Ruins in Reverse

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Tate Modern: Project Space London 1 March to 24 June

'Ruins in Reverse', on display at Tate Modern's Project Space, was organised as part of Gasworks' curatorial exchange programme in partnership with Tate Modern and MALI (Museo de Arte de Lima) in Peru, where the show will travel next. The underlying premise is the possibility of a meaningful transnational dialogue between artists active on different continents. The title of the exhibition pays homage to US artist Robert Smithson, whose writings on entropy have influenced generations of artists across the globe since their publication in the 1960s. In the 1967 essay 'A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey', Smithson articulated his personal urban archaeology with a mixture of journalistic rigour and poetic lyricism, defining the 'ruin in reverse' as 'the opposite of the romantic ruin because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built'. Taking its cue from this melancholic ontology, the show brings together the work of six artists with a concern for obsolescence across a global geography that stretches from Lima to London.

Upon entering, we are met with two archival projects by Peruvian artist Eliana Otta that document, respectively, the decline of the Peruvian record industry and the recent boom in its building sector. Materiality as Fiction, 2010, displays inside a vitrine a personal collection of outdated music paraphernalia, from tapes to vinyl. Archaeology as Fiction, 2010, is a taxonomic grid of real-estate photographs that immediately (almost too immediately) bring to mind landmark conceptualist works dated to Smithson's generation - from Dan Graham's Homes for America, 1966-67, to Hans Haacke's skewering of the Guggenheim Museum in his 1971 work Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971. What once operated as anti-institutional gambit (photographic deskilling, mass reproducibility, exposure of corporate interests), now hangs comfortably on the museum walls.

In the main exhibition room, Haroon Mirza's installation addresses the problematic question raised by Otta's postconceptualist fictions: when does obsolescence become inefficient? When does it become obsolete? Cross Section of a Revolution, 2011, is an audio-visual assemblage that fleshes out the dynamic of the broken record through a range of materials, in a sarcastic reprocessing of the discourse of the outmoded that is consistent with Smithson's antipathy for romanticism and nostalgia. The piece consists of four monitors broadcasting found YouTube footage of Kenyan drummers and a public-speaking competition in Lahore, next to a turntable with an old portable radio rotating in vain on the platter. The overall acoustic effect is a cacophony of beats, incomprehensible words and looping electronic sounds. Materialising a state of non-synchronicity (the installation is technologically and rhythmically out of sync), Section of a Revolution results in aural tautology.

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Pintas, 2013, by Peruvian artist Jose Carlos Martinat, is another take on the question of institutional assimilation. …