Objects Do Things
Exhibition, performance, cinema, puppet slam
February 26–July 31, 2016
Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle
2 Jazdów Street
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 12–7pm,
T +48 22 628 12 71
Artists: Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Geoffrey Farmer, Pierre Huyghe, Christopher Kline, Tomasz Kowalski, Antje Majewski, Paul McCarthy, Shelly Nadashi, Paulina Ołowska, Tony Oursler, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, Pedro Reyes, Lindsay Seers, and many others
Curator: Joanna Zielińska
Dramaturgy: Tim Etchells
Jokes: Michael Portnoy
A puppet theater resembles the human world, in miniature, with the one difference: its actors are small, animated objects. Puppets often remind us of the way we were as children and, indeed, the word "puppet" comes from "poppet," an English term of endearment for a child. The little actors are like shells, they belong to anyone who knows how to make a character out of them. They have been known to become our agents in the world of grown-ups. They can be sharp-tongued, making grandiose speeches about politics, and they embody our inner voices and the weaknesses we want to conceal. Since they are in a way immortal, puppets can perform in scenes that are too daredevil for humans. They make us laugh. They often turn into animal figures, sometimes they become giants or naturalistic dolls, which look almost exactly like humans. Interacting with them can give us an anxious or uncanny feeling.
The Objects Do Things project appeals to the pleasure we get from engaging with the world of the imagination. It is shaped by the changes that have taken place in the visual arts in the past few years: the appearance of very many narrative and fictional threads and the unstoppable need to tell stories. It also uses the distinctive aesthetic that in popular culture brings to mind children's theater and television programs. By contrast, the tradition of the puppet theater has deep roots in the history of the European avant-garde and the early days of performance art, especially Bauhaus, Surrealist, and Dada experiments.
This project came about at the point where theater and the visual arts meet, with fictional characters created by artists. Connecting the exhibition's scenographic quality with live theatrical acts is an important innovation of the project. What happens when the theater in its most traditional form interacts with the art world, and who are the characters of this exhibition? What traits does a character need to possess for the public to want to identify with her? Empathy helps a human community survive, but when do emotions develop towards inanimate objects? How far can empathy go in the world of things?
The project puts "things" at the center of the study. It shows how objects can exist and interact in the artistic world and how this can refer to human existence. This is one of the key challenges of object-oriented ontology, with its commitment to realism and the belief that objects exist independently of the human mind. The characters brought into existence by artists have the ability to speak; rather extraordinarily, they activate stories contained in the exhibition space. Puppets become tools to actuate memories, and at the same time introduce narrative as part of the project.
The exhibition will host a film program, a performance program, and a puppet slam—a cabaret whose actors will include puppets. We will put on sketches conceived by visual artists and expert puppeteers. Stand-up comedy improvisations, karaoke jokes, and many other attractions will take place on a specially constructed stage set in the theater space of the Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle.
This exhibition brings together artists from West Africa and the diaspora whose work examines the symbolic, economic, and everyday value of objects and materials—man-made or otherwise—in our commodity-driven yet increasingly digitized world. Inspired by currents of renewed artistic and scholarly interest in the poetic relationship between things and humans in contemporary society, Material Effects features existing and newly commissioned works of video art, sculpture, performance, and installation art.
Presented across two galleries at the Broad MSU, the exhibition is anchored by a video work by Antje Majewski that spotlights the reflections of pioneering sculptor and performance artist Issa Samb on the intrinsic qualities of objects. Samb’s insights link the contemporary works on view with a socially conscious, avant-garde tradition dating back to the 1960s and 1970s in which notions of improvisation, temporality, and hybridity came to define a radical African aesthetic. Building on this lineage, Ibrahim Mahama transforms used jute sacks into a large-scale, site-specific work that investigates the material remnants of Ghana’s commodity markets. Zohra Opoku delves into the rich history of West African textiles to comment on the formation of individual and societal identities. Through the close study of the natural world and its resources, Otobong Nkanga maps personal and collective memories of place, while Jelili Atiku and Bernard Akoi-Jackson use their bodies in concert with found and fashioned objects to spark discussions about institutional power and contemporary socio-political issues.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated brochure featuring an essay by curator Yesomi Umolu.
Artists featured in the exhibition include: Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Jelili Atiku, Ibrahim Mahama, Antje Majewski and Issa Samb, Otobong Nkanga, and Zohra Opoku
Material Effects is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and guest curated by Yesomi Umolu. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Endowed Exhibition Fund and the Broad MSU’s general exhibitions fund.http://broadmuseum.msu.edu/exhibitions/material-effects