Nairy Baghramian

The building that houses the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein is simple: two levels, each a single long room, connected by a plain staircase. This manageable structure was the perfect setting for Nairy Baghramian’s exhibition “Affairen. Ein semiotisches Haus, das nie gebaut wurde. Zu Gast: Janette Laverrière und Henrik Olesen” (Affairs. A Semiotic House That Was Never Built. Guests: Janette Laverrière and Henrik Olesen). In it, the artist staged doublings, reflections, recollections, and meetings. Downstairs, the sculpture Entrechambrage vertical, 2008, greeted exhibition-goers. An architectural structure made out of numerous intersecting walls standing well above head height, it was dominated by a long, freestanding, pointed post, which towered over the room like a giant fishing rod. Thick fabric films flowed down its sides and rolled out on the concrete floor. Upstairs in the same spot lay a second sculpture, Entrechambrage horizontale, 2008. While its materials mimic the first, they lay flat on the ground, as if not yet assembled. And here the long pole and the white sheets were nowhere to be found.

This gesture of doubling and difference was repeated in a pair of mirrors hung parallel to each other in the stairwells of each level: J’accuse and La Bastille, both 2008, by the French artist and designer Janette Laverrière, whom Baghramian chose as her guest collaborator for this exhibition (having already created a display for Laverrière’s designs in the Fifth Berlin Biennale last year) along with the Danish artist Henrik Olesen. While the connection between the two mirrors and Baghramian’s own works became immediately apparent—because both doublings work like slightly displaced material versions of a theme, as if one had broken the same work along the coordinates of an axis—the connection to Olesen’s work was more complicated. In his installation Invadí tortore turche (Interior Invasion) (Interfering Turkish Turtledoves [Interior Invasion]), 1999, newspaper pages spread out in the corner of the upper floor had been modified into a science feature describing homosexual birds, nest robbers who fit out their own nests with the eggs of other birds. That Baghramian hung her early photographic works along the iron steps that connect the floors, framing the exhibition with the sentiment of her own work, could almost seem irritatingly narcissistic.

Baghramian arranges material into sculptures and installations that have extraordinary presence outside themselves, oscillating between an almost minimalist abstraction, on the one hand, and an extremely reduced figuration, on the other, as one saw most recently in “The Walker’s Day Off,” a large exhibition of her work at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden in 2008. With the more concisely formulated “Affairen,” Baghramian turns back to the most disturbing facet of her work: its ability to create a zone between discursive references and objects of considerable physical impact. And it appears impossible to achieve an equilibrium between the poles of these synaesthetic arrangements—one’s perception flutters like a compass needle over two magnets.

Catrin Lorch

Translated from German by Emily Speers Mears.