Michael Stevenson & Latifa Echakhch at Portikus, Frankfurt
“Objects have physically disappeared. Only their images and their memory remain.”
José de Jesús Martínez, Teoria del Vuelo, Panamá, 1979
Artist Michael Stevenson makes adjustments to narrative texts, re-constructs objects and renders images which draw, by means of allegory, upon his long-standing fascination with island states. For Portikus—based on an island in the river Main, which is home to a bird sanctuary—Stevenson applies his astute visual thinking, site-specific approach and propensity for the absurdly ambitious to create an extraordinary viewing experience on Frankfurt’s Maininsel. He transformed the entire building into a large camera obscura to produce an image ‘in-flight’.
The main protagonist informing the Portikus exhibition is the Panamanian mathematician, Marxist philosopher, poet and playwright José de Jesús Martínez (also known as Chuchú), who was the personal bodyguard and advisor to Panama’s leader General Omar Torrijos Herrera (1968 – 1981). Chuchú was also a keen aviator and flew a number of light aircrafts, each named after an Aleph number from the mathematical sequence used in set theory to represent the infinite.
A plane, in reference to Chuchú’s pursuits, was lodged in the Portikus attic to be seen across the river. In keeping with Stevenson’s commitment to producing objects that animate historical narratives, often as replicas, facsimiles or architectural re-constructions, the object is transformed into an image through the very fragile and the most minute effects of optical lenses and mirrors, so that it appears in the main exhibition space.
Along with this ‘live photograph’, Stevenson has produced a re-print and translation of Chuchú’s text Teoria del vuelo (Theory of Flight). This re-published piece of writing aligns the artist’s curiosity with Chuchú’s for flying—its effortless transcending of geographical borders and implications for philosophy. The leaflet, bound with the lightest paper a printing press can handle, is free to take away.
And so, Stevenson enfolds the inter-relationships between the geographical and the political to make objects in which narratives from history become abstracted speculations. At Portikus, Stevenson takes cue from a text on flying and constructs an encounter with a live-photographic image, spatially deferred from its source and harnessing the properties of light, hence creating a meditation on the infinite.
until 2 December 2012
Above – Michael Stevenson, “A Life of Crudity, Vulgarity, and Blindness”
Courtesy: Portikus, Frankfurt / Photos: Helena Schlichting
Latifa Echakhch. Die Vögel
Portikus has been located for six years now on the Maininsel, a small island in the river Main, sharing this exceptional site with a protected bird sanctuary. Many artists have addressed the specificity of the isolated island within the urban fabric of the city of Frankfurt. This time an artist has been invited to create a work especially for this outside space. French-Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch has developed an intervention on the island, which, while not being accessible to visitors, is visible from the banks of the river.
The Portikus island is an exceptional spot for witnessing the changing seasons and the subsequent behavior of urban wildlife. In spring and summer, the foliage of the trees disguises the cityscape, creating a tropical-like forest that becomes home to various birds and animals. Come autumn and winter, the scenery changes dramatically, creating a melodramatic black and white silhouette of trees and branches. This is also the time when migrating birds temporarily populate the island. Arriving from northern Europe, the flocks “transit” in the treetops before flying on towards warmer southern territories. The only birds that return daily are crows. Just before sunset, they gather in swarms and circle around the island and the high-roofed Portikus building, eventually landing on the branches of the tree tops.
Reflecting on ideas of absence inherent in migration, Latifa Echakhch – having herself a diverse cultural heritage – made a sculptural work that to an extent repopulates the island over the winter months. During a site visit, the artist was immediately drawn to the time of year when the island is stripped bare, when life is withdrawn and the site functions as a place of refuge. With the expertise of the renowned Research Institute Senckenberg, the island’s biotope was mapped. Based on these findings, Echakhch developed a project centering around the transient nature of life on the island and the fluctuation of migrating birds, and fabricated a number of kites in the shape of birds to be attached to the trees. The kites are made from plastic bin-bags, echoing the paradox of a nature reserve in an urban cityscape.
Commenting on aspects of solitude and rejection, the kites can either function as an invitation to the arriving birds, given their bird-like shape, or, alternatively, as a warning, due to their scale and materiality. Pointing towards the potential threat and cruelty of isolation, and at the same time suggesting an aesthetic stylization of violence, Latifa Echakhch borrows the title of Hitchcock’s seminal film The Birds for her installation on the island. While the kites appear to have been abandoned on the island as a result of an unknown threat – their owners vanished or chased away – they
also allow for narratives that lend to the gloomy island scenery a momentary air of innocence, like that of children playing.
Spring, and with it the beginning of the breeding season and the revitalization of the island, will mark the end of Echakhch’s installation. Until then, the work can be viewed from the Sachsenhausen river bank, adding to the tradition of Portikus to introduce contemporary art into the realm of the city.
until 17 February 2013
Latifa Echakhch, “Die Vögel”
Courtesy: Portikus, Frankfurt / Photos: Helena Schlichting