Category Archives: EXHIBITIONS

ROBERT WIENS – at Susan Hobbs

Artist: Robert Wiens
Venue: Susan Hobbs, Toronto
Exhibition Title: –
Date: 19 May to 2 July, 2016

link 1  link 2





In her groundbreaking text, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry defines war as a contest, a contest whose main purpose is to out injure your opponent(s). Each of these interior facts about war seems self-evident. And yet, both are methodically undermined and suppressed by a military apparatus that has increasingly become a synthesis of state-power, mainstream media, and mega-corporate interests. The centrality of these two, self-evident, facts tend to slip from view, displaced by the theatricality of representation. Rather than focus on the massive horror of injury and pain that contests of war produce and enable, modern warfare is staged as twin spectacle of power and technology ― a simulacra that sublimates evaluation.

Throughout the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, Robert Wiens produced work that deconstructed the simplified imagery of war in combination and the toy-like appeal of advanced weaponry. Both subjects continue to assert resonance and are exemplified by the remote video-game technology of drones and the reductive ideological binary continually enforced to separate East from West. Two seminal works from this period are Little Boy (1986) and Desert, Jet (1994). Named after the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the root of the former is located in 1945. While, no doubt, this event signaled Japan’s surrender in WWII, it also precipitated the nuclear arms race between the USA and Soviet Union – a conflict in which Canada played an important role, particularly via financial support to develop guidance systems for long range cruise missiles. Wiens encapsulates this contest within his bomb-cum-roadster. An ironic and outsized embodiment of the fantasy implied within the playthings of our youth, the sculpture examines the quixotic appeal of constant innovation and accelerated progress.

In Desert, Jet, Wiens’ fabricates post-Cold War power relations as miniaturized diorama. With this work, we wade through the massive sociopolitical fallout that the first Gulf War heralds. Following the collapse of their corresponding superpower, this techno-TV-war demonstrates America’s continued willingness to assert their—now unparalleled—strength on an international arena. With growing insistence, we watch military, political, and economic interests converge. We begin to realize that ongoing conflict is a necessary condition of power. We recognize this condition’s artificiality. We understand that the media plays an explicit role in propagating this delusion. And yet, as viewers, the pleasure we yield from visual representations of warfare produces a latent relationship in which we willingly suspend belief, preferring deception to moral confusion. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we try to believe what we see. We watch it happen. And then we watch it happen again.

MATTHEW ZIVICH – Empires & Enclaves

Artist: Matthew Zivich
Venue: What Pipeline, Detroit
Exhibition Title: Empires & Enclaves
Date: February 10 – March 25, 2017

link 1 link 2



Press Release:

What Pipeline is happy to present Empires & Enclaves, a selection of paintings and sculptures by Matthew Zivich. Works include the “Architectural Model” sculptures from the late 1980s and the caulk painting series, “Leviathans,” from 2000-2009.

“The five architectural models date from approximately 1987 to 1989 and appear to be typical examples of preliminary, scale-model buildings. Included are representations of iconic modern structures such as Mies van der Rohe’s 860 Lake Shore Drive and Phillip Johnson’s Glass House; and an anonymous government building from Munich during the Third Reich. Fictitious structures include a cenotaph for Mussolini made for an imaginary competition sponsored by the city of Milan, Italy celebrating the 50th anniversary of Il Duce’s death; and finally, Enclaves is an urban depiction initially inspired by the bombardment of Sarajevo during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The caulk paintings in the “Leviathan” series represent warships that were instrumental as precursors to revolution or invasion, created using a non-traditional medium such as household caulk. Included in this series are Untitled (Potemkin), Untitled (Aurora), Untitled (Maine), and Untitled (Mystery Sub).” – Matthew Zivich

Matthew Zivich (b. 1937, East Chicago, IN) is a Professor of Art at Saginaw Valley State University. He has been a frequent exhibitor and prize winner in regional exhibits including at the Work:Detroit and Work:Ann Arbor galleries, sponsored by the University of Michigan, and has been a winner of several U of M Alumni Show juried prizes including most recently one of the three top awards at the 2016 alumni show.

MARIE ANGELETTI – Les Nouveaux Commanditaires

In her current exhibition at Carlos/Ishikawa, Marie Angeletti shows her new video Saturnine, a collaboration with Julien Laugier, printed screenshots and a small drawing, along with another commission meaning from the Kunsthalle Vienna. The 30-minute video is shown on a wall mounted 55-inch HD screen, leaving the rest of the space semi dark and empty. The floor is painted in deep red.

Angeletti was commissioned by Les Nouveaux Commanditaires[1] (same as the show’s title) to make a work in an agricultural school in the French countryside town Moulins. She decided to organize a party for the students, a DIY youth event in the countryside.

