Honza Zamojski, The Body, 2019, mixed media. Installation view. From “4 × 1 = 30.”

Honza Zamojski, The Body, 2019, mixed media. Installation view. From “4 × 1 = 30.”

“4 × 1 = 30”

Since opening in 1989, Christine König Galerie in Vienna has been a beacon for both established and emerging international contemporary art. The gallery’s driving concerns can be located at the intersection of art with feminism and activism, politics and literature, concept and environment—all of which could be found in the group show marking its thirtieth anniversary. For this exhibition, playfully titled “4 × 1 = 30” and curated by a new generation of gallery associates—Robby Greif, Teresa Kamencek, Elsa König, and Andrea Kopranovic—four young artists were each invited to contribute a site-specific work in response to the gallery’s program.

Without an explicit overarching theme, the show was nonetheless strikingly oriented toward the present crisis of anthropogenic climate change. It traced human involvement in the world while presenting the human as a cipher, an uncertain referent for an array of negative forms. In the front room, Rebecca Ackroyd’s three oversize seashells, camouflaged in flames, from the series “Hunter/Gatherer,” 2018, were strapped with supplies for a dehydrated future. These emergency-orange bottles were the color of life vests and lifeboats, conjuring lives adrift and people missing. No foamy Venus was going to emerge from these conch shells, which looked like they might very well have been rigged to detonate.

Louisa Clement’s unsettling photographs, meanwhile, focused on the touching limbs of black wooden mannequins, generating images of an inanimate intimacy in which tenderness is exchanged for material sensuousness. In a short video piece also on view, not lost in you 12, 2017, a gloved hand continuously groped an ambiguous pink fiberglass appendage. Like Ackroyd’s sculptures, Clement’s digital work models anthropomorphic forms from which the human element has been evacuated.

In contrast to the impassiveness of Clement’s neatly framed figures, Honza Zamojski’s black skeletal marionette The Body, 2019—strung up at its joints, yet pinned down at one hand—begged for permission to laugh. Decapitated (while The Head, 2019, also by Zamojski, hung not far away), this gangling figure of irony and impoverishment holds onto a useless collection of symbolic “gold” coins. Situated on the floor in a corner, Zamojski’s vagabond seemed to seek metaphysical shelter beside a group of the artist’s drawings. Word games, handwritten in large letters, hung, framed, on the adjacent walls: DONT TRUST THE ENDLESS SUNRISE, CAPITAL LOVES STUPID DUMB BOYS, WHAT TIRED DUSTED DAD DID, GOOD DAY YOU UNDONE EVIL. Concrete poetry meets Mad Libs in these equivocal texts, which here seemed to articulate the disarticulated body’s absurdly serious predicament.

While Ackroyd, Clement, and Zamojski reflected on the human by displacing it, Julian Turner took a more direct approach. In his installation Schön im Öl (Beautiful in the Oil), 2020, the artist investigated the infrastructures of geopolitics using clever dissonances of scale: Pink Viennese treats from the Aida coffeehouse chain, Swiss Parisienne cigarettes, Italian panettone, plenty of empty German beer cans, and a roll of toilet paper were assembled to create a rough model of the oil refinery near Vienna’s airport. This was, in a certain sense, Anthropocene art, in which the Great Acceleration was not graphed as an increasingly severe asymptote but rather pictured as a series of temporal and above all visual ruptures. In a group of related collages, cutouts of photos of fancy cuisine—from soufflés to herbed scallops—from old magazines were pasted over pictures of the refinery’s chemical-processing units. Turner’s works thus embedded imagery of midcentury prosperity and hospitality—along with the promised pleasure of collective consumption—within its inhospitable industrial excretions, all the while trying to maintain spaces in which the party could keep going on. Bringing together the compelling work of four disparate artists, “4 × 1 = 30” was a thoughtful exhibition that attested to our present environmental precarity, performing a timely, cautionary, and sometimes delightful equation of surplus value.