20181205: Johan König | KW Institute

At the Berlinische Galerie I saw Julian Charrière's Gasag Art Prize show, "As We Used to Float," a "multimedia spatial installation that takes visitors below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Seventy years after the United States first began testing atomic weapons on Bikini Atoll, the artist embarked on an expedition into the territory which is now permanently uninhabitable for humans due to the environmental damage caused by those tests. The exhibition depicts the legacies left behind both above and below the sea level, enabling visitors to experience them physically within the exhibition space." [1]

The large screen projection was followed by a room of stacked lead (?) missile radome's, a second screen and a chandelier of plastic bags with algal growth in it. Charrière, a student of Olafur Eliasson's Institutionalization für Raumexperimente, is positioning himself to be a Eliasson replica.

Aesthetically there is a documentary "truth" conveyance in the footage, an absent editor who is neutrally showing the horrors of aged demolition. But the approach isn't so different from Alexander von Humboldt's approach in Latin America, who went about "discovering" plants and animals, i.e. putting them in European taxonomical systems, all the while brushing away the knowledge of the the indigenous people. I found it strange, or maybe even 19th Century, that Charrière depicted something that was deemed the uninhabitable for humans based on the conditions of the island, but he didn't bother to actually depict any humans–where those people went, the surrounding islands Marshall Islands. It was as if Charrière missed what was unfortunate about the site he was documenting and recapitulated the same gravity in his film. A more humane approach could have include the voices of people from the Marshall Islands, many of whom have moved to Oregon, or the story of the people displaced. That would have had an element of emotion, rather than just contextualized landscape documentary. But that’s a position in contemporary art.

Nina E. Schönefeld's "Dark Waters" (2018, 15:55 min) and "Snow Fox" (2018, 10:03 min) are part of a fictional series of videos that imagine a future world in which the current political, social and environmental crisis have further evolved for the worse. "Snow Fox" is described as "a science fiction film set in the near future: the eponymous heroine works for a company that manipulates the weather, resulting in the spread of brain disease. Snow Fox meets a group of women fighting for the last 'natural' place on Earth." I watched for 12 minutes but got annoyed by the genre bending.

"Schönefeld quotes the aesthetics of various formats and genres – from blockbuster series like Mr. Robot or classics of cinema like Clockwork Orange to computer game tutorials and high-end streetwear by Gosha Rubchinskiy." [2]

On the bottom floor of Johan König gallery were three works made of magnets. Visually, it referenced Ad Reinhardt's Black paintings, but the pattern more clearly matched squared hardworking floors. The experience viewing the works are precisely, walk into the room, see black textured surface, notice one of the floor standing away from the wall, vertically and independent of a support, return to looking at the wall piece, think of graphite, notice the texture, look within each square and realize these are made of magnets, look back at the floor piece and then realize a third, towering pillar was in the corner, leave.

On the second floor was the film "I Can See Forever," by Jeremy Shaw. The film, which is either found footage or shot on VHS, exploits the familiar texture to distort the temporality of the film that supposed takes place in a future beyond 2018, but is discussed in a recent past tense.

"I Can See Forever" is a pseudo-documentary set approximately 40 years in the future. It is presented as an episode of a documentary television series about the 'Singularity Project' – a failed government experiment that aimed to create a harmonious synthesis of human and machine. The film exposes the story of the only known survivor, 27 year-old Roderick Dale. Born with an 8.7% Machine DNA biology and uninterested in the virtual reality-trappings of his time, Dale has committed himself to a life immersed in dance. During his unique, virtuosic activities, he claims to be able to 'See Forever' – a multi-layered and contentious term that he defines as the ability to transcend to a digital plane of total unity while maintaining a corporeal physical presence. His rather hermetic life is devoted to studying ballet, modern, and various subcultural styles of dance on television. Candid scenes of a solitary Dale traversing empty civic spaces confirm the fact that ordinary denizens prefer to privately absorb themselves in the The Unit – an advanced virtual reality device that has replaced spiritual experience in humans."[2] I really liked the video until I learned that he had used basically the same special effects of the dance sequence in the previous video of the Quantification Trilogy, “Liminals” (2017). The scene is the last part of the film. He’s built up the anticipation of this transcendental dancer. The effect is basically a pixelated tracer of the dancer slowing to a free and then being interrupted and erased by another shot, in succession. The fact that the effect was a gimmick, and not styled for that particular video changed how I thought of the sequence.

I visited the KW institute for the final hour. The most interesting show a retrospective of Beatriz González, a Colombian artist, whose works span sixty years and 120 works. Her paintings reminded me of the paintings in the Botero Museum of Medellín, not stylistically, but as representation of the political and social violence of the period, La Violencia, specifically of those that showed the battle and killing of Pedro Escobar. But I preferred González approach. Flat portraits and paintings showed people in mourning. Or in front of Columbarios, the silhouettes of two people carrying a dead body. In the largest exhibition room were the oversized furniture works from her 1970s Pop Art period. Oversized dinner platters or plates, mis-proportioned beds, all with some kitschy painting on it, reminded me of the works of Carlos Castro Arias, and suggested a pathway between Castro’s use of symbols in political critique and kitsch materials.

All of these museum visits were crude ways of killing time in Berlin until Weber's book launch at KW Institute. Jeff’s book launch began with a 20 minute film by Robert Beavers, made in the 1960s but not edited until the 2000s. Curiously, Beavers has been known to revise his film, particularly his early works. The film was comprised of short clips of a young man near a swimming pool, and a man on a beach, reclining, that finally moved in doors to Beavers reflecting a light off a mirror at the camera. Beavers was born in 1949, and I wondered if that young man in the film was not the filmmaker himself. A level of youthful eroticism coded the shots. I estimated that there were 50 different shots that were somewhat randomly woven, repeating throughout the film. I found myself wanting to just look at each shot in total duration. But the shot were gorgeous; saturated colors and well-composed. Non narrative, philosophical.  P. Adams Sitney describes Beavers style and poetics approach:

“The tactility of the cinematic image plays a central role in all of Beavers’s films. He frequently portrays the filmmaker as a hand craftsman, focusing the lens, pushing a filter across the plane of vision, making a splice. Even more often, he films hand gestures, clapping, touching, and shaping imaginary spaces. In all these references to the sense of touching there is a double acknowledgment of the power of the filmic caress and the impossibility of actually touching anything in cinema: Even the metaphors of the light touching the raw film stock or the projector beam hitting the screen reveal both the desire for a greater substantiality and its impossibility.” [4]

The clapping of the 16mm film projector announced the end. The lights came on.

Jeff and Robert conversed about the film, it’s progeny, and their collaboration at Kunsthalle Leipzig. The event was part of Berlin Sessions, a series of talks between artists. Personally, I wanted to hear more about the relationship of Beavers experience with Kunsthalle Leipzig as it pertained to Jeff’s new book, which I had read. As the last question, I tried in vane to make the connection between the book, Kunsthalle Leipzig, Beavers, appropriation art and the photography generation, but my summary fell short. We left for an after party.

[1] "Julian Charrière: As We Used to Float," Berlinische Galerie Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, Berlin, Germany, 27 September 2018- 8 April 2019.
[2[ "Nina E. Schönefeld," Berlinische Galerie Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, Berlin, Germany, 28 November 2018 - 7 January 2019.
[3] "Jeremy Shaw | I Can See Forever," text by Maxwell Stephens,König Galerie, St. Agnes, Berlin, Germany, 24 November - 20 December 2018.
[4] Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson, P. Adams Sitney, Oxford University Press, New York. 2008