The first half of the video introduces the school setting, the gymnasium where the event will take place and decorated trees. Students prepare for the event, wearing their own masks, posing for Angeletti’s ever present camera as in a photo or fashion shoot. A logo is superposed on the images like an insect surrounding flickering light. Angeletti designed this neon sign in collaboration with Laugier, a ‘mix between butterflies wings, Capricorn heads and three half moons, a symbol which was inside the small castle part of the school’, according to the artist.

The second half shows students walking towards the gymnasium. Small groups of students: youth hanging out inside the gymnasium. Some dance, some sit. Ever fascinating Adam Christensen gives a performance. Angeletti stayed in Moulins, a 20’000 souls city in the Allier department in the middle of France, for over a month to prepare for this one night happening, closely working with the students, organizing film screenings, talking to them. Especially the moments, where Angeletti photographs or films a single student in costume reflect a sense of relationship that developed during the time of her stay.

The event Angeletti and Laugier created and filmed behaves like an ever-shifting real life set, similar to Synecdoche New York. In the 2008 Charlie Kaufman movie, life itself takes centre stage, whereas in Moulins, reality was adjusted for the artist’s lens. Angeletti comments, ‘being there for a month and half was central to the project’. In a way, we follow Angeletti gathering visual material for documenting the event, thus making the video and accomplishing the commission itself. This gives the visual material an underlying, driving sense of purpose.

The video has no linear narrative. It vaguely suggests a beginning, a march to the event and then event itself, but as the video is looped, it creates a circular stream of images where festivities at the gymnasium end and begin, dreamy as L’Année derniére à Marienbad.

The last minutes feature some red lines of text, merging with the end credits. The textual notes hint to a wider thought context. It succeeds in opening the video to new territories, possible extensions. In an email, the artist explains, ‘the red texts and credits in the film have a really important role – as if a ‘distanciation’, as in post-structuralism, where the supplement becomes the centre, where the credits obscure the image, making us pay attention to the frame, to context, the participants in the video who are responsible for making it -‘. Yet do the participants amount to more than accidental extras to be filmed?

In earlier projects, Angeletti was invited for a funded residency at the Pebeo color factory in both France and China. She took pictures of the machinery, the workers, the management and their quirky hobbies. In the end the artist exhibited the photographs in the factory itself on large prints. A book was published, mixing corporate and private imagery Angeletti gathered. At Pebeo, the artist was commissioned to make work in accordance with the funding body. In another project, the artist photographed the London based Cranford Collection. Angeletti spent time on location in order to get a feel for the place, the artworks in the collection, the people commissioning her.

What all these projects have in common is a sense of mutual rapport. The outset is a funded and friendly exchange between commissioner and artist. For these particular types of private or corporate artist commissions, Marie Angeletti was the desired candidate. The sponsors in question wanted to know whom to bet their money on. Freedom with a footnote. The artist entered the contract, both parties knowing that she would not fundamentally question the place, but rather join into the vibe the place is already tuned in. The contract’s logic reflects parts of the artist’s life sustenance choice. The idea of contract as a mutual agreement is key to understand Angeletti’s resulting pictures. The exhibition’s press release, written by Angeletti states: ‘Agreeing to do artist commissions came from everyday problems, like not having enough money, and finding ways to have the work circulate. It got really messy in this situation, the artist fees started to get mixed with production money.’ And further down, about a Kunsthalle Vienna project, Angeletti writes ‘It was a paid job, I said yes without knowing much about it’, and ‘I will make work as a bystander, sure I have been instrumentalised, but I’m also getting paid, so that’s ok.’ Titling the show the same way as the funding body’s name, Angeletti deliberately addresses the artist – sponsor relationship. But how does this relation translate to someone outside the contract? Slippages between desire and survivalism, as a line in the video reads. Crimp wrote on Louise Lawler that she worked in ‘complicity with already existing formats’. ‘As carriers of information they function as journalism’, Lawler notes on the pictures in her catalogue.[2] Angeletti and Lawler share a certain affinity the way their images are produced in complicity with a host. The images themselves are blank, infected carriers, yet also beautiful, composed, seductive.

In the past as present, artist commissions play a vital role in sustaining careers. Angeletti adjusts life to contexts, situations, opportunities. It does raise the issue of subject matter. Saturnine features an event, youth and the school/education environment, but it might have been something else. The commission came from an outside, then subject matter slowly realized as a 2016 way of saying that everything is political if cash was on the table. This is very different approach to a research based artist who investigates a particular subject over a long period of time. Yet every art project, however researched, is exposed to influence and change. Perhaps subject matter is overrated. Angeletti tunes into the particularities of her commission at hand. Is this a non-event? Are we looking through images at time spent in Moulins, the artist’s paid holiday, the dwindling production money? May this video really be without a cause? There is a certain bleakness, too, about stepping into the gallery’s recently redesigned, cube like interior, as if arriving at a party where everyone already left. Louise Lawler: ‘I’m trying to say somehow that the rest of the world counts, even tough I know it doesn’t seem like that at all, because most of my work appears to be about the art world.’[3] How does the fact that Angeletti spent over a month with students, developing human bonds, play into the artist’s professional stance towards the commission?

