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Essay: Contingency, Dissonance and Performativity: Critical Archives and Knowledge Production in Contemporary Art

30 May 2015

Cover image

How do we define the ongoing relationship between contemporary art and the archive? Considering the unprecedented levels of present-day information storage and forms of data circulation, alongside the diversity of contemporary art practices, this question may seem hopelessly open-ended. In an age defined by the application of archival knowledge as an apparatus of social, political, cultural, historical, state and sovereign power, it nevertheless needs to be posed. In what follows, I will suggest that we can more fully refine the question and offer a series of conditional answers if we consider, in the first instance, the extent to which contemporary artists retrieve, explore and critique orders of archival knowledge.

Read the full Introductory essay.

Contributors:

Basel Abbas 
and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, John Akomfrah
, Jananne Al-Ani, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Héla Ammar, Burak Arıkan, Ariella Azoulay
, Vahap Avşar, Sussan Babaie
, Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck, Timothy P.A Cooper, Joshua Craze, Laura Cugusi, Ania Dabrowska, Nick Denes, Chad Elias, Media Farzin, Mariam Ghani, Gulf Labor, Tom Holert, Adelita Husni-Bey, Maryam Jafri, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Amina Menia, Shaheen Merali, Naeem Mohaiemen, Mariam Motamedi Fraser, Pad.ma, Lucie Ryzova, Lucien Samaha, Rona Sela and Laila Shereen Sakr (VJ Um Amel).

Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East launched on 30 May 2015 at JAOU Tunis 2015 at the National Museum of Bardo, Tunis.

To purchase a copy of Dissonant Archives please follow this link.

Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East

I.B.Tauris, 2015 | EDITOR

Featuring writing, interviews and original art work – reproduced in full-colour – by internationally renowned academics, curators, activists, filmmakers and artists, Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East asks a crucial series of questions: How do we define the ongoing relationship between contemporary art and the archive? How do we understand the suppositional forms of knowledge that are being produced in contemporary art practices in North Africa and the Middle East? Do these practices foster a nostalgic fetishization for the archive or suggest an ongoing crisis in institutional and state-ordained archiving? And what, moreover, do artistic practices that engage with archives reveal about the politics of global cultural production?

Emerging throughout this volume as a troubled, dissonant and performative space, the archive is central to a process whereby contemporary artists produce their own critical and highly speculative visions of the future. In exploring and producing archives, be they alternative, interrogative, or fictional, these artists are not simply questioning the authenticity, authority or authorship of the archive; rather, they are unlocking its regenerative, radical potential.

Contributors:

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, John Akomfrah, Jananne Al-Ani, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Héla Ammar, Burak Arıkan, Ariella Azoulay, Vahap Avşar, Sussan Babaie, Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck, Timothy P.A Cooper, Joshua Craze, Laura Cugusi, Ania Dabrowska, Nick Denes, Chad Elias, Media Farzin, Mariam Ghani, Gulf Labor, Tom Holert, Adelita Husni-Bey, Maryam Jafri, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Amina Menia, Shaheen Merali, Naeem Mohaiemen, Mariam Motamedi Fraser, Pad.ma, Lucie Ryzova, Lucien Samaha, Rona Sela and Laila Shereen Sakr (VJ Um Amel).

Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East launches on 30 May 2015 at JAOU Tunis 2015 at the National Museum of Bardo, Tunis.

Read the Introduction

To purchase a copy of Dissonant Archives please follow this link.

ISBN 978-1-784-53-4110


Click on links below for selected reviews:

AAP Review

The Brooklyn Rail

Camera Austria

The American Archivist

Hyperallergic

Critique D’Art

BlouinARTINFO

Essay: Exemplary subjects: Camps and the politics of representation*

15 November 2013

 Episode 1, Renzo Martens

Film still from Episode 1, Renzo Martens (2003), installation at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool as part of My War (2010). Images courtesy of FACT.

Today, we are in an intervallic period in which the great majority of people do not have a name. The only name available is ‘excluded’, which is the name of those who have no name.[1]

Alain Badiou, ‘The Caesura of Nihilism’

And so I must carry with me, through the course
Of pale imaginings that leave no trace,
This broken, idle mill-wheel, and the force
Of circumstance that still protects the place.[2]

J H Prynne, ‘Force of Circumstance’

Lives lived on the margins of social, political, cultural, economic and geographical borders are lives half lived. Denied access to legal, economic and political redress, these lives exist in a limbo-like state that is largely preoccupied with acquiring and sustaining the bare essentials of life. The refugee, the political prisoner, the disappeared, the ‘ghost detainee’, the victim of torture, the dispossessed, the silenced, all have been excluded, to different degrees, from the fraternity of the social sphere, appeal to the safety net of the nation state, and recourse to international law. They have been out-lawed, so to speak: placed beyond recourse to law and yet still occupying a more often than-not precarious relationship to the law. Although there is a significant degree of familiarity to be found in these sentiments, there is an increasingly notable move both in the political sciences and in cultural studies to view such subject positions not as the exception to modernity but its exemplification. Which brings us to a far more radical proposal: what if the fact of discrimination, in all its injustice and strategic forms of exclusion, is the point at which we fi nd not so much an imperfect modern subject — a subject existing in a ‘sub-modern’ phase that has yet to realize its full potential — as we do the sine qua non of modernity; its prerequisite as opposed to anomalous subject? What if the refugee, the political prisoner, the disappeared, the victim of torture, the ‘ghost detainee’, and the dispossessed are not only constitutive of modernity but its emblematic if not exemplary subjects? (more…)

