Independent Gazette: Damián Ortega and Can Altay

This review was published on the 24h of November 2010 in the issue #8 of THE LAST JOURNAL, the free weekly newspaper and incremental catalogue of The Last Newspaper exhibition at the New Museum, New York.


Lorena Muñoz-Alonso reports from London on two newspaper-inspired exhibitions: ‘The Independent’ (Damián Ortega at The Curve, Barbican) and ‘Can Altay: The Church Street Partners’ Gazette’, The Showroom.

The walls of the gallery are dotted with twenty-two newspaper clippings pinned in plastic pockets, those cheap ones we all use when we feel the urge of being organized. Twenty-two sculptures, made just in the span of a month in response to those selected news, are scattered on the floor, leaning against the walls and hanging from the ceiling of the Barbican’s Curve gallery. This is Mexican artist Damián Ortega’s current project, titled The Independent after the center-left British newspaper that has been his main focus of attention. For this very particular commission, he set himself the challenge of creating a sculpture a day during a month, mimicking the daily working pattern of a newspaper.

Even though the brief and the timeline that he imposed on himself were strict, they haven’t taken over the art itself. The resulting pieces are still very ‘Ortega-esque’, each of them inhabiting his particular universe, always fascinated with the readymade, and the potential of the everyday life of objects. There are also a few pieces which evidence his ongoing interest in layering and deconstructing such objects. Architecture Without Architects is a fantastical living room suspended from the ceiling like a Magritte painting come to life. The accompanying publication of the show is, fittingly, a newspaper called The Independent.

Damián Ortega’s Architecture Without Architects at The Independent exhibition. Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery. Photo: Eliot Wyman (2010)

On the other side of London at The Showroom a completely different artistic practice related to the newspaper is being staged. One whose goal is the production of a single edition newspaper: The Church Street Partners’ Gazette, which will see the light on the very last day of the show at the end of November. I open the gallery doors to step into a space that resembles a local community meeting space, which is, in fact, the aim of the Turkish artist Can Altay. Yet on the morning of my visit it feels quite empty and a bit desolate. A table and sixteen plastic chairs await to be activated by one of the meetings that take place every one or two weeks. The walls are covered with print-outs of the newspaper in process and twenty-six photographs that depict picturesque scenes of The Showroom’s local area, especially the nearby Church Street, the main focus of the artist due to its lively market and mixed community. In keeping with Altay’s practice a wooden structure – an ephemeral, improvised architectural element – serves both as a space organizer and as a display device, where a local sign maker by the name of Joan of Art has painted messages taken from previous discussions and meetings.

The Church Street Partners’ Gazette is certainly an experimental and socially engaged work. But so local it its focus – and so dependent on those meetings with local spokespersons and communities to ‘come alive’ – that the regular non-local visitor may well feel that they can’t really participate. There is a sense of opacity, of not belonging to that community, and there is not much else in that space to distract the viewer from that fact. Damián Ortega’s show, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on any kind of participation in the making of the works, but the currency of the subjects plus the everydayness of the materials give the show a very accessible and universal feel. Shouldn’t that be the true aim of communication?

Installation view of Can Altay’s exhibition ‘Church Street Partners’ Gazette’. Courtesy: the artist and The Showroom, London. Photograph: (c) Daniel Brooke (2010)

However, a key aspect to approaching these shows is realizing how they point towards a current phenomena than can’t be overlooked: the gallery or museum as (mass) media producer. The weekly newspaper in which you are reading these words is an obvious good example, but far from an isolated one. The London art scene has witnessed in these autumn months an explosion of media-related projects within art spaces. Alongside the Barbican and The Showroom exhibitions one could also mention the Charlie Woolley’s Radio Show project at SPACE. Woolley turned the gallery of SPACE into a fully-operating radio studio where he broadcast a show five days a week for seven weeks. With a plethora of artists, writers, musicians, djs and comedians joining Woolley live, the Radio Show became a platform for collaboration and expanded dialogue. And Auto Italia, an artist run space in Southeast London, has just finished a five week run of one-hour transmissions, broadcast live on the internet, courtesy of the multifaceted artistic collective LuckyPDF. What does this (recurrent) fascination of the gallery and museum with media forms really mean? What does it saying about the current art scene and how it is consumed? More information coming soon to your local newsstand.

The Last Newspaper is on view from the 6th of October 2010 till the 9th of January 2011 at at the New Museum, New York.

THE LAST JOURNAL is edited by Latitudes

Damián Ortega’s The Independent is on view at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery, London, until the 16th oj January 2011.

About Lorena Muñoz-Alonso


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