One of the four consecutive editions of Double Room at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin brought together artists Rosa Aiello and Cooper Jacoby in a show, which ran from October 9 to November 6, 2015. Curated by Nóra Feigl, Erik Jacobs, Elisa R. Linn and Anna Straetmans, the collaborative process was brought to the fore in an effort to explore the combination of two distinct artistic practices. In addition, there were readings by Hannah Black, Tess Edmonson, Eva Kenny and Aiello herself on the eve of the opening.
For Double Room, the space becomes a part of the installation and provides a physical framework with which the artists must respond, forcing the works to engage in a conversation through an intimate proximity in the tight spatial unit. Jacoby, whose show Stagnants at Berlin’s Matthew Galleryaqnb recently reviewed, presents Flatlines (2015), sculptures which sit quietly in the space. Using lacquered steel, lucite, canola oil/machine lubricant and surgical sutures, these objects are delicate yet clinical and are quietly camouflaged into the architecture of the room. Aiello’s nine-minute and 48-second HD video ‘Serving’ (2015) occupies the rest of the space with colour and sound.
The exhibition seeks to highlight a dialectical relationship, engaging in a transparency of subservience and authority in the infrastructure of conversation. The nucleus of the Double Rooms is in an absent truth and a desire to establish what this is through a coming together of sorts; the misled beneficiaries.**
Presented as a part of the gallery’s current performance programme, ‘The Performative Minute’, Tolmie and Staff have been working on ‘Litmus Shuffle’ for a while, at least since 2014. They describe it as a ‘choreographic collaboration’, which collects the by-products, detritus or excesses of a shared ‘life’ and ‘work’ along with the communication that forms it, examining its possible transformation into reusable material.
The work this time will be posited in the context of the Secret Surface exhibition, which each event of ‘The Performative Minute’ including niv Acosta’s performance ‘Clapback‘ has been curated in relation to.
Both artists push the form of art and what it can include into a realm of personal, unbecoming, unrealised —or unrealisable. In this way they embrace what they describe in the press release as ‘superficial exchange’ (emails, sending photos to each other on their phones) rather than avoid this material, because “revelations of identity-constructing may be observed as they unfold” in time and space.
niv Acosta‘s CLAPBACK transforms the top floor of Berlin’s KW, from a barren industrial sized exhibition space into a humid cockpit heaving with bodies. Generating a backdrop of club vibes, a mix soundtrack byTYGAPAWof house, club, dance-hall and dubstep saturates the March 3 performance as accompaniment toSecret Surface, a group exhibition running February 13 to May 1, responding to surface as production of meaning.
Large signs labelled ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ sit on either side of a large projection screen. Strolling from one side of the room to the other, the audience weave between the two options; our bodies answer in rhythm with the identity-based questions, posed by the New York-based artist and appearing one after the next. They begin slightly elementary and trivial; an institutional game to get ourselves moving: “Kissed any of your Facebook friends? Slept in until 17hr? Been fired from a job? Do you feel normal?” As the ‘game’ progresses, the structure begins to slightly morph, and the language dances between aspirational individualism/romantic universalism and tangible limitations rooted in class, race and gender struggle.
“Caught a snowflake on your tongue? Fled from your country of origin? Think about the future? Imitate a culture that wasn’t your own? Been present at a human birth? Visited more than five countries?” Bodies continue to obey and respond, colliding past one another. “Do you feel trusted? Does racism upset you? Climbed a mountain? Do you have any black friends?” The tension quietly mounts, reaching its heaviest point at “Ever been a victim of racism?” Split in two, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ become signifiers of binary opposition and the room’s division is steeped in structural violence. Disturbing the unspoken energies that lurk in a fallaciously ‘post-racist’ landscape, our positions are placed in transparent display. The final slide reads, “Will you be my volunteers?” Acosta chooses ten people and takes them aside to speak to them privately.
