Plamen Dejanov & Swetlana Heger

Those who showed up for the Dejanov & Heger opening found the gallery closed for vacation—or so a notice pasted on the shutters declared. The Vienna-based artists contributed a similar sign to the Vienna Secession’s 1997 “x-squared” exhibition, even going on holidays for the duration of that group show. For their Berlin debut, the pair decided that the gallery—artworks and gallerist included—deserved a rest. The installation Parallel Life (Plenty Objects of Desire), 1998, sat idle in the space while the gallery owner, Mehdi Chouakri, was off in the Canary Islands. On his return two weeks later, visitors could inspect an album of holiday snapshots, which Chouakri himself made for the exhibition, or they could pine after objects displayed on an impressive lime-and-pink platform: a drawing by Karen Kilimnik, a glass model car by Daum, vases by C-22 and Cenedese & Albarelli, a Vistosi lamp, and a glass-top table designed by Frank Gehry. A work-in-progress, this version of Parallel Life (Plenty Objects of Desire) represented a year of labor—and leisure. Dejanov & Heger did not make the objects; they purchased them, with money they earned from taking on short-term jobs. (In the past, they have raised funds by renting out exhibition spaces and creating joint ventures with commercial partners.) The carefully selected objects attest to the particular taste of the artists, if not of prospective collectors, and the platform on which the objects rest is a material testament to the ability of capital to unite disparate aims and desires.

While playing up their own susceptibility to the seduction of objects, Dejanov & Heger nonetheless evoke Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism: Frank Gehry’s glass table may very well dance before the spectator’s eyes, but it can never transcend its use-value or function, since it doubles here as a display surface for other objects of desire. A pastel-colored flyer given out by the gallery documents not only the exhibition that funded the artists’ acquisition of the table, but also the temp work they did in order to raise the rest of the necessary capital. In this case, the people they worked with included members of the alternative space Le Consortium in Dijon (where Dejanov & Heger first exhibited their platform, devoid of objects, in 1998), a company in Vienna called Juke Box, which hired the artists for interior-design work, and Pierre Dacheux, a Parisian who commissioned them to execute a carving of his horse. Gehry’s table is thus firmly grounded in a complex social and historical geography that brings together institutional and commercial entities, public and private interests, and the equally intricate histories of the other pieces on the platform. Dejanov & Heger do not create art objects; rather, they multiply certain relations of production, thereby allowing more and more people to take part in their exhibitions. Their work is a form of speculation that gives rise to a collective history—not unlike the unfolding of a novel by Balzac.

The title of the installation, “Parallel Life,” may be a reference to the double life of objects, which can be valued both aesthetically and economically. By conflating the two registers, Dejanov & Heger question the divisions—leisure versus labor, beauty versus function, public versus private—that often mark our relationship to things. Here, the divided realms come together; by creating an entire economy around each object of desire, the artists make the point that the isolation of art from the everyday is the price that’s been paid for aesthetics’ autonomy. And, in creating works that make collective forms of labor visible (in this light, it is perhaps not surprising that glass, whether transparent or opaque, is a recurring material in their installations), Dejanov & Heger suggest that the traditional exhibition space may in the end actually hide more than it shows.

Jennifer Allen