View of  “Si Sedes Non Is,” 2017. Photo: Nikos Koustenis.

View of “Si Sedes Non Is,” 2017. Photo: Nikos Koustenis.

“Si Sedes Non Is”

The Breeder

View of  “Si Sedes Non Is,” 2017. Photo: Nikos Koustenis.

Classicist James I. Porter writes: “The sublime cannot be seen. It is that into which one must plunge.” Pitted against the Athens segment of the often heavily didactic Documenta 14, the Breeder’s summer show “Si Sedes Non Is,” curated by Milovan Farronato of the Fiorucci Art Trust,plunged the viewer into a constellation of esoteric artistic positions and arcana, and located sublimity within a ritualistic dematerialization of labor and capital inextricably linked to the potency of any representation today.

The exhibition took its title from the Latin inscription on Lucy McKenzie’s painting Alchemical Door, 2017, which was mounted low on the wall at the entrance of the gallery. The words could be read from left to right as “If you sit, do not go,” or from left to right, “If you go, do not sit.” It was no coincidence that this oil-on-canvas, faux-bois portal bearing pseudo-Masonic inscriptions (and an odd red handle) holding out one of the oldest promises of visual representation—a Narnia-like passage to another realm—was stood next to Christodoulos Panayiotou’s Untitled (Dollars), 2016. Made of pulped US currency mounted on canvas and framed, this monochrome simulated the ubiquitous liquefaction of capital, its dissolving and abstraction into thin air in stock markets, only to emphasize the materiality of fiat money in the service of abstract art, whose claims to transcendence have long been abandoned.

The irony-laden taking-stock of the checks and balances of representation—artistic, economic, or otherwise—was further heightened by Goshka Macuga’s sculpture Somnambulist, 2006, a prone life-size figure in heavy makeup and garbed in black. It’s modeled on Cesare, a character from Robert Wiene’s Expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) who wakes up at the end of the film to realize that he’s dreamed the whole story while a patient at a mental hospital. Prem Sahib’s stage-like Touch Down, 2017, a black-tiled platform littered with popcorn and Velcro kneepads, suggested in turn that Cesare’s spectacular dream is already over, with such leftovers of action intensifying the sense of absence. Paired with Christian Holstad’s phallic, tumescent Liquid microphones, 2016–17, Sahib’s work seemed to provide the pathetic setup for the performance of a possibly sacrilegious ritual—thereby introducing a welcome tension with the more totemic works in the show, such as Maria Loboda’s installation To separate the sacred from the profane, 2016, or Delia Gonzalez’s drawing Don’t Exclude the Moon, 2017.

On the lower level, thirteen film vignettes (transferred to video) by Anna Franceschini, eighteen cards from Paulina Olowska’s Alphabet from a Hole, 2017, and thirteen neon talismans by Angelo Plessas alternated regularly along three walls, evoking rows of casino machines with ambient colored lighting and repetitive motions on the monitors. Plessas’s works, all from the series “Malismans—Curses to save mankind,” 2017, combine crescents with circular, square, or triangular forms to create hex marks at once representing and warding off harrowing contemporary phenomena such as depression, segregation, and extinction. Placing these “malismanic” forms against small square mirrors hung roughly at eye level, the artist also provided viewers the opportunity to see and recognize themselves amid the oppression and rejection. The economic visual language of these works resonated with Franceschini’s largely self-reflexive, nonnarrative films, in which, for instance, a misaligned classroom globe spins (SBAM!, 2017) or metal wheels produce sparks as they move along rails (IT’S ALL ABOUT LIGHT [TO JOSEPH PLATEAU] / 1, 2011). While many of her works come across as too self-absorbed by the nostalgic visual spell of 16-mm film, they nevertheless successfully conjured the tenor of the show: If you choose to be absorbed, give yourself up fully.

Gökcan Demirkazik