View of “Tatiana Trouvé,” 2016. Photo: Roman März.

View of “Tatiana Trouvé,” 2016. Photo: Roman März.

Tatiana Trouvé

View of “Tatiana Trouvé,” 2016. Photo: Roman März.

The title of Tatiana Trouvé’s recent show “From Alexandrinenstrasse to the Unnamed Path” referred to the location of Johann König’s beautifully renovated Brutalist church, and it seemed to predict a course from the known into the unfathomed. Aptly so: A comparable process was encoded into every artwork here, building toward one compound estrangement, and the Italian-born, Paris-based artist seemed conscious of putting viewers through their cognitive paces. Like a planned workout, albeit for eye and mind, her arrangement of works for St. Agnes’s spectacular high-ceilinged nave started gently before building in density, then faded out in stuttering sculptural fragments.

It opened with The Guardian, 2013, a sculpture consisting of a semi-symmetrical pair of half-black, half-metallic rods angled against the wall and, dangling from a nail, black bronze casts of a cheap plastic bags lightly bulging with contents unknown; a bronze cast of an office chair augmented one of these pairings, as if it would otherwise be still too easy to parse. On the wall between these two assemblies hung one of several big drawings, all Untitled, 2015, two of them continuations of Trouvé’s “Intranquility” series, 2005–, which often include neatly sketched patchworks of interior and exterior spaces: Here, floating in a field of washy greens among abstract verticals, are palm trees, shelving units, and loops of cable hung on what could be a garage wall. Physical and mental territories are to be considered transposable. Inner journeying was reaffirmed by the next things one saw, scrawls of twisted metal arcing upward from bronze casts of wooden cuboids, bearing a specific date, and accessorized with a cast of a loosely rolled joint.

Much of what followed was what might loosely be termed survivalist-themed drawing in space: In the central, ceiling-hung “Equivalences” series, 2011–, bronze bottles and cans suspended from wire pulleys counterweighted cast segments of a dismantled engine, while the scribbly metal loops of the “Wander Lines” series, 2016–, pinned lonesome, sock-wrapped single shoes (both real and cast) to walls, and bronze soap bars to the floor. These latter works are imprinted with short texts that again suggest headspace road-tripping: INFINITE DETOUR / SOMEWHERE / 4 OF AUGUST, 1998, reads one, typical of their outsider-land-artist style. These additions, though, are wholly restrained compared to what Trouvé unleashes with her “Cosmos” series, 2016–. One might think that there was already enough poetic ambiguity in play in a trio of pieces of used wooden furniture draped with bronze casts of folded blankets (a latter-day Trouvé hallmark—particularly the emergency blanket—that hasn’t quite escaped Robert Gober’s shadow, just as her cast tin cans haven’t escaped that of Jasper Johns). Trouvé, though, decorates both faux blankets and wood with ghostly maps and, in one case, a torrent of handwritten text snippets that delineate types of walking, from the politicized—a litany of marches is named—to the metaphysical, e.g., THE LONG WALK HOME.

“I think art bewilders; in other words, it invites us to think differently, by shifting around our references,” says Trouvé, and indeed, her approach seems predicated on giving the already twisted another twist. That tactic is weakened when—to fill a large space, to anticipate demand—a handful of formats are spun into many variations, as here. We see, coming at us again, the same machinery that just sought to turn us upside down, and we hear the artist telling us that she plans to switch it on again; in the better Trouvé shows I’ve seen, an idea finds its form and you don’t meet its kissing cousin round the corner. A bigger issue, though, might be the question of what the “Unnamed Path” of the title actually might comprise, even if glimpsed only in negative. When I emerged from this show, feeling that I hadn’t sunk beneath its systemic surfaces, the nameless aspect began to feel like a MacGuffin or an unexamined piety. We “detour / somewhere,” according to Trouvé. OK, we’re somewhere, somewhere else. Now what?

Martin Herbert