It is rare for an exhibition to successfully combine a performance with the display of the resulting props and objects, but Saâdane Afif’s recent show at the Schinkel Pavillon does just that. The aftermath of a Rirkrit Tiravanija cooking performance is not very illuminating or even enjoyable; not so with Afif’s work, whose reflexive production strategy often establishes a chain of events across various media that is both poignant and aesthetically charming.
For The Fairytale Recordings, Afif asked artist and writer friends to develop lyrics in response to some of his earlier visual artworks. These lyrics were used as the basis for a song cycle created by a composer in collaboration with an opera singer. The songs were sung at the opening of the exhibition into porcelain vases especially created for the song and the venue, before they were permanently sealed and displayed for the exhibition. Like a game of cultural telephone, the transfer from visual to other media brings collaborative contributions to the fore, not only as an anti-authorial impulse but also as a candid portrait of contemporary artistic processes, which often involve extended collaborations that are usually invisible.
Performance and sculpture are also combined in a recent piece by Pawel Althamer titled Almech, after the name of his father’s plastics manufacturing firm. Commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim, Althamer set up a branch of this factory in the gallery space, co-coordinating workers and machines to produce sculptural portraits of museumgoers as well as gallery staff. By transforming the gallery into a site of production rather than passive contemplation, Althamer blurs the distinction between artist, institution, and audience, paying tribute to his father’s company while creating an interface between discrete social groups that results in a haunting group portrait.
While socio-productive networks are established in the work of Afif and Althamer, Adrian Lohmüller’s installations concentrate on the display of existing networks and processes that are imbedded in everyday life. But while Lohmüller’s work often looks like building systems whose home-assembled, re-purposed components augment or represent some kind of infrastructure, they are in fact built around psychological references. The discrete way that elements of his recent exhibition at sommer & kohl are integrated into the gallery space make these absurd, "alchemical" systems all the more effective.
Hand-made processes are favored at the artist run space Kinderhook & Caracas where Brent Wadden combines craft and concept for the exhibition Master of None. While the title indicates an anti-hegemonic attitude, it could also refer to the “amateur” process of production. For the exhibition, Wadden laboriously produced a series of woven hangings that employ a black and white motif as much for its geometric presence as for its reference to the Anarcho-Pacifist flag. The hangings occupy a central area in the exhibition surrounded by a series of oil paintings that also extend Wadden’s characteristic drawing practice into a new media. By using more traditional artist techniques, Wadden’s “digital folk” sensibilities are given a tactile, textural presence. In an era when many artists are focused more on software than hardware, Wadden’s new work offers a hybrid style in which handmade imperfection fleshes out a moody psychedelic abstraction.
In The Joy of Pleasure at Veneklassen Werner, curators Dieter Roelstraete and Monika Szewczyk probe a perception that the contemporary art world has a basic mistrust of pleasure. Referring to the instructional tone and emancipative élan of books such as The Joy of Sex, the exhibition is more night-course than orgy, yet it offers some nice moments, emphasized by the simultaneously ironic and earnest sensibility. The show opens with a giant jar of artist’s jam: confiture from Pierre Bismuth that presumably counters Manzoni’s canned shit. Images of flowers with pointed contexts reveal just how aesthetically sophisticated Martha Rosler always was: each of her four C-prints combines beauty, abjection, and urban class-consciousness. Big basalt balls by James Lee Byars come next, balanced by Steven Shearer’s delicate ink and lacquer image of 70s golden boy Leif Garret standing in a coffin. In fact, as one journalist notes, there is an overwhelming 70s sensibility here, as if this era of characteristic cultural awakening epitomizes a greater cultural sensuality. In the next room Shannon Bool’s stripper poles are situated alongside Casino Runner, a hand woven carpet based on an ersatz motif from Las Vegas. Constructed of nickel and brass, the poles evoke their gyrating counterpart with disrupted and displaced components. By re-orientating a common structure for objectification, Bool fetishizes a structural object, employing a playful and prosaic minimalism that concentrates the exhibition’s themes.
If The Joy of Pleasure deliberates on the desiring subject, a recent exhibition at Isabella Bortollozi brings to life the obscure desires of the object. Well, maybe not the desires of the object, but the exhibition, titled Still Life with Phrenology Head after the eponymous video from 1978 by Cerith Wyn Evans, presents objects that seem to come to life: objects with mysteries. In Evans’ video, a live head with pseudoscientific markings protrudes from a table next to an arrangement of fresh fruit and flowers explored by a white rat. A drawing by Jim Nutt and videos by Mark Leckey and Ed Atkins extend the skewed and surreal meditation on incarnation, bringing to life various “beings” like a lemon and a desktop calculator. Atkins’ video, Death Mask II: the Scent, is an unforgettable assemblage of ripe fruit, rotating flickering candles, psychedelic graphics, and said calculator unfolding to an Italian schlock-horror soundtrack.
Finally, it’s always amusing to visit Contemporary Fine Arts, whose expansive, museum-like spaces would impress even the snobbiest collector. The gallery stable includes some of the best post-punk painters around, from Peter Doig and Tal R to Daniel Richter, who is currently on display. Richter claims that he has never been freer than when painting the works for this exhibition, titled 10001 Nights, and although the result does not compare to previous heights, his irradiated figures in fucked up landscapes still manage to be light years ahead of the pack.
Rodney LaTourelle lives and works in Berlin as an artist, designer, and writer. He recently exhibited a site-specific installation as part of Totem and Taboo: Complexity and Relationships between Art and Design in Vienna. His writing on art and architecture has been published in numerous periodicals and artist catalogues. His installations have been exhibited internationally and his work is included in collections such as the National Gallery of Canada and Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg. LaTourelle’s exhibitions include Neo-Plastic Vice (Shawinigan, Quebec) and Model for Inner Expansion (UQAM, Montreal, and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). He is Akimblog’s Berlin correspondent.
Schinkel Pavillon: http://www.schinkelpavillon.de/
Saâdane Afif: The Fairytale Recordings continues until December 11.
Deutsche Guggenheim: http://www.deutsche-guggenheim.de/index_en.php
Pawel Althamer: Almech continues until January 16.
sommer & kohl: http://www.sommerkohl.com/
Adrian Lohmüller: The Uncertainty Principle continues until December 17.
Kinderhook & Caracas: http://kinderhook-caracas.com/
Brent Wadden: Master of None continues until December 10.
Veneklasen Werner: http://www.vwberlin.com/
The Joy of Pleasure continues until January 7.
Isabella Bortollozi: http://www.bortolozzi.com/
See website for current exhibitions.
Contemporary Fine Arts: http://www.cfa-berlin.de/
Daniel Richter: 10001 Nights continues until December 17.
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