Berlin

View of “Marc Camille Chaimowicz,” 2014. Foreground: Manfred Pernice, Parkstück 6, 2010. Background: Marc Camille Chaimowicz, works individually titled and dated.

View of “Marc Camille Chaimowicz,” 2014. Foreground: Manfred Pernice, Parkstück 6, 2010. Background: Marc Camille Chaimowicz, works individually titled and dated.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Galerie Neu

View of “Marc Camille Chaimowicz,” 2014. Foreground: Manfred Pernice, Parkstück 6, 2010. Background: Marc Camille Chaimowicz, works individually titled and dated.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz usually imagines interior spaces for human inhabitation; for the exhibition “Forty and Forty,” he instead created an environment for “free-range” canaries to inhabit. The installation incorporated two works each by Klara Liden and Manfred Pernice alongside several of his own. As I approached the gallery—situated in a stark concrete building in the courtyard of a typical Berlin Plattenbau (a kind of housing block built from prefabricated concrete slabs) in Mitte—I was drawn toward the space by the high-pitched birdsong that rang through the open door. What I found inside was enchanting: Sealed into the gallery by a translucent white curtain were forty canaries, of different varieties, darting around the space, creating sudden bursts of movement as they swooped and soared in groups, performing their own kind of choreography, among the objects on display.

Around me other visitors stood, smiling beatifically, heads turning back and forth to follow the birds as they danced between forty vases, in pastel shades of purple, blue, yellow, orange, and green, sitting on little shelves installed at different heights on two walls. These were made according to Chaimowicz’s instructions by Bottega Gatti, a ceramics studio in Faenza, Italy, that specializes in collaborating with artists. Alongside these (also used as furniture by the birds) were a pale-green triangular bike rack and a rusty orange semicircular one sitting on the floor—Pernice’s Parkstück 5 (Park Piece 5) and Parkstück 6, both 2010. Two simple wooden birdhouses with large nails for perches, inspired by the architecture of Le Corbusier but also echoing the buildings in the neighborhood of the gallery, were works by Liden, both Untitled (bird housing), 2014. Also here were two sculptures by Chaimowicz himself—Ladder, 2014, a stepladder covered in newspaper (the Financial Times), and Arch 2 (Delme), 2007, a giant wooden scythe-like shape leaning against a pale-green wall. Here, in this myriad of pastel shades, “canary yellow” also took on new meaning: We could see that neon, orange, tangerine, brown, pale ochre, and many tones in between colored the bird’s feathers.

With so many curious and almost lighthearted props on hand, there was perhaps a danger of the exhibition becoming twee. What prevented that from happening was the behavior of the canaries—in particular, their communication via song and movement, and their awareness of one another and of their temporary home. The birds would begin fluttery conversations, bursting into songlike passages of intense harmony that rose and fell in the highest of pitches. The sculptures, and areas underneath them, were covered with little lumps and streaks of gray, white, and black shit, letting us know exactly where the canaries liked to sit best—they loved Chaimowicz’s vases and liked Pernice’s bike racks but were less keen on Liden’s austere, purpose-built bird housing. On leaving the gallery, I felt acutely aware of my surroundings. The city birds were making a diverse range of noises, their song punctuated regularly by the harsh caws of crows; both the overcast, drizzly day and the metal bike rack in the courtyard outside the gallery seemed more intensely gray—the city felt beautifully melancholy and somehow more “real” than it had before I had entered the show. Perhaps what Chaimowicz intended, and has always intended in the way he approaches the totality of a space and the objects it contains, was to create exactly this: a heightened sense of awareness of existing in, and seeing, the worlds we inhabit.

Kathy Noble