“Labor in a Single Shot”

John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10
February 27–April 6

View of “Eine Einstellung zur Arbeit” (Labor in a Single Shot), 2015.

If Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, 1895, synced the beginning of film to the end of the workday, then the four hundred commissioned videos at the heart of this project by the late artist Harun Farocki and the curator and artist Antje Ehmann rewind the clock to record the workday itself. The exhibition is divided into three sections, which breaks up the formal monotony of the videos (each is around two minutes and has no edits).

Workers Leaving Their Workplaces in Fifteen Cities, 2011–14, is a semicircular installation by fifteen artists, wherein sixteen monitors screen contemporary reprisals of the Lumières’ aforementioned classic. In the foyer, Farocki’s own formulation, Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik in elf Jahrzehnten (Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades), 2006, plays factory-themed clips culled from works by artists ranging from the Lumières to Lars von Trier. Both pieces perhaps hew to the theme a bit too closely, for neither can compete with the riveting cache of footage that streams onto densely hung screens in the main exhibition hall. Produced by hundreds of artists over the course of workshops led by Farocki and Ehmann on five continents, some of these videos depict child laborers, others elderly artisans; some workers are highly paid (such as surgeons) while others might not get paid at all (such as street performers); people make bread in Tel Aviv, cremate pets in Berlin, sell ice in Hanoi.

Despite the show’s global reach, it is remarkably self-reflexive. Participating artists were not compensated—an irony in light of the frequent necessity of the day job. Indeed, while workers might have left the factory in 1895, the show ultimately suggests that today’s workers might simply be punching out in order to punch in somewhere else.

Katherine Rochester

Tom Chamberlain

Schöneberger Ufer 71
February 13–April 18

Tom Chamberlain, Tell Me Again, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 18 1/2 x 21 3/5".

What in reproduction just looks like more formalist painting is in reality a refined form of optical painting. Vibrant, intense, yet modest, six acrylic paintings are presented here, along with two watercolors and five drawings. The first surprise is that the paintings are on canvas, as they’re so smooth they resemble coated panels. The artist, Tom Chamberlain, primed the canvas and sanded extensively till a flat white surface remained, and then applied endless layers of thin paint, creating a subtle dynamic between light and dark and transitions between transparent and opaque.

One such work, Tell Me Again, 2014, shows six horizontal bars, each changing in value from an almost black to a light gray with a barely visible purple seemingly mixed in. The contrast between neighboring stripes also suggests an illusion of depth. Here, as in other paintings, it is hard to pinpoint precisely which colors are used, just as it is impossible to fix one single image with consensus. The instability of visual perception structures the actual experience of these works, with duration thus becoming part of the content. The effect could be compared to flying through dense clouds in an airplane and seeing changes in the thickness, color, light, and clarity of the surrounding atmosphere. In As If, 2014, Not Now, 2014–15, and And So On, 2014, the paint seems to cover and dim a light source radiating from behind. By allowing only brightness to come through at the fringes of his works, Chamberlain creates the paradoxical effect that darkness brings forth light.

Jurriaan Benschop

James Benning

Klosterwall 23
February 14–May 10

View of “James Benning: Decoding Fear,” 2015.

With its white walls, this latest installation of “Decoding Fear” seems the negative image of the show’s first iteration at Kunsthaus Graz, where sundry objects, texts, and projections were displayed in a dark space. In either iteration, the gallery spaces have felt as sepulchral as the immaculately white, minimally furnished twin cabins at the heart of the show. These simplified, abstract reproductions of the hermitical dwellings that Henry David Thoreau and the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski constructed at Walden Pond and Stemple Pass, Montana, respectively, are an essay in contrasts, for all their outward similarities.

The inspired, provocative pairing of these two reclusive figures, who both embody attempts at self-sufficient living, plays throughout. Practically every item on display is confronted with its double, starting with a handwritten page copied from Thoreau’s 1854 Walden and one from Kaczynski’s journals, placed at the exhibition’s entrance. In the video Stemple Pass, 2012, four static, half-hour shots of a lush mountain valley in the Sierra Nevada across the seasons, with a replica of Kaczynski’s log cabin built by Benning in the foreground, have their exact counterparts—right down to the videos’ duration—in the lingering shots of a faithful copy of Thoreau’s cabin, in Benning’s first showing of Concord Woods, 2014.

Are Kaczynski’s antitechnological writings, by turns lucid and chilling, the flip side of Thoreau’s dream of self-reliance? By emphasizing the similarities between these two figures—one worshipped, one reviled—Benning appears to suggest that their games of survival stem from the same anarchic and very American impulse.

Agnieszka Gratza