Saturday, 2 March 2013


Ruins in Reverse, curated by Sharon Lerner  and Flavia Frigeri at Tate Modern's Project Space

José Carlos Martinat, Pintas, 2013, transfers of logos of political parties, part of street propaganda painted on different street walls (The Inca T, should become Tate's new logo!)

Eliana Otta,  Materiality as Fiction and Archaeology as Fiction, 2010

Eliana Otta, Materiality as Fiction, 2010

Ruins in Reverse, exhibition view

Haroon Mirza, Cross Section of a Revolution,  2011

Haroon Mirza, Cross Section of a Revolution,  2011

José Carlos Martinat, Pintas, 2013, transfers of logos of political parties, part of street propaganda painted on different street walls

Rä di Martino. In her series No More Stars (Star Wars) 2011

Rä di Martino, No More Stars (Star Wars), 2011

Pablo Hare’s Monuments series, 2005-2011

Pablo Hare’s Monuments series 2005-2011

Amalia Pica, On Education, 2008

and Tate Modern from the Millenium Bridge, the Shard building by Renzo Piano to the left.

press release:
Ruins in Reverse
Tate Modern, Project Space, Level 1
1 March – 24 June 2013

This group exhibition considers the relationship between historical monuments and discarded urban ruins. Presented in Tate Modern’s Project Space, it brings together six emerging and recently established international artists whose work explores archaeology, fiction and reality. Ruins in Reverse is the result of a curatorial collaboration between Tate Modern in London and the Museo de Arte de Lima in Peru.

Project Space: Ruins in Reverse is curated by Flavia Frigeri at Tate Modern and Sharon Lerner Museo de Arte de Lima. The Project Space series has been made possible with the generous support of Catherine Petitgas. The curatorial exchange is supported by Tate International Council with the collaboration of Gasworks.

Project Space at Tate Modern (formerly the Level 2 gallery) is dedicated to presenting contemporary art through a series of collaborations with cultural organisations around the world. The programme brings together emerging curators from both Tate Modern and other international venues for contemporary art to work together on an exhibition for both locations. Based on curatorial exchange and dialogue, the series showcases the work of new, recently established or rediscovered international artists. The exhibitions therefore open up the possibility of introducing new work and interpretations within differing global contexts. The curatorial exchanges are organised in collaboration with Gasworks.

This series of discursive exhibitions began in 2011 and, to date, has included collaborations with institutions in Amman, Lagos, Istanbul, Mexico City, Warsaw and Cairo. Forthcoming exhibitions are being developed with partners in New Delhi and Eastern Europe. The Project Space series aims to explore the most challenging art of today as well as the complexities of operating within a global context for contemporary art.

curator's essay
Sharon Lerner  and Flavia Frigeri
‘That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is –all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the ‘romantic ruin’ because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built. This anti-romantic mise–en–scène suggests the discredited idea of time and many other ‘out of date’ things. (...)’
Robert Smithson A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic

Ruins in Reverse takes its title from an idea found in Robert Smithson’s 1967 essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic. The text relates the story of the artist’s trip to his birthplace in New Jersey, armed only with his Kodak Instamatic camera and science fiction novel, Earthworks, by Brian Aldiss. Smithson’s observations of the suburban structures within this decaying industrial landscape suggest a playful approach to archaeology. His reflections on the unintended monumentality of its bleak ‘concrete abutments’ and suburban allotments attempts to find hidden meaning within the detritus of modern civilization and capture its post-industrial charm.

Following Smithson’s approach, Ruins in Reverse sets up a central dichotomy between the matter-of-factness of an archaeological site and the fiction of its interpretation. Taking these deeply intertwined, yet antagonistic terms – ‘archaeology’ and ‘fiction’ - as one of the starting points for the show, this exhibition brings together six emerging and recently established international artists to question the traditional divide between historical monuments and disregarded urban ruins.

Artists Rä di Martino, Pablo Hare, Jose Carlos Martinat, Haroon Mirza, Eliana Otta and Amalia Pica do away with the misperception that the two categories are mutually exclusive. Their works could be read as a form of subtly nuanced contemporary archaeology in which the tenuous line between reality and fiction is blurred. Tangible historical monuments are overwhelmed by the fictions they promote, while ordinary objects and signs gain a significance that makes them monumental.

The remains of destroyed objects and decayed sites play a prominent role in the photographic work of Rä di Martino. In her series No More Stars (Star Wars) 2011, di Martino captures the structures of abandoned movie sets in the North African desert, acting as an unofficial archeologist of the contemporary detritus of the movie industry. By documenting the remnants of well-known Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars, di Martino portrays their fictional character, as well as their material presence, now fully integrated into the desert landscape. Almost a ‘colonialism of fiction,’ these vestiges of the film industry, once emblematic backdrops, left behind as idle waste, have stood the test of time to become unofficial monuments of a glorious fictional past, unacknowledged ruins and timeless markers of a story that has no ending.

Reversing the terms of this equation, the work of Pablo Hare and Amalia Pica engages with a historical and official monumentality that has become more fictional than real.

