Than Hussein Clark, Love Is Not a Feeling, 2013, mixed media, 111 x 61 x 1 5/8".

Than Hussein Clark, Love Is Not a Feeling, 2013, mixed media, 111 x 61 x 1 5/8".

Than Hussein Clark

Mathew | Gallery | Berlin

Than Hussein Clark, Love Is Not a Feeling, 2013, mixed media, 111 x 61 x 1 5/8".

On first sight, Than Hussein Clark’s debut solo show, cryptically titled “Waves (Das Glückliche Rothschild)” (Waves [The Happy Rothschild]), looked a bit like a postmodern interior-decor display. A fluffy, richly ornamented carpet in shades of turquoise, blue, and salmon, Konnigratz/Hamichuri/ Konnigratz/Hamichuri (all works 2013), ran for some twenty-four feet through the space, from the front window to the back wall, where it was reflected by a mirrored brass room-divider, Love Is Not a Feeling, recalling elements from Viennese Art Deco facades. There were cane-bottomed bistro stools and sycamore shelves with curved supports of faux-verdigris-patinated steel that held opal glass disks with geometric decoration. On closer inspection, the displays had exquisite details, such as shagreen inlays made from stingray skin. A two-page text helped viewers navigate the maze of cross-cultural references that formed the installation.

Pushing the potential of design, craft, and display as self-expression to hyperbolic ends, the show’s intertwined narratives evolved around a personal reckoning with Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss (2010)—an autobiographical account of the British ceramicist’s collection of seventeenth-century Japanese netsuke (miniature sculptures), the only objects remaining from the Jewish-Viennese Ephrussi dynasty’s fortune after World War II—against which Clark constructs his own genealogy of design and architectural history. The hand-tufted silk carpet mimics a gilded stucco ceiling featuring roundels decorated with hieroglyphic figures alluding to the 1869 opening of the Vienna State Opera and the deaths of its two architects, whose design failed to match the expected monumentality; when the Ringstrasse was raised about three feet while it was being constructed, the building was derided as a “sunken treasure chest.” Confronted with this harsh criticism, Eduard van der Nüll committed suicide in 1868; his partner (and reputed lover) August Sicard von Sicardsburg died a few months later.

In what he calls a “queer trajectory of the linear,” Clark also refers to an anecdote concerning travel writer and ceramics expert Bruce Chatwin, who died of AIDS in 1989; he had claimed that his symptoms were caused by, among other things, an infection he had caught from bat feces during one of his cave excursions. Bronze casts of Javanese fruit bats appear as gargoyle-like figurines—they “hang” if one follows the spatial twist that suggests the carpet as ceiling—in the supports of two larger shelves that hold accordion-style books displaying stretched photographs of netsuke. Here, the artist links his own biography with that of De Waal: One of three collages, hidden behind the brass-mirror facade, portrays Clark’s mother in front of an eighteenth-century vitrine displaying her own collection of Japanese ceramics and netsuke. In an ongoing series of “Cancellations,” begun in 2011, Clark attacks De Waal’s insistence on genealogical inheritance (symbolized by the journey of his ancestors’ vitrine of netsuke) and his co-option of Japanese craft by literally cutting through pieces of original De Waal ceramics. Cancellation: Lens is a ceramic plate deprived of its bottom so that only the reglazed rim remains, placed on the tip of a double-patinated bronze cast of a Japanese cedar branch, hand-lathed according to a traditional technique, the joints wrapped with silk ribbon. The dysfunctional plate picks up the circular motif that appears in the carpet, the mirror facade, and the glass disks, whose pâte de verre decoration, “resembling overblown sushi platters, gongs, and kabuki head-ware,” seems to poke fun at De Waal’s preoccupation with Japanese minimalist aesthetics. Like a magnifying glass held up to an overabundance of iconographic and symbolic registers, this work highlights the ethical and aesthetic indoctrination through taste that Clark wants to deconstruct by repurposing and reassembling objects into a new narrative ensemble—an attempt to create a kind of countermemory, a queer heritage that includes himself.

Eva Scharrer