Zarouhie Abdalian, Joint (xi), Joint (xii), Joint (xiii), 2019, courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegal

Catching Their Rhythm - Higher! Higher! Lower, Lower. Louder! Louder! Softer, Softer at Shimmer, Rotterdam

Issue no5
okt-nov 2020
Wat is Nederland

The works in Higher! Higher! Lower, Lower. Louder! Louder! Softer, Softer enter and leave Shimmer’s exhibition space in Rotterdam at their own time. Adam Patterson visits this unfixed and ongoing choreography of artworks to see if Shimmer succeeds in carrying out such an ‘ever-changing studio-like mentality’.


Nothing—

and then the countdown comes through like a cut in space; metal skirt beaten in time telling you to stand firm, get ready, free up yourself, remember your part, play yourself. When the last wordless 1, 2, 3, 4 drops, we all know to beat pan together. Each section in a steel orchestra is tasked with playing its part in time. Beyond that, however you might appear, move or perform while playing your part is pretty much a free-for-all. From freshly styled hairdos to novelty wigs, dancing atop bass drums to playing the underskirt of the pan, conducted choreographies to accidental ones, there are hardly any limits as to how a player may express themselves while playing their part.

And while an individual player’s expression may feel at odds with some idea of unison or synchronisation around the mass orchestral body, as a former leader of the Double Second section, I must clamour for that queer and discordant space where harmony and counter-melody manage to coexist.

At Shimmer, Rotterdam, an exhibition space whose score is conducted by Eloise Sweetman and Jason Hendrik Hansma, each work has its moment to arrive and depart, inviting both disruption and harmony into the mix. The complexities and mechanics of its exhibition programme can’t be easily discussed without discussing Shimmer as a choreography in and of itself. Situated in the harbour on the fringes of Oud-Charlois and overlooking the ferry which connects the North and South, Shimmer, like its surroundings, is a place where things, people and ideas pass through. Its programme features a growing selection of artists whose practices echo, complicate and intersect with the curatorial and artistic interests of both Sweetman and Hansma. Some works bear material alliances while others resonate on a more sensuous or visceral level—you could just lick them!

Always starting with a conversation between the space and its exhibiting artists, works pass through but discussions may persist well beyond their departure. Guided by a mutual trust and sense of care, each conversation is a negotiation of how works may make their way into Shimmer, both as a space and a narrative. Describing itself as operating with an “ever-changing studio-like mentality,” some things may work while other processes might simply be out of control. The exchange of works in the programme has proven tricky and complicated, where some works have stayed much longer than expected, a few may have delayed their arrivals and others appear and disappear in a flash. Each work has its own time signature baked into it and Shimmer does the work of listening out for how each note might land. Nothing can be fixed or certain, and each work’s coming and going might very well complicate or complement the previous rhythm and mood.

Nothing can be fixed or certain, and each work’s coming and going might very well complicate or complement the previous rhythm and mood.

Gordon Hall, from Set, 2020 courtesy of the artist and Document

Elena Narbutaitė, Fumy Frig Sour, 2018, courtesy of the artist and PM8 Gallery

Though it may become more apparent when an exchange has taken place, the shift in rhythm cannot be so easily registered as a process happening in the moment. That is to say, as a listener, with each new addition, subtraction or reconfiguration, you can only account for what might be different between each visit; you don’t get to witness the transition. Given Shimmer’s claim to a ‘’studio-like mentality’’, the lack of visibility around the excitable mess of transitioning leaves me somewhat misgiven. However, perhaps the invisible messes and thrills behind Shimmer are another invitation to join the conversation, to keep returning to the dance and to listen keenly to its workings.

Higher! Higher! Lower, Lower. Louder! Louder! Softer, Softer, an ongoing exhibition at Shimmer, Rotterdam, features a choreography of artworks, objects, situations and connections inseparable from Shimmer’s progression as an exercise in exhibition-making. In and out of harmony, Shimmer, through the liminal programme of Higher! Higher!, conducts itself from a score of divergent tempos and challenging counter-melodies.