Without announcement, a twerk performance casually erupts in a corner of the room. Naturally, our bodies create an audience around the area and Acosta is in the spotlight of our gaze. The volunteers are responsible for judging the amount of twerks the artist must complete, matching what the press release identifies as the 1,134 “police killings of black folks in America in 2015”. The room remains tense for the first half, silently watching Acosta sweat through hip-thrusting, low-squatting choreography. It is brave. A remix of Missy Elliott lyrics boom throughout the gallery: Work it/ Let me work it continues on loop. Before long, the spectacle takes over and the crowd erupts in cheers of awe and support for Acosta’s skill and stamina. Power relations between judge, performer and audience are splayed open and unresolved. Paying homage to the victims of fatal police violence, the twerk occupies a space of empowerment and determination. However, the idea of ‘hard work’ is complicated by the black body’s objectification throughout history and pop culture. After reaching the target, the music stops and Acosta staggers with exhaustion into the crowd, sweat dripping from every pore. The words “don’t let me through” come up on the projection screen, while he pushes slowly and theatrically into the barricade of bodies. At the same time, audience members begin probing people, and asking “what are you looking at” and “is this what you expected?”. At the beginning we can’t tell if they are actors or not, and the energy of the room feels damp and aggressive.
Acosta finally makes his way to the front of the room and sits cross-legged in meditation pose on a plinth; the atmosphere lightens as we enter into the ‘cool down’ phase of the workout. Looping on the screen behind, a video of galaxies and stars fill the contours of Acosta’s behind, abstracting the sexualised focal point of his body. A soundtrack of gravitational ripples between two black holes fills the space with spiritual ambience and Acosta begins to sing over the top. With an incredible voice, the words pour out: “I wanna be free/ Lay down the beat/ When you look at me what do you think you see/ You got me twerking 1000 times/ On the dance floor”. The familiar sound of calmness is remixed into a chilling medley of transcendence and suffering. Acosta walks slowly through the crowd; the singing note “Ahh-ahh-ahh” organically mutates into “Oww-ow-ow.” Eventually, his voice trails off and the gradual fade feels like a loss of strength. Proportionate to the impact of the performance, the applause is overwhelming and powerful. We can’t seem to stop clapping and the strength of support feels as though it’s picking up Acosta’s exhausted body. The sound of gravitational pulls, as a backdrop for the performance, embodies a strong metaphor for solidarity, as well as the desire to elevate from the weight of post-colonial oppression and prescribed expectation. **
The announcement for the exhibition opens with a quote from writer D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Chaos in Poetry’ essay, noting a person’s futile drive for order in life’s turmoil: “In [their] terror of chaos, [humanity] begins by putting up an umbrella between [themselves] and the everlasting chaos…”
Making a claim to going beyond an ‘occidental’ (see ‘Western’) world view, SECRET SURFACE presents the work of 20+ artists and collectives including Auto Italia, Trisha Baga, Anna Barham, Spiros Hadjidjanos, Lawrence Lek, Prem Sahib, Reena Spaulings, Philipp Timischl, Frances Stark and others, exploring “the location of experience itself, both in terms of subjectivity and towards the outer world.”
Curated by Ellen Blumenstein based on joint research with Catherine Wood, the exhibition will also include performances by artists already contributing works, as well as niv Acosta, Emily Roysdon, Patrick Staff, Cara Tolmie and more.
Melnikova, who recently won the first kim? Residency Award and is KW’s current artist-in-residence, invites the audience to meet ‘Roy’, an entrepreneur who, she says, has played a major role in her work at KW. The “big cheese” is owner of Roy’s Enterprise finance and consulting company “that aims to provide brighter futures (the company slogan: Say “Cheese!” to the future)”.
For her performance, Melnikova welcomes the audience to an informal get-together thrown by Roy for all his friends, to take place in a three-dimensional construction created in the form of Caciocavallo, bringing to mind cartoon-style moneybags, and supplemented by homemade curd.
The reading performance comes as the first of what will become a weekly ritual, with the invited artist working to record and reflect current developments of the performance art scene, and Lippard’s Thursday reading takes on the topic of the office environment as a potential Eco-system, “deployed by the human endeavor to seek success”.
She takes a critical view to the rat race of modern life, using a to-do list as a metaphor for the exhaustive and endless cycles with life and its echos – “to-do, to-do, to-do” – which appears as both a rhythmic and primal thumping of the heart and a ceaseless call to command.
Alone and in silence is the perfect way to see Marguerite Humeau’s latest exhibition at Import Projects and I just got lucky, I guess, shuffling into the gallery as it closed and walking undisturbed through the whole brilliant spectacle. But what can words do to describe Humeau’s Horizons? Language falls flat when passions soar, and awe was the only emotion I could concretely feel walking through the haunting three-room installation. All too often, the story behind an exhibition ends up more fascinating than the work itself, the two appearing to have little in common, as though the true artist was the person responsible for the press release. In Horizons, however, the work and the story weave around each other flawlessly, for once telling the same whimsical story.
