press release

Opening: Thursday 30.03.2006 / 19.00-21.00

STANDARD (OSLO) is pleased to announce the group exhibition ”Mafia (Or One Unopened Packet of Cigarettes)”. The exhibition brings together contributions by ten artists forming a discussion about the very principle for the ’mafia’: being a private system based on violence it offers both a promise of protection and poses a threat. Confronted with this constant duality, language and the very production of meaning become subjected to a systematic doubt.

Q: What do you get if you cross Marlon Brando with Jacques Derrida? A: An offer you can’t understand.

The testimony of the Italian gunman Tommaso Buscetta was to establish the foundation for the most important trial of the Italian mafia: the Maxi Trial in Palermo in 1986. The interrogations prior to the court case were done by judge Giovanne Falcone. During one of the early talks Buscetta asked for a cigarette, upon which Falcone offered him his packet. The following day Buscetta addressed the incident: “I accepted the cigarettes yesterday, because the packet was open. A whole box or one unopened packet I would have declined, because that would have signalled that you would want to humiliate me.” Falcone commented on this in his own notes – being surprised by the endless efforts to interpretate information, even details of seemingly no importance. “One is able to sense something manic about their ceremonial exchanges, in this concentration on details.”

“Mafia (Or One Unopened Packet of Cigarettes)” revisits this historical meeting. Elaborating on Buscetta’s semantic paranoia it questions the actual motivations behind every seemingly good deed. This is addressed in Matias Faldbakken’s reconstruction of a Christmas gift given by the private investigator Anthony Pelicano to actual and potential clients during the early 1980’s: a letter weight in the form of a ceramic baseball inscribed with ”Sometimes You Just Have to Play Hardball”. The gift both offered loyalty to those who had hired him and an equally clear message to those who hadn’t. The painting ”Take Cover Before Striking (888 Bail Man)” by Nate Lowman deals with an overlapping theme, and takes an ad for investments in ’bail bonds’ as its point of departure. These investment funds offer loans for prosecuted having to pay bail, but with a brutal interest rate. The work addresses the absurd space between the humanistic ideal of help and the constant need for pioneering new operating fields for Capitalism. Lowman’s work could thus said to be resonating with the claim put forward by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss. In his book ”The Gift […]” (1925) Mauss discusses the ambivalence of gift exchange. Receiving a gift is also recognizing a social hierarchy where the receiver immediately is subordinated to the giver. Only an equal or preferably larger gift will suspend this relation of debt. However, giving gifts to more powerful people than you will contribute to safety and the potential for social advancement. The contribution made by Daniel Knorr equally addresses this double set of opportunities. Mounted in a vitrine next to the entrance door, a simple A4 sheet juxtaposes a Roman and a Slovenian proverb. While the first recognizably states ”ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME”, the Slovenian proverb formulates its anti-thesis: ”NOT ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME”.

The element of social mobility is both addressed and disturbed in the object by David Lieske. Entitled “The Nature Of Your Oppression Is The Aesthetik Of Our Anger", the work takes form of a champagne tower where each glass is turned upside down. Lieske’s transformation leaves this icon of decadence in between a ruin for the privileged and a monument to the underprivileged. This form of inversion is also present in the works of Tauba Auerbach. In her two works on paper, ”The Whole Alphabet”, language is suspended as a production of meaning and reduced to an absurd ritual. Executed on a typewriter, every single letter of the alphabet is hammered on top of each other until they form an irregular black square. Gardar Eide Einarsson’s painting ”Tokyo Underworld […]” seems to share this sense of muteness. Three black triangles on a white background are all what the viewer is offered. The title, however, refers to a biographical rendition of the Japanese mafia during the 1950’ and 60’s, and the motif is extracted from the index of the book. The triangles are in this context left with an uncertain status as to whether being representations or purely graphic elements. Einarsson’s painting both returns to Buscetta’s concern for the peripheral details, and offers a comment on a legacy of Modernistic painting where this abstraction is associated with an exaggerated production of meaning. A similar ’overproduction’ is present in Johannes Wohnseifer’s series of 24 photographs. Wohnseifer focus on the anonymous yet omnipresent white vans in New York. These are basic tool for various craftsmen and small businesses, but also constantly involved in criminal activity. Even though several of the vans have logos suggesting their trade, the vast number immediately leads to a speculation about the activities these are involved with.

Conflict and threats of violence occur in several of the works. In ”The Nature of Conflict”, the work by the duo Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, this is discussed using the simplest of tools. Two plastic containers, one filled with water and the other with used motor oil, are combined with a colour photograph showing the two fluids mixed. By examining and versifying the laws of nature, Allora and Calzadilla seek to raise the discussion about politics and power. The violence is far more personified, but still only suggested in Torbjørn Rødland’s photograph ”Four Words”. A suite-clad man is lying seemingly lifeless on the floor with the message ”WE NEED TO TALK” written with a felt pen across his cheek. The photograph connects to a tradition of ”scene of the crime snapshots”, but also leaves itself subject to a wider reading. The photograph serves as a reminder that every conversation only reaches its level of commitment in proportion to its available means of sanction. At the same time Rødland’s photograph could be said to concentrate on the chain of events following the collapse of language. Violence as conclusion is even more clearly visualized in the work ”In God They Trust” by Claire Fontaine. An American coin is sliced at the centre and mounted with a blade folding out. The result is a weapon that easily can be hidden and taken through security controls. Simple and small, it nevertheless feeds a paranoid fear about violence potentially being omnipresent.

”Mafia (Or One Unopened Packet of Cigarettes)” neither aims at being a documentary dealing with the phenomenon of the ’mafia’ nor being an examination of our collective (mediated) notions of it. Rather the works included serve as models, and a number of cases even take appearance of being props. They offer comprehendible experiments as a basis for a specific discussion about the ‘mafia’, but at the same time they seek to diffuse the border between ‘mafia’ as an isolated phenomenon and the greater community as normalized.

Kurator: Eivind Furnesvik

mit Allora & Calzadilla, Tauba Auerbach, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Matias Faldbakken, CLAIRE FONTAINE , Daniel Knorr, David Lieske, Nate Lowman, Torbjorn Rodland, Johannes Wohnseifer