'SMOKE GETS IN MY EYES' by Katya Garcia-Anton, November 2012

"I sit in the safety of my Zurich home today, listening with dismay to the news from Gaza. Only a few weeks ago I was working on an art project in Palestine, in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and various villages in the West Bank. There we discussed the possibility of thinking about art as a gesture. During an epoch marked by a deep sense of social disenchantment with high forms of government, we felt the gesture offered a liberating degree of personal autonomy, which had been lacking in the more formalized forms of an action or a movement. Our conversations and art works sought to reconsider how the individual could reclaim a relationship with society within such a sense of social disappointment. We evoked the gesture as a form of divine dissent requiring neither legitimacy from, or attachment to, any recognized body of authority; the gesture as a way to respond to the urgency of ‘intervening’ the present by fracturing the everyday forms that have defined the world in the recent past, enabling a radical re-interpretation and reconstruction of the present moment; the gesture as a self-reflexive tool of analysis of questions ranging from identity, behavior, instinct, authorship and the promise of creativity at large.

Now as the bombs keep exploding, and the media obsesses about the possibility of a truce it strikes me that, as so often in the past, clouds of ash-laden smoke are being puffed into our eyes, the conflict yet again portrayed in its micro-dimension as a specifically Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. Yet it is here that the wider power relations of the world have been (since colonial times) and are still being played out; relations that affect us all, even in the supposedly neutral tranquility of my Helvetic abode. It is hard to avoid the feeling these days that the future is behind us. There was a time when talking about peace was still infused with a sense of reality and a feeling of belief. We are far from this right now. It’s not so much that time has stopped, but rather that the sense of promise and purpose that once drove historical progress has become impossible to sustain.

On the one hand, the faith in modernist, nationalist, or universalist utopias continues to retreat, while on the other, a more immediate crisis of faith has accompanied the widespread sense of diminishing economic prospects felt in so many places. Things just don’t seem to move. But as historical time comes to a standstill, lived time accelerates at a dizzying pace, leading one to wonder whether this frantic accumulation and acceleration on the level of working, social, and private life actually serves to compensate for the sense of drift and indeterminacy felt in public and political life. Either way, this makes for a very peculiar temporality that we now inhabit—one in which looking into the past, the future, or the present seems somehow walled off.

“ ...His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he seesone single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Walter Benjamin, Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History. Walter Benjamin’s apocalyptic image of the Angel of History penned in 1930s war torn Europe, stood as a call to consider how the “incompleteness of the past” falsifies history. Benjamin pondered upon the very notion of “historical progress” as a Smoke gets in my eyes a cruel illusion, and nowhere was this best expressed than in his creation of this winged creature. This historical ‘call to arms’ spoke of the necessity to ‘intervene’ in history, to fracture the everyday forms that define the world, thereby making it subject to radical re-interpretation and reconstruction.

Today, when the future seems so out of date, Benjamin’s words take on once again a poignant significance. How does one make art in this context, how does one think about it, how does one engage with it? As I gave careful thought to the forty art works selected for the Celeste Art Prize, I confess the Gaza smoke, and the Angel’s fluttering interfered in my vision. Yet it may surprise you to hear that they seemed to sharpen rather than blurr my gaze. I found that in this international grouping of artists one could detect many of the predominant ideas permeating our world today – oscillating between deep introspection and a more direct relation to the world. Interestingly none were prone to the more bombastic art making that featured the scene of a decade or more ago, but all captured the sense of historical frailty and modesty (interior and exterior) in which we live.

