Mexico City

View of “Simon Fujiwara,” 2015. From left: Fabulous Beasts (Ocelot), 2015; Ich (2x7L Tangem 7 Trennsystem), 2015; Masks (Merkel E. 10, 1), 2015.

View of “Simon Fujiwara,” 2015. From left: Fabulous Beasts (Ocelot), 2015; Ich (2x7L Tangem 7 Trennsystem), 2015; Masks (Merkel E. 10, 1), 2015.

Simon Fujiwara

View of “Simon Fujiwara,” 2015. From left: Fabulous Beasts (Ocelot), 2015; Ich (2x7L Tangem 7 Trennsystem), 2015; Masks (Merkel E. 10, 1), 2015.

In his recent exhibition “Peoples of the Evening Land,” Simon Fujiwara stepped away from the overtly autobiographical subject matter for which he is best known. While the new bodies of work presented here were related to the context of his adopted home country of Germany, they tend to speak more to general conditions of the present than to personal memories of the past.

Five sculptures took the forms of trash cans with pull-out rubbish separators, which are a common feature of German kitchens. Usually concealed within a kitchen cupboard, they were here placed atop white plinths. Their elevated position seemed at odds with their humble function, but so did their apparent material preciousness: While they at first appear to be cast bronze replicas, they are in fact commercially available models that have merely been spray-coated with liquified bronze and patinated. According to the artist, this type of trash can has more than two hundred variants, representing a remarkable degree of customization for such a utilitarian device. Their titles, for example Ich (2x8L 1x16L Trio Master Trennsystem) (all works 2015) or Ich (3x10L Multi-Box Trennsystem), offer a conflation of human individuality (Ich, or “I”) with industrial standardization, as if to suggest that we are on some level defined by our recycling practices.

A pristine, multicompartment trash sorter miraculously bursting out of its cupboard with no human assistance and accompanied by a thrumming, uplifting sound track forms the final shot of the exhibition’s most complex work, the ten-minute HD video Hello. Prior to this odd eruption, the piece offers a glimpse into the changing working lives of Maria, a Mexican trash picker in the northern city of Mexicali, and Max, a German freelance animator in Berlin whose job involves dirtying up 3-D renderings that are too clean and perfect. Maria recounts dramatic improvements in her living and working conditions due to a corporate philanthropic intervention in the trash site. Max, who was born with no arms, describes how much happier he is as a freelancer: No longer living with his daughter and her mother or subject to a strict corporate work schedule, he is free to travel and to divide his days as he pleases. Maria is filmed in a depthless, all-white studio environment, the camera moving around her as around a physical body in space. Max is filmed in his apartment but appears almost exclusively in one or more inset windows. Both, however, are manipulated by the computer-generated animation of a severed hand, rendered in Berlin by Max but based on an actual hand once discovered by Maria at the trash site in Mexicali. Despite their vastly different circumstances, both Max and Maria are subject to abstract forces larger than either of them.

The emphasis on applied surface and individuality visible in the trash cans was also at play in a suite of large abstract paintings, “Masks (Merkel),” each of which represents a vastly enlarged portrait of a small section of the makeup worn by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in Europe, if not the world. Created in consultation with Merkel’s personal makeup assistant, the paintings employ the exact products and application techniques used to prepare the leader for public and media appearances. Paintings and politicians are subject to the same scopic regime: In today’s world, both have to look good on-screen.

Another new series, “Fabulous Beasts,” plays to our contemporary obsession with both deconstructed materials and quasi-archaeological artistic methodologies. To make them, Fujiwara collected a number of fur coats produced sometime between 1950 and 2000. Each coat was then shaved, thereby not only removing the fur itself but also revealing the history of the coat’s production, from stamps and dye marks to scars and blemishes in the animal skins. Each coat was then deconstructed and its component parts reconfigured into the flat, rectilinear format of an abstract painting. In the process, one now largely outmoded luxury good is transformed into another that remains very much in vogue.

Jacob Proctor