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.

The concept 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.

Peter 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.

Dealing 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.

Answering 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.

My 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 himself in.

Universal 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.

Gaia Persico

 

 

Top: 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, New York.
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, Paris.

Images courtesy of MCA Chicago and Hayward Gallery.