WINNER OF ART & CULTURE ART CRITICISM PRIZE VOLUME XII ANNOUNCED:
We are delighted to announce the Volume XII winner as James Gormley for his review of Nicholas Mangan: Ancient Lights at Chisenhale Gallery, London. Carlos Kong is highly commended for his review of Zoltán Érmezei: The Oeuvre. A Look Back/Forward, Ludwig Múzeum, Budapest.
The Judges commented: Nicholas Mangan's winning review was very evocative of the show with a dose of the poetic that sat well. The text felt accessible without being dumbed down, well structured and original. Engaging, complex but also comprehensible use of language; efficient yet descriptive.
Carlos Kong's submission is an example of how a well-written review can expand beyond the show itself into a wider examination of art history, meaning and good historic context. Informative description of works which are hard to describe. The writing is analytical and art-historical but also lyrical. Highly instructive about an artist who was relatively unknown to me.
Thanks to our judging panel Francesca Gavin, Writer and Curator; Beatrix Ruf, Director, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Nancy Spector, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Brooklyn Museum.
Winner: Review by James Gormley
Nicholas Mangan, Ancient Lights, at Chisenhale Gallery, London
3 July - 30 August 2015
Click here for more information about the exhibition.
Co-commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery, London and Artspace, Sydney. Image courtesy the artist; Labor Mexico; Sutton Gallery, Melbourne; and Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland. Photo: Andy Keate.
The Aztec sun god Tonatiuh does not work for free. For his daily toil – birth in the morning, death in the evening and an exhausting trawl across the sky in between – he must receive a sacrificial offering. In lieu of blood he’ll accept a more abstract, more renewable share – his representation in coinage. His fearsome likeness is pressed into the Mexican ten peso coin to remind all who trade with it that all things cost, even sunshine. The exsanguinated corpse, after all, yields a few litres but with some hard-earned precious metals in your pocket you can be bled indefinitely.
This coin spins hypnotically, looping seamlessly in one of two films that form Ancient lights by Australian artist Nicholas Mangan at London’s Chisenhale gallery. Scaled up and projected against one side of a raw plywood partition, the solar sovereignty of Tonatiuh’s face flips, gives way to the national sovereignty of the Mexican coat of arms and back again, both ever on the verge of collapse as spinning coins naturally are. The disc rights itself at every teeter, though; it’s perpetual motion unbroken. For what is likely a simple trick of canny editing and camera work, the effect is surprisingly (and with duration, increasingly) mystifying.
A visible bank of storage batteries powered by solar panels on the roof of the gallery runs the exhibition’s AV equipment. The artist’s use of independent, off-grid power is in keeping with previous practice. Progress in Action, for example, an earlier work concerning the civil war in Bougainville, was powered by the same coconut oil adopted as bio-fuel by Bougainvillean revolutionaries to circumvent Papuan military blockades. Ancient Lights recirculates the light absorbed on the roof in different permutations throughout the interior via mediating devices. Sunlight on the surface of the panels thus becomes analogous to the light of a projector creating an image on a screen.
On the far side of the enclosure that bisects the gallery space, a second film is shown on a freestanding unelevated screen. Somewhat in the vein of an essay film by contrast with it’s companion – which is categorically an installation – it is more frenetic, more varied in it’s tempo imagery and sound. It casts a wide net as far as sources and locations are concerned, combining footage of solar energy facilities in Spain and Arizona with the study of sunspots, tree-rings, fruit farming and other heliocentric phenomena. It juggles metaphors of light and transubstantiation in globally dispersed networks. A slowly rotating cross-section of a tree trunk embodies accumulation while the freak occurrence of Florida oranges frozen on the tree becomes a signifier of sacrificial surfeit.
A dialectical volley emerges between the two films concerning the ontological status of an artwork itself; an object forever fluctuating between autonomy and contingency. On one hand it notionally participates in a hermetically sealed feedback loop, separated from other forms of labour, production and value. On the other, it’s wholly dependent on infinitely variable conditions, the very slightest of which can dictate it’s intent, content, reception or even the possibility of it’s production. In truth, the interiority of the artwork is always at least part illusion. It’s always socially mitigated; always an exchange, inscribed with the codes of the market whether or not it’s meant to sell. The illusion, the artifice, enthralls nonetheless, like the coin spinning interminably under the unearthly and uncanny automatism of sacred capital; ever ready to fall, never falling.
Highly Commended: Carlos King
Zoltán Érmezei,The Oeuvre. A Look Back/Forward at the Ludwig Múzeum, Budapest.
