Astrid Sourkova and Markus Selg

KAI 10 Raum für Kunst

KAI 10 Raum für Kunst was started last year by founding director Monika Schnetkamp as a platform for young artists. For this exhibition, “Der müde Tod oder der Gang über die ekstatische Treppe” (The Weary Death or the Path over the Ecstatic Stairs), KAI 10 curator Zdenek Felix put the space at the disposal of Markus Selg and Astrid Sourkova, both artists based in Berlin. Selg and Sourkova took as the starting point for their installation Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s silent film Der müde Tod (The Weary Death, 1921), a paradigmatic example of German Expressionism, in which a woman attempts to wrest her lover away from Death. Her struggle entails both global and transhistorical travel, taking her from caliphate Baghdad to Renaissance Venice and ancient China.

In reacting to the film, Selg and Sourkova invited other artists, all based in Germany, to collaborate with them: Andrew Gilbert, Bernhard Lehner, and Dominic Wood. By painting the gallery’s walls and columns, they turned the main space into a stage on which the “world court of human conflicts” makes its appearance. The room was configured allegorically as well as ceremoniously. Sourkova’s large black-and-white drawing Söhne des Donners (Sons of Thunder), 2008, hung on the front wall, showing battle scenes seemingly from the Middle Ages. The drawing was flanked on the left by Gilbert’s Andrew the Zulu Queen, 2008, four sculptures of ghoulishly deployed British colonial soldiers; these life-size rag dolls escort an African chieftain enthroned on a stretcher—actually another British soldier, who has pronounced himself chieftain. Across from them stood Selg’s nostalgic-looking painted plaster sculpture, Trauernde (Woman in Mourning), 2008; an equally archaic-looking wooden sculpture from the series “4 Eons of Evolution,” 2008, by Wood; an elephant skull on a pedestal; and, leaning against the wall, sticks and scepters that Lehner has produced over the years, cobbled and screwed together from found objects both cheap and costly (for instance, a gothic wooden Madonna attached to a piece of found wood). Lehner also contributed a bench made of skis, placed diagonally within the space. Then, walking past drawings by Gilbert, through a synthetic stone gate (adorned with Aztec-style reliefs) by Selg, past a mysterious closed book by Wood (Transcendental Field Theory. Sculpture Element, 2008), one reached a place of expressionist release: A chromatic projection of flowing water streamed onto the wall, giving the room an atmospheric lightness, accompanied in turn by the sound of Bulgarian choirs and of Jessye Norman singing Isolde’s “Liebestod” aria from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. A plaster statue by Selg, Pietà, 2009, basked in this reflective environment. This was an exhibition about images and their metaphorical possibilities—their relationship to love, death, hatred, envy, and sorrow, “a common world, where heterogeneous realities are woven in the same fabric and can always be related to one another by the fraternity of a metaphor,” as Jacques Rancière once put it. The Hussite battles of the fifteenth century linked to colonial battles of the nineteenth in Sourkova and Gilbert’s drawings; the pain of the mourners in Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s sculptures echoed that of Michelangelo’s Pietà, as conjured by Selg’s sculptures. All these allegorical analogies turned the exhibition space into a mystery that spanned epochs and cultures. Sourkova and Selg’s exhibition thus proffered a kind of theater—a model of a stage even stood in the main room of the space. The age in which theater was banished from art appears to be firmly in the past.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Emily Speers Mears.