Privacy, Public Theater, New York — overview

Daniel Radcliffe, centre, in 'Privacy'. Photo: Joan Marcus©Joan Marcus

Daniel Radcliffe, centre, in ‘Privacy’. Photo: Joan Marcus

Intervals are typically about promoting drinks. In James Graham’s play Privacy, initially staged at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2014 and co-designed by director Josie Rourke, those 15 minutes of hastily gulped wine and beer also let the individuals backstage to spy on the audience.

What begins out as a rather unfocused piece about a lately jilted author trying to overcome writer’s block (Daniel Radcliffe in Woody Allenish mode) by interviewing a slew of academics and tech personalities thus veers towards an exploration of the far more sinister implications of our collective telephone and internet addiction. Having followed guidelines to email selfies to the theatre for the duration of the initial half, audience members are summoned onstage and confronted with vaguely embarrassing pieces of personal information (a favourite term here) that are floating about online.

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Initially played for laughs, this device develops into a complete-blown interrogation as ever a lot more intimate information are disclosed. The point is to illustrate Edward Snowden’s critique of government surveillance and the whistleblower himself duly pops up in a video recording presumably created in a Russian secret service guesthouse (an inconvenient irony that goes unremarked here).

We are, in addition, in the end sworn to secrecy as to the course that interrogation takes. Suffice it to say Privacy’s hypothetical denouement turns out to be so far-fetched that I felt much less convinced by Snowden’s case at the finish of the play than I had been beforehand. The government could use the electronic data it harvests to ruin our lives. But Privacy gives no real evidence that such a dystopian outcome is even remotely most likely in a democratic technique with appropriate checks and balances. Documentary theatre performs best when grounded in hard facts. By resorting to overheated speculation, Graham weakens the argument at the heart of his play, which packs much less of a punch than Citizenfour , Laura Poitras’s chillingly understated fly-on-the-wall documentary about Snowden.

Much more telling right here is the demonstration of how we gleefully connive like selfie-snapping lemmings in violations of our personal privacy, described early on as a type of religion. On this evidence, not many think in it.

To August 14,

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Section: Arts

Public, Private, Secret, ICP, New York — ‘Meagre’

Image from Phil Collins’s 'Free Fotolab' (2009)

Image from Phil Collins’s ‘Free Fotolab’ (2009)

Following two years of homelessness, the International Center of Photography has ultimately snuggled into its new Bowery den, and it celebrates the occasion with a bleak, confused exhibition about privacy, voyeurism and pose. Regardless of its new-located permanence, the ICP, as soon as a single of New York’s mightiest institutions, seems to be trying on a youthful new identity as a pop-up museum taking its very first sloppy steps. Possessing shed the stodginess of a midtown workplace developing, it’s now racking up millennial-cool clichés: cracked concrete floors, exposed columns, naked ceilings, and a lobby extended on lunch tables. In designing the new space, Skidmore, Owings &amp Merrill, the juggernaut of corporate architecture, has joined the organisation in the kid zone. I half expected to stumble across a castle made of beer bottles and pizza boxes.

The inaugural show, Public, Private, Secret, emulates the design’s spirit of shoddiness. The street-level lobby and basement gallery appear cheap the exhibition is virtually bankrupt. The architects have packed in plenty of square footage, but the low-ceilinged galleries nevertheless really feel cramped. The curators, too, neutralise ambition with meagreness, roving more than the entire globe of surveillance and self-representation, and returning with a couple of narrow, superficial points.

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The ICP’s new curator in residence, Charlotte Cotton, conceived of Public, Private, Secret to address a swarm of timely concerns: what we broadcast about ourselves, what we hide, and what other folks see that we can not handle. This is well-trampled ground. In 2011, the MoMA/PS1 curator Peter Eleey place together The Talent Show , a ruminative enquiry into our contradictory hungers for solitude and recognition. The fine performs at PS1 mostly predated today’s incessant tide of tweets, chats and video streams, but delved brilliantly into the culture of self-presentation. In an arena of escalating state and corporate security, the triangle linking artist, subject and viewer keeps shifting.

