Critics’ Picks

  • Susanna Jablonski, Coral Pillar (detail), 2018. Paper clay, coral, 47 1/4 x 5 7/8 x 3 7/8''.

    Susanna Jablonski, Coral Pillar (detail), 2018. Paper clay, coral, 47 1/4 x 5 7/8 x 3 7/8''.

    Susanna Jablonski

    OBRA
    Stora Varvsgatan 12-14
    November 16–December 18, 2019

    The Stockholm-based artist Susanna Jablonski’s inaugural show at Obra is titled “Dinkinesh.” It means “You are marvelous” in Amharic, and it is also that language’s name for the famous fossil known in the West as “Lucy,” the oldest and most complete skeleton of a human ancestor ever found. Here, her rib cage is sewn in wool on a lush drapery, Listening Curtain, 2019, made in collaboration with artist Cara Tolmie. The textile slices through the front room of the gallery, gently secluding—protecting?—an elegant untitled sculpture, also made this year. Circumscribed by a brass ring, its tightly packed paper towels resemble rippled white clay.

    Jablonski imbues her material with meaning and history, be it prehistoric or familial. Last year, for example, she used cobblestones from her grandmother’s hometown in Poland in her first solo exhibition on her home turf. At Obra, the personal returns overtly in two found-object assemblages. In Adrianna’s Akato, 2019, items such as a plant and an alarm clock (set to Caracas time) sit on a marble slab like personal effects on a bedroom nightstand, evoking her friend’s exile in Barcelona far from the Venezuelan capital where she was born. In Henry’s Couch, 2019, a wasp nest resting on pillows refers to the practice of the artist’s father, a psychoanalyst, I am told.

    The big picture invoked by Lucy, the so-called “grandmother of humanity”—rib cages reoccur in sculptures of reed and clay—paves the way for these more intimate efforts, which also include an unusually calibrated probing of the senses. Jablonski worked with musician William Rickman to create the discreet sound work String Resonator for Room, 2019, which emits occasional timbres from taut instrument strings installed in one of gallery's columns. In the back room, lavender lives up to its palliative reputation in Neon Circle, 2017, a light fixture installed over a neat pile of dried flowers on the floor. Less pleasant, and a potential trigger for trypophobia, is Coral Pillar, 2018, which, crowned by the pocked surface of a washed-out piece of reef, hints at beginnings severed by ecosystems lost.

    Jablonski’s show delights in its spatial transformations and unexpected material juxtapositions, and all the more so for never shying away from the opacity of the truly personal. The different iterations of origin stories demarcate what is worthwhile: common history, of course, but also smaller affinities formed along the way.

  • Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, Room G-24) (detail), 2019, Middle Eastern packaging and newspapers, glue, and cardboard on wood.

    Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, Room G-24) (detail), 2019, Middle Eastern packaging and newspapers, glue, and cardboard on wood.

    Michael Rakowitz

    Malmö Konsthall
    St Johannesgatan 7
    September 14, 2019–January 12, 2020

    “Destroy the past, and you can control the future,” reads a quote by Tom Holland on a small sign installed at ankle level inside of the Malmö Konsthall. Along with the maxim comes a description of collection item #BM 124565: “panel with seated king and attendant.” I see no such frieze in the space, where most of the walls are naked. #BM 124586, “panel with apkallu,” was excavated from the palace of Nimrud in northern Iraq in 1846 and acquired a year later by the British Museum. #MRAH O.0278 (“fragment middle section of tree”) went to Brussels.

    Similar signs, with quotations drawn from accounts of cultural heritage and loss, appear insistently along the gallery walls, suggesting a silent baseline of deprivation. The palace, their connecting point of reference, fell into ruin after a 2015 ISIS attack. Only a few figures remain on its former grounds; they are represented here, by Michael Rakowitz, in the form of colorful replicas rising toward the ceiling. With its partially absent, partially rebuilt frieze, Rakowitz’s series of bas-reliefs “Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud,” 2018–19, sketches a one-to-one-scale cultural imaginarium and memorial, inscribed by centuries of colonization. Using food packaging from the Middle East as his main sculptural material, Rakowitz folds present-day trade sanctions into his consideration of the historical transfer of goods.

    Ever since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Rakowitz has confronted the reactionary, conflicting combination of neo-Nazism and Islamophobia in his two homelands––America and Iraq. By making plain the logistics of cultural extraction, he rewrites colonial inscriptions by means of daily consumption and communication.