Looking dimly forward with Comedy Club 2

, 9 September 2016

For its second act —following the first in a Neukölln warehouse in April —Comedy Club’s troupe of Jens Einhorn, Anne Fellner and Burkhard Beschow, coordinated a one-night-only en plein air exhibition at a riverside point overlooking Nordhaven in Wedding, Berlin. Invited as a ‘supra-regional space’ by Project Space Festival, Comedy Club 2 included work by Katherine Botten, Armen Eloyan, Maximilian Kirmse, Clemens Reinecke, and Tanja Ritterbex among others.

Dusk approaches. Cheap solar-power garden lights struggle to spotlight several paintings on wooden easels that prop before a view over the city. Ceramic sculptures on shitty black and white pedestals bestrew the gravel of the exhibition site amongst cooler-bags of beer and a growing crowd, bottles in their hands.

Comedy Club 2 (2016) @ Project Space Festival, Berlin. Exhibition view. Photo by + courtesy of Mitch.
Comedy Club 2 (2016) @ Project Space Festival, Berlin. Exhibition view. Photo by + courtesy of Mitch.

The physical environment of the gallery is missing, along with its signifiers of display. It messes you around. Light wind animates threads in a small work by Aidan Koch,  A landscape by Patrick Eicke does not correlate with the riverscape. As the sun starts to drop, ceramic green feet in shoes by Nschotschi Haslinger feel like active body parts. A prop from a graveyard scene, the glazed preciousness left behind in the daylight for a more sinister materiality. It soon becomes harder to see and Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx’s ceramic forms on the black plinths feel vulnerable amongst the backpacks and bodies. People are starting to use their mobile phone torches to look at the works. Beschow tells me he hoped that people would do this with their phones, a form of mass audience participation taking CC2 into open air immersive theatre.

There is a mortality in the work and how to navigate it; as if buried and being uncovering by hands with smartphones. It is hard for the artworks to be autonomous from the experience, but that white-cube-disconnect is what is under scrutiny here. The works on display use traditional techniques; figurative painting, collage, ceramics, drawing. It is difficult to tell if CC2 is critiquing these formats in its performative-world or celebrating their resurgence in art practice.

A reading of en plein air as the shows heading questions permissions and the artist as observer of the world. This unaccredited, pop-up scenario follows histories of public intervention, squat exhibitions, and guerilla activity. In taking place at the invitation of a festival, CC2 is about the visibility of such spaces and the artist’s work being present, literally speaking, in full air.

Comedy Club 2 (2016) @ Project Space Festival, Berlin. Exhibition view. Photo by + courtesy of Burkhard Beschow.
Comedy Club 2 (2016) @ Project Space Festival, Berlin. Exhibition view. Photo by + courtesy of Burkhard Beschow.

A defining shift in the use of the term ‘artist-led’ through the rise of the project space-come commercial gallery has folded the points of accessibility for artists and what is expected of an artist-led space in its ‘brand’ and infrastructure.

A relevant contrast to CC2 is a recent week-long exhibition in New Jersey, NY. Tre Amici took place in a former Italian restaurant that had recently moved to a new premises. Titled after the restaurant’s name, show organisers; Eleanor Cayre, Jacob King, and Alex Zachary utilised the dining spaces as exhibition space including amongst others; Seth Price, Cosima Von Bonin and Rachel Harrison. The curation of Tre Amici in this buildings’ undead afterlife play on the material and social capital of the ‘alt’ venue as a viewing environment for works by high-selling, established artists. What is problematised in this high-end pop up is that it promotes an emerging trend of hyper-gentrification within property circles at the expense of the public. For example, a warehouse party hosted by real estate developers in the re-branded Piano District of the Bronx, New York, in 2015 —complete with bullet ridden cars by artist Lucien Smith —creates a crude fiction of an area and a solid brand identity for the wealthy attendees. The negative scenario this engenders in the autonomous cultural/political subject is that by using space for grassroots-activity, one’s labour and content will be eventually co-opted, enhancing the desirability of that area for development.

As a project space, CC2 is a sad state of affairs. We can assume the gang have been evicted from the warehouse loft they previously occupied. Now in limbo, they open up their show on the riverbanks for a night. It’s easy to get burned out by the speed at which buildings flip and spaces fall through. In the nostalgia of subcultural assimilation, art by mobile phone light feels like a vigil for a previous period, when you could have a project space without thinking so much about how to make it pay the bills.**

The Comedy Club 2 group exhibition was on as part of Berlin’s Project Space Festival at Tegeler Str. / Fennbrücke, Aussichtspunkt Nordhafen on August 24, 2016.

Header image: Nschotschi Haslinger @ Comedy Club 2 (2016), Berlin. Install view. Photo by + courtesy of Burkhard Beschow.