Arthur Zalewski and Eiko Grimberg


“The infinitely identical and the infinitely varied are extremes between which all man can do is split things apart and put them together again,” Paul Valéry wrote in his Cahiers in 1918. In his view, similarity is what activates the intellectual free play between identity and difference. Arthur Zalewski and Eiko Grimberg, who have exhibited together before, notably at Amerika Gallery, Berlin, in 2006, share a comparably sensitive view of objects and their mutual affinities. The six works presented in this carefully calibrated show—two videos, a slide projection, photographs, and a poster, most of these executed in black and white—point emphatically to formal and functional similarities between objects, architecture, and linguistic elements, challenging viewers to develop swift and self-reflexive forms of apperception. Often the two artists juxtapose pictures in such a way as to suggest possible comparisons or narrative structures that the viewer then has a hand in creating.

Zalewski’s video work Katowice (all works 2008), projected against a backdrop that hints at the architectural, is particularly striking. The silent, eight-minute, black-and-white film shows documentary exterior and interior views of the heavily frequented train station in Katowice, Poland, which was built in the 1970s by an architect who shares Zalewski’s name. The choice of views seems arbitrary at first glance, but it turns out to provide a sort of catalogue of architectural forms and structures in both foreground and background that offer themselves to the viewer as variations on the theme of similitude: Steps, grillwork, guardrail supports, pillars, and surfaces devolve into increasingly abstract vertical and horizontal patterns. This dismantling of representation is completed in the second part of the film, Shapes/Structures, which shows, from various angles, close-ups of a monumental sculpture made of massive blocks of stone. The point of these perspectives and their combinations appears intentionally ambiguous; the viewer is constantly called upon to reassemble and deconstruct what he is seeing. The exhibition’s title, “Today is the Tomorrow You Were Promised Yesterday,” taken from a 1976 work by Conceptual artist Victor Burgin, functions as a metaphor throughout the show for the notion that expectations are never unambiguously fulfilled and must constantly be dismantled and put back together again, à la Valéry.

Displaying a similar vision, Grimberg’s eighty-part black-and-white slide projection Today is the tomorrow you were promised yesterday shows a collection of quotidian items that the artist encountered on the street, linked together by certain affinities. For the most part, the objects have been consigned to oblivion: crumpled posters wedged between the bars and glass of a display box, a plant peeking through the rectangles of a roll-down grating, shop windows pasted over with newspapers, air shafts, heaps of trash, salvaged furniture. As in Zalewski’s work, the viewer’s gaze is drawn toward geometrical configurations. The viewer keenly perceives each object in analogy to the others, and is thus able to envision the fathomless permutations of its individuality and identity.

Alongside all these silent objects, Grimberg’s color video Vermischtes (Miscellaneous), shown on a monitor, tells of similarities in the context of language and speech. A young man sits at a table smoking and seems to be speaking calmly about a personal experience. But his words are quotations from various “in brief” newspaper reports. The seriousness of these reports, whose subjects have to do with architecture, ideologies, and discontent, becomes clear only with careful listening. This sensitivity to likeness—in this case, between personal and social issues—maintains the specific qualities of the real while preserving the tension between perfect identity and radical difference.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.