Three Books, Available Now

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Berlin Top 10, 2018

Berlin Top Ten, 2018
-Sean Smuda
this first appeared in Hair and Nails #16
photo: see #11

Meg Stuart (read the show review in Hair and Nails #13)
The week after I saw that performance, I took Movement Research with Jan Burkhardt at Tanzfabrik. It was amazing as he narrated, guided, prodded and pushed us through BMC, CI, Yoga, and other movements that define the body, brain, and spirit. Afterwards I thanked him and told him how excited I was about dance here and Stuart’s piece. He replied that his partner was in it and suggested that I send the review to the company. I did and they liked it! Since he splits teaching with her, Sigal, Life into Art into Life has manifested full circle. She said my dancing was beautiful, now I can die.

Hello World
Hamburger Banhof Museum

28.04 - 26.08, 2018
This was exactly what I needed while I was in the Saas-Fee Institute this July. The Banhof’s reckoning with colonial and political attitudes in its collection provided deep background against the SFI’s hyper-narrative of “Art and Poetic Praxis in Cognitive Capitalism”. In the back of the H.B.’s vast Agora was an old-school Duane Hanson, “Policeman and Rioter” (1967). Prescient of the Eighties’ CIA-engineered Crack wars, the sculpture’s Black protestor being beaten by a Black cop was a universally depressing un-mixed-metaphor of all violence being against one’s own. The work was an exclamation point to Alfredo Jaar’s neon of refugee migratory patterns and Siah Armjani’s two-story precarity housing. Despite having thirty students from all over the planet, the SFI rarely talked politics, which we groused about as Brazil’s elections ground to a head. In the Banhoff, art, theory, and politics intermingled: recordings of Benjamin Britten playing Gamelan on piano, Artaud on the inseparability of Art and Life, and the paintings of I. Made Budi. One of his works wielded the dense patterns of Indonesian tradition and had the jungle swallow a Dutch war plane in 1946 as Puputan (suicidal honor war) was fought against them. This fed directly into a close-reading of a Margaret Mead text on Bali lead by Tino Sehgal at the SFI. Our discussion of tradition and expression called to mind the Dakota and Sam Durant’s Scaffold. At what point(s) do we honor and break with tradition? This was answered in a later SFI lecture in which philosopher Yuk Hui spoke on Heidegger’s “End of Philosophy” and its giving way to Techné (making) as a living global philosophy.

Shout out to Hannah Black’s show Eden Eden, 26.01.18 - 02.02.19, at Isabella Bortolozzi’s Aeter project space. Best party of last year, with Black’s work energizing from the basement up in a pagan-soap-opera-shrine-way (minus points for a zero-bass sound system).

Doro Aaltenberg (the Warhol of Schöneberg)’s sweet little collection (full disclosure – which I helped hang). It features Rosemarie Tröckel and the wryly multi-pronged Jürgens Stollhans. His work comically mashes new and old such as: a rocket car in a coliseum, a flaming paper Polish tank, and a glow-in-the-dark ghost. Jürgen’s concepted and mortared laughs explode frontiers of the ingrained.

Had a non-stop sneezing reaction to Jörg Herold’s “Absolutes Numinosum” (an industrial/religious installation at Eigen+Art) and had to go sit by the window. There, I paged through more Neo Rauch catalogs than I knew existed and deepened my appreciation for the painter’s stage craft and mass-produced ideo-mythological Schmoos. I wistfully remembered seeing them in Berlin when there weren’t several zeros added to their then impressive $25K a pop. Finally, the Leipziger gallerist came up to me and said that they still talk.

Daniel Seiple’s “Making Waves” is a project that invites refugees to build a motor yacht from scratch. Berlin has more waterways to the kilometer than Amsterdam and this hits right at its heart. I visited the workshop of Syrian refugees working on the twenty-seven-foot boat and felt a bond as we talked about being displaced and learning German. They sell hand-crafted model replicas to advance its cause, such as the Italian WW2 dynamite-filled suicide speedboat with last-minute ejector seat. En garde Venice Biennale!

Wild, Wild, Country (Netflix documentary). There is a huge connection between Germany and Oregon, and it is about Free Love and sticking it to the Man. Suspiria-liciously, most of my family moved to Oregon years ago.

Stu Mead is a living treasure and has been in Berlin for over fifteen years, even though he sells better to the French! The artist’s sci-fi-50’s-porn-romance from a post-Catholic demented dimension is as prickly piquant as ever. Lookout for his solo show in NYC at the Fortnight Institute, March 28 – April 26, 2019.

