A look at “My safe reduction to form”, with local art fag, Marcus Knupp
Currently on view at the Berlin based gallery Exile is the exhibition “My safe reduction to form”, a group show of 11 artists that gladly takes you on walk with no predetermined destination.
I came by the gallery the day before the opening. I was in the neighbourhood and thought I’d stop by for a quick hello. When I walked in, the installation of the show was not quite finished. A few filled garbage bags rested by the entrance, and Christian Siekmeier, the gallery’s founder greeted me with white dust streaking across one cheek no doubt from drilling a hole and hanging something on the white concrete walls of the space.
The first thing I noticed about the exhibition was the minimal usage of material and design shared by all the works like a unifying thread connecting them all. From that point on however this exhibition exists like an exciting laboratory experiment mixing chemical compounds for the sake of seeing what might happen. The artworks hum all around the gallery, each trying to create their own space, yet are unable to isolate themselves for the viewer and so you find yourself in a layer cake of contrasting materials, practices, and points of departure.
A large chromed metal sculpture by Marc Kijl, dances by the windows, it’s not quite human but somehow very familiar. Once you get up closer to it, you realize you’re looking at the front and back bullbars from some kind of 4×4 truck you might see in an American television add driving across the desert at sunset with a hunky cowboy roping in some cattle. But once removed from the machine of manhood, and placed in an arrangement never intended for them they take on a quality not regularly attributed to them, and are transformed into a delicately balanced sculpture that creates a sense of movement and femininity with its smooth curves and polished surface. From here your eyes jump around, as if looking into a broken mirror trying find the logical order of a shattered image. There’s a chatter happening between the works that fills the air, and you can’t help but start wanting to decipher the meaning of their noise.
The works in the show range from Kijl’s chromed readymade to a concrete sculpture by Howard McCalebb that rigidly adheres to the rules of the Golden Ratio Principle, to a video projection from Matteo Giordano, showing a digitally animated woman floating in space while her body continuously disintegrates and coming back together again. It’s perfectly low-fi somehow and presents the viewer with a nightmarish trip into an alternate reality.
McCalebb’s concrete sculpture sits quietly glowing on the ground; its edges are clean and perfect and bare the marks of a complex casting process. Completely inert, this hunks perfectly proportioned angles sit in striking contrast to Donna Huanca’s woven leather net that’s been stretched like canvas and painted with monotone acrylic paint. It has an almost fetish quality, but could also be the resurrection of your grandmothers favourite seat cushion. There’s also Piotr Lakomy’s melted Styrofoam, a light switch that’s been framed and painted grey by Liat Elbling, and 3 sticks of black liquorice from the art collective FORT that have been glued to the wall to form an awkward triad. For me the most extreme and soothing work is Bill Walton’s plywood wall piece. Two rectangular pieces of plywood that have been sanded smooth on the sides and painted a light blue on the top and bottom. They’re placed on the wall, one with its blue face pointed out to you, the other positioned to look at its mate. They’re each about the size of an old mobile phone and are so reduced in form that they cut the wall like a razor and provide a quiet space for rest.
This show presents a constant back and forth between the expressive and the austere. All the while the space vibrates with the echoes of the artists. The installation feels like it occurred organically and came to be defined by the oscillations between not being completely free, and not being completely expressionless. Francisco Berna’s work towers over the rest literally and is tucked away in a narrow passageway. He’s taken the metal armature of a soccer goal and bent it into a tall foreboding skeleton that’s wrapped with sheets of latex pulled from his apartment floor. It shares in the same usage of a minimal form and material, but thrashes about in its tight confines like a rotting fleshy monster. He’s transformed common materials into kicking giant with the slightest of gestures.
On the press release for the show, the question ‘Who do we try to satisfy?’ is stated 7 times; maybe that’s one for each day of the week. It’s a question we deal with every time we crawl out of bed, pull on our pants and go to work, or if you’re in Berlin more likely while you coming out of a party at 12 in the afternoon, or sipping on a coffee while smoking a rolled cigarette at the kitchen window with basically no real agenda for the day/days. Written under this question are the words ‘Trial//Error’, somehow I imagine this being the answer a computer might give if asked who its trying to satisfy.
The fact that there seems to be no solid bases for why these works have been pulled together could be slightly jarring. The idea for the show is never really reveals itself to you; instead it only provides an open platform for you to project onto. The minimal nature of all the works unifies them as a group, and provides the basic building blocks for constructing an interpretation, rather than hitting you over the head with long explanations and manifestos. Is it good, is it bad, honestly the question never really seemed important while taking in the show, it’s neither. One thing is for sure, it’s clearly an experiment, a leap of faith. This show is undoubtedly more about a journey than a destination, and serves as a refreshing reminder that the creation of art, and exhibitions does not always have to be about the getting to the endpoint, or presenting a collector friendly outfit of art, but rather can be appreciated as an exploration of curiosity that promises you more than a trip.
For all the things that this show might not be, it is without a doubt a journey that whirls you around head over heel. You walk away not knowing where you’ve finally arrived, but in the end you might come to understand that this is not always so important, and that maybe the only way to really understand a destination is to keep on moving.
“My safe reduction to form” is on view from Oct 27 – Dec 08, 2012
Exile is located at Skalitzer Str 104, for more information about the exhibition, and gallery, check out www.thisisexile.com