Trisha Baga’s latest exhibition, “LOAF,” takes its name from a series of glazed ceramic slices of bread that reveal a colorful surface under each crust. They resemble marbled paper, photographs of interstellar nebula, or even nebula in the medical sense: a clouded spot on the cornea that causes blurry vision. The show is a generous display of two 3-D video installations, a sculpture of a cat’s play tower with various found objects, and thirty-odd ceramic sculptures arranged as if in a doctor’s waiting room.
Brother Making an Impressionist Painting (all works 2016) is a ceramic printer halfway through printing a blurry landscape. Thinking of Impressionism’s shift of focus from objective to subjective representation, one wonders how this might extend to contemporary mediated images. The face of Hillary Clinton on the cover of New York Magazine for There Is Nothing Simple About Hillary Clinton and of Nicki Minaj on Rolling Stone for Mad Genius Manic Diva are partly covered with ceramic reproductions of the same images, highlighting the obfuscation that was already present in the originals. But seeing is also personal: For Baga, Ellen DeGeneres is a brain-like shape.
In the 3-D video Ghosts, the artist revisits the moment when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call and had no one to dial. The video portrays an anxiety with the spectacle of networked society collapsing into invisibility; live streaming to no audience, where screens are also smokescreens. The show becomes a tenderly frantic insistence on the materiality of the layers of mediation that surround us—a blurry vision made in glazed clay.
If you arrive here during open hours only to find the door locked, the lights off, and the blinds down, don’t panic. The gallery is open: Just duck under the half-closed security gate. This is Düsseldorf-based collective Studio for Propositional Cinema’s second solo exhibition here, and it is fittingly titled “(TO THE SPECTATOR:).” A number of wall-mounted text works even address the viewer directly.
The space’s architecture is thrown into relief by electric yellow and iridescent silver lettering in sans-serif capitals, elegantly following the lines of arched doorways and walls. Works such as BEING OBSERVED SHE TURNS HERSELF INTO AN IMAGE FOR HIM BUT FROM WHICH HE IS CROPPED (all works 2016) follow those of 1960s Conceptualists such as Lawrence Weiner and Art & Language, for whom text is a means of referencing material states, with words and their physical mediums together constituting the work. Here, networked digital culture is evoked—itself often seen as immaterial, despite the physical resources required to power the Internet. The letterforms here on view are delimited with clean, minimal aesthetics, yet manage to fervently ignite our imaginations so that we might wonder, What’s the story here? A broken heart, a breakup?
The importance of spectatorship is emphasized in the exhibition’s eponymous work, in which silver and gold spray paint delineate sentences on a grid of a hundred sheets of graph paper. It calls to mind a point from Roland Barthes’s 1967 essay “The Death of the Author”: Without the reader, all is immaterial, and there is only absence, erasure. The spectator is the negative of the artist, the foil. This is a dialectical relationship, and Studio for Propositional Cinema is awaiting your presence.
When it comes to the soul and ethics, on what foundation should we base our measurements? Developing their ongoing interest in psychopathologies and social value systems, Belgian artist duo Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys present selections from a new sculptural series, “White Elements,” 2013–16, which they posit as a baseline for such judgment.
Solid steel plates welded together and painted white mimic elemental shapes and human forms. Loosely pinned where the heads should be are lightweight sheets of paper with pencil drawings of mug shots found on the internet, each chosen for their striking gaze. Individuals are unnamed but included are faces of convicts and Nazi officials at their time of arraignment. Every portrait is matched with a basic, but fully functional, scientific measuring instrument mounted on the torso, as with Compass White Element and Barometer Altometer White Element, both 2016. The dials spin or the mercury rises and falls according to magnetic pull, temperature, and air pressure, quantifying statistics of the given environment in real time. A series of colorful paintings on cards including Five Beach Balls and Three Blue Umbrellas, both 2016, hang on the walls, anticipating a blistering sun or stormy deluge with the simple objects depicted.
In the accompanying video, Die Aap van Bloemfontein (The Ape from Bloemfontein), 2014, a digitally distorted voiceover narrates an absurdist tale of transformation, akin to a dissociated ketamine trip. The video’s motley performers, frozen like sculptures, appear in a series of vignettes from a therapist’s office to a jail cell, exposing pangs of conflict and vulnerability. Their abstract grievances are on trial, but what guides the moral compass?
The implicit main character in urban science-fiction narratives is always the city itself—architecture plays an integral and active part in shaping the story. This becomes abundantly clear in an exhibition of original background drawings from three well-known anime films: Patlabor: The Movie (1989), Ghost in the Shell (1995), and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), all directed by Mamoru Oshii.
On the first floor, viewers find paintings of cityscapes, ramshackle villages, and postapocalyptic islands, painstakingly rendered with miniature brushstrokes and delicate washes of gouache. These works are often overlaid with transparent celluloid sheets upon which moveable foreground elements, such as street lamps, were added. All done by art director Hiromasa Ogura, the scenes are arresting, melancholy, and deeply uncanny; lovers of Ghost in the Shell will immediately recognize the eerily tweaked Hong Kong of 2029 where Oshii situated the story.
A group of drawings on the second floor reveals the paintings’ basis in rigorous architectural studies. Extremely precise pencil renderings by Atsushi Takeuchi and Takashi Watabe, many of which were the foundation for finished backgrounds on the floor below, provide what look like technically plausible designs. In a different context, one would assume these were construction plans rather than sketches for cartoon backdrops. Short clips that include the backgrounds from each movie are also on view; the scenes become dynamic and dimensional when animated by characters, weather, and cinematic effects. After seeing the multilayered process by which their worlds are created, one understands that these films’ sense of depth is no illusion—every frame is undergirded by a whole substructure of beams and pipes.
In the Ninth Berlin Biennale, DIS describes the present as a moment of paradox, when people are data and the virtual doubles as the real. Miles (or kilometers) west, curator Gail Kirkpatrick presents another contemporary contradiction, with a ten-artist show that dubs sculpture today “solid but also liquid.” In Berlin, artists attempt to give the immaterial networked form. In Münster, that which is already considered fixed and solid is revealed to be unstable and mutable.
The Greek myth of Pygmalion recounts how the gods breathed life into a marble woman. Björn Dahlem’s Der goldene baum (The Golden Tree), 2011, a tree of domestic bric-a-brac, and Matthew Monahan’s Lady-in-Waiting, 2011, a teetering pile of refractory bricks and other materials, both seem to await an astral touch. If this feels far-fetched, it shouldn’t. As Steven Claydon’s totemic Antenna (Anesthesia), 2016, reminds us, we plug into and receive signals from the sky every day. Even a basic Internet connection lets us perform acts of divine creation. Laurent Fiévet’s Hollywood Chlorophylle, 2015, is sculpture as YouTube—a looping scene from 1952’s ur–Hollywood musical Singin’ in the Rain tinged green and thus transmogrified into an ode to French-made Hollywood Chlorophyll Chewing Gum.
Two pieces from Tobias Rehberger’s 2014 mask series “Me as You II”—one tribal style, with cascading beads and fangs; the second, ghostly blue, with an expression halfway between Casper and Scream, and wrapped in a babushka—really say it all. CCTV and facial-recognition software construct people from data, but if we alter that data, then can’t we become whomever we want—even one another? It’s 2016. If tech is wearable, certainly sculpture can be too.