Berlin

View of “Alexandra Bircken,” 2021–22. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

View of “Alexandra Bircken,” 2021–22. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

Alexandra Bircken

The Kesselhaus, or “boiler house,” of the Kindl – Centre for Contemporary Art is a high-ceilinged industrial space—the type of building that Berlin sometimes seems to be made up of—and Alexandra Bircken’s multipart installation Fair Game, 2021, extended into every region of it. It did so mostly via the German artist’s near-trademark full-body latex bodysuits: rumpled black shells suggestive of recently departed life, deflation, or newly discarded skins. These objects littered the floor and hung in numbers from the ceiling, from a dangling ladder with cows’ ribs for bars, on the walls, and in the half-occluded stairwell to the cellar. Spent, they draped themselves over a phalanx of empty black beer barrels that also incorporated the speakers for German electronica linchpin Thomas Brinkmann’s rumbling, pulsing, somewhat ominous ninety-four-minute soundtrack, which the handout described as “the sound that you might continue to hear in your mind when the lights go on in the club after the last dance.” This, then, was the aftermath phase of whatever had gone on here, and the prequel to whatever was coming next.

Fair Game had a lenticular quality. Looked at one way, it felt apocalyptic, like a battleground, or, as its ambiguous title might have suggested, the bloody end of a hunt. (War paintings and hunting imagery apparently informed the composition.) But with no killers in sight, the work also invoked pain leading to a desired release—from the fundamental prison of the body, perhaps, or from cis heteronormativity, since Bircken’s work swirls together gender signifiers. The latex suits sometimes had pockets for breasts, sometimes not, and were on occasion weighed down with ostrich eggs that Bircken apparently sees as representing the uterus. Sometimes she added a long festoon of girlie blonde hair. Toward the edges of the space one found oversize glass vessels, their open ends stuffed with material (sometimes more body shells), like giant ersatz Molotov cocktails, on occasion accompanied by a deconstructed motorcycle jacket. Meanwhile, near the room’s center, watching sentinel-like over all this was an upright figure in multicolored knitwear, sporting shoulder pads like an American football player, toting a saber, and with a double exhaust pipe—suggestive of metal antlers—for a head. Behind this male-female-human-machinic mutant, the ladder of bones rose to the rafters like an abstract escape route from the corporeal, the binarily fixed, the earthly.

The simplest way of threading Fair Game’s needle would be to say that it was a wide-screen prognostication concerning the near future, a piece of atmospherics spacious enough to account for the dissolution of gender, the fusing of the human and the technological (Donna Haraway inevitably lurked in the background), the “end of the party” in whatever terms you might couch it, and, yes, the ever-present specter of war. Some of what’s coming or is already here is terrifying, but not all of it. Anyway, as John Maynard Keynes famously noted, in the long run we are all dead. These are unwieldly matters to wrap one’s art around, never mind while creating a structure where they can coexist persuasively under the larger aegis of inexorable change. Furthermore, when you consider that Bircken here mostly recombined iconography familiar from the past half decade or more of her career, it’s doubly impressive that Fair Game did what it did—managing to grip, anticipate, unnerve, and console.