 Looking more closely at the footage itself, there is a march and the agriculture school backdrop. Both have a political dimension. The goal of this particular march is to reach the gymnasium, where the main event takes place. There is a brief moment not without significance where the crowd of students enters a sheep barn. Details of sheep follow. Recently, living in a democracy can feel like walking through a barn. Getting a good look at the sheep, our future selves. Saturnine features a civic, chic gathering in a gothic tradition. But real horror may be present too, in the form an endlessly delayed promises. A funerary march for the student’s foreclosed future. Later on Future has been explored by cheats only appears on screen. And contre l’expectation, le social (against expectation, the social). These bits connecting to a larger Zeitgeist are well placed. Saturnine captures a 2016 vacuity of assembly. To what degree are these students affected by major economic or political events, impacting their studies and professional trajectories? The town Moulins is part of Allier, a poor department in the middle of France. Agricultural education is in decline. Refuges from Calais will be transferred to Allier, there is the upcoming French presidential election, youth unemployment is a reality. The masks have a function of rendering the individuals unrecognizable. We face a stream of faceless young people. Youth, in its ideal iteration as a term may imply a potential future. Here we see the walking dead. What is  016 youth, knowing you are considered just another puppet to be manipulated by a demagogue currently being installed in a Western democracy? Daydreaming of the future can be associated with dementia. Tentatively, eyes gaze through the holes of a mask, the individual behind halted from becoming fully individuated. The social, against expectations, does come with a sense of purpose. 

Youth looking at the camera/us. Are we looking at a future generation? Yet everything is, basically, still intact. The agricultural school still exists, adapting to a changing economical situation. This is not a Le temps du Loups scenario, the Michael Haneke film portraying a post apocalyptic world set in the French countryside near Paris. Nor does it propose a White Ribbon style sleepwalking into nationalist fascism. Again, the general mood is more like of a vegetative state under the capitalist dome. Everyone’s smartphone sits charged in the pocket. The creeping dread may come from a lack of perspective or opportunity. From the way of growing into an establish consumer society that accepts anger and calls for change only in the form of anonymous comments in an online thread. Sidelined by crudely formulated slogans by populist politicians someone/we voted for. 

It brings the artist into the centre, as the artist can be associated with reflecting or thinking about the present or future. Angeletti and Laugier organized a lively event. They embarked on this one and a half month residency/commission and it seems they succeeded in opening some portals for possibilities while portraying a certain real or perceived contemporary sadness connected to youth. Saturnine can be seen in a lineage of recent art videos raising questions around youth and an educational complex, for example Tobias Madison’s ‘remake’ of Shoji Terayama’s short Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1971), staging a  rebellion by armed children against adults, or Jon Rafman’s Sticky Drama with fighting kids in DIY costumes in a video game like environment. Pierre Huyghe’s The Host and the Cloud features more adult themes, or the theme of young adults in a limbo, but there is also the idea of creating a series of events with willing participants. Huyghe is also part of Anne Sanders who helped producing Angeletti’s video. The artists mentioned collaborated with young people to stage or propose low key events, ideas surrounding hierarchies.  The videos raise questions of what it means to grow into existing institutional structures, whether they be real of abstract. It also begs the question of the participant’s agency in a situation where, despite an aura of collective collaboration and improvisation, the artist, in dialogue with the funding partners, remains the puppet master. In the second half of Saturnine, there is a scene where Angeletti films a young woman wearing a colorful costume. The moment feels quite personal, as if the artist saw something other in the woman, herself perhaps. When it comes to youth, we project. We might get it all wrong. Some of the marching folks look into the camera. There is indifference, mild smiles, curiosity. A young crowd marching on.

In the recent TV series The Girlfriend Experience written by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, the main character Christine Reade decides to become a high end escort. Compared to the awful work environment as law firm intern, being an escort puts Reade in control of her actions. She perfectly fulfills the desires of her clients. Her familial relationships suffer, but then she was always selfish, as her sister and mom note. A lingering question throughout the series is if she chose the right framework for her obsessions. How can Reade find fulfillment in a line of work that pays well, yet potentially fosters self-destruction? To counter doubts, Reade opts for more control, leaving her madam to manage herself. She turns, progressively, to online platforms, masturbating to clients in front of her screen, attaining a level of absolute control paired with perfect detachment. The series, besides justly accusing male chauvinism in corporate culture, asks the important question of how a confident yet self-absorbed person can find meaningful work in self-employment without becoming a slave of one’s obsessions.

