By Jennifer Higgie
In Ralph Rugoff’s exhibition ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’, disorientation is the order of the day
[...] We live in a bombastic age: perhaps the best way to be heard is, conversely, to lower your voice. To my mind, some of the most rewarding work in this enormous exhibition was the quietest. Suki Seokyeong Kang’s wondrous ‘Grandmother Towers’ (2013–19), for instance: sculptural portraits of the artist’s grandmother that draw on her Korean heritage, made from weavings and materials so fragile they could blow away. Ulrike Müller’s joyful tapestries, enamel paintings and monotypes that mingle abstraction with figuration are like a long cool drink in a pleasant bar you’ve escaped to after being shouted at. As always, humour has a way of focusing the mind with the lightest of touches. Lara Favaretto’s Thinking Head (2019) is a wonderfully futile attempt to illustrate human complexity with objects. Self-doubt? Cannon balls. Identity? A large black box. At the other end of the scale, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s gigantic Can’t Help Myself (2016) – a frenetic, industrial robot in a glass cage that endlessly scrapes a pool of blood-red liquid – is a one-liner I couldn’t get away from fast enough.
At times, attempts to reflect the cacophony of the world back on itself perpetuated the very thing the work seemed to be critiquing: Christian Marclay’s frenetic video collage 48 War Movies (2019) is like a peace quilt gone mad while Ikeda’s attempt to compress the entire universe into a single video, data-verse 1 (2019), left me sea-sick and none the wiser. Conversely, one of the most affecting, timely rooms is appropriately dark: Shilpa Gupta’s elegiac multi-channel sound installation, For, In Your Tongue I Cannot Fit (2017–18), commemorates the words of 100 poets, from the seventh century until recent times, who were jailed or executed for their political beliefs. (The title is a line from a poem by the mystical 14th-century Azerbaijani poet Seyid İmadeddin Nesimi, who was flayed to death for speaking his mind.) 100 microphones are suspended above 100 metal spikes, each of which pierces a piece of paper inscribed with a fragment of a poem. The microphones function as speakers, broadcasting poems in Arabic, Azeri, English, Hindi, Russian and Spanish. In a recent interview, Gupta said that she created the installation in order to highlight ‘the fragility and vulnerability of our right to freedom of expression today’ [...]