'MANIPULATE THE WORLD' at Moderna Museet, Stockholm


Museum: Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Dates: 21 October 2017 - 21 January 2018

Website (for images): www.modernamuseet.se


Review by Megan Jean May


Manipulate the World is a politically charged exhibition that connects Öyvind Fahlström and four of his most theatrical pieces (Dr. Schweitzer’s Last Mission, 1964 – 66, World Bank, 1971, World Trade Monopoly (B, Large), 1970, and Mao-Hope March, 1966) to 28 Swedish and international artists. Cultural transgression and semiotics are central to Fahlström’s work. His subject matter became increasingly political in the 1960’s, focusing on world economics and government power through interactive works illustrating political manipulation of information. World Trade Monopoly (B, Large), 1970 and Dr. Schweitzer’s Last Mission, 1964 – 66 are ‘game paintings’ that can be repositioned using magnetic figures according to the objectives of each viewer, creating a sinister experience reminiscent of a war room.

Entering the exhibition, the viewer is confronted with Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s illegible red neon sign, its glowing haze adding to the distortion. Titled A Few Hours after the Revolution, 2011, the neon characters are a glimpse into the political turmoil in Turkey. ‘Devrim’ (Turkish for Revolution) is sprayed onto street walls by members of the left, only for anti-revolutionaries and police to modify it hours later, adding lines or crosses, manipulating the word into an incomprehensible, mutant text. This subtle censorship creates a new language through deformation and destruction.

To the right is Candice Lin’s System for a Stain, 2016, a fake marbled floor, patterned with a vivid red liquid oozing from plastic tubing, creating blood like stains. The liquid stems from a DIY laboratory - a copper still with pumps, glass jars, tubes, filters and a rectangular trough filled with the gurgling red liquid. One tube carries the liquid away, wrapping around the interior walls like a vein. The fermented ingredients of sugar, tea and cochineal (all colonial commodities) comments on commercial trade and the early modernisation of Europe, whist the liquid itself creates a visual representation of the flow of material goods and bodies often linked with imperialism and violence.

To the left is Jill Magid’s Failed States, 2011-2012, a project that revisits an incident that took place on 21 January 2010 where Houston resident Fausto Cardenas stood on the steps of the Texas State Capital in Austin and fired six shots into the air. By coincidence, Magid witnessed the event and was subsequently interviewed by reporters. Cardenas was charged with perpetrating a terrorist threat to a government system, however after delays to the trial, a plea bargain settlement was reached silencing Fausto. No one was injured in the shooting and the motivations remain unknown, leaving the event shrouded in mystery.

The viewer is confronted with the artist’s 1993 Mercedes station wagon, now converted into a bulletproof vehicle, its license plate reading: Texas Failed. Voices are heard from inside - segments of Magid’s interview coupled with excerpts from Goethe’s Faust. Magid draws connections to the 1808 play through its distinction between word, thought and deed, and the futile act of Cardenas followed by his silence. 

The space is staged like an act in a play, with cues on the surrounding walls: Enter FAUSTO; [Shots fired skyward.]; Enter MAGID. Six empty shell casings are concealed in a plastic dome to the rear of the car as news broadcasts play on a wall mounted screen, creating a closet drama exploring coincidence, government power and bureaucracy.  

Gun crime is further explored in Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Earshot, 2016, an analysis of evidence from a case he investigated where two Palestinian teenagers, Nadeem Nawara and Mohamad Abu Daher, were fatally shot by Israeli soldiers in May 2014. The soldiers asserted that rubber bullets were used; however, an audio-ballistic examination was launched into the gunshots to determine whether the Israeli soldiers unlawfully used live ammunition instead.

Abu Hamdan’s video, Rubber Coated Steel, 2017, a tribunal that explores the political dimensions of the sounds of these gunshots in comparison to the victims’ silence, is surrounded by spectrograms - visualizations of bullets moving through space, depicting the timing, pitch and volume - on screens suspended from the ceiling arranged like targets at a shooting range. These spectrograms were crucial in establishing that the soldiers had fired live ammunition and attempted to disguise it. They were later broadcasted internationally, forcing the soldiers to retract their original denial thus bringing to question Israel’s contravention of its arms agreement with the USA.

In Juan Castillo’s work, Another Day, 2014-2017, a sequence of three images documents stills from one of several short videos. The first, a textile screen on which Castillo has written the words ‘te devuelvo tu imagen’ (I return your image), set against a dusky Chilean landscape, imitating a roadside billboard. The second captures the screen after Castillo set it alight, the orangey flames rising into the sky, projecting a glow to match the setting sun. The third image is the ragged, smouldering remains of the cloth, torn and blackened, billowing in the soft breeze. In this political statement, Castillo attempts to communicate the social function of art as a means for liberation.

This is visible in Gállok-Kallak, 2013 by Jokkmokk artist Katarina Pirak Sikku, who, during the protest against exploratory blasting for minerals in Gállok / Kallak, northern Sweden, laid out large white textiles in front of protestors during a police intervention, documenting their tracks as they moved across it. The use of white reflects notions of peace in a tumultuous situation. Pirak Sikku describes the cloth as the “earth’s testimony.” It absorbed the dirt from the ground underneath and bears the mark of the event above, becoming a journalistic tool of an imprinted memory documenting a historical action.

Manipulate the World approaches manipulation by questioning the ambivalence throughout the socio-political spectrum. The works declare a hidden zone, establishing complex matters often concealed, or protected, from the public by higher, more powerful forces - seemingly more relevant today in our current political climate than ever. The exhibition expresses an alternative approach to society and politics, exploring how art today has the potential power to manipulate the world, ultimately demonstrating Fahlström’s theory that “the world can be manipulated by anyone and shaped by participation and play.”



Megan Jean May studied an MA in art business at Sotheby's Institute of Art, New York. She is a writer based in London.