Sculptor, stage designer or video-artist: Aernout Mik would fit perfectly into any one of these categories. Born in Gröningen (the Netherlands) in 1962, Aernout Mik’s video installations are easily recognized for their peculiar architecture and hypnotic images. Normally his work is retro-projected on screens installed in an architectural circuit that makes the spectator saunter through a labyrinth of images, volumes and forms.
In most cases (Middlemen, Park, Glutinosity, Kitchen, Territorium, Fluff, 3 Crying 4 Laughing, Organic Escalator, etc.), the perfectly dramatised and studied scenes present characters who seem to dissolve into each other in repetitive and mimetic actions that are sometimes violent, other times disturbing, and apparently never provoke any consequences or determined resolutions. There is neither a beginning nor an end, no action or reaction, and yet the spectator suspects that themes like self-control, motivation, social relationships, violence and frustration are dealt with in a tangential and ambiguous way, the same as in critique.
Mik’s most recent works, presented under the generic title “Citizens and Subjects” in the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2007), usher in a new period for his work by intermixing staging plans with archived documents in a hard political metaphor on the notions of subject, propaganda and citizenship.
Boris Mikhailov is an artist whose work cannot be understood without taking at least a brief recent history of his hometown, Kharkov, into account. This is the city where he was born in 1938, where he spent a large part of his life and to which he returns whenever he can. He now lives in Berlin after receiving a prestigious grant from the German Academic Exchange Service(DAAD) in 1996. From 1917 to 1934, Kharkov was the brilliant and prosperous capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It experienced the first signs of decline in the early 1930s as a result of the Holodomor (the Ukrainian genocide caused by Stalin’s radical transformation of economic and social structures) and of the subsequent emigration of its inhabitants in search of food and, perhaps, a better life. However, the exodus of a good part of Kharkov’s citizens was only one of the factors that contributed to its loss of importance. Kharkov suffered dozens of attacks during the Second World War before it was liberated from the Nazis on 23 August 1943. After the war, the city had to start from scratch; 70% of its buildings had been destroyed and thousands of its inhabitants had been killed, reducing it to an anonymous provincial city. However, it is now considered to be one of the main industrial, cultural and educational centres of the Ukraine, thanks to its industries, which have carried out applied research into the production of arms and turbines, and in the field of nuclear electronics and aerospace programmes. Boris Mikhailov’s rebel spirit was forged in Kharkov’s factories. It was here that he first had the opportunity to use photography as a subtle way to express his resistance to a system that did not satisfy him.
Antoni Abad was born in Lleida in 1956 and is a History of Art graduate from the University of Barcelona. After creating a series of large-scale, interwoven paintings that were midway between painting and sculpture, he went on to produce sculptures in foam rubber in 1985, which he made public the following year at the Espai 10 Gallery of the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Since then his work has evolved, both in the use of new materials (such as components of mecalux (metal shelving systems) and tape measures) and, following his interest in new media, into the world of video and Net-Art in 1995. This was succeeded from 2004 onwards by the use of mobile phones as creative and communicative tools, culminating in an onsite work entitled *TAXI in collaboration with taxi drivers from Mexico City. He continued this work the following year with the Gypsy communities of Lleida and Leon, as well as further collaborations with other communities in Madrid, Barcelona, San José de Costa Rica and Sao Paulo. These projects can be followed on the web page www.zexe.net. These latest projects have won him numerous awards, such as the National Visual Arts Prize 2006, awarded by the Government of Catalonia, and the Electronic Ars Festival in Linz the same year.
The Brazilian artist Vik Muniz (Sao Paulo, 1961) became known on the international art scene at almost the same time that he was recognised as an emerging artist in his own country, in the mid eighties. This coincidence between his own artistic task and the air du temps of a decade as expressionist as the last but one of the last century largely contributed to the rapid rise of his renown as a artist of international prestige. Those postmodern times, we insist, worked in his favour. His work knew perfectly how to engage, in equal measure, with History and the Market.
