Aleksandra Mir

Public Images

Time Out, London, Feb 2003
By Sarah Kent

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

Sarah Kent enjoys going 'Public' at the latest exhibition at the ICA

'Publicness' (a terrible title) features three artists who prefer to function outside of the gallery. Living in Copenhagen, Jens Haaning addresses his work to the immigrant population there. Attaching a speaker to a lamppost, he broadcast Turkish jokes. You can listen to them on headphones, but unless you understand Turkish, they don't mean much; feeling excluded is the point of course. Written in Arabic, a billboard-sized sign reads: 'Ma'lesh' ('Who Cares?'). Designed for a housing estate near the French city of Besançon, it was rejected by the local authorities and seems ludicrously out of place in the gallery.

Haaning has relocated the chairs from the ICA café to a street in Pakistan, where anyone needing furniture can help themselves; photographs show them stacked in the street. Meanwhile the chairs in the café have been replaced by new ones, which seriously weakens the impact of the idea; it would have been appropriate to reverse the balance of wealth and poverty‹for one brief instance‹by depriving us of chairs.

Haaning's 'Foreigners Free' policy allows foreigners free entry to the exhibition but since it includes millionaires as well as immigrants, the gesture seems rather meaningless. More to the point are his photographs of young male immigrants. Faysal, Antonio, Deniz, Ömer and Shabeer probably do crap jobs and live in poor accommodation, but they certainly pay attention to their appearances. As they pose nonchalantly, Haaning itemizes the clothes they wear and what things cost‹as though these were fashion spreads or guides on how to blend in with the host community.

French artist Matthieu Laurette is concerned with belonging and celebrity. On video you can watch his appearances on television chat shows and dating programmes. Turning gallery openings into 'lookalike conventions', he offers others the chance to enjoy similar moments of spurious celebrity. Posters of conventions in Paris, Turin and Perth reveal all the usual suspects‹Elvis, Marilyn, Liz Taylor and, in Australia, Billy Connolly‹but his Seoul poster is fascinating. Since it's impossible for a Westerner to identify who the contestants are mimicking, the Korean event throws in doubt the whole notion of celebrity, and reveals its foundation to be very shaky.

When invited to exhibit at the 2001 Venice Biennale, Laurette asked the curator, Harald Szeemann to apply for citizenship on his behalf to 112 countries not participating in the event, and offer to represent them. The replies are nor shown, but one assumes that the offers were declined. In its absurdity, the project questions what citizenship means and, how in a cultural context, one can hope to represent a country. Visitors are invited to contribute towards the purchase of his citizenship in various countries. How much you donate presumably affects his future‹while a Panamanian passport costs $US40,000, and one for the Dominican Republic $65,000; Austria charges a cool million.

There's a refreshing innocence to Aleksandra Mir's projects. She celebrated the 30th anniversary of the moon landing with the First Woman on the Moon, a one-day event held on a beach in Holland. Sounds of blast off are accompanied, on video by heroic images of earthmovers shoveling sand and people gazing skywards‹at a camera crew hoisted aloft on a crane. The diggers were creating a moon landscape so that accompanied by a bunch of kids; Mir could plant the American flag. The whole daft exercise was a joyous community event as much as an artwork.

Mir hopes to build a replica of Stonehenge near the original so that trippers can gain access to the circle without damaging the originals. Her models show druids, gonks, a flamenco dancer, a mermaid and Cupid making free with the stones. Her inclusive and celebratory approach is not always welcomed by the local authorities, though. The New York fire brigade rejected her plan for a plantation of used Christmas trees in Tompkins Square Park. Her scheme to create a wildflower meadow in the Gorbals was similarly rejected, when Glasgow bureaucrats became leery about her description of it as a place 'for children to play, for teens to have sex, for adults to take walks and for seniors to remind them of youth'. I felt younger, just imagining it.