the artist’s father, architect Kan Fujiwara, who is also the main protagonist of his novel in the fragments published until now. Thus, the books are not only a representation of the time passed since the liberation of Spain, but also a personal portrait of the father who was largely absent from his life.
Amy Granat (born 1976 Saint Louis, USA, lives in New York). The majority of Amy Granat’s work consists of films and photography. Often creating abstract films without a camera, she uses the materials in untraditional ways. The destructive use of color or acid, the scratching and puncturing of the film strip: these manual modifications manifest themselves in a variety of reflections and distortions that, through the process of projection, generate pictorial shapes. Central to Granat’s work is how she experiments with and defamiliarizes her media. Her films have a pictorial feel, while her photographic works are reminiscent of sculptures: scratched lines make up her projected images, and pieces of film strips appear on her photograms and collages […]. For More Pricks Than Kicks, Amy Granat will conceive a Cinema Zero evening, a performative event that will include video screenings and possibly dance.
About Cinema Zero: “Initiated in the summer of 2004, I wanted a place where film would engage with painting, dance, sound, and where ideas would connect work more than form. I wanted to expose old experimental films -that had rarely been seen – at that point. And I wanted to establish a space that could provide freedom and experimentation. One by one, I invited people to join me, founding members were myself, Felicia Ballos, Richard Aldrich, Gabrielle Giattino, and Fabienne Stephan. We opened on the winter solstice of 2004 with a painting and sculpture show by Swiss artist Paul-Aymar Mourgue D’Algue and film screening by Hollis Frampton and Marie Menken. Since 2005 Cinema Zero has been nomadic and has taken many different shapes and forms. […]” – Amy Granat, 2009 source
Thomas Houseago (born 1972 Leeds, lives in Los Angeles). Thomas Houseago’s work can be questioned as un-original, as a failure of the figure, as the failure of modernism, as failure of materials. They also bring an uncomfortable feeling of authoritarian art (colonialism: cf Patrizio di Massimo). Colonialism (of the materials, of a tradition, of a culture) is not foreign to Houseago’s practice. “It’s always suspect to examine the forgotten ‘primitive’ memory of the figurative in Modernism – to return to Modernism’s repressed, barely formed ‘wild urges’. When such an attempt is filtered through an ironic, neo-expressionist approach, it’s even more difficult for the viewer to locate the philosophical and cultural contexts behind the work. Thomas Houseago’s exhibition forces the viewer to ask whether the work on display transcends its influences or merely references them. Houseago’s sculptures re-work many of the stylistic quirks and formal concerns of Cubism. The objects’ armature is exposed revealing all aspects and surfaces in the final form. Yet, Houseago deals almost exclusively with opposites, turning the object inside out and back to front so construction and form become one. This is not to say that they are not successful in their own right, but you can’t escape the feeling that they are half-realised, begging to be transformed into monumental bronzes, public sculpture that would not look out of place in front of a university library.” Alexander Kennedy. source
Bethan Huws (born 1961 Bangor, Wales, lives in Paris and Berlin). Bethan Huws’ series of Word Vitrines begun in 1999: office display boards on which she affixes discursive snippets, or some decontextualised words, in white plastic lettering. The process of translation in the work of Bethan Huws has been highlighted. Translation responds to a movement of displacement (from one language to another) and reframing (from one culture to another). At its best, translation undergoes a return to origins in order to express a text or concept in another language. It is not translation per say that structures the work of Bethan Huws, rather it is the investigation of procedures of displacement and the search for origins in language that has led to her interest in translation as one of clearest ways of making them manifest (procedures of displacement and the search for origins are also found in her installations, in Scraped Floor, and in her readymades, watercolours, and films). By opposing different modes of enunciation (narratives, discourse, writing, speech), language games (dominant/dominated languages, Welsh/English, poetry or philosophy/bureaucracy, spoken language), and word games, she makes of language a tool of deconstructive critique. Words are readymades (Untitled [Love Letter], 2001): displaced, they reinform the contexts of enunciation and demonstrate the complexity of all discourses.
From 1993 to 1995, Bethan Huws ceased exhibiting art in order to explore the theoretical and critical foundations of her practice. Without a predetermined plan, she read and wrote, and from this research produced six volumes of reflections and studies. Origin and Source, which runs 1342 pages, is the result of two years of silence and research. What is important about this project is neither the artist’s withdrawal nor her reconsideration of the basis of her artistic practice; what is important is the fact that she decided to exhibit it, to enter the project into her oeuvre. In this way she identified retreat, the fragment, doubt, fertile repetition and even collapse as valid artistic approaches. The negation inscribed in these two years of retreat—of exile and introspection—and the anxiety of turning away become motor and flywheel. Scraped Floor, an earlier work by Huws, shows a surface in negative. Origin and Source is also a surface in negative: retreat and sterility have become generative forms. The title is important, pointing as it does to the aspect of excavation in the work. The project shows us the fruits of retreat, exposing it “as it is.” Origin and Source situates Huws’s work in a literary tradition based in post-symbolist 20th-century poetry, according to which language, in its structuralist nature, is a machine for deconstruction (think of Mallarmé and Apollinaire). The idea is relevant in the context of some well-known breakdowns (Nerval, Dostoevsky, Strindberg, Rimbaud, etc.): errant paths that found their way through silence, drifts or repetition, or were absorbed by it (an idea best theorized by Mallarmé and, later, Maurice Blanchot). The late 19th century saw a relationship develop between art and writing that would lead the way to a conceptual dynamic (Alphonse Allais’s monochromes, Larionov, Dada and the links between poetry and conceptual art in the work of Robert Filliou, Carl Andre, Vito Acconci and Marcel Broodthaers, among others). Origin and Source belongs to a tradition that links creativity to breakdown: “deconstruction” (Derrida), “worklessness and disaster” (Blanchot), “the accursed share” (Bataille), “the unsaid” (Levinas), “a literature of the unword” (Beckett). It is a tradition of anxiety in which the tension and distance between the self and the other “I” defines the modern subject.
