Critics’ Picks

  • Eileen Quinlan, The Otter, 2016, gelatin silver print, 25 x 20".

    Eileen Quinlan

    Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen
    Grabbeplatz 4
    May 18–August 11

    Eileen Quinlan’s photographic work, of which this exhibition selects from roughly a ten-year period, shows the artist’s consistent return to material experimentation and clear investment in lens-based processes of imagemaking. Contrary to its title, though, “Wait For It” is impatient to start. Already hung outside the gallery space are twenty unframed black-and-white photographs of yoga mats. With their soft folds paying reference to Judy Chicago’s vaginal abstractions in The Dinner Party, 1974–79, the series “Christina,” 2012, is also where the camera lens meets the texture of vinyl, emphasizing the haptic in Quinlan’s work and serving as a reminder of how photography, through pure light and shade, lends itself to this particular merger.

    On a far wall, the twelve framed mirrors of Ghost Grid, 2016, reflect the surrounding space back into a familiar modernist structure. Here, the grid is less the domineering art-historical presence it secured in the last century than an apparition of sorts, as suggested by its title. While voiding the pictorial image, this work reaffirms a spectral quality rife in Quinlan’s practice—from the spiritual in daily exercise to the illusionism of staging—that can be traced back to early spirit photography and, more recently, to David Askevold and Mike Kelley’s “The Poltergeist,” 1974–79.

    The mirror image appears elsewhere, too. Suggesting a move toward a biocentric consideration of the subject, portraits of the artist’s twin sister (Lady and Sister, both 2013) are shown together with low-res images of a fox’s head and a swimming otter (The Fox and The Otter, both 2016). If Quinlan’s photographic work is recurrent, it shows not just an ongoing dedication to the medium, but also a consistent return to personal reflection and subjective concerns. Whether this is implied by a yoga mat or her own body pressed up against a shower cubicle (Good Enough, 2015), Quinlan repeatedly pushes forth surface contact.

  • Rindon Johnson, Among other things . . . , 2019, HD video projection, 26 minutes 34 seconds, color, sound. Soundtrack by Zeelie Brown.

    Rindon Johnson

    Schanzenstrasse 54
    March 31–July 28

    Whatever the flavor of Beyoncé’s Oshun-inspired awokening, we continue to drown. “Circumscribe,” Rindon Johnson’s first institutional solo show in Europe, conjures a panorama of a Black afterlife aquatic. Cleverly exploiting the venue’s transparent partitions, he submerges us in a multimedia environment that weaves together videos, objects, texts, and sounds. Though bodies, human or otherwise, are present in works such as the video It is April (JSC) (all works cited, 2019) and the virtual reality installation Diana Said, what stands out are the traces of their labor. The hides of cows—a species once native to the Near East, now cultivated worldwide—are stretched into monochrome canvas or suspended in space. Fragments of serpentine stone from Zimbabwe—a rock with ostensible healing properties coveted since antiquity—repose at the bottom of Rhine-water aquariums. In an age when the futurity of living labor feels ever more precarious, perhaps these curious commodities are destined to become the true inheritors of our globalized world.

    Meanwhile, large-format projections bathe visitors in watery light. VR installations, live feeds, and digital videos open virtual vistas onto elsewhere: post-processed images of aquatic undergrowth and submarine alpine landscapes. Each scene comes replete with a lengthy wall text turned monologue. According to the press release, language here “tests the self-sufficiency of the artwork.” Indeed, it often finds the artworks wanting, as the alchemy holding the show together functions mostly on the level of syntax. Visitors can expect to spend more time reading than looking, and with the exception of the film Among other things . . . , there is hardly a single piece that rewards sustained viewing. Instead, they remain larger-than-life fragments in an immersive montage that prompts a flicker of recognition, often passing as soon as we arrive.