Writing Art History Since 2002

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T1- The Pantagruel Syndrom I Various Sites in Turin I Italy

November 2005 saw young South African artists Mikhael Subotsky and Ed Young being flown to Turin as participants in T1 – The Pantagruel Syndrome. They were two of 25 early career artists featured alongside Takashi Murakami and Doris Salcedo in the Italian city’s first ever triennial. The explosion of biennials and triennials in recent years threatens to saturate the art world. For the duration of T1 alone, international art extravaganzas in Lyon, Florence and Venice were a short train journey away.With the stakes high and the competition stiff, fresh solutions are needed when launching a new event. T1 curators Francesco Bonami and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev opted to focus on a younger generation rather than collect prestigious signatures. The idea of excess and consumption was also stressed through the title theme, Pantagruel – Rabelais’s giant of voracious appetite. This also set up the art as food metaphor, a rich source of wordplay for the curators and press office.Correspondents were called upon to assist in the selection process. Kathryn Smith supplied ten names of South Africans she deemed most appropriate. Reasons behind final selections, however, were not immediately apparent. Many inclusions seemed representative of a genre or nationality rather than based on artistic merit or relevance to theme. Exhibitions at PalaFuksas and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo demonstrated careful curatorial consideration. In comparison, the long gallery in the Castello di Rivoli, referred to by Christov-Bakargiev as “the large intestine”, seemed jumbled and few works managed to stand their ground.Performance pieces stole a lot of the limelight during the opening week. The popular press was scandalized by Araya Rasdjarmrearsook’s The Class, which entailed giving severed heads in the oncology section of a local hospital a lesson in philosophy. The deeply respectful nature of this piece was lost on many reporters. Most performances, including Tamy Ben-Tor’s satiric stage performance, or Tom Johnson’s voluntary imprisonment in a stainless steel box, had clearly demarcated boundaries.Ed Young’s Bruce Gordon and Do nothing contrasted strongly with these. The borders between artist, artwork, audience and site here became fuzzy in the extreme. To most observers, their work appeared to consist of drinking and eating all over town and harassing unsuspecting members of the art world. This travelling circus almost came to an ugly end when Young was violently mugged and had to have surgery on his knee. It was decided that doing nothing as well as being Bruce Gordon could be continued from hospital and hotel rooms. Another familiar South African name broke different sorts of boundaries. Mikhael Subotsky’s Four Corners stood out from more straightforward examples of documentary photography presented at T1 for his innovative use of medium and complete dedication to subject matter.Odd glitches aside T1 was a slickly produced first time endeavour. It was refreshing to see early career artists share some of the glow shed by the spotlight of another international exposition. As a long-term investment, the project raised uneasy questions regarding the representation of contemporary consumption within the gallery space.

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