RA Magazine Autumn 2008
Issue Number: 100
Welcome to the now show
This autumn the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens building will be transformed into a hub of experimental art, theatre and food as the first GSK Contemporary Season gets under way. Georgina Brewster presents our guide to some of the things to expect.
The run-up to Christmas will have an added thrill at the Royal Academy this year as it launches a new venture in its Burlington Gardens wing, which will bring together art, performance and food in an exciting sensory experience. The grandeur of 6 Burlington Gardens is echoed inside. Yet there is a comfortable, lived-in quality to the rooms: some have simple whitewashed walls, others seasoned wood floors.
For nearly three months from November, this welcoming space will be filled with contemporary art, installations, a cinema, lounge bar and restaurant to create a new cultural and social destination in the West End.
Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the GSK Contemporary Season is a three-year project conceived to explore the dynamics of contemporary art and its relationship to other art forms. Charles Saumarez Smith, Chief Executive and Secretary of the Royal Academy, says: ‘The GSK Contemporary Season will bring new life to the old Museum of Mankind building and will demonstrate the Royal Academy’s commitment to showing work by younger, international artists.’
Visitors may arrive from midday every day of the week and stay on into the evening, even as late as midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A changing programme of film screenings, talks, fashion shows, music, theatre performances and live art will provide endless possibilities for return visits.
The season’s curator, David Thorp, has worked with many of the exhibiting artists in his previous roles as Director of the South London Gallery and as curator of contemporary projects for the Henry Moore Foundation. He has chosen to separate the programme into two parts, ‘Molten States’ and ‘Collision Course’, each lasting around six weeks. In ‘Molten States’ art, performance and experimental theatre all converge under one roof, represented by Catherine Sullivan and Julian Rosefeldt, who use film techniques in their art, Olaf Nicolai, who works with film and creates installations, and dramatist René Pollesch.
‘Collision Course’ will examine visions of a post-apocalyptic world and reflect upon the bleakness of wintertime. Central to the display is American ‘Beat’ author William Burroughs, whose writings, art collaboration and performance recordings will be presented alongside portraits by David Hockney RA and Robert Mapplethorpe.
To complement this hotbed of creativity, the East End restaurant Bistrotheque is setting up FLASH, a ‘pop-up’ bespoke dining room on the ground floor. There will be a shop selling products and books linked to the show and in the Senate Room upstairs,
a lounge bar will become a salon-style hub of live events, with fashion shows, talks, music and DJ sessions.
Here is our selection from the events planned for the GSK Contemporary Season, including ‘Molten States’, the first six-week programme (31 Oct - early Dec). We will publish highlights of the second programme, ‘Collision Course’, in the next issue. The changeover between parts one and two takes place 5 - 15 Dec. In this period, one gallery will always be open for viewing.
ON THE GROUND FLOOR
The GSK Contemporary Season takes place on two floors of Burlington Gardens. The ground floor plays host to installations, film shows, artwork and the restaurant FLASH - all of which will be present for the duration of the season and accessible without a ticket. Even before entering 6 Burlington Gardens, visitors will notice the work of Antony Micallef. Standing within the portico arches, four nickel-plated plinths support such mischievous figures as a youth playing a Gameboy and the same boy contemplating a tray of fast food. Inside the building the following work will be on show:
Onion Options by Rémy Markowitsch
31 Oct 2008 - 19 Jan 2009
A mixed-media installation situated on the stairwell.
New work by Maya Roos
31 Oct 2008 - 19 Jan 2009
The Berlin-based Roos produces giant canvases and wall paintings based on the Norton Speed Disk utility programme found on many PCs. By observing the images of horizontal, multicoloured stripes on the screen, visible while the programme is cleaning and optimising the hard drive, she forms a ‘portrait’ of the PC user.
31 Oct 2008 - 19 Jan 2009
Based within the Academy Room of 6 Burlington Gardens, a production team, working under the title Toadball, will run a web-based TV channel broadcasting films by four artists who have recorded footage especially for the GSK Contemporary Season.
The cinema that served the former Museum of Mankind will be recommissioned to screen a selection of artists’ films and other films connected with the GSK Contemporary Season. Over weekends in November and December, artists such as Susan Norrie and Lida Abdul will show their own film work alongside their choice of films that have influenced them. A documentary film, Born 1968, by German theatre critic Thomas Irmer, who has written about René Pollesch and Olaf Nicolai, is scheduled to run in mid-November. Nicolai’s own piece Rodakis will be shown on weekdays.
Architecture talks and art symposia are also hosted here. The architecture season, ‘RA Forum Unplugged’, takes place in the cinema every Monday night from 10 Nov - 15 Dec and consists of a series of provocative events investigating architecture’s relevance to contemporary culture.