Sophie Calle's 'The Sleepers' (1979-80)©Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery

Sophie Calle’s ‘The Sleepers’ (1979-80)

5 years later, fashions in technology have changed, but Cotton trots out some of the same artists as Eleey did. Once once again, we get Phil Collins’s “Free Fotolab”, an engagingly random slideshow of other people’s old 35-millimetre snapshots. (You would feel that if one organisation could revive an old mechanical slide carousel, it would be the ICP, but somehow pictures kept slipping out of focus.) Sophie Calle also makes an look, as she constantly does when the poetics of peeping come into play. Right here, she’s represented by a lesser work, “The Sleepers”. Calle presented her (empty) bed to friends and strangers, who took turns spending the night while she stood watch and recorded their unconscious vulnerability. The project yielded a lot of pictures of lumpy blankets and tousled hair.

These incursions into what we after called the private domain seem quaint in the age of continuous posts and metadata revelations. Since 2009, Natalie Bookchin has been braiding hundreds of on the web video diaries into “Testament”. Anguished men and ladies reveal to their un-judgmental webcams intimacies that they may possibly in no way inform a human becoming. And Bookchin is there to listen, or at least use what they say as raw material. We learn tiny about every single individual, but hear only a murmuring chorus of pain.

The world wide web is an endless playground for artistically inclined snoops. The rest of us shop for dog food, book trips to Myanmar, study up on quantum physics, and investigation our symptoms, shattering individuality into an evolving collage of curiosities. Artists dip into this info landfill the way Rauschenberg scavenged in junk shops and empty lots. Jon Rafman emerges with “Mainsqueeze”, seven minutes of discovered footage: a loose-bolted washing machine rattling itself into oblivion, interspliced with a sequence of anime porn, a hogtied man in a Kermit the Frog costume attempting to slip his bonds.

This artistry of tapping into the world’s swamp of desires and disgusts need to have been the ICP’s real innovation. Alternatively, it is where the show comes unstuck. Cotton and a group of curators rake through the dung heaps of Twitter, Snapchat, Vine and Instagram, emerging with a multitudinous mess. Scattered screens display feeds of pictures culled by algorithm from social media, a sort of cud-chewing that barely rises to the level of art. “Creators”, for instance, offers an automated update on Warhol’s celebrity culture: a “real-time stream of tweets and image posts aims to reveal the dynamics of the popularity and attain of young, media-savvy creatives”.

The text describes a method exactly where the cultural consumer has grow to be a advertising cog, helping the well-known circulate images they take of themselves being popular. The screen just dishes out tweets about Justin Bieber. Cotton doesn’t marshal this undernourished overload into an argument alternatively, she throws out a lot of disjointed content material and leaves it up to the viewer to thresh.

International Center of Photography's new building in New York. Photo: Saul Metnick©Saul Metnick

International Center of Photography’s new constructing in New York. Photo: Saul Metnick

The ICP’s disastrous reopening represents more than just a curator’s poor judgment or misfired ambitions it exposes a churning institutional crisis. How does a temple of photography adapt to a time when astounding photographs are a Pinterest search away, or a $ 5 app unlocks strategies as soon as guarded by pros? Today’s radically democratised context presents restricted options to photographers and curators.

In the previous, the ICP has tried numerous tacks to shield its uniqueness: digital printing on a monumental scale, shows about politically engaged photojournalists, surveys of street photography or staged conceptual experiments. Now it seems to have offered up, and gone grubbing about in the visually saturated planet at large, substituting quantity for discernment.

Till January 8,

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Section: Arts

Out There: Our Post-War Public Art, Somerset House, London

Detail of reliefs and mosaics by William Mitchell, Harlow, Essex (1963)©Steve Baker/Historic England

Detail of reliefs and mosaics by William Mitchell, Harlow, Essex (1963)

O ut There celebrates the explosion of public art that coincided with the rebuilding of England’s cities soon after the second world war. It shows how a lot has survived and how a lot has been lost — and how breathtakingly careless England has been with its legacy of outside sculpture. It is element detective story, element eulogy and portion celebration of the remnants of a moment of optimism and civic spiritedness that now appears really far away.

Barbara Hepworth's 'Winged Figure' (1963) on John Lewis's store in Oxford Street, London©Chris Redgrave/Historic England

Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Winged Figure’ (1963) on John Lewis’s retailer in Oxford Street, London

Organised by Historic England (the public physique that looks after England’s historic environment), the exhibition opens in the wake of controversies more than the loss of some of Eduardo Paolozzi’s jazzy mosaics at the rebuilt Tottenham Court Road tube station and the listing of Barbara Hepworth’s “Winged Figure” sculpture on the façade of John Lewis’s Oxford Street retailer. It appears remarkable that this perform, reputedly noticed by a lot more passing pedestrians than any other public sculpture in Britain, must only now have received protection.