The works in Higher! Higher! implicate you as a listener at a variance of frequencies, each sensibility being appealed to in a most unsettling harmony. The tenor finds its voice in Ma Qiusha’s From No. 4 Ping Yuan Li to No. 4 Tian Qiao Bei Li (2007) while your eye might be caught in the polished glare of Zarouhie Abdalian’s Joint series (2019).

Overview Higher! Higher! Lower, Lower. Louder! Louder! Softer, Softer at Shimmer, Rotterdam

Ma Qiusha, From No. 4 Ping Yuan Li to No. 4 Tian Qiao Bei Li, 2007, courtesy of the artist and Beijing Commune

In the latter, a menacing balance of mirrored house-tools threaten collapse any moment now. They seem sharper than they are and their shaky footing begs caution; what if they suddenly spring at you with a most obscene precision? Catching sight of your own reflection in the jaws of a wrench or the teeth of tinsnips, Ma Qiusha’s voice starts to stutter, the sudden disruption of her flow pulling on your eardrums.

Turning to face the video work From No. 4 Ping Yuan Li to No. 4 Tian Qiao Bei Li, you remember the narrative; Qiusha recounts and relives her tense relationship with her parents punctuated by their pressuring expectations. With the passing of each difficult line of memory, Qiusha seems to struggle to keep speaking, her words visibly taking a toll on her mouth and mind, her pace beginning to slow. It keeps slowing until an unusual red tinges her teeth, halting her voice to a stop; the artist removes a razorblade from her mouth. Horror snares with this image and you twist around to face another red drumming itself in space; the laser wound of Elena Narbutaite’s Fumy Frig Sour (2018) cutting itself like an ulcer into the cheek of the room. After each slice is heard, the chord diminishes.

Slowly and gently, you are left to muse on the soft humming of Gordon Hall’s curious Set (2020) works. Pale ghostly casts of objects once built for purpose—perhaps a book, a printing squeegee and what might have been a brick—it can’t be certain what they are now. They upend the very notion of appraisal. To demand something to explain itself is not an act of listening. To sit with something—giving it room to breathe with a little patience, letting its shiftiness and slipperiness wash over you—is to endure a kind of empathy with the experience of another, to learn through feeling and resonance rather than being entitled to their knowledge, transparency or understanding. Hall’s works are cute little illegible whispers, somehow familiar but always elusive. Indifferent to any enterprise of naming or definition, the feeling I can trust is that they were made with care. Each form feels welcomed warmly into being, each form is encouraged to be heard.

Lifted from the words of the late feminist anthropologist, Deborah Bird Rose, “Shimmer, when all you love is being trashed” (2014), Shimmer finds its name in a talk which clamours for a joyful and harbouring “Yes!” to all the things we yearn to hold onto in this world

Gordon Hall, from Set, 2020 courtesy of the artist and Document

Resting a final glance on Shimmer, you are reminded how it chose its name. Lifted from the words of the late feminist anthropologist, Deborah Bird Rose, “Shimmer, when all you love is being trashed” (2014), Shimmer finds its name in a talk which clamours for a joyful and harbouring “Yes!” to all the things we yearn to hold onto in this world. To welcome the flow of a complicated divergence of forms and connections, to say “Yes” to precarious bodies, communities and voices too often relegated to the detention of “No,” such a spirit truly resonates with the pan-yard and steel orchestra of my memories. Historically a space for the neglected, the poor, the different, the queered, the pan-yard is the communal space where players congregate as a chosen family of sorts. No questions asked, the only expectation such spaces tend to hold is the hope that you can find your own way of shining brilliantly, no matter what sound you happen to make, however and whenever you decide to make it. Whether Shimmer embodies this kind of space remains to be seen; after all, its song isn’t over yet. That being said, we should certainly stay tuned.

VOLG METROPOLIS M OP INSTAGRAM: metropolism_mag

Higher! Higher! Lower, Lower. Louder! Louder! Softer, Softer continues until July 2020 with artists: Marcel Duchamp, Ian Kiaer, Theo van Doesburg, Joseph Grigely, Kate Newby, Katie West, and Stanley Brouwn.

Adam Patterson
is a visual artist and writer

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