A great expert on the history of art and highly sensitive and intelligent in his decoding and deconstruction, Muniz has engaged with Géricault, Goya or Rembrandt, but also with the much quoted Duchamp, or the less familiar David Smith or Richard Serra, not forgetting to pervert certain 20th century icons like Che Guevara, a genuine “touchstone” in the years of his most impulsive media fame, whom he used to recreate by means of a system as infrequent as using chocolate to represent the image of the Cuban-Argentinian leader in different forms. He is the creator of innumerable series on a range of motifs, all of which have a common denominator: he first stages the “expressive action” like a theatrical model and then, after a long, laborious process of composition, proceeds to photograph, almost always in large formats, what he has created as a “staging of passion”. The result is the photographs of the photographer Vik Muniz.
Luis Francisco Pérez
Joan Fontcuberta (Barcelona, 1955) is a photographer and theorist of photography, and also an essayist, editor, curator and teacher, with a body of interdisciplinary work that explores the boundaries between reality and fiction and the manipulation of images, and extends beyond the realms of photography itself to take in aspects of sociology, politics and economics. He studied Information Sciences at the UAB and has taught in the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Barcelona (where he was involved in setting up the Department of Photography, Cinema and Video), at Pompeu Fabra University and at Harvard University. He was one of the prime movers behind Barcelona’s Primavera Fotogràfica photography festival, a member of the editorial board of the magazine Nueva Lenteand co-founder and editor-in-chief of Photovision. He has exhibited his works around the world, at MACBA and MNAC in Barcelona, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, MoMA in New York, and elsewhere. As a photographer he has been recognized with the prestigious Hasselblad Award in 2013 and the Premio Nacional de Fotografia in 1998, among others, and as an essayist he has published books such as Pandora’s Camera (Premio Nacional de Ensayo 2011) and La furia de las imágenes [The Fury of the Images], which won the Premi Ciutat de Barcelona award for Social Sciences and Humanities 2016.
In a way, Alicia Framis’ work is a fable. Starting from a very specific observation of her surroundings she tells stories with a real base and a fictitious development that show up some of the flaws of modern society, for which she tries to find a solution, undoubtedly involving an indirect ethical lesson. This investigation into the world around her has evolved from the private in the works of the 90s such as Cinema Solo or Dreamkeeper to the social in series like Anti-dog or Secret Strike. In all cases her projects follow a recognisable schema: a living documentary investigation of a series of conflicts which human beings (often, but not exclusively, women) face in an individualistic contemporary society which overprotects itself from the other. From there she decides to provide practical solutions to the problem. Everything begins with an idea and ends up becoming a plan, a complex project through which she approaches the same problem from different viewpoints and to which she eventually tries to offer solutions. In that way her works end up being organised in corpora of meaning that define a specific problem, whether loneliness, fear of aggression, the need to be loved or alienation.
Dora García’s work is strongly characterized by the involvement of its viewers, who are urged to take a stand on ethically contentious questions, to commit themselves to a closer examination of these matters and to reflect on the institutional nature of the setting in which their encounter with works of art takes place.
Hers is a practice based on research, and one that focuses on subjects which recur and are woven into the whole fabric of her production, such as the interest in the history of anti-institutional movements (with particular attention to anti-psychiatry), the figure of the artist as outsider and mechanisms of communication, whether linguistic or not. These subjects are not explained to the viewer, but laid out with an attitude that verges on a challenge: documents, ambiguous reenactments in performances, lectures and talks, videos and books are presented in the exhibition space as archives, sophisticated sets of references, reworkings. Viewers have to choose their own key of interpretation, decide what attitude to take, the degree of interaction they wish to have with the work. Or remain impervious to the provocation of an enigmatic theme, ambiguously presented in such a way as to make people think. As a complement to this total openness of interpretation, García prepares a series of instruments, often in the form of websites, to share her sources with viewers, to inform them about her projects and keep them up to date on their development and to get to know their opinions and reactions through blogs and social networks.
Douglas Gordon’s work revolves generically around the image and its great ability to seduce and deceive. Since his first works in the nineties he has experimented with the different facets of reality, meaning what he (or we ourselves) represents, or film fiction as reality. In a logical structure that takes the mirror as the key reference to the fact that any image has its other side, he has developed a work in which, with films, photography, objects and texts, he places the spectator in a position of constant redefinition and continuous rethinking. The works for which he is best known are the ones that focus on the cinema as the space that generates the myth of contemporary society. From legendary films and actors he analyses the great power of film to constitute a parallel reality and to make an analysis of reality and fiction. The way in which he starts from films already familiar to the general public and directors such as Hitchcock or actors like Robert De Niro and appropriates the existing material is particularly useful for the suggestive overtones from which he starts and on which he then constructs his discourse.
