Critics’ Picks

View of “we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production,” 2022.

View of “we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production,” 2022.

Graz

Sandra Lahire, Celeste Burlina

Grazer Kunstverein
Burggasse 4 Palais Trauttmansdorff

April 9–May 29, 2022

Sandra Lahire’s films border on surrealism, shifting from the natural environment, to the built one, to a world in ruins. Serpent River, 1989, shows children playing outside the Uranium Capital Nursery School in Serpent River First Nation, an Anishinaabe First Nation in Ontario, Canada; later, footage of a whirling river and a nuclear power plant turbine accompany a voice-over describing a litany of potential perils of uranium mining, including leukaemia and bone marrow damage. We hear who profits from rare-earth mining and whose lives and lands are destroyed by it. These extractive processes find an unlikely echo in Arrows, 1984, in which Lahire details her struggle with anorexia, her internalization of a sick society. The films share a number of select motifs, quickly cutting among animals, foliage, mummified corpses, surgical procedures, mine workers, and police forces. In doing so, Lahire produces a poetics of sickness of the body and of society. She captures humanity trying to come to terms with its ailments but repeatedly failing to do so, polluting and destroying itself in the process. There is no simple medicine.

The debut exhibition by Grazer Kunstverein’s new director, Tom Engels, “we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production” projects six of Lahire’s films onto the Plexiglas sheets included in artist-engineer Celeste Burlina’s carrier, 2022. The installation delineates the space using H-profile steel beams, industrial chains, and bolts uselessly integrated into the walls. By supporting Lahire’s fragmented images, Burlina’s architecture highlights the usually invisible infrastructure that enables both the renewal and obsolescence of our world.