“Timewave Zero/The Politics of Ecstasy”

It was around 1940 that Frederick Kiesler developed his Vision Machine, an exhibition design conceptualized to provide new ways of approaching art. Many years of research on the faculties of vision and fantasy as well as on the categories of pictorid representation went into Kiesler’s three-dimensional haptic model. Because of the recent preoccupation with innovative means of exhibition display, Kiesler’s Vision Machine served as a reference point for the presentation of “Timewave Zero/The Politics of Ecstasy,” in which artist-curators Lionel Bovier and Jean-Michel Wicker proffered the artistic equivalent of psychedelic space-cookies with the vigorous intent to dissolve, under the influence of mind-altering substances, the barricades of our rational (read: barren) Western mode of thought. This was the exhibition as work of art, and the work of art as “drugstore” for the unattainable mystery situated beyond the optical.

One historical reference point for this psychotropic concept of art was a reconstruction of Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, 1961, a perforated cylinder that turns on a record player at 78 rpm around an electric bulb. When viewed under the influence of pot and rock, the shadow formations projected on the wall encourage the color-saturated tripping described by William S. Burroughs and which, rumor has it, accompanied Kurt Cobain’s departure from this earth. On the other hand, the curators also revived Jack Goldstein’s 16 mm film The Jump, 1978, in which a high-diver executes a triple somersault. In a twenty-six-second loop, Goldstein stages the drama of appearing and disappearing amid sparkly red points of light into a black nothingness: form as theatrical dimension, time and memory as psychological factors. In Blacktop, 1952, the second of the more than one hundred short films Charles and Ray Eames shot between 1950 and 1982, a banal occurrence is transformed into hypnotic spectacle. To the accompaniment of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, soapy water flows across the asphalt of a school yard. The hygienic practice veers into splendid abstract variation; the commonplace becomes extraordinary.

This exhibition as a multimedia “psychogeography” made palpable the way, under the effects of drugs, subjective, sensual perceptions are able—exceptionally—to eclipse text and context. Not necessarily illustrations of drug-related themes, the works in “Timewave Zero”—the more recent of which are developed on the basis of an elementarily geometric, largely minimalist vocabulary—were used as vehicles for an expanding, even all-encompassing experiential process. Isa Genzken’s reflective towers, John McCracken’s homages to surface and color, Lisa Beck's installation with acrylic spheres, Angela Bulloch’s light cubes with their modular color choreography, John Tremblay’s Op-art interpretations, and Vidya Gastaldon’s drawn spaces of memory invited us to submerge ourselves in contemplation, then resurface by means of reflection.

Bovier and Wicker spoke of a visual hypothesis that drew on various media, methods, and narrative forms in order to discover what lies beyond perception and the visual. Another component of the exhibition was a video program, presented off-site for more relaxed consumption at a coffeehouse, Austria’s favorite temple of addiction. Carsten Höller’s refined mixing extended from documentary films to the Rolling Stones, Öyvind Fahlström, and Rodney Graham, celebrating this violation of boundaries as cultural praxis. Finally, in the Kunstverein, Swiss artist Sidney Stucki provided proof that music is the truest medium for recording the psychedelic experience. His sound track Politics of Ecstasy, 2001, functioned as an invisible body of resonance for the intoxicating moments of both art and life.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.