Lee Bul, Crash, November 13, 2018 - January 15, 2019 at Martin Gropius Bau dissipates a bit over its massive scale but has a crucial foundation. Growing up in an activist family that was consigned to continually relocate on the outskirts of Seoul by the government, she developed a sci-fi feminist strategy and had her first performances on sidewalks in alien costumes. ‘Nuff said!

Teufelsberg. The only Berliner that I knew before coming here ended up having his studio upstairs from mine. Sebastian Müllauer runs the Autonomous Systems Laboratory in the former American spy-station built on a 300-meter-deep pile of WW2 rubble, under which are the ruins of Hitler’s Weapons University. Ghost emails and exorcisms abound.

Adéla Součková at the National Gallery in Prague for the Jindřich Chalupecký Award. “I can hardly lift this thing it’s so damn heavy, and I can barely see out of this mask, let’s set it down again! Not here, the urine’s too much! This thing looks like a Chernobyl core. That homeless guy just saw us and crossed himself. I thought we weren’t including the church!” The first part of Adela’s performance score was for the performers and the public was not invited. One hundred fifty-five pounds of clay from the river Vitava was carried in the dark, through underpasses, to the Gallery. It lay on a human-sized stretcher and burdened four performers who didn’t know each other. We wore masks that signaled body organs, and in the end made it into a yurt where we sculpted sculptors sculpted.

 — Sean Smuda’s book Universal Capital is out now and available through Hopscotch Reading Room in Berlin and Beyond Repair in the States.

Friends with Books

Hamburger Banhof, Berlin
October 19 – 21, 2018

(all photos by the author)

(all photos by the author)

Does the book have more potential for action and change than the internet? This is the subtext of Friends with Books at the Hamburger Banhof Museum in Berlin. Although billed as the largest and most important Art Book and Periodical Fair in Europe, the museum’s book store manager informs me that it is their branch in Cologne which buys and handles distribution. Berlin may be the HQ of art production, but apparently not its financial power. This does not deter the over two-hundred presenters and artists that are here.         

Normally spread out in the massive Agora hall, this year it is crowded into the wings to allow for Agnieszka Polska’s five-screen video, “The Demon’s Brain”. Thousands of books are jammed and stacked end to end on long tables, flea-market style. Posters and art objects accompany them and spill up the walls, such as Tanja Ostojić’s infamous “EU Panties” (see photo above). Navigation here is a chance operation and I talk to authors whenever possible. The first is Bettina Allamoda, whose source book “catwalk to history” (Revolver Publishing, 2011) presents the history and heroes of growing up in East Berlin during the Wall. It style-checks Roxy Music, the Red Army Faction, and Liza Minelli amongst others who made a difference to Red-rationed teen-angst. These mostly black and white, pre-digital images, are as monumental as Krushchev. They inspire Allamoda’s re-purposed architectural and fashion scraps that become giant installations and sculpture that compliment and critique their sites and sources. These have frequently taken place in the former East as part of new hotels and other style/population/gentrification/exploding plastic inevitables. We complain about the lack of reading space and noise level and she encourages me to go to the children’s area and grab a bean bag.

While perusing, I hear the Fair’s Public Programs start with Dr. Katja Müeller-Helie and her book “The Legacy of Transgressive Objects” (August Verlag, 2018). Müeller-Helie and curator Eva Wilson speak about the current age as one of perpetual transgression in the face of the decline of 1968-style revolutionary actions. According to them, the progressiveness of institutions, technologies, and political figures prevails over the contemporary ambience of recursion, inaction, and social media whinging. Books themselves are positioned as transgressive objects, ones of critical discourse as opposed to self-cancelling explanations to attention-sucking trolls.

I return “catwalk of history” and almost literally run into Nina Prader of Lady Liberty Press. She has no table nor chair and is stationed in a transient zone with gumball machines that dispense her ‘zines. Next to them, on wire racks, is the book “Voices/ Stimmen:  Reclaiming the Public as a Political Space” (Lady Liberty and ZK/U Presses, 2018). It documents and reflects the outcomes of five artists’ public engagement projects: Assembly, Pop, Memory, Violence, and Holy War. Her own contribution concerns a monument at a former Concentration Camp train station in Moabit. It references Marianne Hirsch’s book “The Generation of Post Memory” (Columbia University Press, 2012) and uses a card game to engage the memories of trauma survivors’ offspring and archive their memories.

