Guest blogger Gloria Suzie Kim makes her Art Life debut with a review of The Human Strike by Claire Fontaine at Helena Papadopoulos Gallery, Athens.
The Greek debt crisis has produced one of the more spectacular ironies of our global economy, and there are two sides of the coin (Euro, that is): the ancient Greece as crucible of western civilization, and the contemporary Greece as externalized fear of 21st century western cultural infrastructures in crisis.
Blue match-sticks (100,000), plasterwall and labour. Three dremel drills with multi-purpose cutting kits, 25 high quality 2.2mm drill bits, masks and eye protection wear, 140 x 1500 cm. Courtesy Helena Papadopoulos Gallery
The Psiri district of Athens, like its neighborhood twin, Exarchia (the last bastion of youth-fueled anarchism in Athens) represents this tension well; it is where you can find most of the elements that make Greece the 21st century contradiction that it is, simmering uneasily: Byzantine architectural remnants in tangled streets where bored local youth, junkies, tourists, souvlaki shops mingle with the undertow of the dance between police and immigrant communities. The media eagerly distributes images of student riots, persistent strikes, and uncertainties surrounding the future of the Euro, but at the same time, the life of 21st century consumption rolls on without missing a beat.
Perhaps it is in this current climate that the exhibition of Claire Fontaine, a Paris based conceptual art collective and self-proclaimed ‘ready made artist’ is an appropriate debut in Psiri’s burgeoning art gallery district.
Claire Fontaine’s work deals in conscientious pranks, social and political satire, and criticism. They describe their modus operandi as ‘the human strike’, a reference to the political act of the strike, which is the power balance shift when the oppositional relationship of the establishment and the worker are suspended and up for renegotiation. The human strike, calls for the individuals to halt such oppositional dynamics within themselves. It is in this atmosphere where oppositions such as private property and public access, manual and intellectual labor, the consumer and the consumed, can be explored, contested and uncomfortably mingled. For a recent performance/installation at Reena Spaulings Gallery in New York City, the collective created duplicate sets of keys to the gallery’s entrance, thus giving the public 24-hour access to the gallery’s artworks.
Their current exhibition features an installation with the word ‘Consumption’ created by thousands of wooden matchsticks inserted into the wall. Up close, the matches have a rigid exactitude. But once you step away, the visual field gives way to something softer and more organic. The word appears as if it were made up of soft patches of fungus or bacteria growing on the neutral surface of a Petri dish, or in this case, gallery wall.
The artists and their assistants inserted thousands of matchsticks into the wall during a period of labor that lasted about a week.
These matches will remain pristine until the exhibition’s closing day on January 8, whereupon they will be publicly ignited (or consumed) by a “strike”, leaving the burnt traces of the word ‘Consumption’ on the wall, past and present processes intertwined.
It is as if it requires the three dimensional annunciation of the word, the one that almost all of us in this global economy live by, in order for us to be reminded of its existence. And that we may need to have it burned, or ‘branded’ if you will, in order to not forget it in the signal to noise ratio of its very act.
Claire Fontaine are Fulvia Carnevale and James Thornhill.
Consumption is up from November 11- January 15.