Around the turn of the twentieth century a new phenomenon of urban redecoration modelled on Western traditions spread across Latin America. Monuments took over squares and public spaces in a bid to foster a sense of national identity and soon became the most obvious manifestation of the unification process being promoted by the nation-states. Taking a cue from this legacy, Pablo Hare documents statues dotting the Peruvian landscape today, telling the story of the ‘fallen monument’: one that remains standing but has lost its meaning or purpose. His Monuments series, taken between 2005 and 2012 along the Peruvian Pacific coast and the central and southeast Andes, attests to the ongoing proliferation of new monuments.

Hare focuses specifically on the last two decades, during which the national government’s erratic presence in certain Peruvian regions has given free-hand to its local inhabitants to devise a new cultural landscape. During this period a massive amount of new and incredibly diverse monuments have emerged in public spaces. The imagination of individual residents, paired with that of the local authorities, has produced an array of supposedly emblematic figures, ranging from funny renderings of political personalities to a dinosaur, a tiger or an effigy of Jesus Christ. Though intended to embody the spirit of a place, the statues do not relate to their surroundings and remain oblivious to any story they should represent.

The artist’s approach is far removed from ethnographic analysis, nor does he simply highlight particular local idiosyncrasies. Instead Hare’s work draws attention to the ideological reasons behind the statue’s appearance. The series is accompanied by a set of postcards of monuments from around the world, which counteract the potential reading of the photographs as representing a merely local phenomenon.

Monuments allow for a reading of changing ideologies and representations of public life. Amalia Pica’s video On Education 2008 reflects ironically upon the validity of monumental statuary as national educational tools. The work plays on a popular saying for pointing out the obvious ‘¿De qué color era el caballo blanco de San Martín?’ (‘What colour was San Martin’s white horse?’). Pica mockingly enacts this phrase on a monument raised to an unidentified hero, by painting the rider’s horse white. The absurdity of the saying, which Pica makes visible, is reinforced by the idealistic rhetoric of eighteenth-century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau accompanying the action. Drawing from Rousseau’s treatise Emile, or An Education, setting forth a new approach to the education system, Pica sets the refined quotes against the methodical, painterly erasure of the horse. Pica’s intervention points to the instability of monuments and their meaning; the ubiquity of the equestrian statue has made it symbolically redundant, in much the same way that Rousseau’s idealism no longer seems radical.

The discarded urban ruin is at the heart of the work of Jose Carlos Martinat, Haroon Mirza and Eliana Otta. Moving away from the romanticised idea of the ruin as a trace of a by-gone era, these artists reconstruct and deploy redundant signs and fragments as cultural signifiers of the contemporary urban landscape. Lifting signs and graffiti from the street Jose Carlos Martinat plays with the possibilities offered by appropriation. In this case he seeks to highlight the contrast between the reality of the signs’ original setting and the fiction associated with their placement inside the museum space. Relocating fragmentary images or phrases from anonymous political graffiti in new and unfamiliar locations unsettles their original social and political content. However, it also provides an opportunity to single out and almost monumentalise these messages. For this exhibition the artist was asked to develop a new commission that responded to this project’s structure: the collaboration between two institutions, Tate Modern in London and MALI in Lima. Dwelling on the differences between the two urban contexts, Martinat devised two interrelated yet independent commissions. At Tate Modern he presents a structure of resin skins, peeled from Lima’s city walls and at MALI will replace the current set up with a new configuration of appropriated material drawn from his London experience.

Unlike Martinat whose work plays around the notion of appropriation and relocation of the urban ruin, Eliana Otta’s Archaeology as Fiction 2010 seeks to record the current state of a particular genre through the material signs of its disappearance. The genre at stake is the Peruvian analogical record industry, whose heyday has long gone, according to Otta. Mapping the fortunes of record labels that operated in Lima in the 1960s and 70s, Otta presents a survey that speaks of this declining musical industry and the concurrent construction boom in Lima today. Otta’s archaeology of this urban transformation lies between the economic reality of this change and the fiction of the artist’s personalised narration. All the while the work poignantly addresses the archaeological status of vinyl records, cassettes and CDs, whose antiquated status means they may already sound almost fictional to those raised in the digital age.

Addressing similar issues from an opposite standpoint is Haroon Mirza, whose radical redeployment of record turntables, computer keyboards and the like suggests they should not simply be dismissed as obsolete technologies but must be accounted for as artefacts of contemporary urban archaeology. His sound installation Cross Section of a Revolution 2011 combines tangible fragments of technological waste with intangible fragments of the fast-paced, ever-changing Internet era. A TV monitor is repurposed to deliver a YouTube clip of a public speaking competition in Lahore. The assertive tone of the students’ Urdu mingles with the drumming sounds from a marriage ritual in Lamu, Kenya, while the turntable assemblage emits an electronic sound disrupting the two. The result is a conflation of disparate sounds from distant locations channeled through technological relics. Technology’s full lexicon - audio-visual, material and virtual - is exploited here to create a fiction that interrupts the quiet of the gallery.

Since the industrial revolution, the modern era has been marked by the relationship between production and consumption, between new creation and the destruction that it entails. The very notion of development implies a process of constant transformation and the continual and hectic proliferation of contemporary ruins. Rather than records of past events, ruins are fragments that lie at the foundation of our present-day culture.

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