Reader, I drank it. A gallery employee filed a copper tumbler with a ladle of thin white liquid topped with an airy foam he especially fished out for me from the metal cart pictured above. This is the last week to visit the exhibition “Slavs and Tatars: After Pasteur” at Tanya Bonakdar gallery, where the artists have installed a bar of drinkable Turkish yogurt in a room of playful sculptural objects (don’t sit on the cots!) lit by pink and green neon. This interview with the collective Slavs and Tatars explains its origins as a reading group in 2006 interested in historical political and cultural threads in the Balkans and Caucuses. From those activities of reading, publishing, and disseminating texts developed the method of artistic presentation for trans-cultural histories on view here: a method that is playful rather than pedantic and associative rather than analytical. At least, this is part of the context for “Afteur Pasteur,” which claims to “challenge our understanding of the self through the unlikely relationship with bacteria and the microbe, the original Other or foreigner.”
On the upper floor of the gallery, the artists show works from two ongoing series among others. Pictured above on the left, the Kitab Kebab series offers books as a “talismanic digestive, a mashup of narratives and texts to be appreciated as much through the gut as the mind.” If it’s not clear from the image, the books have been pierced through with a skewer, brutally violating and connecting texts from different cultures in a mock up of the region’s notably violent history. So, not just a light lunch for a bookworm. Pictured above on the right, colorful plastic plaques riff off of Marcel Broodthaers’ “Poèmes industriels” in form, but do so to compare the inherent power dynamics of languages through semantically off-kilter juxtapositions and one-liners.
With all the value there is to a more playful approach, I wonder who is getting the joke? All the objects in the exhibition are beautifully produced and cleverly described. But the jokes rely on a cross-cultural knowledge of complex regions of the world that are difficult to make sense of, even for the people living there. Thus the original book club, with its research and publications, seems very much missing from this exhibition and very needed.