“LONG LIVE AND THRIVE CAPITALISM!” declares a banner by the art duo Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor. Dating from the height of the financial crisis (2009), and adjusting a well-known communist slogan, the piece was among a number of artworks in an exhibition at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery to serve up an ironic indictment of liberalism. Curated by recent Columbia modern art MA Ceren Erdem, “Cross-Time Stories” focused on artists from the former Soviet countries, the Middle East and China who have come of age in the wake of the 1989 revolutions, and explored the persistent, if unfulfilled, fantasy of a collective flourishing under the New World Order.
If the West’s bogeyman in the pre-’89 era was communism, it has since become terrorism. Turkish-born Ahmet Öï¿½?guï¿½?t seizes on this new sense of danger, presenting a river-crossing puzzle whose protagonists are not the familiar fox, goose and bag of beans. Instead, we have a bomb disposal technician, a suspicious bag, a soldier, two security dogs, a suicide bomber, his wheelchair-bound wife and his daughter. The figures are printed life-size on board and stand on rolling platforms; the puzzle’s text is on a nearby wall. With the multiplied threats, the puzzle has become even harder to solve, and presumably Öï¿½?guï¿½?t means this with respect to the problem of global security as well Tbilisi-born Sophia Tabatadze’s Pirimze (2011) investigates the fate of a community of Georgian shopkeepers displaced by the post-communist conversion of their workplace into a high-end retail center. Encompassing an entire gallery wall, the work weaves an array of visual and written documentation into a heart-wrenching narrative of failed adaptation. Especially poignant are Tabatadze’s remarks about her own father, who held out faith in the progress of capitalism even as it took from him his livelihood and, eventually, his life.
A photo book by the Lebanese collective Atfal Ahdath uses studio portraiture to interrogate starry-eyed notions of success and happiness. Parodying the unctuous comportment and sartorial cluelessness of the stereotypical Lebanese male, the three members of the collective pose before backdrops of exotic wildlife and familiar European landmarks, awash with manufactured fantasies of the good life. Cutout figures from the book were arranged in circular configurations on the wall as well.
Standing in stark contrast to vacuous dreams of cosmopolitan leisure is the totalitarian nightmare depicted in the work of Chinese-born Sun Xun. Dark, unsettling and gorgeously executed, Some Actions Which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution (2011) is an animated short created entirely from woodblock engravings, a selection of which was also on display. With its ticking clocks, screeching warplanes and doomsday crescendo, the animation harks back to the ideological and existential terrors of the middle of the last century. While this made it seem strangely out of place in a show centered on events that have transpired since that time, one can’t be reminded enough that we’re now much closer to midnight than we were at the end of the Cold War.
Photo: Ahmet Öï¿½?guï¿½?t: River Crossing Puzzle, 2010/2012, interactive installation with printed figures on board, rolling mounts and adhesive vinyl text; in “Cross-Time Stories” at the Wallach Art Gallery.