November 04, 2007

Is Modernity our Antiquity

Modernity as antiquity was one of the leitmotifs at documenta 12. It explored the influence of the modernist movement and the response to it by artists in the past and the present. A piece by Tanaka Atsuko from Japan, Electric Dress, lit up with painted bulbs sporadically. This was a piece in which Tanaka Atsuko performed in the 6os to make an anti-modernist statement. She used electricity and light to make a moving painting, not meant to be hung on a wall, but as a piece of art that is worn and that changes color and light with the wearer's movement. The material also punctuated Japan's post-war technological aspirations. Putting the piece in the context of 60s Japan in the hands of a woman responding to modernism gave a historic perspective of the movement.

Another performance piece that was documented was Graciela Carnevale's experiment in the 60s. This Argentinian artist invited guests to her gallery opening and then locked them all inside the gallery. She watched their reactions as the guests grew uncomfortable, anxious, and finally violent, breaking the front window to release themselves. Police shut down the gallery in response. She experimented with performance art where the viewer became the subject for the artist. A photograph documented her experiment which gave insight to the history and evolution of contemporary performance art.

Still connected to the concept of modernity, but expressed in a more natural form, were photographs of Nigerian hairstyles documented by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere. In Africa a woman's hairstyle signifies her status in society. They express themselves artistically through their hair, for everyday life and for special occasions. This is not art done for art's sake, but art that is incidental to cultural expression.

Other pieces that connected to the modernist theme were sculptures that explored spatial forms. Three computer monitors that displayed a continuous video loop of an orange surface made a stark impression. I got to think that this piece explored the same relationships between form and space like the early pieces of geometric forms, this time using a more contemporary material, namely technology, showing how the expression of same ideas can evolve with new materials.

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