Paul’s Blog: I haven’t forgotten the subjects in my poll, and I’ll get to the remaining ones soon, but I am now going to write about Africa Remix, the show I saw at the Pompidou Centre. It turns out that this isn’t a Pompidou show, or at least, not just a Pompidou show. It has already been in Dusseldorf and London, and after Paris will travel to Tokyo. If you click on the link I’m making here you can see a website with lots of pictures and commentary. There is much more detail there than I will provide. Just keep in mind that there are some differences between the current show and what was seen in previous versions. I’ll begin by inserting a picture of the Jane Alexander piece that I found so beautiful, even though the picture does not do it justice. Bear in mind as you look at it that in the Pompidou version, the walls of the room are painted this green, and the sculpture is lit by two chandeliers. Anyway, here’s the picture: I hesitated to post this, since it doesn’t really do justice to the piece as I experienced it in Paris. The feelings it evoked in me reminded me of some of my encounters with the work of Joseph Beuys.
Another piece that I really enjoyed is a deceptively simply work: Aimé Ntakiyica made three photographic self-portraits in which he dressed himself as a Spanish toreador, a kilted Scot, and a Tyrolean mountaineer. The photos constitute artworks in their own right, of course, by forcing the “European viewers to confront their own folklore” (to paraphrase the explanatory panel.) What makes the piece brilliant, though, in my view, is that the artist has made large sized posters of each image, and these posters are given away at the exhibition. To be more precise: at three locations in the gallery are piles of posters, and viewers are able to help themselves to a poster, even though I could find no explicit announcement that the posters were free for the taking. This creates a nice little performance piece.
1) You see people kneeling on the floor in front of a pile of posters, carefully rolling up their own private copy to take away. In the act of rolling, of course, the image gradually disappears, transformed into a white tube, only to be replaced by an identical image that is revealed by at the same rate as its predecessor disappears.
2) As I wandered around the exhibition, I kept seeing white people — yes, they were all white — carrying long white tubes that looked like clubs. [I would guess that the tubes were about 4 feet/125 cm in length, that is, not small at all.] This created an odd tension in me, since it frequently looked as if the white tubes would accidentally knock over a sculpture. Moreover, these big white tubes were very distracting as they bobbed around from artwork to artwork, safe in the loving arms of their owners.
3) My assertion about the content of the posters is based on the explanatory panel, since I was only able to see one of the three images. The posters were claimed by so many people that soon none were left. I was lucky enough to see a woman snag the last poster in one pile, leaving just an empty space on the floor where the pile had been. This prompted me to think about the mentality of privilege that would allow someone to take the last poster: by doing so, this woman prevented that all the other people in the gallery (including me) from seeing the image at all.
From that thought, I was moved to reflect on what made people feel free to pick up posters even when the piles were thick. Was the woman who took the last copy really any worse than the person who took the first one? This led me again to think about all the other people carrying around the images, carefully rolled and therefore concealed from the view of everyone else. Ironically, although the gallery literally contained dozens of copies of Ntakiyica’s images, no one was able to look at them, not even the “owners” of the posters. I thought about asking someone if he or she would unroll one of the captive tubes for me, so that I could at least see the artwork, but I didn’t. Naturally, I couldn’t avoid thinking about the colonial exploitation of Africa, and I began to read Ntakiyica’s poster “performance” as a stimulating metaphor for the history of relations between Europeans and Africans. One of the great things about a successful artwork is that its meaning and impact cannot be “translated” into words. I’ve given it a stab here, but I want to stress that my account is necessarily limiting and reductive, and therefore rather unfair to the piece.
Anyway, the show had more than 200 works by almost 100 different artists, and I have talked about only two of them, or fewer than 1%. There are literally dozens of other pieces that were just as stimulating and exciting.
– Paul On Leave