Vienna

Anna-Sophie Berger, Drunk or Dead?, 2016, paper, pencil, wine bottle, olive oil, whiskey, balsamic vinegar, canned beans, apricot jam, marzipan figurine, concrete hand, iron weights, salt, 13 × 90 1/2 × 47 1/4". Photo: Klaus Pichler.

Anna-Sophie Berger, Drunk or Dead?, 2016, paper, pencil, wine bottle, olive oil, whiskey, balsamic vinegar, canned beans, apricot jam, marzipan figurine, concrete hand, iron weights, salt, 13 × 90 1/2 × 47 1/4". Photo: Klaus Pichler.

Anna-Sophie Berger

mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien

Anna-Sophie Berger, Drunk or Dead?, 2016, paper, pencil, wine bottle, olive oil, whiskey, balsamic vinegar, canned beans, apricot jam, marzipan figurine, concrete hand, iron weights, salt, 13 × 90 1/2 × 47 1/4". Photo: Klaus Pichler.

The digital age has caused a peculiar problem: Out of an excess of images, information, and memories, one has to select and preserve what seems valuable. The exhibition “Anna-Sophie Berger: Places to fight and to make up,” can be understood as a formal analysis of the specific subjectivity that is confronted with this task. Indeed, while any set of subjective choices, and, hence, the subjectivity applied in the sorting-through of digital content, remains necessarily invisible and cannot be exhibited, Berger shows that it can be traced through various differences of semantic connotations. Thus the viewer is confronted with Parabolic Reflector, 2016, for example—a work that consists of two pieces of borrowed playground equipment meant to amplify users’ voices. Covered with graffiti, however, they evoke the sad and decentered, asocial emptiness that they were supposed to symbolically remedy when originally installed in a desolate public square. A group of broken alebenches signal a similar kind of vandalism and the empirical collapse of a bureaucratic ideal of public space, underlined by stickers of a photograph of a fallen sculpture (Atlas, 2016).

At first glance, these objects represent a common discourse and poetry of space, but, as their titles suggest, they also carry something else; the artist’s subjective memories and associations. This invisible subjectivity appears to be more explicitly addressed in another set of works that seem to offer only their plain surfaces. Drunk or Dead?, 2016, consists of a paper cutout silhouette of a jester on the floor, with banal objects such as a bottle of olive oil, a container of salt, and a can of beans placed on it as weights. Two works on opposite walls are related: Trivial Pursuit, 2013, a hat whose patterning refers at the same time to geometrical abstraction and a jester’s motley; and Spider’s Drawings (necklace), 2016, a rendering of a necklace with four handwritten lines creating permutations of meaning from just four words: THE RAVING JOKER / THE JOKING RAVER / THE RAVING CHOKER / THE CHOKING RAVER. The drawing is carelessly wrapped in a cheap plastic sheet protector, signaling on another semantic level that this barrier is, compared to the expensive frames that enclose other works, really just an insignificant gesture and, hence, significant precisely because of its insignificance. This is emphasized by an enigmatic contrast: In Pea Earring, 2016, a pea surrounded by sterling silver is mounted to the large exhibition wall. In contrast to the joker and the massive reflectors, it evokes a distinct preciousness. Similarly, the wood-framed water imprints of Choicest Relic (1) and (2), both 2016, that remind one of archaic fossils telegraph significant value.

It is impossible for the viewer to comprehend the subjective logic of such associations through immediate contemplation. Usually she may gain such an understanding only after consulting press releases and catalogues, or even engaging in discussions with the artist. Berger acknowledges this by presenting the viewer with her accompanying publication MANUAL, which presents something like the results of a Google images search: a selection of yielding personal screenshots, sketches, images of various artworks by Berger and others, events, archaic relics, and seemingly meaningless situations of everyday life. All of these images appear to be disposable, random, and at the same time somehow valuable and almost excessively meaning-laden. It’s as if they were carefully selected according to a hidden algorithm. The book also features texts by Berger, which collect very personal reflections in which she searches out her conscious and unconscious desires and motivations, as well as essays by the show’s curator, Marianne Dobner, and Canadian writer Tess Edmonson. In this way, the reader begins to discern the underlying logic of these subjective motivations—and yet one should not mistake these expressions for an image of the artist’s own authentic self. The logic and formal arrangement, the careful composition of the exhibition’s central theme inside and outside the MANUAL, suggest instead that Berger may be tracing something very objective: the common form of subjectivity in the digital age that, wherever it looks, finds only its own spleen.

Philipp Kleinmichel