In Single, Yves Scherer chooses his relationship status as the entry point into a personal narrative. This installation is the Berlin- and New York-based artist’s second exhibition at Galerie Guido W. Baudach since receiving representation, running from September 17 to October 31, 2016. The first show, Closer (2014) was an examination of celebrity culture through the lens of the internet’s obsession with Emma Watson, including life-sized nude sculptures depicting the creative versioning of the actress crowdsourced from her intense group of fans.
On the invitation for Single, a photo of Scherer appears topless and hunched over a cellphone, in front of a pink backdrop. On Facebook it appears as click bait, promising a sort of intimacy or vulnerability from the artist. The colour that the artist chooses is used in the graphic design of the posters for Bridget Jones’ Baby and Bad Moms; films which rely on the audience’s empathy for a gendered experience of relationships. Pink is also used to make bikes and sneakers more expensive for women. The ‘Pink Tax’ written about in the The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report means the colour Scherer has chosen to sell his show represents ‘commodified’ vulnerability and girl power co-opted by capitalism; a pastiche of media influence to create a promising package. At this point in the audience’s journey, that artist has set up an economic unit for his exhibition, the political import of the relationship status: a discussion existing somewhere at the intersection of affect theory and neoliberalism, with the additional layer of gendered role reversal. When asked about his use of this coloir via email, Scherer simply comments, “It was the closest I could come to drag.”
In their book The Queer Art of Failure, Jack Halberstam compares heterosexuality to an assembly line: “success in a heteronormative, capitalist society equates too easily to specific forms of reproductive maturity combined with wealth accumulation.” People can read between the lines of the U.S. Census Bureau’s findings about gender, relationship status, and education to guess what this assembly line looks like. The reader can compare the lives of colleagues who got married in their 20s to those who moved to urban centres and remain non-committal and unknowing into their late 30s, often involved in creative and precarious labor. The question is, once someone has left the assembly line, where do they fit within the social structure? How is intimacy organized? Who can they rely on? The answer appears to reside in Scherer’s phone, a sort of communication all the more desperate in the reduction of human feeling to short texts and emojis.
Scherers’ number is displayed on an accumulation of pink posters in front of the gallery entrance, in case you are lonely and want to Whatsapp him, a gesture described in the press release as a “tool or a medium for finding the matching other half.” However, it’s a New York number, and this is Berlin. I could imagine finding his foreign phone on Whatsapp, but I can’t believe Scherer is looking for a partner living on the other side of Atlantic. The number marks the end of cultural symbols linked to Single, but the syrupy pink colour persists on panels hung throughout the space. They are made of what the press release terms ‘everyday materials’, but mostly seem like products purchased at a hardware or textile shop. Occasionally, plywood and cardboard are lackadaisically graced with the printed image of a model, celebrity, or the Virgin Mary. These sexual hieroglyphics are always obscured by paint or ripped away, as if in the altered state of singleness, the performance of gender is confused and obscured, while Scherer explains, “these works really reflect on the female figures in my life.”
These somewhat empty panels are described by the press release as the ‘backdrop’ to the sculptures. Representative of “characters in the game of being single,” are a collection of found objects distributed in the space: some hoodies propped up in different ways, taxidermy, bits of a sneaker, and masks hung on walls and carpentry work horses. One of the most expressive parts of the installation is a raccoon playing in the dirt and a pheasant with a tarp tied over its head. While the press release writes that this is a “celebration of all the partners along the way,” Scherer contradicts this via email with “A celebration is bit too much” and “the animal is used highly functionally to express human characteristics in a caricature-like way.” But the “game of being single” isn’t here, only a pile of art history references generating validity by subconscious imitative gestures that once meant something to someone: a bit of Joseph Beuys in the fur, Kurt Schwitters on the panels, and even Cy Twombly in a pair of loosely scrawled cellphone digits.
The tableau starts to make sense when you watch the video at the back of the space. It is a kidnapping fantasy starring Scherer. In ‘Here with me’ (2016) the artist is held hostage and tied up in a blanket in the mountains of Switzerland, dependent on a romantic loose-end to rescue him from isolation and abandonment. Being single might feel like being stranded to the artist, just like Diana Ross singing ‘Rescue Me’. Waking up in a blanket alone, yearning for human warmth and trying to eke human connection out of text messages from a list of casual encounters can feel like a state of crisis. Emotional labour outruns its productivity and relief is hoped for from unknown saviours. Perhaps the taxidermied pheasant and raccoon that star in the installation are inhabitants of the snowy forest, and the refrigerator, broom, and hoodies belong to the holiday cabin the artist is held hostage in. If you dig deep into the credit lines, you’ll notice that some of the paintings are called ‘blankets.’
Leaving the Single exhibition, a finely crafted miniature staircase catches the eye. It spirals into the air and stops abruptly, the perfect metaphor for precarity; unfinished life-stories constantly in search of a clear route or destination. But the viewer is cruising in a logic loop by now. While the show touches on some interesting content relating to ‘singleness’, the show becomes a representation of haphazard vacuity through an appropriation of symbols and packaging strategies, and perhaps lacks the investment necessary to explore these topics with any depth or commitment.**