Alexandra Bircken, Fair Game, 2021, Installation view, Kesselhaus, KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Photo: Jens Ziehe, 2021

In Europe: Berlin - Another..., Another...

Issue no5
okt-nov 2021
Fluïditeit

Delaram Hosseinioun finds her way through one show and another and another in a week full of openings in Berlin.

I have nothing to say and I am saying it.- John Cage

'One more morning, one more night, one more darkness, one more light, one more hope, one more fear, one more breath, another year'. The ij green and white written motto titled Another/Another is shouted out (in German) at the people passing by the facade of Neuer Berliner Kunstverein.

Barbara Kruger, Another/Another, 2021, courtesy NBK, Berlin

This almost endless alignment of words, could be seen as the manifestation of the eminent American artist Barbara Kruger towards two years of pandemic. Kruger words seem minimal yet they are candid. They can even be projected on the event itself, The Berlin Art Week the openingweekend of which I am attending and the amount of openings after COVID-19. Creating a dialogue between Berlin's urban space and the art world, Kruger's work invites us to pause and ponder about uncertainties, time, and marginality while the majority of her works focus on gender inequality and the objectification of women.

Clemens Krauss, From the series „Protagonists“, 2020 (Photo: B. Borchardt)

The charm of my week in Berlin is its diversity. While still pondering about Kruger’s work, I find my way to Massen/Masses, a solo-exhibition by the Austrian artist and trained psychoanalyst Clemens Krauss in Haus am Lützowplatz, that confronts the viewers with concepts such as alienation of the self. Krauss uses coats of paint to compose a tangible form of the human subconscious. His thick varnish sculptures actualise and dissolve trauma, consuming space to confront the spectators with mental ‘blocks’. Massen/Masses urges viewers to decipher what they see within and around themselves.

In a humble corner of the gallery space rests a dead figure; the exposed detailed replica of Krauss, bare and flat. Here the visitor comes across the naked Krauss at the age of sixteen, forsaken and vulnerable. The strikingly accurate silicon figure preserves the artist in his teenage state, ceasing the transition to adulthood and puberty. Krauss’ psychological expenditure assures the viewers not to fear insecurities; Massen is a genuine invitation to experience oneself and see through the artist's mind and body.

Alexandra Bircken, Fair Game, installation KINDL, Berlijn, 2021, courtesy KINDL

Alexandra Bircken, Fair Game, KINDL Berlijn, 2021, courtesy KINDL

At the moment, the city offers shows by famous artist like Tony Gragg and Thomas Saraceno as well, but I am more attracted to Alexandra Bircken’s Fair Game in Kesselhaus - KINDL, which echoes Krauss’ questions of self- and bodily alienation. Here such questions are posed in a more explicit, I would even say extreme manner. Human figures in black latex skins hang from the ceiling, climb a 20m long bone ladder, are installed in an embryo position and dragged on the ground next to stuffed animals. Along with synthetic and real hair, ostrich eggs symbolise rebirth. Rags and massive black barrels which could be hedonistic or fuse of bombs are accompanied by 94 minutes of a peculiar melodic heartbeat, composed by Thomas Brinkmann entitled Ultraschall. As the ambience absorbs spectators, the hybrid exhibition defies the corporeality of the body and its surroundings. As a few of the faceless figures carry scatted gender significations, Bircken also dares the gender stereo types Fair Game demands us to reflect upon the remainings of mortal creatures and the cocoon of life , we have been holding on to.

Foyer view of the exhibition „NOTHINGTOSEENESS – Void/White/Silence“, Akademie der Künste, Hanseatenweg, Berlin, Photo: Andreas [FranzXaver] Süß

Rutherford Chang, We Buy White Albums, 2013 – , © Rutherford Chang

An exhibition I would definitely recommend is Nothingtoseeness, curated by Anke Hervol and Wulf Herzogenrath at the Akademie der Kunste. The exhibition embodies the works of seventy-five international artists, all inspired by the monochromic practices during the 1950-the 60s, and all ready to confront the norms. As the title suggests, nothingness, self-realisation and the reconstruction of perception are some of the dominant motives behind this exhibition. The vast space of the Akademie der Kunste provides the viewer with the artistic void to wander around and think about the lack of meaning instead of saturated imageries. Remarkably, even the names of the artists are marginalised and remain in small letters written by hand. The viewer is equipped with a QR code if he or she likes to know more, but the main concern is the serenity of the work and of the prevailing white ambience. Not the void but the hidden meanings in between are central to the show’s set-up.