Book Launch: Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue, Slavs and Tatars

Art Dubai

Thursday, 19 March 2015, 15.00-16.00

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Payam Sharifi (Slavs and Tatars) in conversation with Anthony Downey, Art Dubai, 19 March, 2015

Published to coincide with the NYUAD Art Gallery presenting a major exhibition of the art collective Slavs and Tatars, Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue will be available as of 19 March. The exhibition will be on view February 28 through May 30, 2015 and is Slavs and Tatars’ most ambitious, immersive installation to date, with new work occupying the entire 650 square meter (7,000-square-foot) exhibition space.

The specially-commissioned book Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue launches on Thursday 19 March 15.00-16.00 at Art Dubai. Published by JRP|Ringier, the book has been commissioned by NYUAD Art Gallery and is edited by Anthony Downey/Ibraaz Publishing. A hybrid of scholarly research and original artworks, Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue features essays specially commissioned on the research topic, as well as an interview with the artists by Downey and Beatrix Ruf.

Mirrors for Princes: Slavs and Tatars

NYU Press, 2015 | EDITOR

A form of political writing often called advice literature shared by Christian and Muslim lands, during the Middle Ages, mirrors for princes attempted to elevate statecraft (dawla) to the same level as faith/religion (din). These guides for future rulers- Machiavelli’s The Prince being a widely known example- addressed the delicate balance between seclusion and society, spirit and state, echoes of which we continue to find in the US, Europe and the Middle East several centuries later.

Today, we suffer from the very opposite: there’s no shortage of political commentary but a notable lack of intelligent, eloquent discourse on the role of faith and the immaterial as a valuable agent in society or public life.

Mirrors for Princes brings together the writing of pre-eminent scholars and commentators using the genre of medieval advice literature as a starting point to discuss contemporary politics in Turkey, Indian television dramas, fate, fortune and governance, and advice for female nobility.

The illustrated essays are accompanied by an interview with Slavs and Tatars.

Mirrors for Princes is edited by Anthony Downey, Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz, and is published on the occasion of Slavs and Tatars’ exhibition at NYU Abu Dhabi.

ISBN 978-3-03764-407-2


Click on links below for selected reviews:

AAP Review

Art and Politics Now: Renzo Martens in conversation with Anthony Downey

Tate Modern, Starr Auditorium

Monday, 16 March 2015, 18.30 – 20.00

Tate talks in conversation

Tate Modern audience

Tate in Converstation

Why are contemporary artists increasingly engaging with some of the most pressing issues facing our world today, from globalisation, migration and citizenship to conflict, sustainability, gentrification, terrorism and social activism?

Join Anthony Downey, author of Art and Politics Now, and artist Renzo Martens for a conversation addressing the implications of these developments and how they invite us to rethink what we mean by the terms ‘political’, ‘engagement’, and ‘activism’.

Anthony Downey is an academic, editor and writer. Recent and upcoming publications include Art and Politics Now  (Thames and Hudson, 2014); Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2014); and Archival Dissonance: Contemporary Art and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (forthcoming, 2015). He is the Director of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London, and Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz, a publishing and research initiative on visual culture in the Middle East. He is currently researching Zones of Indistinction: Performative Ethics and Late Modernity (forthcoming, 2016).

Renzo Martens is an artist living in Brussels. His work Episode III: Enjoy Poverty was exhibited at the 6th Berlin Biennale, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, La Vireinna, Barcelona, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, and screened at Tate Modern, London and Centre Pompidou, Paris. Currently he works on the Institute for Human Activities and its five-year Gentrification Program in the Congo. The Institute held its opening seminar in the Congolese rainforest, as part of the 7th Berlin Biennial, with presentations at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Wiels, Brussels. He studied Political Science at the University of Nijmegen and art at the Royal Academy of Ghent and the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Martens is the Artistic Director for the Institute of Human Activities (IHA) and was the World Fellow at Yale University, New Haven in 2013.

The evening will be chaired by Elvira Dyangani Ose (Lecturer Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Following the discussion, there will be an opportunity to purchase a copy of Art and Politics Now and have it signed by the author in the Starr Foyer from 20.00–20.20.

This event has been developed in partnership with Thames & Hudson

Images:

Top 3: Event Images, Credit Lauren Mele, 2015

Last image set: Left, Cover of Art and Politics Now (Thames and Hudson, 2014); Right: “Impression of CPWAL Inaugural Meeting, Institute for Human Activities, undisclosed location, DR Congo, video still, 2014 “

Please note that any information sent, received or held by Tate may be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Art and Politics Now

Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2014 | AUTHOR

From photographers and filmmakers to the creators of immersive installations, today’s artists are engaging with some of the most pressing issues of our time – opening up new areas of discussion and debate and expanding our understanding of contemporary art as well as the role of those who create it.