Artists working with commissions deal with similar problems as the fictional character Christine Reade in The Girlfriend Experience. The artist gets paid to propose a work or event in dialogue with the funding body. It is not a sexual contract, but intimate the way the commission affects the artist’s life. He or she is paid to provide some kind of genuinely engaging, personal service. The sponsor’s mission statement reads: ‘In these situations, the citizen becomes an equal to the artist and acquires the authority to publicly express a need to create as well as to assess what is produced in the name of art. (…) In order to give rise to an art of democracy, each player needs to take on their own responsibilities, and bring a communal, rather than just private, meaning to their individual commitment as well as to the artwork.’[4]  

‘When I’m working, I take a lot of pictures. It’s a way of working that’s fairly flatfooted in that I have a sense that something is worthwhile documenting, but the pictures that work are those that are affecting in some other way.’[5] In terms of image composition, selection and editing, there are moments of beauty in Saturnine, the result of years of Angeletti taking pictures. How to take pictures and at the same time navigate one’s work within the larger commission and societal context? How to balance the demands of a funding body with one’s personal life, which in return may depend on the commission money? Questions of the artist’s position in working directly with youth, the degrees of the artist’s implications in and the ambiguities of fulfilling the demands of a commission are addressed in Marie Angeletti’s exhibition.



Mathis Gasser



[2] Prominence Given, Authority Taken, An interview with Louise Lawler by Douglas Crimp, in: Louis Lawler, An Arrangement of Pictures, New York: Assouline, 2000.

[3] Ibid.


[5] Louise Lawler , Prominence Given, Authority Taken.





WAYNE BURROWS – The Invisible Hand, Pupaphobia and the Puppet State

Puppet Show was curated by Tom Bloor and Céline Condorelli, Eastside Projects, in May 2013. The following text about the exhibition (Nottingham Visual Arts Journal, June 2013) expands upon notions of the puppet and artworks that include puppetry.Because of my ongoing In the Museum and ESGS ‘projects’, which feature hand-guided action figures (puppets) I continue to have an interest in puppets and dolls, especially when used in artworks. A series of essays from others and myself will further examine different approaches to puppets and puppetry, while trying to expand surrounding contexts to include vast literary and neuropsychological fields.

Further reflections might include excursion into Prometheus territory (again), there is the notion of a prolongated ‘engineer moment’ in which a species is able to create, design, engineer and observe lifeforms on its own terms. The formidable expression ‘The Gods Themselves’ captures such a moment in a species evolution. See below: the Gods whose influences must necessarily disappear once Enlightenment and Reason hold sway and we finally shape our own destinies through the pursuit of new knowledge.

Who conceived the engineers? Evolution’s pulling force? Another hidden, external force? How to be aware of puppet states, our current position in the game?


(my blue markings)


Wayne Burrows
“The puppet is what best represents the position of man in today’s manipulated world. The hand of a puppeteer is always the hand of one who ‘leads’, the hand of the Great Manipulator. The puppet’s immobile expression, its inability to mimic, does not allow it to communicate the subtle oscillations of the soul, but it does emphasise the magical nature of the sign.”Jan Švankmajer (1997)

In the opening sequence of Věra Chytilová’s Sedmikrásky (Daisies), released in Czechoslovakia in 1966, two teenage girls, known only as Marie I and Marie II, played by Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, have become puppets. As they embrace, exercise, blow trumpets and converse in affectless, mechanical voices, their limbs creak on the soundtrack like the wooden joints of marionettes. This merging of human and puppet characteristics is the prelude to an anarchic revolt, in anticipation of the Prague Spring, perhaps, as the two eat continually, dismember one-another, destroy social niceties, and dance, moving through a discontinuous landscape of factories, banqueting halls and nightclubs, determined to be ‘bad’, to live free of the invisible strings, economic, moral and social, that would control them.

The revolt of puppets against the unseen hands of their puppeteers, their transition from inert material to independent life, has long been understood as a political and existential metaphor, not least in contexts where censorship of direct political realism has necessitated a very particular kind of invention in the making of subversive statements. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Che cosa sono le nuvole? (What are the clouds?), made for Italian television in 1967, presents its human actors as archetypal marionettes, each destined to play only one role: that of their particular character in Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello’s naïve innocence and Iago’s corrupt scheming make the story’s outcome inevitable only because the puppets fail to question their roles until they’re consigned to a literal rubbish heap, where they finally look up and see clouds where the puppet master they’d never dared notice had always been.

