New York


DCA Gallery

Mounting a show under the ambitious if somewhat precious rubric “Metageometries,” Danish sculptors Elisabeth Toubro and Morten Stræde explored questions of spatial logic and discursive mapping. Their work, located on the seam that joins the visual to the linguistic, sought to disturb familiar presence/absence, center/periphery binaries by continually shifting the boundaries of self, home, and nation.

Toubro’s installation, Seven Pillars, 1995, consisted of six crenellated polyvinyl-chloride air ducts surrounding a column that is part of the gallery’s architectural structure. The Slinky-like industrial tubing extended vertically from the wood floor to a sort of observation deck abutting the space’s ceiling. Long, thin, aluminum cross-shaped poles created a transparent boundary around these “pillars,” from which hung spider web–shaped monofilament, in which words from Wittgenstein’s “On Certainty” were wrapped and suspended. But where Wittgenstein had originally written “If . . . someone says ‘I don’t know if there’s a hand here,’ he might be told, ‘Look closer,’” Toubro unostentatiously substituted the word “house” for “hand,” thereby inviting the viewer to reconsider what constitutes a domestic space, the nature of “language-games,” and how words determine our experience of spatial constructions. Five Cibachrome prints of previously exhibited, similar installations were presented in conjunction with Seven Pillars. These photographs were meant to generate a dialogue about the rhetorics of home-making, but since their status as “documents” was not effectively theorized, the conversation ultimately fell rather flat.

In contrast to Toubro’s conceptualism, Stræde appeared to draw his inspiration primarily from Constructivism and the craft tradition. Cylinders, cones, rectangles, rhombuses, and other geometric forms were melded together in rather severe amalgamations of orange plaster and black polyester, all of which were exhibited on (or next to) wooden tables carefully crafted by the artist, their tops skewed at various angles. Where Toubro explored the logic of suspension, Stræde seemed fascinated with physical and philosophical vacuity: puckered orifices (ears, mouths, anuses) and other apertures (eyes and notably camera lenses) were his central sculptural preoccupation. Forest of Tombs, 1995, for example, consisted of concatenated black polyester conical and rectangular forms surrounding a small video screen perched on a glossy tabletop, upon which the viewer had to lay his or her head sideways in order to see what was on the screen. Not unpredictably, a loop of computer-generated images of more “opened” planar spaces in various colors was displayed, the effect being not so much a “forest of tombs” but a spatial abîme into which the gallery space was itself thrown.

Inkmill, 1994–95, Stræde’s most effective piece, shot text of Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, 1977, translated from the German into Danish, at various speeds through three LED-displays jutting out of triangular forms. Processed through this transnational and translinguistic “mill”—whose title plays on Müller’s name—Stræde created a network of relayed information that extended from (the former) East Germany (where Müller wrote and where, geographically speaking, Prince Hamlet was said to have studied) back to Denmark (the historical site of Shakespeare’s play and, not incidentally, where Stræde produced the sculpture). If something seemed slightly “rotten” here, although not entirely inappropriately so, it was that Müller’s absurdist, politically interventionist, and desperately anguished theatrical piece was transformed into a mere linguistic advertisement of itself, boiled down into a sterile set of commodified and, for the English speaking viewer, illegible, formulas.

Toubro’s and Stræde’s work was notable for its attention to literary and philosophical nuance, but the “above” or “beyond” promised by the exhibition’s title is no easy “place” of which to conceive much less to demonstrate in material form.

Nico Israel