Art and Politics Now is a richly illustrated and compelling survey of more than 200 contemporary artists whose works address the political. Themed chapters explore how, since the turn of the twenty-first century, artists have addressed real-world issues such as globalization, terrorism, conflict, the environment and knowledge, often using radical approaches and techniques to communicate their ideas.

Anthony Downey’s clear and insightful discussion of the major issues and themes is closely interwoven with detailed analysis of the artworks, which include projects by Ai Weiwei, Chantal Akerman, Harun Farocki, Omer Fast, Thomas Hirschhorn, Carsten Höller, Steve McQueen, Teresa Margolles, Adrian Paci, Walid Raad, Doris Salcedo and Santiago Sierra.

Read the Introduction

To purchase a copy of Art and Politics Now please follow this link.

ISBN 978-0-500-29147-4

 


Click links below for selected reviews:

E-International Relations Review

Art Review Review

For the Common Good? Artistic Practices and Civil Society in Tunisia

5 September 2014

Uncommon Grounds

In 2010, the Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal had a camera surgically inserted into the back of his head. The process involved implanting a titanium plate onto which a camera was mounted and, from the outset, his body rebelled against this foreign object by cutting of blood supply to the area. Through his own unwavering commitment, Bilal persisted with the project and for one year used the embedded camera to record one image per minute of his daily life. The results, covering a period dating from December 14, 2010, to December 18, 2011, or 369 days in total, were streamed live to a global audience via a dedicated website.¹ Presenting acute angles and unexpectedly vertiginous views, the images look arbitrary, distant, lopsided and yet disconcertingly intimate.

Read the full introduction and essay.

To purchase a copy of Uncommon Grounds please follow this link.

ISBN 9781784530358

Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East

I.B.Tauris, 2014 | EDITOR

In this groundbreaking book, a range of internationally renowned and emerging academics, writers, artists, curators, activists and filmmakers critically reflect on the ways in which visual culture has appropriated and developed new media across North Africa and the Middle East. Examining the opportunities presented by the real-time generation of new, relatively unregulated content online, Uncommon Grounds evaluates the prominent role that new media has come to play in artistic practices – and social movements – in the Arab world today. Analysing alternative forms of creating, broadcasting, publishing, distributing and consuming digital images, this book also enquires into a broader global concern: does new media offer a ‘democratisation’ of – and a productive engagement with – visual culture, or merely capitalise upon the effect of immediacy at the expense of depth?

Featuring full-colour artists’ inserts, this is the first book to extensively explore the degree to which the grassroots popularity of Twitter and Facebook has been co-opted into mainstream media, institutional and curatorial characterisations of ‘revolution’ – and whether artists should be wary of perpetuating the rhetoric and spectacle surrounding political events. In the process, Uncommon Grounds reveals how contemporary art practices actively negotiate present-day notions of community-based activism, artistic agency and political engagement.

Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East is Volume 01 in Ibraaz’s Visual Culture in North Africa and the Middle East Series. Volume 02, Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East, will be published in May 2015.

Contributors:

Sarah Abu Abdallah | Sophia Al-Maria | Fayçal Bahgriche | Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi | Wafaa Bilal | Sheyma Buali | Anthony Downey | Maymanah Farhat | Azin Feizabad | Ganzeer | Hans Haacke | Hamzamolnár | Timo Kaabi-Linke | Dina Kafafi | Amal Khalaf | Omar Kholeif | Tarek Khoury | Gulf Labor | Jens Maier-Rothe | Laura U. Marks | Dina Matar | Mosireen | Rabih Mroué | Nat Muller | Philip Rizk | Roy Samaha | Nermin Saybasili | Annabelle Sreberny | Tarzan and Arab | Derya Yücel | Maxa Zoller

Read the Introduction.

Chapter authored: For the Common Good? Artistic Practices and Civil Society in Tunisia

To purchase a copy of Uncommon Grounds please follow this link.

ISBN 9781784530358


Click on links below for selected reviews

SCTIW Review

H-Net Review

The Art Newspaper Review

Jadaliyya Review

Hyperallergic Review

LSE Review

Kalimat Review

The Legacy of the War on Terror | Tate Etc. Summer 2015

20 August 2015

For centuries artists have both responded to and reflected on political actions and events that shape society. Now they have risen to the challenge of questioning the moral ambiguity and culpability of governments waging the war on terror, whose methods may, according to this writer, have done more to weaken democracy than any terrorist.

Trevor Paglen Untitled (Predators; Indian Springs, NV) 2010 C-print, 1524 x 1219mm © Trevor Paglen, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander

Trevor Paglen
Untitled (Predators; Indian Springs, NV) 2010
C-print, 1524 x 1219mm
© Trevor Paglen, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander

Read the full article.