Sofia Hultén, This, That, Other, 2015, bicycle frames, metal barriers, dimensions variable.

Sofia Hultén, This, That, Other, 2015, bicycle frames, metal barriers, dimensions variable.

Sofia Hultén

Sofia Hultén, This, That, Other, 2015, bicycle frames, metal barriers, dimensions variable.

“A politics to come,” Giorgio Agamben recently asserted, demands a conception of “a way of life that is not based on deeds or on property, but on use.” I read his interview with Die Zeit the same week I saw Sofia Hultén’s recent exhibition “Truckin’.” Its titular video (all works cited, 2015) shows the artist walking through Berlin, swapping her sneakers for others she finds on the street. There are surprisingly many of these lying around, and she carefully places each discarded pair in the same position as the new pair—one of which is caught in a bush next to a brick wall. The shoes all seem to fit: no Cinderella syndrome here. She appears to be following an urban equivalent of the National Park Service injunction “Leave no trace.” The one work feels more or less political in Agamben’s sense: It is a didactic work, one speaking of a rejection of ownership, of being at peace with what the environment lends us, temporarily and provisionally, to continue on the nomad’s—or should that be the artist’s?—path.

In the rest of the show, this exemplary portrayal of a principled way of life collided with another lineage summed up in Oscar Wilde’s assertion that “all art is quite useless.” Illustrating that aphorism seemed to be the point of sculptures such as Indecisive Angles XIV and Indecisive Angles XV, in which Hultén repurposed dollies of the type used for moving heavy objects, for instance refrigerators, changing them into impractical sculptures by realigning their axles and rewelding the frames to make them utterly dysfunctional, arguably in a “poetic” way. In This, That, Other, standard-issue bicycle racks have been used to entrap bicycle frames (some fancy brand, must have been expensive)—rendering the bikes unstealable, but also unusable. In Scramble—another, more familiar kind of tweaked readymade—Hultén dismantled a roll-down metal shutter and rearranged its horizontal panels, abstracting the graffiti that adorns it and making it illegible.

As Klara Liden is with her post-punk post-Conceptualism, Hultén seems to be offering above all a kind of attitude: at home in the city, streetwise, footloose and fancy-free. But the relationship between the video and these doctored found objects remained puzzling. Both were concerned with the urban environment, with the everyday, with a junk aesthetic. But was the intention to show that the current function of the art object is to offer a space for doubt? Or rather to transmute objets trouvés into decorative, contemplative sculptures? The items in the gallery and the documentation of an unobtrusive performance in the street seemed to contradict one another. If objects are there to be borrowed only so long as they are useful, where does that leave the ones in the show?

Weirdly, the theft of an artwork on the exhibition’s opening night spoke directly to such questions. For Black and Blue, Hultén had taken apart two used backpacks, one blue and one black, and sewn the pieces back together so that each of them incorporated parts of its doppelgänger. One of the pair was taken. It might now have pride of place in the home of someone enjoying the ownership of art. On the other hand, the thief might not have realized the backpack was an artwork, intending simply to make off with someone else’s belongings. Someone, somewhere may now be lugging his or her laptop around in one of these hybridized backpacks. So we get more questions in place of an answer: Was what happened a politics of use, proof of the strength of the desire to own art, or the theft of private property? We will likely never know. Besides, intention may not equal result.

Alexander Scrimgeour