ON THE FIRST FLOOR
Here the themed exhibitions of ‘Molten States’ and ‘Collision Course’ will be on show for approximately six weeks each. In ‘Molten States’ four interconnecting galleries provide the setting for three Berlin artists and one American. The thematic title reflects the fluidity between art, performance and theatre. Visitors will also find ‘Event Horizon’, three rooms hosting a bar area and a changing programme of multimedia events and displays.
Tod eines Praktikanten (Death of a Trainee)
by René Pollesch
Room 10, 31 Oct - 4 Dec
Stage performance on 31 Oct and 1 Nov (8pm), followed by stage set and video installation from 2 Nov until 4 Dec.
Lonesome Spot and Rodakis, by Olaf Nicolai
Room 12 and cinema, 31 Oct - 8 Dec
Nicolai studied art and philosophy in Germany. In his film portrait Rodakis he presents a documentary about a nineteenth-century house on the Greek island of Aegina. The apparently conventional account of the house’s iconic status and its builder Rodakis is gradually revealed to be a fictional conceit. This film will be broadcast in the cinema on most days. Lonesome Spot, appearing in Room 12, takes the form of a ceiling-high, vertical pole rotating in a darkened gallery, illuminated by a single spotlight - all that is missing is an erotic dancer.
Triangle of Need by Catherine Sullivan
Room 9, 31 Oct - 9 Dec
This multi-screen video installation by the Los Angeles-born film artist addresses themes of evolution, class, wealth and poverty, and sets imagined narratives in locations which include the magnificent estate in Miami built by American industrialist James Deering and Chicago, home to Deering’s factory.
Trilogy of Failure by Julian Rosefeldt
Rooms 6 and 8, 31 Oct - 10 Dec
German-born Rosefeldt records intricate studies of human behaviour using cinematic techniques and a multi-screen format. The three films that make up Trilogy of Failure include a man making a sculpture of his possessions and recording the accompanying sound effects, a stunt man diving through a bathroom mirror, and a man trying to fly.
Event Horizon by temporarycontemporary
Senate Room and adjoining rooms, 31 Oct 2008 - 19 Jan 2009
A twelve week presentation of events and artworks by London artists in three rooms on the first floor, curated by temporarycontemporary, the partnership between Anthony Gross and Jen Wu. The rolling programme of events includes static exhibitions, club nights, film screenings, music and DJ sessions, fashion shows and performances.
Powerful theatre and the appealing art of tulips
This is the first time a British audience will see the experimental theatre of René Pollesch, one of the most influential and exciting directors working in Germany today.
Pollesch is an auteur who writes and directs all his material. Tod Eines Praktikanten (Death of a Trainee) runs for a mere 45 minutes but has, by all accounts, a powerful effect on its audiences. German theatre critic Thomas Irmer describes it as ‘fragmented theoretical discourse’ but its theatricality is undeniable. Dialogue is delivered at high speed, in highpitched voices by a cast of three women (playing a neo-left-wing artist, her assistant, plus another character). Their discussions explore questions of representation in often surprising ways including, for example, Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of an autistic woman in the film Snow Cake and the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ artfully contrived landscapes.
Sometimes the actors disappear behind the scaffolding set, followed by a camerawoman who is present throughout; on-stage screens then relay the live footage as the play continues. The dialogue is in German with a translation in English, but be prepared for the actors to swap characters at will.
For the last six years Pollesch has been Director of the Prater stage at the famous Volksbühne (People’s theatre) in Berlin; he has also directed at prominent theatres across Germany. In 1996 he came to the Royal Court Theatre, London, on a working scholarship. After the two live performances on 31 Oct and 1 Nov, a film recording will form part of the installation that remains in Room 10 for nearly six weeks along with the set.
One of the first striking visions that will greet visitors to 6 Burlington Gardens is Onion Options, a mixed-media installation by Swiss-born artist Rémy Markowitsch.
This piece is a careful placement of sensual and seductive objects - pictures, light sculptures and text - which all reflect Markowitsch’s fascination with literature, travel, research and mankind’s passion for money and gambling. Two pictures of tulips will hang above the central staircase, a large panel of text will fill the carved stone niche, and three gently glowing onion bulb sculptures will hang from the ceiling.
Both tulips and onions have, or have had, immense economic importance. The tulip became Holland’s most valuable commodity in the seventeenth century; its falling price caused the world’s first stock-market crash in 1637. Today the onion, as a food staple, has huge political and social significance in India where the cost of a bulb can almost topple a government (the text displayed in Onion Options dwells on this point).
Markowitsch adds a final element to his work - a sound recording of people crying. Are they chopping onions perhaps, or shedding tears of sadness for their monetary loss? The answer may depend on where you see the onion. Markowitsch, who is based in Berlin, has shown a variation of Onion Options in China and Germany, and in each country he commissions a polyester onion sculpture. Their national differences are another layer of the onion’s meaning.
6 Burlington Gardens, 020 7300 8000, 31 Oct 2008 - 19 Jan 2009
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