Neutral is a text-heavy tour de force, revealing an apathetic subset of Berliners, the so-called ‘staylienz’ who, intending to visit for a short time, end up living in the city for a decade “sat on a beanbag, splifta in one hand”. Musician-artist Steven Warwick (aka Heatsick) develops a series of similarly catchy neologisms throughout his solo exhibition at Exile, running January 30 to March 5. The central narrative ‘NEONLIBERAL’ is a tale of two bubbly Brits –Spirulina and Chorella –who embark on a spontaneous road trip from London to Berlin in their driverless car to check out the hottest new nightclub, the next Berghain, Club Nutri. Thinking they’ve arrived at the venue, they find themselves trapped in a maximum security prison-vessel for Jeremy Corbyn supporters, drifting offshore. In a mounting procession of absurdities, they decide that the only way to free themselves is to take “Testo Gel”, grow Appalachian folk singer beards and bore the guards to sleep with their prosaic music. Success. They make it to Club Nutri and are admitted after only a nine-hour wait. Disappointed by how easy it is to get in, they immediately turn back for home. Berlin. Is. So. Over.
The screenplay is hand-scrawled on a chalkboard in the gallery, taking up the length of a whole wall. The only other thing in the large room is a bed, a blow-up mattress in the centre of the floor, sheets printed with an unambiguous message: “CAN’T BE ARSED”. Complementing the ‘NEONLIBERAL’ characters’ names, a bag of fresh large-leaf spinach stands in for the plump pillow at the head of the bed. Visitors are invited to sit or lie on the bed to read the script –a strange reversal of the usual lazy experience: instead of watching a projected film we are confronted with a wall of densely-packed script and only our imaginations to add colour to the story, in this almost clinically neutral setting. The show’s other props –houseplants, a pair of sneakers, Heatsick’s own grated u-bahn platform record sleeves –corroborate the oozing neutrality, comfort, placid health goth style, and lack of ambition until we feel almost at home in our own spacious, minimal Berlin apartments, wandering between rooms unfazed and uninspired.
A text by philosopher Robin MacKay accompanying the show elaborates the theoretical underpinning of Warwick’s self-mocking visual shtick. Mackay’s biting essay considers the cultural dominance of the word space. Places are imbued with creative capital in their transformation to spaces: the project space, the research space, the gallery space. This neutralizing word is unparalleled in the art world, a strong signifier for a transitory and white-washed cultural landscape, devoid of meaning and positioned towards boundless potentiality. While a certain Berlin lifestyle (and the reverence afforded to it abroad) is critiqued, Neutral acknowledges a more structural problem. The insatiable desire for newness propels the creative class toward cities like Berlin, but the by-product of their appearance is an emptying out of substance –they seem to take everything and add nothing.
Neutral, the exhibition, and the staged living ‘space’ in which it is enveloped, are united in a “serene streamlined integration”. The cybernetic nomad is at home here, in this exhibition and in this city: futily suffusing it with creative desires and energies until they are left hollow, a “superfood-guzzling grindr-swiping concept-hungry pitch-shifting multi-desking gentry for whom every glancing encounter is a creative opportunity”. Faced with Warwick and Mackay’s eminently quotable texts, the art critic (a cultural parasite, guilty as charged) wonders to herself for the umpteenth time: “Do you really have anything to add?” **
Exhibition photos, top right.