Waiting on the canal like something about to happen sits a show called Empathy and Burnout, with works by London-based artist Ulijona Odišarija and Claudia Pagès, curated by Gerda Paliušytė. It is the fourth in a 2015 series of shows at Amsterdam’s P////KT Gallery, all so far tied together with the title: Not Making Sense as Something Else. Each day at 2pm and for two hours thereafter Empathy by Amsterdam-based artist, Pagès, plays through large and bold and present speakers to a relatively empty and cold room. The space is bright and white and senses are heightened and attended to almost immediately. Everything is remarkable, and simple and delicate and everything feels like it is the most present form of itself: like it is all supposed to be there and if there were anymore, it would be too much. As a line in a previous video, The Tomato Song, by Odišarija, which is not online yet – she says, in a conversation about the show – just being worked on in her head, notes: ‘I don’t want to be ketchup, I want to be a tomato’.
P////KT’s Not Making Sense as Something Else series, which includes a set of commissioned texts from writers by artist Marnie Slater, invites a tenderness with which you encounter something you see or think about: be it the ‘attentive’ artwork of Bram de Jonghe or the thoughts/ experience worded by Laurie Charles. The pieces have been equivalents or extensions to altering and faltering moments, rather than necessarily representations of them, which provides, as it does in Empathy and Burnout, a very present (and pleasant) viewing experience. Charles’ piece, ‘The Story Begins in 1974’, as translated by Slater, finds the words: “I look into this prism of coloured alcohol spread over the carpet”. Her descriptions are busy with ‘phantoms’, and things manage to fade up into the content with each change of word.
Pagès’ ‘Empathy’ piece, which she performed live at the opening event, is partly a country song with spoken words emphasised through the occasional falling into melody as though they are agreeable or persuasive towards the music, and visa versa. What is being heard on the way along the canal before entering the gallery is thoughts voiced around/surrounding the law that says that a person cannot be convicted of domestic violence towards a sex worker because of the lack of intended and time-based contact, devotion and togetherness. The gap between the people is the same as the gap inside the law and also the gap in Pagès’ work: sung and shaped into being by the words around it. The final line of the press release –which is presented folded in half down the long-side of the paper and wrapped inside an image of one of the empty Gallery walls –reads: “the impossibility of entertainment in its own right”. It is particularly striking and it makes you think about the weight held on to by entertainment, underneath it, behind it: like a dance between the front face of entertainment and what is not there –what is not performed, or, what does not need to be performed. And the work in this space feels empathetic to this.
Odišarija’s two-minute forty-two second video, ‘Burnout’ (2015) is gently brought into sharper view as Pagès’ voice slows and as the gallerist walks at 4pm each day to quickly close the gallery shutters in order to darken the room enough to at last make out cloud from steam; smoke from video fade in Odišarija’s looped projection. It has already been playing there: image burned out on the far wall. And then upon encounter –physicalised by the dance of the gallery’s shutters –‘Burnout’ becomes image faded on to memory (or eyeballs) and watching it starts to produce a déjà vu. Odisarjia’s work begins with a shot of the outside of a car being forcefully pedaled from the inside with handbrake on. It is paired with the noise of this action which gives rise to both the fumes, visually, and some strange relief in a music track that is faded into out of the seen smoke. More and more things emerge out of a smoky background, be it a scene from the place in the sky that sits immediately above the lowest clouds, or the next piece of footage out of the previous one. Both ‘Empathy’ and ‘Burnout’ as artworks are addictive to experience, and like an addiction you can’t really see or hold on to the thing or reason in the middle of it. You can experience ‘Burnout’’s cliché moment where the car’s accelerator is pushed too hard, but you know it only through smoke and sound and the shaky and blurred phone camera lens. As a viewer, you know the moment well –even if just on film.
The show does not have a binary relationship between presence and absence, it’s not in its language, somehow. The burnout in and of Odišarija’s work lasts beyond itself as a moment and as a video work and continues into its bleach out when sunlight comes. ‘A burnout’ is a moment in this show and in a person it is rendered a reaction or something physical: “I am burned out”. While that is felt after ‘Burnout’, Pagès speakers too remain present but unused and free of sound in the afternoon (Odišarija’s importantly comes out of other speakers, somewhere else, hidden in the space). They fade in and out in spite of each other (not instead of each other): they fade in and out anyway, which feels a bit like the title of Pagès’ recent work written in Marfa, Texas on a short residency: “We need Help!, they exclaim. The help is already here, its underground, they say”. Included in one song are the words: “I want my hat to fit perfectly on my head, so I won’t borrow it. And your words won’t impregnate me”. There is an acknowledgment of the swirling everything that exists outside of an action, a being and maybe an artwork.
The second part of Pagès’ ‘Empathy’ piece is a group of empty terracotta vases, a plane made up of white, low square tables and a team of wooden crates, turned so the closed side is facing upwards, installed on the floor at opposite sides of the gallery. These aren’t clear, but they’re delicate, and intended, and do not require meaning, nor a reading in relation to the song or the video. They are just there, like a deep breath that is not a sigh.