Ellen Gallagher, "Katfish", 2021, two silkscreen prints on wall. Courtesy of the artist, Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. Photograph: Yiannis Hadjiaslanis

Ellen Gallagher and Dora Economou in Rotterdam and Athens - ‘A conversation is being built out of proximity and the sharing of the space’ 

Issue no3
June - July 2022
Make Friends Not Art

Chapter 4 of the exhibition World as Lover, World as Self has two venues: curatorial studio Shimmer in Rotterdam and Akwa Ibom, an art space in Athens. Danai Giannoglou was one of the very few people to see both venues and the works of artists Ellen Gallagher and Dora Economou they exhibit. She asks herself: why these two venues? And what does it mean for one exhibition to take multiple forms?

As I was taking the train to Rotterdam to visit Shimmer on a Saturday afternoon I kept thinking of what Eloise Sweetman, Shimmer's co-founder and co-director, had told me a few days back when we met in Amsterdam ''You [aka me], us [aka her and Jason Hendrik Hansma, the other half of Shimmer], and Dora Economou might just be the only people to see both venues of Chapter 4''. She was referring to the 4th chapter of Shimmer’s most recent exhibition World as Lover, World as Self that opened earlier this fall spreading across two locations, Shimmer's platform at the port of Rotterdam and Akwa Ibom, an art space in the heart of Athens, Greece born out of an ongoing collaboration between artist Otobong Nkanga and curator and writer Maya Tounta in link to Nkanga’s work Carved to Flow and the Carved to Flow Foundation that is supporting and contributing to the maintenance of the non-profit art space in Athens .

I kept wondering about the thinking process behind this project and trying to answer all the questions that were coming to my mind: why these two spaces? What does it mean for one exhibition to take multiple forms? What becomes of the audience experience if you only get to witness one part of an exhibition? In the course of my conversation with Sweetman and Hansma it became quickly clear that not only were they asking some of the same questions themselves but that they also had some very robust yet open-ended answers to them.

Shimmer is a curatorial studio and while this might sound as yet another elusive effort to name art spaces that defy normative definitions of the contemporary cultural realm, in this case it is an actual and active practice. As Hansma observes, artists have their studios to experiment, build, think, test and allow situations to come to fruition before the work enters its public phase, so why not create an equivalent condition for curatorial practices? Same as in an artist’s studio more often than not Shimmer’s exhibitions fade in and out of each other and stretch over time, embracing qualities that are usually attributed to film and music, re-contextualizing existing artworks and creating hybrid forms that questions the limitations of art exhibitions.

What becomes of the audience experience if you only get to witness one part of an exhibition?

Dora Economou, "Sun Rises Sun Sets", 2021, installation, cotton fabric, acrylic paint, fabric medium, silicon filling. Courtesy of the artist, Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. Photograph: Yiannis Hadjiaslanis

Dora Economou, "Sun Rises Sun Sets", 2021, installation, cotton fabric, acrylic paint, fabric medium, silicon filling. Courtesy of the artist, Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. Photograph: Yiannis Hadjiaslanis

World as Lover, World as Self is a show that began over a year ago, using contemporary art as the vehicle to ‘’help us relinquish our separateness and take account of the residue of the world that we think we know’’. For that, Shimmer turns to the concept of defamiliarization and the idea of ‘’estranging in order to rethink the community radically and engage with the World as Lover and as Self’’. For Chapter 4 of the exhibition series, Shimmer collaborates with Akwa Ibom, an alliance that comes primarily out of friendship and mutual curatorial interests between Sweetman, Hansma and Akwa Ibom’s director Maya Tounta. Akwa Ibom was conceived in the logic of a book and its different chapters with a wish to ‘’explore the extended lifespan of exhibitions by focusing on alternative methods of photographic documentation (analog photography of large and medium format) and mediation through text’’. Through this collaboration Shimmer claims a working methodology of letting things become out of ongoing dialogues that they firmly believe institutions can maintain as easily as people.

