Berlin

“Calculi”

Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)

Curated by Angelika Stepken, “Calculi” was comprised of 15 installation pieces by ten artists living in Berlin. The title is derived from a Latin word and means the small stones utilized in a mosaiclike ancient calculator; it is borrowed from Vilém Flusser, who uses the term to describe the transition from linear writing cultures to an age of scientific thinking in technical images. The artists who took part in the show belong to various generations, but rather than labeling their works with art-historical terms like Minimal, Conceptual, or Constructivist, it is more important to observe the different internal systems each artist employs. These systems are based on the repetition of dissimilar or identical elements. Karol Heinz Bethke, for example, multiplies the form of the square three times, dissolving perspectival distortion and presenting the problem of full versus empty (form within form). Full versus empty is also a central issue in the photo installation by Anna Heinevetter, who repeats two architectural elements in ten black and white photographs, transforming architecture into a flat two-dimensional sign. The subject of gesture in painting or drawing is reduced, as in Johannes Kimstedt’s small-size painted tablets entitled Biblioteca Globalis (Global library; all works 1990). They deal with the image of natural and cultural order. Isabel Zuber’s wall drawings, with their continuous wavy pencil lines, also retreat from grandeur and display a contemplative process. The playful moment appears therefore more as a sophisticated game of composition, arrangement, and calculation. This is not without a touch of humor, as we see in Axel Lieber’s four-part sculpture Geschlossene Gesellschaft (Closed society), which is made of sweaters.

Nearly all the installations oscillate between the two- and the three-dimensional, and this spatial tension is reinforced by the role the wall plays in each piece. There is almost an ambivalence between the pictorial surface and the sculptural dimension. Achem Zeman’s large-size painting-object functions as the wall itself; it is built of 80 bricklike sections stacked vertically; each is covered by two blue colors painted in thick layers by short brushstrokes. The massive size of Zeman’s work contrasts with the transparent glass piece by BKH Gutmann whose installation bears the same qualities as his earlier water pieces. This work is composed of ca. 8 1/2-by-11-inch glass pieces, each separately fixed to the wall, and each displaying a tiny hole.

Only two artists were oriented toward social issues. Via Lewandowsky, in his seven drawings, borrows images from old medical books and, using the metaphor of injury, manifests a concern for the human condition. Katherine Karrensberg’s three-part installation Afrodita Genetrix consisted of three curtains that hung from the wall. On them she juxtaposed images of thunder bolts and tears, traditional images of the “masculine” and “feminine”.

Throughout the 20th century, Berlin art has been based on a tradition of figurative expression. “Calculi” does not attempt to delineate art or, in this tradition, to give us a new definition of Berlin art, nor to show the latest trend. It offers instead a possibility for thinking about making art here in the ’90s.

Bojana Pejic

Translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Ivan Vejvoda.