View of “Edith Dekyndt,” 2019.

View of “Edith Dekyndt,” 2019.

Edith Dekyndt

Composed of everyday objects such as refrigerators and a sofa, Edith Dekyndt’s new installations often suggest a sober-minded approach to artmaking in the tradition of Minimalism. They even resemble some strains of Minimalism in their engagement with the space around them and the playful irritation of our relation to the objects on view. The comparison ends there, however. Dekyndt’s works are not neutral artifacts made of industrially manufactured staples placed in arrangements that emphasize form and the interaction between a work and its setting. On the contrary, the artist charges—indeed, freights—her objects and installations with meaning. The significance they carry might not have been readily apparent, but it filled the room like a faint though unmistakable aroma.

Dekyndt sourced the materials for the installations in her recent solo exhibition at Konrad Fischer Galerie from a shipment of trash waiting in the port of Hamburg to be transported to one of those countries that, for cash, do the dirty work of waste disposal that Europe’s wealthy consumerist society shuns. For the installation that gave the exhibition its title, The Black, The White, The Blue (all works 2019), Dekyndt salvaged refrigerators and freezer cabinets from a shipping container and positioned them on and around a carpet of broken glass, which she harvested by shattering the appliances’ interior shelves. The resulting installation managed to exude shabbiness, drab monotony, and a sharp chill all at once. The eponymous blue emanated from an autonomous work, Nacht im Hafen (Night in the Harbor), which projected an animation onto the rotating blades of a fan stationed atop the glass carpet. Sticking to the sweetened palette of TV commercials, the footage showed fog melting away in front of an indeterminate backdrop.

Flanking the central installation was an open chest freezer filled with murky liquid: the melted remains of a chunk of frozen black ink. The sculpture’s title—Die Natur des Nordens in der ganzen Schönheit ihrer Schrecken (The Nature of the North in All the Beauty of Her Horrors) alluded to Caspar David Friedrich’s Das Eismeer (The Sea of Ice), 1823–24, by quoting from a letter conveying the collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt’s instructions for the commission to the north-German Romantic painter. Like Friedrich’s painting, which shows thick shards of ice surging from a frozen sea, Dekyndt’s installation presented an aggregated mass that radiated cold and almost crystalline clarity. Yet how wide was the gulf between the two works of art, between what some regard as a zenith of European culture and the sordid detritus of that same culture’s insatiable mass consumerism, left to be picked over by those who stand little chance of sharing in its bounty.

If these salvaged refrigerators shone a light on the icy disregard for the plight of others that is currently threatening our planetary community’s tenuous bonds of solidarity, another piece, titled Die südliche Natur in ihrer üppigen und majestätischen Pracht (The Southern Nature in Its Lush and Majestic Splendor)—the phrase was taken from another assignment from von Quandt, this time to the painter Johann Martin von Rohden—tapped into warmth, of a kind: the relentless heat propelling our planet into catastrophic climate change, a no less urgent menace to the global social balance. For the piece, the artist had mounted a mysterious glass box on a rectangular heating pad located on an old wooden door that had been laid flat on the floor. Wrapped in wet velvet, the contents of the box appeared to incessantly sweat.

Reflections on the rank hypocrisy of European culture crystallized in the installation Mondaufgang am Meer (Moonrise at the Sea), in which a striped awning, grime-stained and fraying along the edges, was suspended in the middle of a room beside a wall of shelves, empty save for three sealed mason jars. Each jar contained a single object—a piece of knitwear, a velvet-wrapped egg, a chunk of silicone—submerged in a clear liquid. The green and white stripes of the awning immediately called to mind Daniel Buren’s interventions, which, like Friedrich’s paintings, have been accorded immense value in contemporary European culture. While it’s often been said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, rarely has anyone mentioned the power imbalances that shape these judgments. 

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.