Nylon Spiderwebs, Big Brother Screens, Robots, and a Chimpanzee at Frieze Projects 2016
'A Cyborg Manifesto' author Donna Haraway checked in via Skype video.
On preview day at Frieze, an artist in conversation with an auction house representative about her work is cut short by the question, “So what is for sale here?” She smiles, “Everything!”
And so is the premise of Frieze, but outside of its buy-and-sell landscape exists a complimentary undertaking: Frieze Projects.
“It seems obvious to think about the meaning of relationships when you visit an art fair today, and this year’s edition of Frieze Projects features artistic collaborations with a strong performative aspect—moments of human and artistic empowerment,” says the section’s curator, Raphael Gygax. It is indeed diverse, as the five projects on display this year bring together international artists working in fields that span drama, dance, performance, and design.
To begin, Frenetic Gossamer by Mexican artist Martin Soto Climent, is a finely strung spider-web of nylon stockings, greeting visitors at the entrance to the main tent. It is dream-like and wistful, and oftentimes becomes the site for live acrobatic performances.
Also in the schedule of live performances is an experimental play, the result of a collaboration between writer Sibylle Berg and artist Claus Richter, entitled Wonderland Ave. Set in a dystopian future where robots have overtaken mankind, the script is complex and takes on issues from queer theory to contemporary Marxism. But shy and unsure audiences refrain from interacting with the actors and puppets (as envisioned by the artists). However, the set is gorgeous, as is the room in which you find it, chilled by a powerful AC, a place to simply read the script atop one of the many comfy bean bag chairs.
Frieze Artist Award winner Yuri Pattison’s Crisis Trolley is an imposing set of screens and intersecting monitors. The flatscreens at once make you feel as though you are privy to a surveillance scenario as well as being surveyed yourself. Eerily, the official-looking equipment fits seamlessly into its surroundings, perhaps an indication of our desensitization to such technologies.
Julie Verhoeven’s The Toilet Attendant… Now Wash Your Hands is a true Instagram favorite, as well as one to visit if you prefer ’80s power ballads as accompaniment to your trip to the loo. Verhoeven’s intervention in the tent’s washrooms is an attempt to make apparent the otherwise invisibility of attendants and cleaners.
Samson Young’s project, When I have fears that I may cease to be, what would you give in exchange for your soul is a guided multimedia walk through the fair. Upon being handed headphones and an iPhone to match, a series of six videos commence, which must be played at intervals along a map of the fair.
Scenes from the videos include tobacco farmers in North Carolina singing slave-songs to count the yearly crop: a rather uncomfortable sight when the question of race is never brought up and everyone on-screen is white. Nevertheless, the work is effective in delivering its listener/viewer a second version of the fair—one in which you roam around completely disconnected from the noise around you, as if in a reverie.
Young, known for his talent as a composer, thus creates an immersive soundscape with which to carry you along. There is also a surprise live performance once you reach the end.
Ambassadors at the Operndorf Afrika space will happily explicate the “vision” of the German film and theater director, Christoph Schlingensief, who unfortunately passed away before he could see it fully realized. The project, otherwise known as “Opera Village Africa” is located near Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso.
It includes a school of 350 children, a small clinic, and an artist residency where artists (Burkinabe and foreigners alike) may spend a duration of time making work in relation to the community that surrounds it. Frieze has invited the project to display work that was produced on-site, and the space comes replete with small screens where you may view Burkinabe children at school: playing, learning, generally quite jubilant. Some of the works are installed in cabin-like structures from Schlingensief’s last theater piece, Via Intolleranza II.
Ambassadors will also mention, repeatedly, that it is a place for “art with heart” where nothing is for sale. Upon closer inspection however, most of the artworks on display seem to be on loan from Hauser & Wirth, and thus bought/sold at some point in their lifetime.
The highlight of the Projects was last night’s performance by Cuban-American Artist Coco Fusco, at first shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Live for one night only, Fusco performed Observations of Predation in Humans: A Lecture by Dr. Zira, co-commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial.
Sold out days in advance, the auditorium was truly abuzz before Fusco dramatically took the stage as Professor Zira, Chimpanzee psychologist and veterinarian, a character from the film series Planet of the Apes. The piece was introduced, via a glitchy Skype video, by Professor Donna Haraway, author of A Cyborg Manifesto. Dr. Zira presented a witty lecture on the current psychological condition of the human race: at once metaphorical and astutely relevant and real. Fusco, through an articulate performance, delivered an erudite critique of current capitalism and its politics: ranging from the prison industrial complex, the financial crisis, supreme court controversies, and campus rape cases, among others.
In a fair where there is so much to see, a feature that can oftentimes become overwhelming (particularly if you are not perusing the fair with millions to spend), Frieze Projects are thus a welcome respite from the fair’s corporate atmosphere. Above all interactive and energetic, the different projects give visitors a chance to interact with works on a more intimate level, and also with other fairgoers. Opportunities arise to have conversations, to ask questions, and to think more critically about Frieze as an institution and the conditions of the Projects’ display.
Frieze Projects runs alongside Frieze for the duration of the fair until October 9.
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