Critics’ Picks

View of “Cathartic Ballet,” 2013.

View of “Cathartic Ballet,” 2013.


Özlem Altin

Obentrautstrasse 21 Haus 17
April 27–June 15, 2013

Continuing her ongoing exploration of how bodies take on signification and of how images move, Özlem Altin’s solo show functions as a choreography of objects and images that perform the role of subjects and yet reverberate a sense of loss of the very subjecthood they seem to animate. The exhibition’s entry point is Untitled (Mädchen im Baum), 2013, two almost identical black-and-white photo prints, depicting a human figure suspended from the branch of a tree (photographs the artist took with her mobile phone, that were digitally altered and then printed on photopaper). From one image to the next, there is both a change in perspective and in the figure’s posture; this discrepancy defines the kind of Warburgian movement between image and gesture, and between animation and inertia, that is the conceptual fulcrum of the show.

In the main space of the gallery, four portraits centrifugally spread on the walls surround a group of three sculptures in which the integrity of the human figure dissolves into grey, brown, and blue paper surfaces. Consider Untitled, 2013, a photo print of a woman that is covered with layers of ink and oil and delicately collaged paper fragments that conceal most of the figure’s torso and face. Echoing this portrait’s color gamut and materiality, Weak distance, 2012—placed in close vicinity to Untitled—consists of two saggy cardboard panels, leaning against the wall. Coated with frail, ink-treated layers of paper the piece appears as a spatialized abstraction of the portrait, staging the collapse of the image and body as well as of the subject.

While works like Untitled and Staring Back at Him, 2012, call to mind a 1920s collage aesthetic (for example Hannah Höch), the floor pieces are evocative of post-Minimalist sculpture and its return to the tactile register of the bodily and handmade. Bringing these two moments into a loose constellation, Altin’s show invites us to think about the links between the fetishistic desire for the animation of the inorganic, postwar debates on sculpture’s subjecthood (catalyzed by critics such as Michael Fried) and today’s renewed interest in the (alleged) agency of objects.