Finally, I make it to Ma Bibliothèque, whose founder Sharon Kivland recently gave a hilarious Yelp-style performance of Sigmund Freud’s vacation postcards at Hopscotch Reading Room (Freud’s Views, Appendix V, Ma Bibliothèque, 2018). Replete with self-damning indignation, intolerance, and indulgence, the Id is strong with this one. M.B.’s titles are smart and naughty (especially in French), such as: “Beyond Walter Benjamin’s Paris and Kenneth Goldsmith’s New York”, by Michael Hampton, and “A Casa Mia, ou La Pensée de Derrière” by Aude Anquetil. We are both feeling overwhelmed by the fair and the thought occurs that like most conferences it was probably done with an online spreadsheet leaving no room for the physical and mental space needed to internalize information. Sharon’s take is that this is her last fair and I tend to agree, then remember that Payam Sharifi from Slavs and Tartars, is speaking about their book “Wrippen and Scrippen” (Hatje Cantz, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kunstverein Hannover, 2018).

Sharifi recaps the book’s points about alphabets as political, if not emotional platforms. S.A.T.’s typically arcane, erudite blending of poetics and politics includes gender fluidity in Hurufism (a 14th century Muslim science) and Germany’s relationship with Islam and Orientalism through the tetragraph [dsch]. At the end of the talk it is revealed that all of Slavs and Tartars’ books are downloadable on their website, which Sharifi says, “isn’t going to make our publisher happy, but it’s a sign of the economy”.  Like reading the Bible then rubbing out a genie, this is a refinement of pleasure and commerce that favors the virtual, then the analog. Friends with Books lives up to its name as the satisfied crowd reaches for their cigarettes, but I can’t relax as I wish to manifest my own copy of “The Legacy of Transgressive Objects”. Pushing through the crowd to the publisher’s table, all of them have disappeared.


Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods,
Jeroen Peeters & Josef Wouters

Reinbeckhallen/HAU, Berlin
October 7, 2018

Meg Stuart LG.jpg

photo by the author
(this article first appeared in Hair and Nails #13)

It takes an hour and four changes to get here, through suburbs, forests, and industrial zones so designed that a giant hand arranging toy trains is always implied. I practice German for “do you have an extra ticket” as I have been assured in a very German box office way that the waiting list is full and I “for sure will not get in”. Erasmus, a Finn, grants my entrance gratis with three minutes to go. Tic scanned and wrist banded, I walk the planks to a riverfront park in front of Reinbeck’s defunct thread factory.

Projecting [Space] starts like Burning Man, but in a grassy field. Silver panted bright colored tech hippies drape clothes over a car with flashing hazards. They raise an antenna, lay on the roof, and unpack in a dusk not quite cold enough to see breath. Harsh light blinds and highlights the deer fenced, soccer sized field giving it a refugee camp vibe (apparently the fence repels vagrants). Pre-recorded crickets, crows, and ambient synths create a quasi-native peace for we one-hundred or so audience members who mill towards scenes and sounds broadcast from trees and grounds. Techno-hippies aside, other figures lay scattered and blanketed, sometimes consoled by one another. Two BMX’ers and their blue-toothed Reggae circle us, adding to the mix as a man in oil-black pants is lifted two stories on a forklift, legs spread, arms akimbo, imposing reign. When he comes down, he lays on the machine’s forks like a tusk hammock, then leads it tamely across the periphery. A very pregnant African in a Batman cap walks to the other side and sits under a speakered tree above a beach. She rounds the scene, trance-like, and calls out an audience/performer dichotomy: is she, or isn’t she? I sway hard in my bright red down shell and one-legged tree stance and wonder if others also wonder and/or go with it. They stare and I think of structure, distance, and spiritual economy, in short: all things German. A small Bobcat shovel tractor enters the middle of the field and slowly spins, carving dirt circles. Eventually, a performer stares and telepathically leads it away. The BMX’ers fetch an inflatable boat and bring it across the field as soprano wails and piano arpeggios from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” swell with a Reggae and techno remix. Every performer has their own musical signature and they blend as we are led out of the park to the factory.

What follows is a guided union of hands cradling, emitting, and receiving energies throughout and including the audience. Monastic approaches train eyes and bodies like four-dimensional chess pieces whose hierarchies re-cycle in large industrial rooms of three-story bunk bed bleacher shelves. Detritus art hangs next to industrial switches and precedes increasing sonic accelerations and volumes in which performers grapple with invisible obstacles, indoor parachuting, and long discursive conversations about becoming smoke. In the finale, a tribal dance with stand-up bass spills us unplugged over bodies dashing the way to a plaza outside. Here we are teased and engulfed by pink and grey fire bombs and pit. Here we map out projections, dance on concrete, write space with eyes, blur cast, crew, and audience.

