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Off-Modern: Ruins of the Future

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Off-Modern: Ruins of the Future

Special projects of the 5th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art

September 19 - November 10, 2013

Curator: Svetlana Boym 

Artists: AMO / Rem Koolhaas, Svetlana Boym, Tobias Putrih, Allen Sayegh / INVIVIA, Anri Sala, Raqs Media Collective    

Organizer: Stella Art Foundation


Stella Art Foundation presents a project by the curator Svetlana Boym (USA) with a theme that has ever greater relevance today – that of alternative history (more precisely, the whole mass of possible alternative histories). The project focuses on apparent dead-ends of the historical "yesterday", on what was considered mistaken and remained as a lateral evolutionary branch, failing to give full fruit and therefore destined to assume the appearance of a ruin in history’s "today" and "tomorrow".

Svetlana Boym: "Instead of apocalyptic prediction of the end of history and the fast-changing prepositions — "post", "anti", "neo", and "trans", we propose to go off: as in off-Broadway, off-brand, and off the wall. Off-modern art brushes history against the grain and offers an alternative scenography for the contemporary ruins and construction sites. It follows Victor Shklovsky’s Knight’s Move, the zigzag "road of the brave" opening unexplored lateral possibilities of modernity.

Our ruinophilia does not mean a backward glance but an uncensored confrontation with the disharmonies of the present beyond the opposition between nostalgia and progress. Off-modern space offers an example of the international public sphere which establishes alternative cultural solidarities and focuses on experimental artistic technologies and the relationship between different media: photography, interactive digital design, architecture, video art. These works challenge historical and technological determinism and reveal a shadowplay of political and personal.


Tobias Putrih’s LLLL walls evoke ludic architecture of the Russian avant garde without the later megalomania. In the same spirit, AMO / Rem Koolhaas’ Hermitage project, proposes "modernization through preservation" and a radical restaging of the museum architecture while Allen Sayegh’s /INVIVIA Degrees of Melancholia reflects on the interstices of digital and sensual, contemporary and primordial. Anri Sala’s video Dammi I Colori and Raqs’ Strikes at Time offer us lucid dreams of the off-modern ruins. Sala’s work captures the transformation of the Socialist architecture of Tirana through contemporary art. Raqs’ video, loosely based on the worker’s diary and Jacques Ranciere’s writings, explores the ideas of porous time in the Indian postindustrial landscape. Svetlana Boym’s ruined photographs in Nostalgic Technologies capture images of conflicting modernities, digital and preindustrial, and reveal historical pentimenti of the avant garde and errors in the technological and historical progress. An error has an aura."

Tobias Putrih LLLL evokes a playground and the utopian urban construction site that remains forever unfinished. Putrih’s installations are site specific but they both engage and estrange the local context. LLLL walls exemplify Shklovsky’s Knight’s move , the zigzag of alternative development of contemporary culture that centers on the eccentric possibilities. LLLL walls remind us of the theatrical props of the Russian avant garde and the paper architecture and explore the play of scales and the borderzone between architecture, sculpture, installation, design and the the phantasmagoric theater.


Raqs Media Collective's Strikes at Time is a lucid dream, readings from an occasional anonymous journal, and a long walk at the edge of the city of the night. In that no man’s land annexed by the awakening mind from the fatigue of the labouring day, the work weaves together a disquisition on time in the form of a discreet annotation on the philosopher Jacques Rancière’s “The Nights of Labour”, together with renditions of the found text of a worker’s diary by the CyberMohalla Ensemble, a group of unorthodox proletarian urbanists that Raqs has been in dialogue with over a decade. The shadowy presence of a Yaksha and Yakshi — guardians of wealth in Indic mythologies — stands watching over the work, marking time with questions. 


Allen Sayegh/INVIVIA’s Degrees of Melancholia is a poetic journey through the city of Moscow with its hybrid landscape, bringing the artifacts from the past into the frame of the present. This geography consists mainly of ordinary “non-sites”, which are “data mined” through social media and reframed by the mood of the local residents. The project puts the newest data mining technology to the off-modern use by embarrassing its conventions of precision and instrumentality. It foregrounds the uncanny border between our self perception and our perception of the urban environment. In the center of the installation is the black square; It is a limit of the measurable and the visible. The journey through the cityscape is never ending, never reaching its destination, hence melancholic. Degrees of Melancholia functions by pulling in real-time social media feeds from the users around Moscow, zooming in on street view level on those users who that share a somber mood, and transporting the viewer into the environments where these tweets originate. The visitors to the exhibit are offered a window into a collective emotional geography that shifts together with the colored frames around the black square following the moods and motions of the present viewer.


