Villeurbanne

Joachim Koester, Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, 2011, wood, black-and-white 16-mm film projection, 8 minutes 15 seconds. Installation view.

Joachim Koester, Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, 2011, wood, black-and-white 16-mm film projection, 8 minutes 15 seconds. Installation view.

Joachim Koester

Institut d’Art Contemporain

Joachim Koester, Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, 2011, wood, black-and-white 16-mm film projection, 8 minutes 15 seconds. Installation view.

What stuck with you from Joachim Koester’s exhibition “Of Spirits and Empty Spaces” was primarily the powerful memory of its atmosphere, of a progression through darkness, from one black-and-white projection to another, with passages through light and color for his photographic works. Above all, you were left with the impression of having plunged into a remarkably coherent yet varied universe without any trace of monotony. The twenty-one pieces in the show date from 2003 to 2011, some having been produced for the occasion. All reflect the artist’s method of combining documentary and fiction and proceed by means of what film curator Philippe-Alain Michaud calls reconstitutions: Koester turns back to places photographed by champions of Conceptual art (Histoires, 2003–2005), follows in the footsteps of Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Anger in the Italian city Cefalù (One + One + One, 2006), or those of Immanuel Kant in what was Königsberg and is now the Russian exclave Kaliningrad (The Kant Walks, 2005). These works stem from a process of investigation and more or less visibly bear its trace; they explore a geography shaped by history as much as by literature and exist in a very specific, essentially undefined time: when the past is reactivated in the present, which could henceforth seem to anticipate a time to come.

Koester explores the labile borderline between consciousness and its various possible modifications—through trance in Tarantism, 2007, for instance, or through psychoactive drugs in The Hashish Club, 2009—and between reason and what escapes its control. Hence the attention brought to apparatuses of presentation. Numerous Incidents of Indefinite Outcome, 2007, is enclosed in a wood cabin; in order to see Morning of Magicians, 2006, one must climb a wood pyramid that evokes the artist’s conception of the viewer as a “reception apparatus” (to borrow from the title of one of his pieces, I Myself Am Only a Receiving Apparatus, 2010, made in the reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau in Hannover, Germany).

The boarded-up screens around the 16-mm film projection Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, 2011, play a large role, evoking horror movies and the closing of space onto an interiority that is both peaceful and disturbing. In many cases, the images are projected only as you approach the work, as if they were waiting just for you, responding to you, even emanating from you. But to step away from and turn back to one of these pieces can create a strange feeling of déjà vu.

In the projections in this last work, two male hands framed in close-up adopt a series of positions, varying in complexity. Strongly lit, they emerge from the black suit, shirt, and pants of the actor, who resembles a magician or a puppeteer. The jerky dance of fingers brings to mind mime, sign language, and shadow puppetry, but the title tells us the work must be an attempt to reconstitute Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cubes, 1974. The irrational character of the undertaking is immediately apparent: Obsessive, absurd, even impossible, these gestures intend to subjugate the body to geometry, but it escapes by the sleight of these hands.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.