Pasolini’s film, though not Chytilová’s, forms a key part of Eastside Projects’ Puppet Show, an exhibition curated by Tom Bloor and Céline Condorelli that at first glance seems entirely whimsical in its intentions. The space is presented as a kind of playground, a toy-strewn nursery with painted walls, secret passages and wooden toy theatres framing video screens and the information desk. Simon Popper’s elongated minimalist clusters of giraffe-patterned poles and bright pink elephants welded from buckets and trays certainly contribute to the nursery vibe, looking a bit like distorted samples from an IKEA children’s’ collection, while Pedro Reyes’ shelf of wooden bobbin and spindle forms, Solids of Rotation (2009), might resemble Bauhaus abstract sculptures or dolls, but neither entirely fits the definition of a puppet.

In fact, within the Puppet Show, the idea of what a puppet is seems to have been kept fairly loose, so while there’s a well established spectrum in puppetry itself, running from classic marionettes and glove puppets to automata, stop-motion animation and ventriloquists’ dummies, Condorelli and Bloor go somewhat further, with Popper’s toy-like sculptures and Spartacus Chetwynd’s elaborately costumed 2004 performance Born Free: The Death of a Conservationist stretching the remit into territory which might be more plausibly considered anthropomorphic sculpture or a more straightforward kind of masked carnivalesque theatre.

Not that this matters much, as far as the exhibition’s coherence goes, since the central positioning of Jiří Trnka’s final film, Ruka (The Hand), suggests the political and allegorical possibilities of the puppet remain live concernsRuka was released in Czechoslovakia in 1965, presenting an original folktale in which an artist, represented by an uncannily expressive puppet, is pursued by a implacable hand that demands its own portrait, over and over again, until the artist’s resistance ends in an ambiguous suicide and a tableaux of solemn tribute as the small wooden body is nailed inside a white wardrobe and lit with candles, like an altarpiece. This final scene is, inevitably, arranged by the hand, which has shaped the action in every sense, as a destructive protagonist in the story and the manipulator of the objects used to tell it.

As a thinly veiled parable of political control, made at the end of Trnka’s thirty year career, Ruka is generally interpreted in terms specific to the position of artists under Communist regimes. But that, in itself, might be seen as another instance of the puppet-masters’ hands tweaking our strings, directing our attention away from the mechanisms that might be controlling us, as Pasolini’s film makes clear: when Pasolini’s child-like Othello hears Iago’s plotting from backstage and confronts him at the end of the scene he accosts his enemy with a kind of bewilderment: “I disgust myself and I know I am not innocent”, he says. “I also know you are my friend, a good man. Why are we acting like this?” Iago shrugs, as if to acknowledge that it’s how things are. We’re not in control.

Perhaps it’s significant now, in a way it might not have been in the mid-1960s, when the films were made, that the central justifying metaphor of the neoliberal free market is ‘the invisible hand’, the Enlightenment economist Adam Smith’s coinage for one of the many forces creating disjunctions between the intended and actual consequences of human and social actions in complex systems of the kind his classic study, The Wealth of Nations (1776), explored. Raised to a fetish by the advocates of deregulation and privatisation in the 1970s and 1980s, Smith’s concept of an ‘invisible hand’ at work in an economy, directing money to the deserving while securing the most efficient and beneficial ends for all, has become the free market’s founding catechism and a notion that puppetry fits like the proverbial glove.

If the allegorical point made by Jiří Trnka’s Ruka was largely directed at Stalinist control of cultural production in his own time and place, then, its contemporary resonance may be quite different, since the hand’s controlling powers – most forceful when the hand is that of the puppeteer, concealed from view as it invariably is – ensure that the forces acting on us in our everyday lives pass unnoticed, as somehow ‘natural’. If the Communist state’s censorship, the censorship that artists like Trnka had to navigate, was defeated by the market reforms of 1989, as our present myths have it, it’s also fairly clear that the censor’s functions were not themselves discarded but found themselves outsourced and privatised, along with everything else. What was once politically unacceptable is now financially unviable.

The failure to observe or understand the forces that shape us reduces us to the condition of puppets ourselves, a position of superstition and fear as to what purpose the ‘invisible hand’ might have for us. Those who would claim to comprehend these forces on our behalf, to defend us from their worst effects, are, by definition, the powerful: those who ‘lead’, as Jan Švankmajer suggested in 1997, ‘the Great Manipulators’. When Adam Smith first deployed his now notorious image of the ‘invisible hand’ in The History of Astronomy, a work dating from the late 1750s, it was, strangely enough, in precisely this context, a point that flags up a warning about its decontextualisation when quoted from later texts. In the 1750s, Smith noted that, in an age before rational enquiry, “fire burns and water refreshes; heavy bodies descend and lighter substances fly upwards by the necessity of their own nature; nor is the invisible hand of Jupiter ever apprehended to be employed in those matters.” The ‘invisible hand’ is here that of the Gods who must be appeased, regardless of the social and natural forces at work; the Gods whose influences must necessarily disappear once Enlightenment and Reason hold sway and we finally shape our own destinies through the pursuit of new knowledge.

