Brussels

Joachim Koester, I myself am only a receiving apparatus, 2010, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 3 minutes 33 seconds.

Joachim Koester, I myself am only a receiving apparatus, 2010, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 3 minutes 33 seconds.

Joachim Koester

Jan Mot

Joachim Koester, I myself am only a receiving apparatus, 2010, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 3 minutes 33 seconds.

Past the gallery door, and then past the heavy curtains keeping the gallery’s main room in darkness, a small screen hung in the center of the space; on it, the New York–based Danish artist Joachim Koester’s most recent 16-mm film, I myself am only a receiving apparatus, 2010, was projected. The voluptuous black-and-white imagery is not accompanied by any sound track. We see a man, vaguely hippieish in appearance, whose head is nodding impassively. He enters and exits the frame slowly, fluidly, animated only by this simple and regular movement, with no other apparent intention but to occupy the premises. And indeed the premises, which are all we see in some shots, are intriguing: They consist of a mysterious interior, all angles and folds, like one of the sets for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; little by little we may realize that this is Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau, 1923–43, as reconstructed at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover. (Despite its Warholian echoes, the title of Koester’s piece, which is also that of the exhibition, actually comes from the German artist’s correspondence.)

Gradually, a typically Expressionist formula can be seen as the foundation of the film: In its ten looped shots, the individual who comes and goes seems to be the complete and immediate expression of this obsessional space, while the space is in turn like the expression of this character’s psyche, driven by a single and absolute sentiment. In addition, this comical and hypnotic reversibility between figure and ground, action and context, extends to the projector itself, whose invasively noisy motor appears to be both the cause and effect of this coming and going. One further instance of this effect of oscillation was that by walking around the screen, one could see that there was another one behind it, with a different piece being projected on it, the 16-mm film To navigate, in a genuine way, in the unknown necessitates an attitude of daring, but not one of recklessness (movements generated from the magical passes of Carlos Castaneda), 2009, whose silent character was also offset by the humming noise of a projector. The same actor, the mime Morten Søkilde, is once again subject to impulses he does not appear to be trying to repress.

During the course of the exhibition, Koester gave a lecture at Wiels Contemporary Art Center in Brussels. Titled, after Sol LeWitt, “Conceptual Artists Are Mystics Rather than Rationalists,” it offered a further occasion for him to expound on his project of questioning the affective and spiritual foundations of “conceptual aesthetics.” Koester’s work has often emphasized the extreme divide between what we see and what we imagine, thereby pointing to their indispensable complementarity. His latest film radicalizes this approach to some extent by fusing the work and its psychic infrastructure: The Dadaist environment itself is transformed into a haunted theater, vibrating with all the traumas of its time.

Olivier Mignon

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.