Nathaniel Mellors (born 1974 Doncaster, lives in London and Rotterdam). There is a technique in comedy that builds up not to necessarily knock you down, but to disintegrate gently before reaching a climax. Such undermining of expectations was the perennial comic ploy of Tommy Cooper in his bad magician bungles, for instance. Nathaniel Mellors conducts similar moments of dissolution in many registers: over time sense collapses, a mood darkens or narrative falls apart; physically, too, everything seems poised to clatter to the ground. It is as though the chaos from which things have been formed permanently threatened to regain (lack of) control. – Sally O’Reilly.
Altermodern catalogue: “I love absurdism and satire and I am fascinated by the range of effects that words can have.” “my own narratives are played out in scenarios where the relationship between word and external reality has often slipped, or is in the process of slipping further away from its sense. The character wrestle with this confusion.” “it is possible, within these scenarios, to use humour in different ways, to pitch things so that they are funny in parts, then not entirely funny or suddenly not funny at all. I like these shifts in register.” “I want to see art that works for and against the idea of art, rather than within its image.”
Laure Prouvost (born 1978 Croix-Lille, France, lives in London). One of the watchwords in contemporary video and photography during the past decade or so has been ‘narrative’, the candid, the documentary and the aesthetic have been sidelined somewhat by the pull of the narrative image whether it be moving or still. Gregory Crewdson, Tacita Dean, Douglas Gordon, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Sophy Rickett, Hannah Starkey and Bill Viola and are just some artists who have forefronted the idea of the narrative image. In her compact, raw-edged video pieces, Laure Prouvost provides narratives that seem to parody the whole genre from which they spring, with their wall-to-wall hyperbole and whimsical fantasy they charm and disturb at the same time. […] Self-deprecating illusions thrust us in and out of a bizarre fantasy world, which is both richly imaginative and outrageously implausible. The raw and flawed, artless, aesthetic of Prouvost’s visuals echo the motto of Prouvost & Sons Ltd., which is, ‘we promote imperfection’ and bring to mind a statement by the critic and commentator, Pavel Buchler in his book ‘Ghost Stories’ where he writes, “to produce a blurred photograph has come to be seen as the exclusive right of the professional, even a sure sign of the professional mandate, whereas the same blurred image taken by the lay photographer implies a ‘human error’.” Here he is thinking of the work of such photographers as Uta Barth or Bill Jacobson, while Provoust’s aesthetic fits neatly into this mould, her make believe company, ‘Provoust & Sons Ltd.’ should certainly hold back from listing themselves on the Stock Exchange. […]
The strands of parody, poetry and flimsy deception that are closely entwined in Prouvost’s canon of work, through which satire, irony, whimsy and fantasy seamlessly operate, offer us many levels on which to read the work, but however we choose to perceive it at any one particular moment, we cannot help but be charmed by the sheer inventiveness and sense of mischief through which these works have been conceived. – Roy Exley.
Pietro Roccasalva (born 1970 Modica, Italy, based in Milan). Escaping from any kind of linearity, Pietro Roccasalva’s creative process always has its coinciding beginning and end in a painting. To discern the diverse moments of its trajectory, the artist opens the doors of what he defines as a “worksite”. There, together with all the phases of the graphic creation—objects, furniture, audiovisuals, actions and tableaux vivant—there are visions and obsessions filled with philosophical, historical and artistic instances mixed with events, circumstances and coincidences by which the artificer likes to be surprised. In this way, every image always determines another one, and every work carries a trace of something that has preceded it in a constant back-and-forth of iconographies, which repeat themselves in variety and generate new situations.
Roccasalva’s exhibitions are a trail in which the flow of information is framed in different “stages”, formally closed and autonomous (settings, installations, sculptures, videos and digital images) but also part of a wider process. Fluency and solidity pursue each other and exchange until they crystallize in the dynamic two-dimensionality of the painting-processor. What remains is a screenplay, or a musical score, not written beforehand but rather determined by the event and by an artificer unaware and unwilling: “the purpose flourishes through the outcome”.
Download exhibition leaflet here.