Like Michael Redgrave’s ventriloquist driven to murder by his unsettlingly animate but still-wooden dummy in Alberto Cavalcanti’s segment of the portmanteau British horror film Dead of Night (1945), the uncanny and disturbing qualities of puppets, both in action and as objects, lie in this ability to mirror our own fears that this might be our general predicament: that someone might be pulling our strings (ps see notes on Ligotti and Metzinger). Even when invested with the illusion of consciousness, puppets can only stage their revolts for as long as they are manipulated, while remaining subject to the actions of ‘invisible hands’. Perhaps pupaphobia, the fear of puppets, has its root in an unconscious sense that we are not in control, either; that our voices and actions are not our own.

It’s a point obliquely made in Dan and Rodney Graham’s Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty (2004), a ‘rock opera puppet show’ (and loose adaptation of the 1968 exploitation film Wild in the Streets) made in collaboration with Tony Oursler, Phillip Huber and the avant-rock duo, Japanther. A mixed media staging, presented at Eastside Projects on digital film, it’s the story of an idealistic revolutionary youth movement at the tail end of the sixties and its transfiguration into a comically groovy new form of fascism, a liberation far worse than the system it set out to oppose. Partly a restatement of the old maxim ‘power corrupts’, partly a parable about the symptoms and causes of oppression, the tiny marionettes in Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty act out their doomed revolutionary pantomime under the control of puppeteers whose polished shoes and trouser-legs are always visible behind the networks of pulled strings directing the narrative, like the lower floors of corporate tower-blocks in a financial district.

In this light, it’s arguable that the revolts staged by Věra Chytilová’s anti-heroines in Sedmikrásky and the artist’s principled refusal to serve the oppressive hand in Jiří Trnka’s Ruka, are both ultimately futile – indeed, in Chytilová’s film, the very pointlessness and arbitrary nature of the two womens’ orgy of destruction is, if anything, the source of its fleeting potency. But at least such acts have offered examples of puppets refusing to act out the scripts written for them, achieving not a free consciousness, exactly, but a temporary liberation from the forces directing their actions. And perhaps there’s no escape: in Jan Švankmajer’s Byt (The Flat), made in 1968, the human protagonist, trying to follow his conformist daily routine, is tormented and controlled by the inanimate objects in his small apartment, as though rendered a puppet merely by the forces at work in the world he inhabits.

In 1965, when Věra Chytilová was completing Sedmikrásky and Jiří Trnka was in his Prague studio making Ruka, Jan Švankmajer was already working on Rakvičkárna (Punch and Judy, or The Coffin Factory), a short puppet film released in 1966 that portrayed the characters from England’s adopted commedia del’arte folk theatre in another guise, as the solemn duellists of a Punch and Judy show without kazoos and crocodiles, strings of sausages and policemen, just a willed and murderous intent at the hands of the puppeteer, whose hands are revealed at the beginning and end of the story. In both Alice (1987) and Faust (1994), Švankmajer’s protagonists oscillate between inexpressive humanity and doll or puppet states, their characters and motivations unchanged by the arbitrary transformations.

It’s obvious in examples like these – sadly not part of the Eastside exhibition but useful in casting light on its contents – that puppets absorb and bleed into the characters who make, operate and become them, much as photographs were once thought to affect their subjects’ spirits. When Heather and Ivan Morison stage Empire of Dirt (2012), the puppeteer Owen Davies gives a convincing impression of a man possessed by the Black Troll and The Girl, whose baked mud figures hang, for this Puppet Show’s duration, from the sides of Davies’ high, burned chair, which in turn overlooks empty benches and a crowd of inert, raggedly hand-made puppets, from other Morison puppet-plays like Pleasure Island (2008),  Anna (2011) and Mr Clevver (2013). All have toured, but here find their characters displayed as objects.

The aesthetic of the Morison puppets is clearly borrowed from the glove puppets made from household scraps and salvaged junk by the artist Paul Klee between 1916 and 1925, ranging from fantastical figures like Death, an Electrical Spook (with a plug-socket head), a Matchbox Spectre, a Poet, a Monk, a Devil and a Scarecrow’s Ghost to – perhaps most intriguing of all – a Self Portrait. These undeniably Klee-esque objects have a presence that, for all their whimsical invention and makeshift construction retains a quality of potential life, possible consciousness, and this characteristic haunts the Morison puppets, too, as though, like Pasolini’s Othello marionettes in Che cosa sono le nuvole?, or Edwina Ashton’s gathering of figures to represent A Short History of the Midlands (2013), they might all be awaiting their chance to revolt, to break free of the alternation between scripted animation and silent waiting we tend to impose on them.

