Critics’ Picks

View of “Benedikt Terwiel: No Vacancy,” 2016.

Berlin

Benedikt Terwiel

SOX
Oranienstr. 175
September 16 - November 6

Benedikt Terwiel’s work puts stakes down and sets markers in space, as if fixing coordinates could vanquish alienation. Before cameras, land surveyors would carve measurements directly into rocks, trees, or the sides of mountains, using a technique known as metes and bounds. By tracing a line to measure its length, they physically experienced its translation into two dimensions.

On an extended visit to Los Angeles in 2015, the artist walked past the same derelict, boarded-up motel on Sunset Boulevard nearly every day. The structure was infamous enough to have a nickname, the Bates Motel (it had once been the Sunset Pacific, shuttered and surrounded by a barbed-wire fence since 2002), and yet for Terwiel it had an unreadable quality. Its layers of paint over graffiti on signs covering paint had the effect of flattening the structure, almost in the manner of a portrait. The week before he left California, the artist took pictures of the building, furthering this process.

One photo in particular—untitled and dated 2015—featuring a matte blue sky, a straight and tall palm-tree trunk, and the hectic scribble of a Yagi TV antenna, is now installed in an approximately seven-by-ten-foot ivy-fringed vitrine in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. The displacement is fitting; that part of Sunset in LA’s Silver Lake area and Kreuzberg share a certain still-gritty yet gentrifying quality. Like a topographer, Terwiel is also placing viewers within his process of abstraction. This is especially interesting given that the motel was painted entirely white, palm trees and all, by the French artist Vincent Lamouroux just after Terwiel photographed it. Then it was demolished—a final flattening. With his gesture, the artist has documented and, in surveyors’ terms, set a monument, to the abstraction of a place by the forces of reality.