Aleksandra Mir

Publicness, Feb 2003
By Gracie Giardina

29 Jan - 16 March 2003
Institute of Contemporary Art, ICA Galleries, The Mall, London - UK

A show worth seeing!!!

If you ask me for my opinion... I believe that art should be used to 'save the world' or at least to induce change and attempt to improve the quality of life in social situations. We all have dreams... but I am very pleased to know that there are other artists who are already on this track: Aleksandra Mir, Jens Haaning, and Matthieu Laurette; the three colaborative artists who make up the show Publicness, at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

In this time, with the possibility of World War III, the governments of all countries will try to persuade its people to fight against 'the other', or 'the enemy'. How can we choose sides in a battle in which the truth of the problem is hidden from public knowledge? What are we fighting for? Once we, as individuals, realise the grave danger we have been pushed into, we must decide for ourselves how we can stop and recreate the goals and ideals of our fellow human beings. Art is more powerful than people realise, and it would be a waste not to use it for the benefit of human kind. Publicness, is the best use of Art as a tool for social change that I have seen throughout all of this 'get Iraq' business. If you are against the war, see this show. If you are for the war, see this show.

Jens Haaning, Matthieu Laurette, and Aleksandra Mir have received much critical acclaim for their works, which both question and explore different legal, economic, social and cultural systems. All three artists work with and interrogate the notion of the public realm. Collectively, they operate between Europe, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. Although the majority of their works are not conceived primarily for gallery display, at the ICA, Publicness gave the artists a chance to explore the question of how diverse public projects can be presented within a gallery context, whilst maintaining the significance and meaning of the work.

Many of these projects position the viewer in direct contact with processes that exist beyond the museum or gallery. For example, Matthieu Laurette asked Harald Szeeman for La Biennale di Venezia 2001, to write letters to the Ambassadors/ Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in New York of the 112 countries that were not officially represented in the Venice Biennale that year. In these letters Szeeman asked each country if they could provide Laurette with a citizenship if, in return, he represented them in the Biennale. Out of 112 letters there were only 3 replies and Laurette is still only a French citizen. Reaction from the audiences at the Biennale were varied, according to Laurette, "..some felt offended that I wrote also to Afghanistan or some dictatorial countries asking for their citizenship, others wrote that Szeeman and I were neo-colonialists, some described me as a very hardcore political and conceptual artist, others didn't notice the work, others thought it was 'institutional critique'...This is all probably true in many ways, but from my point of view it was also a way to question my (and our) relationship to such art events where provenance tags are attached to artists."

Aleksandra Mir exhibits First Woman on the Moon (1999), a video documentation of a one-day event that took place in Holland to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the original moon landing. Mir explains, "I don't believe you can force anyone to anything in art. I try to create open systems that allow people to interact with the work at any level. Some will ignore it; some will contemplate it; some will take it further while someone else will destroy it." She was a Media and Communications major in college before she began to make art. She is an artist who sees the potential benefits of the Media for the promotion of Art. The hype was so great for First Woman on the Moon, that help with the project was not a problem. There was access to a Hasselblad, and she managed to get the camera producer that NASA employed, for the purpose of documentation. "On the actual day, I welcomed three TV news stations with their teams covering the event for the purpose of global dissemination. It was interesting, because the live appearance of the teams on site, the stereotypical performance of 'the media', and their impressive equiptment, added to the event and gave it further importance. People got really excited because 'TV was there' and everyone was suddenly photographing one another, insisting on the event's historical importance."

Amongst other projects, Jens Haaning shows 'Ma'lesh' (who cares) (2002), a giant illuminated sign, along with photographs depicting refugees living in Copenhagen produced in the style of a commercial fashion shoot. 'Ma'lesh', which in Arabic means Who Cares, is a huge white banner with big black letters. It was originally made to hang on the side of a council building, creating a bold but also subtle question, but then cancelled at the last minute by the authorities. He also presents Foreigners Free at the box office, allowing free entry for anyone who isn't British. In talking about the humour in his works, Haaning explains: "In my use of humour I often have Sigmund Freud in mind, who calls humour the small psychoanalysis. His theory was that humour is able to do the same thing as psychoanalysis but on a smaller scale. In some of my works I am stepping quite close to some loaded topics in Western society and the use of humour is motivated by an ambition to establish a moment of analysis or 'therapy' related to the topic, which I hope creates a subtle and complex situation for the receiver."

If you have a sense of humour and an understanding of conceptual art, it is definetly worth seeing this show. To see commissioned projects alongside existing works that explore travel, migration, consumerism, marketing strategies, art production systems and mass-media culture. The title Publicness may sound slightly odd, out of place, or possibly foreign. However, the word also promises a sense of generosity, a desire to give something to the public and to share certain ideals. Do you share these ideals?