A round-up of our favorite three shows at Berlin Art Week that ran 11 – 15 September: https://www.berlinartweek.de/en/berlin-art-week/
Fabula Rasa, Tanya Leighton
Fabula Rasa is a group exhibition themed around the literary form of the fable.
Particularly arresting are two sculptures by artist Michael Dean, who, according to one fairly recent review, is ‘concerned with language, signs, meaning’. The sculptures are strange, compelling and affecting. The most recent – ff (Working Title), 2019 – comprises a thin, rectangular form made of sand and glue imprinted with foot and boot marks. On close inspection the individual marks that form the boot prints are heart shaped. The feet look smaller than the boots. A child with an adult perhaps. A bed sheet covers the other side of the form, which is propped up on two small stacks of Dean’s own texts. The work is poetic in its formally and narratively, allusive quality – a few fictional moments on a patch of beach fixed in space and time – finished off by a touch of bathos in the form of the bed sheet.
The freestanding sculpture is more purely aesthetic, less narratively legible – but also incorporates eruptions of fragmentary human forms. The work suggests a broken concrete column. A dark lump of concrete forms the base – imprinted subtly with one of the heart boots – the middle passage is a colony of various brightly coloured plaster casts of crossed fingers – a crumpled book stuffed in amongst them – a shard of paler concrete tops it.
Both works are emotive, empathic and understated. They are alive to the fleeting and messy nature of human presence in the material world.
Christopher Kulendran Thomas in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, Ground Zero, Schinkel Pavillion
This is an extraordinary show – complex, thought provoking and slick. Its starting point is the murderous erasure of Eelam – the self-governing, autonomous Tamil homeland – 10 years ago by the Sri Lankan army. Christopher Kulendran Thomas, who created the piece along with Annika Kuhlmann, is a British artist from a Tamil family “from a place that no longer exists.”
The work has emerged from Thomas’ rigorous and wide ranging analysis of the history and context of this atrocity. Most especially it focuses on the international community’s failure to prevent or subsequently condemn the genocide and the curious fact that in the months after the violence – with the economic liberalization that followed – a contemporary art scene sprung up in in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
Physically the show comprises a film Being Human (2019) being projected onto a large transparent screen. At moments the projection stops and gallery lights come on revealing, behind the screen, an installation of sculptures and paintings by some of the stars of Sri Lanka’s new art scene.
A focus on the ruthless ‘standard operating procedure’ of the hegemonic international system with its tactical deployment of the idea of human rights in the pursuit of specific geo-political goals and the, at times, dismally ornamental complicity of contemporary art within this polity explodes dizzyingly into speculation on the end of the nation state, the obsolescence of the Western idea of the individual and the potentially transformational role of technology – much of which is articulated in the film by two algorithmically synthesized characters – a pop-star who looks very much like Taylor Swift and an artist who one might mistake for Oscar Murillo.
Idris Khan, Quartet, Galerie Thomas Schulte
The palimpsest – the layering of texts and images – has long been Khan’s signature mode. Over time its effect within his practice has changed.
The creative charge in his earlier work often derived from the interplay of both the dissonance and harmony between the technique and the content of the images, texts and symbols he deployed.
In more recent work that tension has given way to a calmer, more meditative and epic quality. It was also given way to a world of deep blue hues that colour almost all the works in this show – Khan’s very own Blue Period. As Khan told one newspaper recently, “I’ve made subtle shifts into using color but never something that’s quite so all-encompassing as this body of work”.
Khan’s new, sixty-part installation Quartet (2019) looks out imperiously on Charlottenberg from the rather strange and wonderful double height corner space of Thomas Schulte’s gallery. The work comprises sixty aluminum and gesso panels printed with sheet music – the bars of which Khan has painted a deep and bright blue with oil stick. Standing in front of Quartet is a maquette for a large public sculpture – 65,000 photographs – that is shortly to be installed on the Southbank in London. The work is formed from a series of consecutively larger blocks sitting on top of each other, each one based on a standard size of photographic print and the whole representing the artist’s archive of photos he has taken of his private life over the last five years.
Also impressive are the three Rothko-like stamp paintings in which includes fragments of texts by the likes of Samuel Beckett, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and Philip Larkin amongst others, printed, repeatedly and illegibly over each other.
In these image saturated times there is something especially satisfying about Khan’s process of systematically effacing content through its very form to produce beautifully abstract works.