World as Lover, World as Self Chapter 4, the title of the show at Shimmer, and Sun Rises Sun Sets by Dora Economou and Katfish by Ellen Gallagher, the title of the show in Athens, are two exhibitions with Ellen Gallagher and Dora Economou presenting works in both spaces. Ellen Gallagher whose work often results in palimpsestic surfaces that ‘’pivot between the natural world, mythology and history’’ is an American artist, living and working between Rotterdam and New York. Dora Economou is a Greek artist whose practice looks into the inherent capacities of materials, their potential for metamorphosis as well as their relationship to personal narratives. In her curatorial text Tounta refers to the exhibition in Athens as the counterpart of the exhibition in Rotterdam. In an effort to fully grasp what this means I ask if they see it as a show spread across two venues or a show in two parts. Sweetman, who is not surprised by this question, describes it as two co-dependent exhibitions, ‘you don’t have to see both, you get something from Akwa Ibom that you do not get from Shimmer and vice versa’.

Throughout their program, Sweetman and Hansma are interested in the possible relationships that can occur between existing works by means of bringing them together. At Akwa Ibom, Tounta is also invested in articulating the conditions for new narratives as well as new bodies of work to emerge, through new commissions. In a subtle and natural way both approaches find their voice within the exhibitions and the attention to the relationship between the works and the spaces, both spaces, make these projects almost site-specific even though they do not exactly fit this definition.

‘You don’t have to see both, you get something from Akwa Ibom that you do not get from Shimmer and vice versa’

Ellen Gallagher, "Katfish" (detail), 2021, two silkscreen prints on wall. Courtesy of the artist, Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. Photograph: Jhoeko

Ellen Gallagher, "Katfish", 2021, two silkscreen prints on wall. Courtesy of the artist, Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. Photograph: Yiannis Hadjiaslanis

Ellen Gallagher, "Katfish" (detail), 2021, two silkscreen prints on wall. Courtesy of the artist, Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. Photograph: Jhoeko

Gallagher’s Katfish (2021) comprises of two silkscreens, frames from George Herriman’s comic strip Krazy Kat, on the walls of Shimmer and Akwa Ibom. In the comic, Ignatz, the mouse, detests Krazy Kat, a polymorphous and polyvoiced cat whose gender and race change between frames, yet Krazy Kat adores Ignatz and considers the mouse’s violence as a sign of affection. Katfish was hand printed directly on the walls of the two spaces by the curators of the exhibition in 2021 but belongs to a series the artist created years ago.

Sun Rises Sun Sets by Dora Economou is an ongoing series of photographs, slides, drawings, sculptures and a book she has worked on since 2020. At Akwa Ibom Economou fills the floor area of one of the rooms with four ‘swells’, four pillow-like volumes painted with sunset and sunrise light colored lines. Visitor can lie on them making the sun go up and down with their own mass. At Shimmer she presents a ground painting, part of the imprint of her work in Athens, as well as a slide projection of sunsets and sunrises and an origami sculpture. In order to experience the intimacy of the works while they catch the light from the sunset across the port of Rotterdam you feel the urge to sit on the floor.

‘You know’, Tounta tells me, ‘the way the works co-exist in the space is similar to the way Akwa Ibom co-exists with Shimmer, we don’t need to force any links, a conversation is being built out of proximity and the sharing of the space’.

Dora Economou, "Sun Rises Sun Sets", 2021, installation. Photograph: Jhoeko

Dora Economou, "Sun Rises Sun Sets", 2021, installation. Photograph: Jhoeko

In the train returning from Rotterdam I still have questions that emerge regarding the future of the palimpsest, the beginning and end of an show and what motivates a collaboration, but I remember something Hansma said during our conversation: ‘’If there is an answer to everything in an exhibition, that’s suspicious’.

*As this text was being written, the exhibition at Shimmer was taking yet a new and different form.

 

Curated by Shimmer and Akwa Ibom:

World as Lover, World as Self Chapter 4 – Shimmer, Rotterdam. On view until March 12, 2022

Sun Rises Sun Sets by Dora Economou and Katfish by Ellen Gallagher – Akwa Ibom, Athens. Was on view until November 15, 2021

Danai Giannoglou
is a curator and a writer currently working as assistant curator at de Appel Amsterdam

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2022