I went around
the exhibition Universal Experience. Art, Life and the Tourist's
Eye, mentally dividing the show in 'themes' as this made it
easier to appreciate the huge quantity and variation of information
present. The most obvious of these underling subjects: 'the airport',
was undertaken by the American artist Taft Green,
who produced an intricate sculpture, entitled Reaction Facets:
International Airport, 2004. The shapes which at first resembled
self indulging abstract collages, on closer inspection reveal to
be details of gates, walkways, check in desks and luggage shoots,
in an hallucinatory jumble of lines and intersecting planes. This
sculpture succeeds in recreating the essence of the chaos experienced
when trying to co-ordinate our way around an infinite labyrinth
of possibilities that is the modern airport. Keeping in line with
this subject, the top floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art was
covered in luxurious orange carpet, Untitled 1991, a work
by Rudolf Stingel. The covering re-creates a feel
of an international terminal lounge, aided by the fact that videos
were shown on black monitors and swivel chairs similar to those
seen in airports were added.
of 'jetlag' was hijacked by Doug Aitken with a
superb video entitled The Moment, 2005. Eleven flat screen
monitors are placed in a huge blacked out room. They float freely
in the space as their supporting structure is a rod attached to
the ceiling, so that when walking in the room only the images on
the screens can be perceived. The video is a cleverly edited clips
of urban-scapes, close ups of sockets, light bulbs, architectural
details and pylons with their jumble of wires. Human beings are
also filmed, seemingly unaware of being watched whilst sleeping,
with many close ups on their hands, eyes and hair. Their contorted
bodies and tossing movements add to the drama, unnerving and expectancy
for something unpleasant to happen. The video is shown on the monitors
at different times so that the screens do not always present the
same images; this and the fact that the soundtrack played is powerful
and dramatic, contribute to an effect of confusion and disorientation.
The piece induces a sense of uneasiness, of jagged moments, of unresolved
possibilities, of surreal states that any traveller of crossed time
lines has experienced.
Fischli and David Weiss work on another
concept of the tourist' eye: the photographic souvenir, the snapshot.
Visible World, 1985-2001 is a collection of transparencies
gathered over a period of fifteen years displayed on a light box
table thirty metres in length. Since each image is of minute size,
the structure holds thousands of photographs. It seems they are
trying to represent the whole world or at least that of the most
common or sought after sights. I tried to stop myself from ticking
imaginary 'been there not been there' boxes as I slowly walked along
the side of the table, as there is a danger of falling into the
trap of seeing these images with a cold and detached eye. Instead
I let the floodgates of memories open and I was carried away by
the rushing forth of the remembrance of the places I had myself
visited and the beauty of the piece itself.
with the photographic image not as snapshot as a memory stimulus
but rather as one which exposes the fakeness and shallowness of
the tourist experience, is the work of Alexander Timtschenko.
He presents to the viewer a collection of candy coloured, sharply
focused photographs. There is a moment of doubt in their veracity
in the first instance of their coming to view, as surely images
of such intensely overloaded sickly colour must have been digitally
manufactured, they must be figments of the artist imagination, a
kitsch pastiche coming from the depths of his subconscious, for
where could such a place exist where all is so plastically surreal?
The answer is soon revealed and I am surprised I had not realised
sooner, for they are of course, images of Las Vegas. Created as
the ultimate tourist fantasy, thanks to Timtschenko eye, this city
is forced to starkly reveal its true self and it is shown in its
full hollowness. The exploitation of man's wish for escapism and
greed for wealth is laid bare in these photographs.
to our need to posses but in a more subtle and gentle way is the
work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. For where would
an exhibition about travelling be without addressing the notion
of the souvenir? In a corner of one of the rooms on the top floor
of the building lays a pile of invitingly shiny and colourful sweets.
I am touched by the beauty of the piece, its never-ending communion
with the public, its generosity, its quasi-religious experience
of sharing, but am also intrigued by its subtlety of nuances. There
is a darker side to Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA),
1991, for am I stripping a part of the artist body, am I eating
part of him, part of Ross? Is he exploiting that side of me which
wants to have a keep-safe, so that by taking the souvenir into my
own private space it will be invaded by the artist? Musing on this,
furtively stuffing a red sweet in my pocket, I wonder back downstairs
to catch another glimpse at Roman Ondak's work.
red souvenir will be a stimulus for the retelling of the tales happened
whilst being away and, as mine, the act of recollecting is a concept
central to the work of Roman Ondak. At first his
collection of drawings and three dimensional models seem to be fitting
with the contemporary abject and naïf style of art making.
A cardboard Leaning Tower of Pisa precariously holds itself
up, a pencil line delineates haphazardly the Arc de Triomphe
and an oval shape resembles a somewhat abstract Coliseum.
There is a certain innocence and freshness to these images, for
they have not been made directly by the artist but rather by people
who respond to his descriptions of places he has visited. Upon discovery
of this fact, the work is thrown into another dimension, for not
only it inhabits the present time but also one that belongs to the
past, before television, the internet and mass communication had
shrunk the world. The notion of the traveller that brings back home
magic tales of wonderful adventures has a romantic and nostalgic
appeal but at the same time it is an obvious demonstration of the
fortunate position in which any person who is able to travel finds
Experience. Art, Life and the Tourist's Eye is a fantastic
exploration of the phenomenon of tourism and the myriad of responses
that it has crystallised in artists imagination. Francesco Bonami
has managed to bring together more then seventy artists in an impressively
coherent choice for such a strartingly wide exhibition concept.
It is impossible to go into further details of all the notesworthy
works in this exhibition so my sincere suggestion is to pick up
whatever form of transport you require to get to Chicago and to
head over to the Museum of Contemporary Art.
those who live in London are in luck as the exhibition will be touring
to the Hayward Gallery in October 2005.
Taft Green, Reaction Facets: International Airport, 2004.
Wood, acrylic and hardware. Courtesy of the artist and Richard Telles
Fine Art, Los Angeles.
Middle left: Doug Aitken, The Moment, 2004. Video installation
with 11 plasma screens. Collection of Donna and Howard Stone, courtesy
of 303 Gallery, New york. Centre: Installation Shot, coutesy of
MCA Chicago. Right: Peter Fishli and David Weiss, Visible World,
1985-2001. Light tables and transparencies. Collection of Adam Sender,
Above left: Alexander Timtschenko, Caesars, Caesars, Caesars,
1997. Silver dye-bleached print. Courtesy of Peter Ottman, Munich.
Right: Roman Ondak, Common Trip, 2000. Drawings on paper,
paper and cardboard objects. Courtesy of the artist and gb agency,
courtesy of MCA Chicago and Hayward Gallery.