Anastasia Ax, COPYRIGHT Copyright, 2016, paper, 12 1/4 × 8 1/4 × 4 3/8". From the series “Copyright,” 2016–.

Anastasia Ax, COPYRIGHT Copyright, 2016, paper, 12 1/4 × 8 1/4 × 4 3/8". From the series “Copyright,” 2016–.

Anastasia Ax

Galleri Andersson/Sandström

Anastasia Ax, COPYRIGHT Copyright, 2016, paper, 12 1/4 × 8 1/4 × 4 3/8". From the series “Copyright,” 2016–.

Anastasia Ax has an appetite for destruction, but of a certain kind. I remember her going wild in her work Exile, 2011, at the music festival Way Out West in Göteburg, Sweden. In a big tent, she built up a landscape of white sculptures in plaster, old books and fabric, and other materials. Accompanied by the darkest noise music (by Dasha Rush, Oni Ayhun, and Marja-Leena Sillanpää), Ax reentered the space and began to spit black ink on the sculptures while breaking them with her bare hands. Finally, the audience joined in and destroyed the installation by dancing and tearing down the sculptures. The extraordinary thing was that this transformative act seemed totally without irony. To be able to create this kind of aggressive metamorphosis of an exhibition space in a music context without making it look like a critical comment on rock-music or performance-art clichés was definitely an achievement. In retrospect, I think this had to do with the intense but careful focus that characterized the artist’s presence. What I am sure of is that Ax is one of the few performance artists whose work really makes sense both in music festivals and white-cube galleries.

Naturally, the connection to rock, with its emphasis on the idea of spontaneity, is less pronounced in art contexts, where one becomes more aware of how the destructive and transformative aspects of performance are consciously choreographed. Getting violent with a sculpture could also be understood as a means of questioning its economic value, its potential for being collected and preserved. In her recent exhibition “Copyright,” Ax showed two new works in which one witnessed inanimate objects in constant transformation. The artist’s part of the performance was hidden, though viewers could still imagine her body in action.

“Copyright,” 2016–, is a series of sculptures based on reams of copy paper in different brands, all made and purchased in Germany. With water and her own hands, Ax had carved out a small crater in each batch of paper. Through her manual labor, she is both accelerating and making visible entropic decay. When I saw them, they were beautiful; today they might be gone. “Kathimerini,” 2015, is a series of large-scale wall pieces that from a distance look like dry skin. Seen up close, they reveal themselves as more performative paper works, made from blank leftover sheets of newsprint from the financial supplement to the Greek newspaper after which the series is titled. Ax manipulated pages of the periodical with water to produce these fragile art objects.

“Kathimerini” is undoubtedly an artistic comment on the economic crisis in Greece, and perhaps also on the function of contemporary financial journalism, but the very fact that “Copyright” was made in Germany—by an artist who lives and works in Athens and Stockholm—suggests an allegory of German/Greek relations. At least since Johann Winckelmann and the invention of art history in the age of the Enlightenment, German culture has had a passionate relationship to an idea of Greece. To connect the two countries as Ax does in a commercial art gallery today is a speculative way to raise the question of art in our current economic situation by way of recent political conflicts between Germany and Greece. How that all adds up is harder to tell, but the two works amount to an idiosyncratic reflection on the ambiguous state of art, politics, and economy in Europe today.

Fredrik Svensk