This sense of inanimate objects with inner lives may be the defining quality of all puppets, and there’s always a possibility that they might turn the tables on those who control them. The first exhibit encountered in the Eastside space, and the last seen on leaving, is Geoffrey Farmer’s You Know Nothing, The Owl Knows Everything (2007), a small archaeological museum of sharpened broomsticks and abject but once-precious things – a tiny wooden cross, a splintered twig, a note instructing its reader to kill whoever suggested some small disobedience – all presided over by a mutely inscrutable owl. Roughly made, barely even an owl or a puppet at all, the lumpen form, like some untypically sinister intruder from the world of Oliver Postgate, invests its surroundings with an air of ownership.  We enter its domain to look at the relics of its time as a ruler and feel the implicit threat of the owl’s reanimation, the owl’s return to power. Defeated rulers, like their subjects, can also break free of their constraints and limitations, as the wealthy broke the chains placed on them by the 1945 settlement in 1979, the ‘invisible hand’ their justification. Farmer’s owl warns us that the puppeteers might be puppets, too.


ROLF WINNEWISSER – Das Druckwerk 1966-2014

Kunsthaus Grenchen, 19. Oktober 2014 – 25. Januar 2015

This exhibition in Grenchen, Switzerland curated by Eva Inversini gathers printed matter the artist produced over the last 50 years. Rolf Winnewisser is one of the most exciting Swiss artists of an older generation. He was born in 1949 in Niedergösgen, canton Solothurn and grew up in Lucerne where he got a degree in then manual graphic design back in 1971. In the following years he lived in different places such as Lucerne, Zurich, Banjul (Gambia), New York, Schongau, Rom, London, Paris and is now based in Ennetbaden near Aarau. After an initial exposure at Documenta V in Kassell (where he was invited by Harald Szeeman and Jean-Christophe Ammann), Winnewisser followed and artist path far from the art market. I assume many of his residencies abroad were connected to state grants or teaching assignments. The mindset of an itinerant type must have influenced the way he worked and conceived artworks. His works were often produced with travel and baggage requirements in mind; a series of paintings have the format that can fit in a suitcase. Winnewisser is a traveller, a silent explorer (more of an inner-worldly kind perhaps), a world citizen, a flaneur and thoughtful observer. As his oeuvre might testify, he perceives the world not as factual, not as a series of precise events, but as an endless stream of images and waves in constant flux. The outside world might trigger and unleash series of images, but it hardly ever enters his work in simple, recognisable ways. Winnewisser’s approach to images and work is more complex, intuitive, gestural, poetic. Images of different kinds can enter his unique image world, but never as predetermined or fixated entities. The image he select for his prints and paintings themselves reflect on the labyrinthine openness and intricacies of image production.

The ‘image itself’ is Rolf Winnewisser’s territory of investigation. He is a Bild-Forscher (image researcher), a Bild-agent (image agent). There is no precise subject matter as such, each work circles around the notion of image and image production. The circling cannot come to a halt, there is no endpoint Winnewisser would be inclined to gravitate towards. Rather, one image might hide another one, give way to a series of interlinked, associative image connections. Winnewisser would not want to entrap images in meaning. His images could be seen as open-ended inquiries on that strange being that is an image and how it travels and shapeshift through space and time. Winnewisser’s work escapes clear and narrow definitions. With each new drawing or print, another investigation into the realm of image begins. 

He works in drawing, paintings, objets, photography, film, texts, prints etc. In 2007 the Kunsthaus Aarau organised the largest Rolf Winnewisser exhibition to date called ‘Alphabet des Bildes’ (alphabet of the image). The catalogue of the Aarau exhibition was structured as an open glossary of the artist’s media, working methods, travels, preoccupations with images. 

A review of the Aarau exhibition (in German) (review of the Aarau exhibition)

Kunstbulletin (a Swiss Art Magazine) interview with Winnewisser (in German)

 Excerpts from the Kunstbulletin interview (translated by the author):

Winnewisser: This always-on-the-way, always-seeking attitude is crucial. One does not find a new island. The island is already there. And the one which one is looking for might not exist. One finds another island. One is preoccupied over a long period of time with a theme, changes are made in the experimental set-up. Tests are made, discarded again, one acts as a researcher or mathematician. In such an analogy, I recognise my position as a painter. One has ideas, prerequisites, one starts a search, experiences are made. One digs deeper into something already familiar, recombines something that is usually constructed differently. One works on material and – in the best case – finds somethings and is being guided into a new direction by the discovery. One dissects concurrences and connects nonsimultaneities. And if all goes well, the problem solves itself and opens up other points of view.