Two years of the pandemic, incertitude and the flux of virtual imageries, changed our attitude towards what we see and how we illustrate ourselves. The bombardment of virtual venues we’ve been confronted with, pushed us to outpace each other. We had to adjust fast, to regain the time we lost. The pandemic pushed us to the edge of skipping through our lists and making parallel ones virtually. As a result, people now crave the ‘real’, the tangible affairs. But let's pause for one moment. Are we now forgetting how to value the time, stillness and the pace of matters as they are? Nothingtoseeness invites the viewers to stop their rush and reflect. The spectator is invited to see nothingness, to revalue and reframe time and stillness, what we do not see. Nothingtoseeness aims to free us from all that our eye has been saturated with, to break the patterns and habits.

Timm Ulrichs, Die weißen Flecken meiner Körper-Landschaft. Kenn-Zeichnung der mir niemals direkt sichtbaren Bereiche meines Körpers (Brust und Rückenaufnahme), 1968, Foto: Marli + Bert Schell, Wiesbaden,  © Timm Ulrichs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021

Focusing on works of revolutionary artists like the Argentine-Italian painter Lucio Fontana, the founder of Spatialism, along with the American post-war philosopher and composer John Cage, whose famous 4”33” composition focuses on the absence of deliberate sound, along with Günther Uecker, whose slashing hammer nails on white canvas was a reaction towards the materialization of art, Nothingtoseeness lures the audience toward the hidden meaning and the spaces in between.

Instead of with a bombardment of images, the collection confronts the viewer with total absence. The aim is to highlight the singularity of time, to realise how both forms of monologue and dialogue failed the modern artist. As Fontana says: “I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture” (1965) (1).

The collection covers various works, Klaus vom Bruch, the pioneer of German video art, Otto Piene, whose kinetic art was a revolutionary reaction of his era, along with the visionary Korean American artist Nam June Paik, who predicted the influence of mass media and was exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum already in 1977. Works of Yoko Ono along with Qiu Shihua, the Chinese modern master of landscape art, or Nina Schuiki add new narratives to this collection. The exhibition gathers the blatant silence of the artists around the globe, who abandoned colours and demurred forms to create their own message.

By emphasising on void as the title indicates, Nothingtoseeness situates the spectator in a white stillness, perhaps a post-pandemic ‘tabula rasa’ to allow us not to merely see but to sense the reality we missed for two years.

Each corner of the exhibition is dedicated to a certain canon, from modern pioneers to contemporary artists, video art to installations. The variety of styles permit the spectator to create their own cacoon and absorb the stillness of each work and generation in silence, but the general flow leads you to serenity. Fontana and Cage's silent performances reclaim the lost time, but for deciphering this deliberate silence and the necessity behind it the viewer is also introduced to contemporary artists and their depiction of daily events.

Thomas Rentmeister, Muda, 2011, Detailansicht, Foto: Bernd Borchardt,© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021

Exhibition view „NOTHINGTOSEENESS – Void/White/Silence“, James Turrell, Joecar (White), 1967, Collection Michalke, © 2021 James Turrell, Photo: Andreas [FranzXaver] Süß

The only sporadic sound drawing viewers to one of the centralised installations is the peculiar clock by German sculptor Inge Mahn. The installation exists of a set of empty wine glasses on chairs in a circular form. As the mechanical hand moves, the small piece of crystal attached to it clicks and vibrates between the glasses. The counter effect and echo of the crystal reminds me how one individual could affect the other, as only together we frame the time. The crystal itself and the empty wine glasses stand for the value and the loss of time, for how we celebrate or cherish time together. They also illustrate Mahn’s belief that art should be usable and understandable for everyone; her installation takes the most trivial materials around us to highlight the issues we tend to overlook. Mahn's simple yet peculiar white clock invites the viewer to contemplate about the time past and present – the only certainty here is the crystal’s counter effects, our vulnerable position as the subject of time and stillness.

Nothingtoseeness aims to highlight and value the fluidity of time, lack of certainties and the possibility of a silent narration leading to self-realization, as less is more. John Cage wrote it out: nothing-to-see, nothingtoseeness. And said “That’s it! With no dashes. That’s what you have to write about.”

(1) Capacity: The History, the World, and the Self in Contemporary Art and Criticism By Thomas McEvilley. p63

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