5 February - 27 March 2016
Click here for more information about the exhibition.
At a mere twenty years of age, Zoltán Érmezei (1955-1991) authored his fictional death by publishing his own obituary in the national Hungarian newspaper. Nearing the end of his life less than twenty years later, Érmezei laid bare his sickly body in Corpus, his final series. These plaster body casts in crucifixion poses immortalize the frailty and disintegration of his all too human body. Zoltán Érmezei’s career thus began with the death of his presence and ended with the resurrection of his absence. Zoltán Érmezei: The Oeuvre. A Look Back/Forward at Ludwig Múzeum – Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest, traces the complementary forces of absence and presence, life and death, and fiction and experience that typify Érmezei’s art practice. The exhibition presents a retrospective of Érmezei’s widely unknown oeuvre, animating the diverse output of Érmezei’s short career and its singular vision of human existence.
Death is Zoltán Érmezei’s origin myth. In 1975, his self-published obituary inaugurated his life as an artist by fictionalizing mortality. Érmezei’s obituary literalizes and performs what theorist Roland Barthes termed “The Death of the Author” just eight years earlier in 1967, in which the distanced relation between authors and their texts opens new aesthetic possibilities of viewership and identification. Framed as his first conceptual artwork, the obituary additionally begins the curatorial narrative of the retrospective, which navigates Érmezei’s cycles of existential negation and artistic re-emergence.
Among the intense variations of medium and style throughout Érmezei’s exhibited oeuvre, his mail art of the 1970’s remains a cardinal innovation of conceptual art. Érmezei’s translation of language into images provides a Hungarian counterpoint to conceptual art and textual practices nascent especially in Western Europe, America, and Japan. Furthermore, Érmezei’s specific use of postcards strongly parallels contiguous works of mail art by Ray Johnson and On Kawara, evincing that the aesthetic of mail art is as transnational as the postal system itself. Postcards with Érmezei’s authored and printed phrases like “Reading-Exercise: Read this with eyes closed” transform a mobile medium into verbal and visual puzzles. Like his obituary, Érmezei’s works of mail art posit his absence and presence as coeval in creation. Personal greetings in Érmezei’s handwriting are countered by the recondite yet poetic tasks that the printed postcards impersonally enunciate. Perhaps reading Zoltán Érmezei is clearer with eyes closed.
Evasion, occlusion, and the reconfiguration of authorial presence are taken to extremes in a central gallery of vast impressionistic landscape paintings. Rather than fictionalizing death like in his obituary, in these works Érmezei fictionalizes life. Working collaboratively with János Rauschenberger and Gyula Pauer, the artists created P.É.R.Y Puci, a fictitious female painter responsible for the series of landscapes that the three painted together en plein air. The painting series, By the River Drava (1987) depicts panoramas of the Drava River, which demarcated the borderlands between Hungary and the former Yugoslavia. Then a politically contested geographic zone where visitors were not allowed, the three artists’ spatial trespass and consequent assumption of fictional authorship makes possible the anonymous representation of a place limited to the realm of geographical imaginary. Yet Érmezei’s absurdist act of fictionalizing life through P.É.R.Y Puci further compounds life’s fictions, of borders and identities that remain arbitrary, porous, and open to deconstruction and reinvention.
Throughout the 1980’s, Érmezei developed unique experimental techniques such as painted mirror reflections, blurred sculptural forms, and casted reliefs. Despite their contrasts, these techniques evince Érmezei’s manifold attempts at eliding static representation and lived reality, particularly through their incorporation of Érmezei’s own bodily imprint and image. In both their chronological position and their display throughout narrow galleries, these works are framed by the exhibition as transitional preparations for Érmezei’s final aesthetic event, Corpus (1991).
Zoltán Érmezei at last appears for the viewer in the final gallery that presents Corpus. Plaster casts of Érmezei’s body in the strain of crucifixion poses dominate the walls and comprise Érmezei’s final series. Despite the absence of crosses on which Érmezei’s ailing plaster bodies symbolically hang in the final year of life, Corpus recasts the Christian crucifixion to incite the viewer’s empathic identification with a familiar image of suffering. Religious iconography thus makes Érmezei present in the waning presence of being towards death. Simultaneously abject and ethereal, Corpus poignantly concludes Érmezei’s lifelong erasures and emergences by laying bare his dying body. Through direct body casts, Érmezei dramatizes a two-fold pathos, of his embodied presence amidst the inevitability of his absence. Yet in his absence as in his artworks, Zoltán Érmezei remains ever present.