In this vein I see my objects and images which function as tools within a bigger frame that has yet to be defined. There are many wheel-like objects, dices continue to interest me. And if these appear in my images, it is in the form of machine parts that interact and interfere with an image-apparatus and so question the mechanism of the image itself. Ultimately, it is a time machine of seeing.


Hans-Joachim Müller: Is it be a problem for you if the viewer’s associations in front of your pictures would go into a direction you wouldn’t have assumed?

Rolf Winnewisser: No, not a problem at all. I do want to leave the freedom. I don’t want to impose possible image-meanings, nor advocate for a possible handling or reading. There are no prescriptions. I praise the imaginary solution of pataphysicians (note: the concept of ‘Pataphysics’ was coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), who defined ‘pataphysics as ‘the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments’). And if there are misunderstandings or if I think there is a misinterpretation, then this is kind of a gift. Communication functions when there are misjudgments of signs. I make the assumption that something happens in the understanding of art that isn’t strictly prescribed. (…) I was never attracted to clearly defined things.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Is painting representing processes of consciousness?

Rolf Winnewisser: A big issue. I can only describe it from experiences and reflections on experiences. Aspects like self-obesrvation are part of it. By all means, while working on images I try to pay attention to all kinds of ‘Bildhaftigkeit’ (image-being/image-states)- There are analytic situations, and others that may resemble dream work.


Rolf Winnewisser: It sprawls and sprawls, I don’t no the formula. The is not end in sight. This is the impetus, to follow intricate paths, detours, to trace incongruous trajectories. And sometimes it happens that one sees more clearly, out of rifts, insights emerge, something opens itself up to whatever side – for example if one is offered an exhibition. It is important that from time to time there is an instance of things being put to test, in order to see and reflect on images or image-apparatuses from a distance.


Hans-Joachim Müller: What do you like to read?

Rolf Winnewisser: It is quite diverse, writings on image theory, then literature. I read different kinds of texts. When it comes to classic literature, authors like Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, Swift and particularly Lawrence Sterne oder Jean Paul.  Recently I re-read Eichendorffs Life of a Good-For-Nothing. Also I have an interest in artist novels. Cahiers by Paul Valéry. Then contemporary authors like Felix Philipp Ingold oder Bruno Steiger, among many others. Important to me is Oswald Wiener. Other names include: Louis-René des Forêts, Reinhard Priessnitz … Or theoretical texts like: The language of masksThe Discovery of the Mind von Bruno Snell, Grenzen des Sichtbaren (Limits of the visible) by Karlheinz Lüdeking. I just discovered a wonderful poetry book by Steffen Popp, Wie Alpen (Like alps)

The following iphone photos were taken by the author at the Kunsthaus Grenchen in December 2014.

IMG_9347 IMG_9350 IMG_9355 IMG_9357 IMG_9358 IMG_9368 IMG_9370 IMG_9374 IMG_9386 IMG_9393 IMG_9396 IMG_9398 IMG_9407 IMG_9411 IMG_9414 IMG_9417 IMG_9425 IMG_9432 IMG_9549 IMG_9591 IMG_9609 IMG_9629 IMG_9630 IMG_9631 IMG_9639 IMG_9640 IMG_9649 IMG_9653 IMG_9654 IMG_9655 IMG_9658 IMG_9660 IMG_9661 IMG_9662 IMG_9663 IMG_9672 IMG_9674 IMG_9676 IMG_9677 IMG_9682 IMG_9688 IMG_9691 IMG_9692




remember remember

IMG_0087 IMG_0089 IMG_0089b IMG_0092  IMG_0097 IMG_0100 IMG_0206 IMG_0208 IMG_0209 IMG_0400 IMG_0401-1  IMG_0402  IMG_0404  IMG_0406  IMG_0407 IMG_0408 IMG_0409 IMG_0411 IMG_0414 IMG_0416 IMG_0417 IMG_0418 IMG_0421 IMG_0422 IMG_0423 IMG_0424 IMG_0425 IMG_0426 IMG_0427


Adam Nathaniel Furman: “On the eve of Tottenham Court Road Tube Station’s demise (it is being redeveloped into one of the Major Crossrail Stations), I have made this photo tour of the Mosaics that alot of its interior is covered with, designed by Eduardo Paolozzi’s Munich studio in three phases in the 1980s. I dont know what will happen to the mosaics, but I remember reading somewhere that LU is commited to incorporating at least some of them into the new super-station. They wont have the same intimate specificity that they have now, designed as they were perfectly for every corner and curve of the station, and they might look a little lost and forlorn in the gleaming vastness of all the huge new spaces, but at least there will be something to remember what was there before.”