(Urbana, Illinois, 1942)
For nearly half a century now Dan Graham has been producing a crucial body of theoretical and artistic work which addresses the social and ideological functions of contemporary cultural systems. With no other training than a high school education, at the age of 22 he founded the John Daniels Gallery in New York, where he put on group exhibitions with artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Robert Smithson, as well as the first solo exhibition by Sol LeWitt. The economic failure of this venture and the lack of means of production led him to write about television, popular music and aspects of contemporary art. In 1965 he started work on Homes for America (1966-67), an essay with photographs that constitutes one of the seminal works of Conceptualism. During the 1970s he experimented with time and the spatial mediation of the body in performances and video works. Since the 1980s his work has been linked to the construction of pavilions of glass and mirrors, hybrids between architecture, sculpture and urban design that negotiate with the viewer the semiotics of the conception of the communal public space. His enormous influence is borne out by his participation in documentas 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10 (1972, 1977, 1982, 1992 and 1997).
(México DF, 1981)
Iñaki Bonillas (Mexico City, 1981) has been described as a photographer who has never taken a photograph. This is an exaggeration, of course, but there is some truth in it: most of the artist’s works starts from photos taken by his grandfather, J. R. Plaza. An aficionado of the medium, J. R. Plaza documented his own life with the portable camera. His archive, which Bonillas inherited, is a timepiece, not only of Mexico in the mid 20th century, but also of amateur visual culture. Since 2003, Bonillas has taken this archive as the raw material of his work, engaging with it in a rigorously conceptual manner. Bonillas’s systematic execution of his conceptual proposition (embodied in re-photographed prints or negatives, slides, film, and sometimes language, drawing, or even music) comments on archival practices, the non-image aspects of photography, and on the formation of narrative and sentiment through classification. He has, for instance, collected all of the portraits with closed eyes, arranged all the vertical photos in the album, traced a figure who had been consistently cut out, and revealed the handwritten tags jotted on the back. In these ways Bonillas avoids more nostalgic readings of photography and instead tells a story of the medium as a whole and the picture as object, as container of abstract conceptual information. In 2012, the greater part of Bonillas’s work with the J. R. Plaza archive was shown at La Virreina in Barcelona.
Joseph Beuys (Krefeld, 1921 – Düsseldorf, 1986) is one of the key artists of the second half of the twentieth century. His rethoric is based on the belief in the universal power of human creation and the conviction that art can prompt revolutionary changes. For him, every human being is an artist”, meaning that everyone should be able to develop his or her own creativity. Beuys defended the notion of “Social Sculpture”, meaning that sculpture needs not produce objects, but rather act or communicate thoughts that shape people’s awareness. He developed the notion of “Extended Art”, with which he encouraged the integration of art and life to yield a state in which individuals can live in harmony with their social and natural surroundings. Politically active, in 1967 founded the German Party of the Students. In 1972, his participation in Documenta 5 consisted in the organization of a program of encounters and performances during the 100 days of Documenta: Büro für Direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Organitzation for Direct Democracy by Referendum). In 1974 founded the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research and in 1980 is co-founder of the Green German Party. He understood debate, discussion and education as part of artistic activity.
Rodney Graham works conceptually with the formats of the work of art. A Canadian artist of many interests, he belongs to the generation from that country who have had a major influence on contemporary art: Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas or Ian Wallace.
Graham’s work swings between conceptual reasoning in the appreciation of the world and life experience with a strong emotional charge. Indeed he is a man of many faces, at times a visual artist, at others a musician who does exhibitions or produces musical compositions. The works he shows in an artistic context also have that twofold dynamic, some with a strong element of humour and others conducive to calm reflection.
His thoughts on the appreciation of the contemporary world have brought him close to photography. For him it is the technological gaze at our environment, and he uses his work to lay bare the relation between image and reality. His photographs of trees upside down refer to the camera obscura, the physical procedure for creating “objective” images of what we see, although they appear inverted.
His work has been shown in high profile contexts, such as the Skulptur Projekte in Münster in 1987 or the Venice Biennale, where he represented Canada in 1997.