In the far right of the gallery hangs a massive black shape, a vibrating fighter jet blown up to life-size in black PVC rubber, suspended from the wall and looming diagonally across the room. Around the spaceship, a sound installation forms: a low, ominous hum that builds steadily and crashes ecstatically in unison with those filtering in from the next room. The fighter jet, the story tells us, is caught mid-flight in its fictional journey to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, and we catch up with it in the following room as an installation of an air cannon exploding black dust onto a crisp white wall simulates the jet’s crash into the moon’s surface.
The execution of the pieces is impressive enough, the emptiness of the gallery made stark by the harrowing sounds that bounce off the walls with frenzied insistence, but it is in the story that the installations find their value. Two years ago, in the underwater volcanos found along the ice caps of Antarctica and thought to be the closest earthly equivalent to Europa’s enigmatic climate, scientists discovered an unidentified species capable of surviving without light or oxygen, communicating only by a combination of sound, black powder, and light—the most alien-like creatures found to date. Humeau’s journey in Horizons is not to the moons of Jupiter per se but to the outer edges of our imagination, to the star-eyed notion that we are not alone and never have been.
Having travelled to future dimensions in the far corners of the solar system, the last of Humeau’s installations takes the viewer to primitive times with ‘The Opera of Prehistoric Creatures’. Two large white sound-producing sculptures are fastened side by side, abstracted from concrete shape but evocative of the long-extinct entelodont or “hell pig” and the ancient mammoth. With the help of palaeontologists, zoologists, surgeons and, among others, engineers, their imagined cries are re-constructed from old fossils, using everything from windpipes and synthetic larynges to AI systems and resonance cavities to give voice to these “frankenstinian sonic agents”. Combined with the grating trinkle of Humeau’s ‘Angelic Organ’, reconstructed from an 18th-century instrument banned due to its rumoured ability to drive listeners insane and marking the entrance to the gallery, the impression of Horizons is captivating, maddening. It is both senseless and completely coherent, a not-too-gentle push into the shadows of imagination and towards a knowledge generated only “through the impossibility of reaching the object of investigation”.
Perhaps it says something about me that I could have stayed for hours in Humeau’s dark, imagined universe but when confronted with Kate Cooper’s CGI-assisted show, RIGGED, at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, I wanted only to flee. Nothing is more discomfiting in our modern age than high-definition reality.
Like Humeau, who won the Berlin Art Week Jury Choice award for Horizons, Cooper’s two-storey exhibition won her this year’s acclaimed Schering Stiftung Art Award. Standing in front of a large screen on to which RIGGED’s only video work is projected, I can understand why, even if I don’t much enjoy what I’m looking at. A woman’s body, slipping in and out of HD realism, is seen from various angles, performing various tasks. She runs. She lies. She stares at the camera with dead eyes enhanced to flicker. In photographic works displayed on the higher connecting floor, she is seen exposing her teeth, around which silver braces and a grey plastic mouthguard are fastened. Despite the visible discomfort, her mouth rests in a soft smile.
The aesthetic of the show is repulsive to anyone who, like me, was raised in the age of high resolution. Why else would we filter every photo we take to show wear that was never really there? Looking at the fictional CGI-perfected woman, bought as a stock image by Cooper online and derived from no living human body, the commodification of the self as a reality of the modern world is unavoidable, especially if that self is a woman’s self. Her body, pore-less and hairless and smoothed of all error, is not ours, does not resemble ours, but is nevertheless meant to represent our own flawed bodies, implicitly widening the gap between the reality of our experience and its latent expectation.
The labour of this visual creation is the Auto Italia co-founder’s locus – the human labour inherent in the making of an animated character, but also the labour it relieves humans of as “expensive yet unpaid figures [begin] performing on our behalf” and purely fictional characters start to take on the roles of living ones. But walking through the dark exhibition room aglow with the impossible skin of an imagined body, all I can read in all this is the labour of being a woman. It is a woman, after all, whose body is used to sell everything from automobiles to lettuce and a woman who became the unattainable and idealized star of Spike Jonze’s latest film Her, which tells you a lot if you really think about it. It’s her body around which laws created by corpulent white men are based, this prescribed prison that artist Hannah Black rebels against in her video, ‘My Bodies‘. Though we can pretend that in this near-future, the idealized, commodified self could easily have been a man, Cooper’s show, almost despite itself, seems implicitly to answer: it only ever could have been a woman. **
Exhibition photos for Marguerite Humeau’s Horizons (2014), top-right.