Whilst all artists are worthy of mention, time and space allows me only to comment on a few. Some works take a profoundly personal position, which despite their marked introspection seek to reach out to a wider reality. Examples of this are Valentina Cirami’s drawings of geometric abstractions proposing a multiple/simultaneous view of the world through a doodly and obsessive form of mark making; Juan de la Lara’s sculptural installation of lowered awnings without windows convey a sense of non-communication, futility and claustrophobia oddly expressive of contemporary experience; Kara Hearn’s video combining reenactments, dense narrations and perfomative situations which act as registers of an interior psychology mirrored in the outside world. Other works related more directly to the artistic realities of our day. This is the case of Pia Anttila, whose performance/advertisement humorously highlights the relations between the labour of an artist, the worth of art and financial survival in the black market economy; and Daniel Cerrejon’s video of a person asked to smile for as long as possible similarly addresses issues of sustained performance in an event based society. Finally there are works that feature a socio-political critique of the world around us. Such is the case of the photographs of Gabriele Rossi, weaving in the urban environment with the conflict of housing and immigration; or Dina Danish’s political-poetic video-performance with two type-writers, writing in Arabic and English; and Cristina Nuñez’s startling video-autobiography, composed of self-portrait stills, and weaving the clashes of religion, politics, family conflict, and personal crisis as a form of self-therapy. If we are to heed Giorgio Agamben’s call in his ‘Notes on the Gesture’, regarding the urgency to re-engage with the life of the polis, and to determine individually the parameters of this engagement, then we have the freedom to consider even beauty as political and illuminating if we affirm this from the start. Indeed we can consider the political moment in art as not only documentary, educational or militant, but as Charles Esche has commented recently “ambiguous and sensual” fostering an instability that will lead to transformation in ourselves and the way we imagine the world. In setting out a dialogue between their deep interiors and the reality around them, the artists in this edition of the Celeste Art Prize can be considered as doing just that."

by Steven Music, November 2012

"A warm thank you to all artists who presented their artwork to Celeste Prize this year, thank you for all the effort put into creating your artwork and for choosing to show them in Celeste Network! This is the fourth edition of Celeste Prize and I feel confident in saying it has reached a certain maturity, having followed up with a degree of success its vocation as an international award for emerging artists. This year just over 1,300 works were submitted to the prize, nearly double last year’s number. Celeste Network is proving to be an extraordinarily attractive virtual container, able to support artists and their works in the prize, in a way in which very few other prizes can. All of us in the Celeste Team have worked hard to achieve this goal; over the last 12 months, visitors to the website have increased by 30%, with an average of 8,500 visitors per day (Autumn/Winter 2012). Currently there are 50,000 signed-up members in the network, the vast majority are artists who exploit the interactive functions which the network provides to promote their work and make contact with like-minded professionals and colleagues worldwide: to date, the network contains more than 125,000 works of art and more than 13,000 events and projects. A remarkable achievement, given the ‘organic’ way in which the network has grown in recent years, without a financial sponsor, but supported by a myriad of technical sponsors. The strong feeling among members that they have in some way witnessed and have participated in the network’s growth is underlined by the good relations that generally exist online - almost all members are making new and useful contacts to develop projects they have in mind, or effectively promote their initiatives in a quick and easy way unthinkable only a few years ago!

I think Celeste has become an important resource for contemporary art, this is in part confirmed by it’s ability to attract
international curators of the calibre of Katya Garcia-Anton, this year’s Celeste Prize curator who in 2011 was curator of Spain’s national pavillion at the Visual Arts Biennial in Venice. Alongside Katya, a team of international art curators and critics have selected this year’s 40 finalist works. All selectors are professionals, of differing ages, but able to reflect the many voices and visions which exist in contemporary art today, they include: Irina Chmyreva, Michael Connor, Micol Di Veroli, Maymanah Farhat, Lara Khaldi, Eva Gonzalez-Sancho, Jack Persekian, Lydia Pribisova, Nigel Prince, Maria Inés Rodriguez, Risa Shoup, Fonlad Festival’s José Vieira, Forward Motion Theater’s Eric Dunlap, Otolab-Orgone’s Bertram Niessen, Claudio Sinatti at IED, and Neural’s Alessandro Ludovico.

I wish to thank all members of the selection panel and Katya Garcia-Anton for patiently making the interesting selections
we have this year. I take this opportunity to thank everyone at the Musei Capitolini of Rome at Centrale Montemartini and
Zetema for welcoming us in their spaces at the converted power station which hosts this year’s final exhibition; Alessia Autori of GlocalProject for the final event organization and communication; our publisher Gigi Zoppelli at On-Demand Editions for the creation and distribution of the catalogue; our webprogrammers at TNX; Michela Del Forno for photography at the event; and finally, Silvia Li Pira and Giulio Machetti working at the heart of our team have brought their ideas and commitment to the prize, THANK YOU!

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