New York

Annika von Hausswolff

I Am the Runway of Your Thoughts (all works 2008), the installation that gave Annika von Hausswolff’s recent show its title, is made up of multiple photographs of a woman pointing a model airplane toward her open mouth. Produced in either color or black-and-white, and displayed either singly or in sets of two, three, or five, the photographs are cinematically and dramatically lit, and together have the effect of a slow-motion advance toward a terrible moment.

The gesture in the images is obviously sexual, and obviously violent; the echoes of 9/11 are impossible to ignore, there (still) being no stronger symbol of violence than an airplane. The work freezes the moment before impact, examining it from all its possible angles; despite, or perhaps because of, its staged quality, it is eerily reminiscent of news coverage playing and replaying footage of a disaster.

The rest of the show was made up of sculptures and photographs that, although lacking the dramatic intensity of I Am the Runway of Your Thoughts, create a similar aura of suspense. Esoteric Forensic is the title of each of three narrow, curtained, stagelike boxes hung on the wall like the photographs. The curtain is evidently an important trope for von Hausswolff, appearing as it does in many of her earlier photographs as well as in her sculptural installation The Memory of My Mother’s Underwear Transformed into a Flameproof Drape, 2003, whose title suggests the somewhat coy manner in which the artist’s autobiography may be hidden or transformed in her work. The curtains drawn across the stages in the Esoteric Forensics both suggest and conceal. If the works are autobiographical, the textiles may themselves be the story, rather than veils protecting it, and may yet be too private to fully expose to the public—they are preserved behind glass, like relics.

A selection of untitled images focuses on empty cardboard boxes; grouped together and shot from above, they resemble salon-style arrangements of paintings, their battered flaps serving as frames. These pictures produce a sort of multistable effect, in which one’s visual interpretation of an image shifts—between, in one well-known example, two profiles and a candlestick—although here the shift is not only visual but also conceptual: The works play with ideas of frames and content and emptiness. A self-portrait, called I Remember the Future of My Past with Great Expectations, shows the artist positioned behind a cloudy sheet of glass so that the only parts of her body available to viewers in full focus—her feet, forehead, and hands gripping the glass—are peripheral, a neat inversion of subject and frame. Far from functioning only as semantic games, however, these works create an atmosphere of instability about knowledge and communication; turning back to I Am the Runway of Your Thoughts, one was prompted to wonder whether such obsessive focus might actually cancel out its object rather than clarify it, presenting little more information than would an empty frame. The series remained oblique, its violence indefinable—here palpable and suggestive, there cartoonish and unreal.

In critical writing about von Hausswolff’s work, ideas of body, gender, and power are frequently argued, but this show appears to emphasize how easily certainty about those ideas can become doubt: We frame our questions to get the answer we want to hear.

Emily Hall