Björn Dahlem

Galerie Luis Campaña

Once a year the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf opens its doors, offering a glimpse of the students’ work. One finds that the young artists seldom work in a truly autonomous or innovative manner; often their work looks plagiarized from their teachers’. And so it was remarkable that at the open studio a year ago, a number of curators and critics spoke with unreserved enthusiasm about an installation by the then-twenty-four-year-old Björn Dahlem. Although a student of Hubert Kiecol, Dahlem’s installation had more in common with the material aesthetic of Georg Herold combined, perhaps, with that of Thomas Hirschhorn, making for something unexpected and innovative. The enthusiastic response to that work led to exhibitions at the Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem in Holland (with the more established German artists Isa Genzken and Dirk Skreber), at the Schnitt Ausstellungsraum in Cologne (with another up-and-comer, Michel Majerus), and in the project space of the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel.

The title of the installation that constitutes Dahlem’s first gallery exhibition, Club Horror Vacui, 1999, with its reference to youth culture, situates the work in a pop context while evoking the sense of social interaction among people with shared interests. In the corner of the gallery stands a wooden construction with several beer cases stacked on top of one another, from which one could help oneself at the opening. At the same time, the term “horror vacui” signifies not only awe before the void, but also the active teleological efficacy of nature (i.e., the idea that nature acts to fill a void), a cornerstone of Aristotelian physics. In many works, Dahlem thematizes the discrepancy between the apparent objectivity of science and its mystical potential, for example in two earlier installations, Schwarzes Loch (Black hole), 1997, or Bermudadreieck (Bermuda Triangle), 1999, in which mysterious disappearances are framed within the context of natural science. In his current exhibition Dahlem has placed a wooden lattice construction with forty-eight neon tubes in front of the gallery window. On entering, one is immediately struck by the full force of this wall of light. The crudely constructed wooden lattice—out of which the other elements of the installation are also constructed—negates any claim to formal perfection in favor of a direct and dynamic immediacy. Another element of the installation, which is relatively sparse for Dahlem, is an office chair by Charles and Ray Eames, in front of which he has built out of wooden lattice a polymorphous structure in the form of a large desk or table, reminiscent of some architectural vision by Buckminster Fuller. (Borrowings from the utopian, pseudoscientific constructions of Fuller turn up often in Dahlem’s work.) Table and chair stand on an octagonal pink carpet, the only color accent in the exhibition. Opposite this arrangement of furniture, Dahlem set up a large black panel made from thick Styrofoam pieces on a freestanding wooden scaffolding to which he attached a black carpet. As a visual analogue of the black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the large black surface takes on a pronounced physical presence in the space. Dahlem’s affinity to 2001 is not only grounded in his interest in science fiction. Of decisive relevance for Dahlem’s work is the film’s central theme—the relationship of man to science and technology. For all its roughly construed trashiness, Dahlem’s current exhibition possesses a remarkable elegance and penetrating visuality—further testament to this young artist’s estimable talents.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.