'40,000 Years of Modern Art: A Re-enactment' 

Review by Jonas Tinius

'40,000 years of modern art: A re-enactment' Institute of Contemporary Art, London.  

Written and directed by Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll. Commissioned for 'On Language', curated by Lauren Godfrey.

Kirril Burlov as the viewer of the vitrine in 40,000 years of modern art: A re-enactment', video still, Institute of Contemporary Art London, 2012

Kirril Burlov as the viewer of the vitrine in 40,000 years of modern art: A re-enactment', video still, Institute of Contemporary Art London, 2012

Anthropology[1] and art history have been fascinatingly interwoven in a re-staged exhibition at the ICA, London, directed by Austrian-Australian artist and curator Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll. Re-performing ICA’s 1948 inaugural exhibition, ‘40,000 Years of Modern Art: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern’, she brought together London-based actress Joanna Christie, Russian dancer and choreographer Kirill Burlov, and a long-standing collaboration with Australian-Viennese composer Tamara Friebel as part of the ICA event 'On Language'.

The performance resonated with rising music talents Kate Whitley and Rhodri Karim who set foot in the last few years in the Cambridge New Music Scene, experimental performances by Lucas Abela - who plays his face on a pane of glass until it breaks, as well as new stimuli in performance-based rethinking of exhibitions as re-enactments working in collaboration with Damien Skinner.

Joanna Christie as Dorothy Morland, Herbert Read, Edmund Leach, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose in 40,000 years of modern art: A re-enactment', video still, Institute of Contemporary Art London, 2012

Video excerpt from performance "40,000 Years of Modern Art" ICA, London.

During the event, Joanna Christie enigmatically welds together archival dialogues between anthropologists and art historians of the 1948 exhibition, her voice is underlined by metal sounds of pens writing on glass mirrors. Twisted movements of sculptures are re-enacted by Russian dancer and choreographer, Kirill Burlov.  Together the performance strikingly challenges and blurs experiences of performance and exhibition. This performance asked curious questions about how the sometimes uncanny and often awkward relation between 'primitive and modern', vitrine and escape, exhibition and performance can be made into a melodic and stimulating process.

Amidst a crowd of 50 witnesses of previous poetic translations of Ed Rusha (directed by Lauren Godfrey), in dip-dyed flannel suits in the mezzanine ICA bar, Christie reads a notebook, sporting a blue dinner dress and complementarily red Champagne Punch. Tamara Friebel plays a 1948 gramophone and microphones on glass electronics. We are about to witness a re-enactment of the anthropology-meets-art-history exhibition, which took place 74 years ago. Yet nobody quite knows when to begin paying attention. In what seems like a rehearsal, Friebel initiates a subtle soundscape. Christie enacts several archived characters including Edmund Leach, Dorothy Morland, Herbert Read, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, scripted from the archive.  Attendees note dancer’s Burlov’s slow shuffling along the floor until dazzling each of the 150 thick audience as he runs out of the ICA, screaming.  Projected outside the mezzanine bar, we witness flickering images: Picasso’s enormous painting – ‘D’mouselle’s de avignon’ being moved into the 1948 exhibition space, Penrose holds a lion puppy, and suddenly - a shot of Burlov outside the ICA appearing through live video feed gazing into the ICA bar. Some watch the video, others stare outside. Christie accelerates her dialogues schizophrenically: 

"Modern is a category gone mad… if a sculpture could speak, what would it say? …let us not hide the art behind glass … not the Commonwealth Institute… confrontation of primitive and modern art".

 

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