4.2 / Review

Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art

By Natasha Boas October 5, 2012

Thumbnail: Yto Barrada. Frontière de Sebta—Passage clandestin vers l’enclave espagnole de Sebta, Tanger, 1999 (Ceuta Border—Illegally Crossing the Border into the Spanish Enclave of Ceuta, Tangier, 1999), 1999 (detail); chromogenic print mounted on aluminum; 31.5 x 31.5 in. Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Yto Barrada. Photo: Ben Blackwell.

Having the expanse of things infinite,
Like amber, musk, benzoin, and incense,
That sing of the flight of the mind and the senses.
–Charles Baudelaire, “Correspondences,” 18571

Of Hospitality

Let’s begin here: what may have started out as a postcolonial investigation and ventured through an interrogation of cosmopolitanism, global citizenship, and “glocality” ended up as an exhibition that allows for exponential lines of flight. With Six Lines of Flight, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) expands its presence peripherally—both online and in the community—through collaborations, multiple platforms, and public programs as it prepares to shutter its doors for several years.

Embracing the volatile and ever-shifting territory of international art collectives either nomadic or brick-and-mortar, Six Lines of Flight convenes nineteen artists and collectives that have created and helped to build unique grassroots-level platforms in six cities around the world.2 The selected cities are outliers in the list of the art world’s usual suspects defined by collecting institutions, biennials, and art markets with speculative interests. Curator Apsara DiQuinzio uses what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari refer to as a line of flight, a connection “that takes place between self and others, pushing the subject beyond self-centered individualism also to include non-humans or the earth itself.”What at first might appear arbitrary and sprawling ultimately revolves around key anchoring concepts that eschew the diagrammatic or the programmatic.

To note from my early conversations with DiQuinzio, research for Six Lines of Flight began through the optic of Baudelaire’s strand of cosmopolitanism, known to have established a new analysis of perception and alternative modes of political consciousness among early modernists. Yet, it is with Kwame Anthony Appiah’s notion of cosmopolitanism that DiQuinzio appears to align most—a version of cosmopolitanism that is informed by a Kantian tradition retrieved by Levinas and Derrida. It is in their concept that we find the conditions for a global civil society and an “ethicopolitics.” It is precisely this informed idea of hospitality that DiQuinzio introduces as the conceptual center of Six Lines of Flight,  noting that the underpinning of the artists’ intentions in the show is to “strengthen forms of cultural exchange while also reaching beyond their own local spheres.”4

Many of the six locations are real ports, portals, or portes: Tangier, Beirut, San Francisco, and Ho Chi Min City. The Moroccan-French artist and co-founder of the Cinémathèque de Tanger, Yto Barrada, is well known for her elegant photographs, which are balanced between the diaristic and conceptual and linger on Tangier’s unique position as an international pre- and postcolonial city.5 Barrada surprises us in the exhibition with new media: a full-scale wall collage made from a poster series, A Modest Proposal (2010), in which a graffitied blank page stands out as a protest (“Yto Barrada does not need a visa”); and the ludic but threatening sculptural wall piece titled Tectonic Plates (2010), a wooden model designed by the artist to demonstrate how the continents initially fit together as a primal supercontinent.

Tiffany Chung. The Growth of Cali—city boundaries: 1780, 1880, 1921, 1930, 1937, 1951, 2012; micropigment ink, gel ink, and oil marker on paper; 38.5 x 53.25 in. Courtesy the Artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York. © Tiffany Chung. Photo: Ben Blackwell.
Tiffany Chung. The Growth of Cali—city boundaries: 1780, 1880, 1921, 1930, 1937, 1951, 2012; micropigment ink, gel ink, and oil marker on paper; 38.5 x 53.25 in. Courtesy the Artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York. © Tiffany Chung. Photo: Ben Blackwell.

All the cities in the show, save San Francisco, create cultural discourse through direct confrontation with weighty legacies. Representing Cluj-Napoca, Romania—a city still riven by the ghosts of an East-West geopolitical communist divide and its history of violence—Ciprian Mureşan’s haunting and searing Communism never happened (2006) consists of vinyl letters cut from propaganda records while Adrian Ghenie’s powerful large-scale paintings boldly revisualize Western Europe’s institutionalized history of art. In a remarkable perversion of host and hosted—and one of the strongest pieces in the show—The Propeller Group from Ho Chi Minh City presents Cu Chi Shooting Range: Black Echo (2012), a single-channel video that places the spectator in the position of the target at a shooting-range-turned-tourist-attraction featuring vestigial weapons from the Vietnam War.

Oscar Muñoz, whose work in the show draws from the war-torn and drug cartel–addled city of Cali, contributes to one of the most resounding elements of the accompanying exhibition catalogue—a rich publication that functions as a worthy meta-tourist guide. “Location and Practice: A Roundtable Discussion” is a transcribed excerpt from an event that took place at SFMOMA on August 30, 2011, between several artists in the show and SFMOMA curators. In the conversation, the notion of periphery rises to the top and becomes what very well might be the central, if not deliberate, concern of Six Lines of Flight. Here, Muñoz is interested in “the atomization of the centers and in how Cali, as a provincial city, could become a center while also occupying a position on the periphery.”6

So let’s end here: the real host of Six Lines of Flight is San Francisco, and yet its contribution includes only one collective that is not linked to a particular physical site: Futurefarmers’ A Variation on the Powers of Ten (2011), a mixed-media project based on the Charles and Ray Eames film of 1968, in which we discover the puzzling narrative line: “The richness of our own neighborhood is the exception.” As such, Six Lines of Flight has directly or indirectly invited us to open portals of critique regarding San Francisco’s own state of art collectives and grassroots organizations. In the catalogue essay "Gestures of Love or l'Insurrection qui Vient," Hou Hanru ominously states, the transformation of the urban landscape—driven by aggressive gentrification and ambitious real estate development—is uprooting the very terrain for art's social engagement and contributing to the dismantling and destruction of grassroots communities that might once have stemmed the tide of rising market forces.7

The works and artist collectives represented in Six Lines of Flight bring up fundamental challenges to institutional dominance. And yet, one may find oneself walking away from the exhibition increasingly aware of the new reality of our local arts community’s strong reliance on SFMOMA’s hospitality and generosity. In the wake of San Francisco’s shrinking or disappearing grassroots art spaces, could this be one of the most tangible souvenirs to take home from Six Lines of Flight?

 
 

Six Lines of Flight is on view at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through December 31, 2012.

Notes

  1.  Translation by Natasha Boas.
  2. The cities of Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art are Beirut, Lebanon, Cali, Colombia; Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; San Francisco, USA; and Tangier, Morocco. Apsara DiQuinzio, “Provisional Horizons” in Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art, ed. Apsara DiQuinzio, 16 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with University of California Press, 2012).
  3. Apsara DiQuinzio, “Provisional Horizons,” 15.
  4. Ibid.
  5.  “Gibraltar…has long been a microcosm of the world’s major geopolitical conflicts, as the cultures it both separates and holds in uneasy proximity have vied for control.” Nico Israel, “Border Crossings,” Artforum (October 2006): 248.
  6. Oscar Muñoz, quoted in “Location and Practice: A Roundtable Discussion” in Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art, ed. Apsara DiQuinzio, 182 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with University of California Press, 2012;).
  7.  Hou Hanru, “Gestures of Love, or L’insurrection qui vient?” in Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art, ed. Apsara DiQuinzio, 210 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with University of California Press, 2012).

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