Laura Gascoigne: Is It The Real World Or An Exercise? – November 2016

The Ukrainians have a lot of empty plinths where statues of Lenin once stood and last July, taking a leaf out of the Gormley Sutra, steps were erected around the one in Kiev’s Bessarabska Square so that people could climb up to admire the view and/or take selfies. The installation, Inhabiting Shadows, was the work of Mexican artist Cynthia Gutiérrez, apparently intended to prompt reflection on “imposed memory, system failure, emptiness, identity, and occupying space.”

You don’t have to be an artist to play this game. Elsewhere in the Ukraine, protestors have filled the vacuum: in Odessa, Lenin’s place has been taken by Darth Vader (right). Which of these gestures seems the more artistic? One has humour, the other a pretentious title, but both make similar points, the first more forcibly. When it comes to politics, protest has the advantage over art of single-point perspective: it doesn’t offer the viewer a range of potential meanings, and it often pips art to the post. The 2,500 used life jackets laid out by the International Rescue Committee in Parliament Square to coincide with the UN summit on the migrant crisis on September 19th took most of the wind out the inflatable lifeboats with which Ai Weiwei clad the facades of the Palazzo Strozzi for his retrospective opening four days later. The IRC’s installation was nameless, anonymous and free; Ai Weiwei’s was fashionably titled Reframe, stamped with the artist’s identity link and priced accordingly.

As so often, it’s only money changing hands that distinguishes art from reality; outside the gallery context it’s becoming impossible to tell them apart. No sphere of life, however homely, is proof against artists who have appropriated gardening, cooking and even knitting as means of expression. Undeterred by the embarrassing flop of Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s Turbine Hall installation of planters titled Empty Lot in which nothing but a few straggly weeds came up – my plan of scattering dope seeds had to be abandoned when I couldn’t remember where I’d hidden them – the South London Gallery has got another Mexican artist, Gabriel Orozco (I’m beginning to understand Donald Trump’s concern there will soon be no Mexicans left south of the border) to design an accessible garden connecting the gallery with the adjoining housing estate. It opened in October. As Kew is involved, presumably this time plants will grow. As a community initiative it’s a sweet idea, but as a conceptual statement the Modern