Ryan Fontaine at Hair and Nails

In Object in Hair Room and Other Arrays there is the beautiful thing, the erotic thing, the perpetuate-the-jouissance (or beings) thing and it’s everywhere diffused. Half-lives and relatives revolve through materials and time. The Object is the largish painting of a white torso with scraped viscera against a base and wall of designer-y sperm, its own shadow and three series of test swaths in grey and white. Behind its neck ascends a sort of time card of a hand going towards a canted frame that matches the settled slanting of the gallery proper. As the object scatters and morphs into alternate scales and textures, it roots with its gallery: Hair and Nails.

Exhibition titles are materials biting their point of origin whose alphabet continues the Object’s growth. Next it, Brown Rustic Shape with Grated Post is Joy, Use and Aftermath done, sewered yet preserved in autumn haze spectrum. Overheard on a sidewalk: “No, the guitarist shreds cheese with the strings”. Black and white sperm defy and create attraction on (sic) polarized terrains called Good Packaging. After a protrusion, Three White Strips on a Field of Black cites the equals sign as possible double satisfaction. On the far wall Object #1 in Red, Blue and White on a Field of Gold reverses the initial torso’s orientation with invisible hand in dulcet Gibson strokes. Below and to the right, Shelving Unit and Object #1 On Blue, In Relief shift the firmament and again reverse the orientation like a flag a flappin’. Their construction razing zones a grody rebirth from such a burnt idea. Picture the treated concrete wall of a “Billionaire” overlaid with that of sea foam green: a future of perfectible hindsight in face of the scarce.

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Un Chien Appalachian:
Scotty Heron and Brendan Connelly's tribute to Aaron Copland and Martha Graham

Criticism Exchange

Beyond its dissonant celebration of this moment in political history, in what ways is Appalachian Spring Break a femmage to Martha? ...in its decadent puritanism…
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Dedicated to  Hito Steyerl

Dedicated to Hito Steyerl

Use Your Illusion:
Exploring Compositional Epistemologies at Midway Contemporary Art

2.0 6. 2015

Eric Frye's series for Midway Contemporary Art on "compositional epistemologies," an erudite survey of the fusion of technology, composition and performance exploring the intersections of time, knowledge, self-hood and sonic space.
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An Eye for an American I: American Power at the Walker Art Center

The Green Room, Walker Art Center Blog

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artist and photographer Sean Smuda shares his perspective on Friday night’s performance of American Power by Erik Friedlander and Mitch Epste
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Slouching Towards Pre-Occupied Wall Street


Or, "I Was a Governor's Island Art Fair Exhibitor" — mnartists.org's resident travel writer, Sean Smuda, weighs his experience in the artist-run art fair off the tip of Manhattan during one hurricane-crazed, pre-Occupied week in New York City.
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Corndogs & Trembling:
This Sickness Unto Fair


Sean Smuda was the judge for the 2011 photography class of the State Fair's 100th annual Fine Arts exhibition. Read on for his no-holds-barred behind-the-scenes take on the experience.
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Basel 2010: Mission Meta-Impossible - Art, Pray, F**K


Sean Smuda returns to Art Basel Miami for a third year - read on for an extensive photo essay and his dispatch for mnartists.org on the aesthetics, theory and commercial circus that dominated this year's fairs.
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In Heaven, Everything is Fine - Basel, '09
Mnartists.org, 12.17.2009

Art and Loathing in Miami
Mnartists.org, 12.22.2008

Chris Larson: Failure
Rain Taxi Review of Books, Spring 2009

Hollis MacDonald: Unsung Alchemist
Mnartists.org, 3.12, 2009

Matthew Barney: Sammlung Goetz Monograph
Rain Taxi Review of Books, Fall, 2008

Interzone: The Paintings of Christian Nielsen
Mnartists.org, 5.12.2008

Building Something Out of Nothing: Josh Ryther at the Pocket Gallery
Art Review and Preview!, December, 2008

Banksy: Wall and Piece
Rain Taxi Review of Books, Fall, 2007

Born Between Art and This: Jade Townsend
Mnartists.org, 11.27.2007

The Alternate Version: Chicago
Mnartists.org, 6.11.2007

Beth Dow: Complicated Grey Eyes
Mnartists.org, 5.21.2007