Anri Sala’s poetic video Dammi i colori presents us an artist’s interview with his friend and fellow artist Edi Rama, who became a mayor of the Albanian capital Tirana and will soon become the country’s only artist prime minister. In conjunction with Tirana biennial, 2003 Edi Rama proposed a project of the transformation of facades of Tirana’s ruined socialist architecture through vivid color and contemporary art. “I wanted to show images from the place where speaking of utopia is actually impossible and therefore utopian. I chose the notion of hope instead of utopia. I focused on the idea of bringing hope in a place where there is no hope,” says Rama. This was one of rare projects of off-modern urbanism that successfully came into life. It represents a curious reversal of the Art of Monumental Propaganda; it can be called “The Art of Postmonumental Anti-propaganda,” and yet it is very connected to many unfulfilled, lateral dreams of eccentric modern architecture. Sala’s work offers us a shadowy interplay of hope and utopia in the portrayal of his native city caught in the midst of a postcommunist carnival of rapidly transforming ruins. 


Svetlana Boym. Nostalgic Technologies. Half-destroyed prints show ruins and construction sites of global architecture, portable homes and public transits. Most of them come from cities that have survived wars, revolutions, terrorist acts, and economic crises—from Sarajevo to New York. Multitasking with Clouds series put digital devices to an improper use transforming their pixelated interfaces into reflective surfaces and «black mirrors» that capture fleeing clouds, branches and melancholies of everyday life. The blackberry resembles a «black mirrors» that haunted artists since the Renaissance. The photographs are pulled out prematurely from the printer, leaving the lines of passages and splashes of color. «Communication error! » screams the disgruntled computer voice. This human error makes each print unrepeatable and uniquely imperfect. Manual touch offsets the understanding of photography as an art of mechanical or digital reproduction. The making of each print becomes a mini-performance, not Luddite but ludic. An error has an aura. 


Svetlana Boym. Phantasmagorias of History. The series of phantasmagoric images record the physical act of touching historical photographs following Walter Benjamin's advice to "stroke history against the grain".The synchopated movement of touch reveals the scars of the photographic surface and attempts to capture the "butterfly effect" in history, that mysterious shudder of the wings that resist determinism. The touch reveals cracks and glare of the photographic surface, conjuring up ghosts of the forgotten past and future that could have been. Phantasmagorias don't attempt to salvage history but to commemorate its deviant spirits, and not the victorious Hegelian Geist. Black Square, 1937. The series records the act of turning the page of a history book and touches the retouched images from the Soviet archives. The erased faces of the executed «enemies of the people» bear uncanny resemblance to the masterpieces of the avant-garde and show alternative uses of photomontage in the late 1930s. David King. The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia.


The exhibition participants:

Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect, theoretician and urbanist. He is Professor of Architectural Practice and Urban Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and the co-founder of OMA (the Office for Metropolitan Architecture). In 2000 he won the Plitzker prize and in 2010 he was awarded a Golden Lion for his contribution to architecture at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale. Rem Koolhaas has been appointed Director of the 14th Architecture Biennale  in Venice in 2014.

Tobias Putrih was born in Slovenia and lives and works in Cambridge (Massachusetts) and in New York. He represented his country in Slovenia’s national pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale of Art (2007), took part in Manifesta 4 (Frankfurt, 2002), and has exhibited at New York’s P.S. 1 (2005) and MoMA (2007), as well as at the White Cube gallery in London.

Raqs Media Collective (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta) was created in New Delhi in 1992. The collective works in a variety of media both in the field of contemporary art (where Raqs are both artists and curators) and in philosophy, political theory and social projects. Raqs have taken part in documenta 11 (Kassel, 2002), the 50th and 51st Venice Biennale of Art (2003, 2005), and Manifesta 9 (Ghent, 2012). The collective co-curated Manifesta 7 in Bolzano, Trento, Rovereto and Fortezza (Italy, 2008).

Allen Sayegh is an architect, and the head and founder of the consulting company INVIVIA, which specializes in design research and user experience. He works on the synthesis of architecture, interactive design and media and is a Professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.

Anri Sala is an Albanian artist who lives and works in Berlin. He is best known for his video works and has won numerous prizes, including the Young Artist Prize at the 49th Venice Biennale of Art. He is artist in residence at the French Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 where he shows the project Ravel Ravel Unravel. He has authored individual projects at the Pompidou Centre (Paris, 2012), Louisiana Museum (Copenhagen, 2012), Serpentine Gallery (London, 2011), and Ujazdowski Castle / Museum of Modern Art (Warsaw, 2005). He has also taken part in numerous group exhibitions, including Utopia Station (50th Venice Biennale, 2003), the 24th Biennale in San Paolo, Manifesta 4 (Frankfurt, 2002), Manifesta 3 (Ljubljana, 2000), the 2nd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2007) and Reprocessing Reality at P.S.1 (New York, 2006).


Svetlana Boym is a writer, theoretician , media-artist and curator. She is Professor of Slavistics and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and a teacher at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is the author of The Future of Nostalgia (2001), Territories of Terror: Memories and Mythologies of the Gulag in Contemporary Art (curator and writer, 2006), Architecture of the Off-Modern (2008) and Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea (2010).


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