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These, though, are only two operates out of hundreds. The walls at Somerset Property are thick with images of children climbing on sculptures in new housing estates, shiny new buying centres with abstract sculptural fountains, and old ladies in headscarves squinting suspiciously at lumpy bronzes in drizzly plazas. There are sculptures by Elisabeth Frink, Henry Moore and Bill Pye, alongside many more figurative functions by much less familiar names (some deservedly so). Especially striking are the photos of William Mitchell’s deep relief walls, which simultaneously evoke Gaudí, Aztec carving and Alien.

Each artwork helped to forge a sense of spot and identity for the new public spaces of the postwar planet. But a lot of became speedily neglected, were stolen or scrapped, place into storage or lost in subsequent waves of redevelopment. A single story is told of a massive metal sculpture by the Manx artist Bryan Kneale, which had stood in the grounds of a Leicestershire college because 1972. Until it was gone. It was sold at auction for £360 in 2014, even though a gallery later valued it at up to £30,000.

If there was some common suspicion of the new art, it was occasionally justified: among the pieces illustrated here are a lot that are lumpy, inelegant and unattractive. Equally there are a lot of whose oblivion seems undeserved. What makes Out There fascinating is that it concentrates not so a lot on the Moores, Hepworths and Chadwicks as on the (far more or significantly less) figurative works by their slightly younger contemporaries, a lot of of them émigrés from central Europe.

Heinz Henghes’s ‘Orpheus’ at the Festival of Britain, 1951©Historic England

Heinz Henghes’s ‘Orpheus’ at the Festival of Britain, 1951

Arthur Fleischmann, Heinz Henghes, Franta Belsky, Siegfried Charoux, Peter Peri and other people brought a new continental modernist sensibility. Their operate was turned to a social purpose, with a distinct political agenda. (Indeed, Out There is part of a season of Somerset Residence exhibitions marking the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia .) The new housing estates, civic centres and pedestrian precincts have been decorated with family groups, mother-and-child ensembles and operating males. These have been the quasi-socialist public art of an emerging welfare state, works intended to reinforce the values underpinning a excellent society.

In this they had anything in common with the socialist-realist sculptures that littered the streetscapes of eastern Europe and the USSR during the very same period. They have also fared almost as badly as these in the eastern bloc. One wall of the exhibition poignantly illustrates an entire gallery’s worth of artworks that have been lost, destroyed, stolen or scrapped. The first space you encounter functions a wall of cast sculptural components that after adorned the flank of a Falmouth supermarket, most of the components of which now languish in a mid-century modern day dealer’s lock-up. High on the wall above it is a quote from an unnamed local councillor. “You either adore it or you hate it,” he said of the supermarket artwork, “and I personally feel it has no artistic worth.”

Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Contrapuntal Forms’ (1951) in Harlow, Essex©Harlow Arts Trust

Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Contrapuntal Forms’ (1951) in Harlow, Essex

Possibly the English haven’t loved these artworks adequate — the films featuring interviews with neighborhood residents surely reveal a lack of engagement with the modernist project. But, as the curator, Sarah Gaventa, who worked so doggedly to track down many of the missing works, says, “This is our art, it belongs to us all.” This is art not as elitist entertainment but as the background to each day life. When the regional authority in the London borough of Tower Hamlets decided in 2012 to sell Henry Moore’s “Old Flo”, which when sat on a housing estate, there was uproar. The choice was reversed, and the sculpture nevertheless sits in Yorkshire Sculpture Park, exactly where it has been on extended-term loan because the 1990s.

Sometimes we only appreciate some thing when it is gone. The age of civic space conceived as anything belonging to the public rather than to developers and investors now seems vanishingly distant. When Harlow New Town was constructed, its architects commissioned 600 artworks. The vision was for the Essex town to be a new Florence. We can snigger now, but the ambition was there for the streets and squares to be art galleries belonging to everyone. It is up to us to make sure their survival.

To April 10,

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Section: Arts