The door opens inwards


Some time ago, Galerie Tanja Wagner curated the first exhibition explicitly linked to the metamodern. It would be an understatement to say that the exhibition was a success in terms of either popular appreciation or critical acclaim. Art glossy Monopol instantly put Wagner on the front page. Art-Magazin called her the ‘absolute Newcomerin’. Der Tagesspiegel spoke of Wagner as the future of the Berlin art scene. And Die Zeit put lavish praise on the five young artists. Notes on metamodernism decided to have a look for themselves. Timotheus Vermeulen reports.

Beforehand, the exhibition’s titular thematic, a door opening inwards, struck us as evocative as it seemed elusive. The idea of a door opening inwards evokes images of inviting one into one’s private sanctuary, of letting one in on a secret. But it also raises questions, the kind of questions indeed a generation of artists raised in the eighties and nineties is likely to ask: opening onto what, opening from which point, opening by whom?

To be sure, none of the works on display physically opens a door. In fact, no work even offers a representation of an opening door. Yet throughout the performances, installations, and paintings, this tension, between a public gesture and a private sphere, or between an unclear somewhere and an unknown elsewhere, is unmistakable present. As the exhibition catalogue puts it:

“By opening the door inwards, these artists do not extract public issues onto a private scale. Nor do they exhibit their personal concerns and quirks onto a public stage. On the contrary, they invite us into a public space as if it were their private sanctuary. […]

The door opens inwards is a journey of discovery. It is a journey without destination, a journey of which the artists might not return. It is a journey embedded in the gravity of reality, but embodied by the weightlessness of the imagination. The journey explores the tension between the representation and the present, the discourse and the material. It oscillates between the possible and the impossible, desire and disappointment, hope and melancholy, sincerity and irony. By opening the door inwards, the artists seek to re-establish the trust necessary to create new communities, shared beliefs and even truths…”

The exhibition, by opening the door inwards, by inviting in one sphere, one space, one discourse, one sensibility, one subjectivity, into another, take a stand, or, to use that art scene’s buzzword du jour, a position. The artists on display say: this is my place, too; I take responsibility for it, too; I derive rights from it, too; and I can decide what I want it to be like, too.

Much has been written about Routes Award Laureate Sejla Kameric’s installation Mashallah – God Bless Tears (below). Marshalla – God Bless Tears is a collection of neatly displayed, neatly folded, neatly pressed, white woolen baby cardigans adorned with a golden broche in the shape of a tear on which is imprinted the Arabic verse ‘Mashallah’: good luck. Kameric juxtaposes form and meaning, meaning and form. The manner in which the jumpers are displayed evoke at once the standard of the military and the seriality of fashion. The cardigans themselves however invoke the irreducible innocence of children. And if the golden broches connote the luxury of the transient, they also carry with them a truth that is soberingly transcendental: life is not life without tears.

God Bless Tears opens a door to the future of a people, onto and from an artist’s individual past and vice versa. It is a door that oscillates between a universal capitalism and a particular cultural sensibility, between transience of fashion and the transcendentality of religion, between the unclear somewhere of life and the unknown elsewhere of death, in order to create another, alternative space of longing and belonging.

Issa Sant paints red and yellow brushstrokes, bloodlike streams and blotted knots on a whitish, ungrounded set of canvasses (below). The strokes intimate figures that are entrapped between the foreground and the background, between centre and periphery, between their disconcerting relationship to one another and their disintegrating individuality, between a desire to move and a distressing immobility, between flowing arteries and constipated carcasses, between a Bacon-esque present and a cave paintings-like past. Indeed, Sant’s entrapped figures deconstruct human subjectivity, in all its uncertainty, ambiguity, and bleakness.

Yet for Sant, entrapment is not merely a deconstructive tool. It also offers them a reconstructive rope. Her figures are ensnared between where they want to be and where they were, between a future that has not yet materialized and a past that has already disappeared. But Ensnared: that is to say, in a web, in a frame of reference, of possibilities and impossibilities – found, ultimately, not lost, forever.

The much praised Mariechen Danz’s performance Learning Cubes of no Body (below) is a retrogressive retrainings of her body through which she seeks to gain a sensual understanding of the human corporeal experience. Danz, by oscillating between elaborate choreography and spasms of the body, between pop songs and humming Ur-sounds, seeks to open a door onto a space in which the Apolinian soul and the Dionysian body meet. She does not merely want to deconstruct the human corporeal experience as the binary tension between discursivity and materiality however. Instead she wants to reconstruct it. Danz deconstructs our corporeality in order to reconstruct alternative relationships between discursivity and materiality: unexpected linkages, as yet unknown frictions. Danz’s Learning Cubes are tools to enable us to learn another corporeal language.

Angelika Trojnarski’s vistas (below) take us to abandoned battelegrounds, uninhabited homes and sailless ships. The paintings might be cold contemplations on the ahistoricity or wastefulness of contemporary society, but the paintings never feel like it. On the contrary they have quite a warmth to them. Trojnarski imbues the objects with an almost Romantic necessity of presence, melancholy and mysteriousness that makes one wonder whether these obsolete and obblivious creatures to have something akin to a story or even soul to them.

The promising Berlin born artist Paula Doepfner finally, attempts to store her dreams in ice cubes, archive her desires in lava. She fails, of course. But that is the point: to try and store dreams in ice cubes knowing that storing is a process of eternity while dreams are ephemeral, but moreover knowing that one cannot store dreams in ice because it melts; to try and archive desires in lava knowing that archiving is a process of ordering while desires are rhizomatic, but moreover knowing that one cannot store desires in stone because lava solidifies. Indeed, Doepfner, in failing, creates a truly fascinating piece of art.

What these artists share is a desire to seek for a truth that they never expect to find, in materials in which they most certainly will not find it. But they look out for it; and they look out for not in not in discursive monopoly or theoretical scrabble or conceptual lingo, but in the material, in the brushstrokes and the canvas, the wool and the ice, the body and the voice. Indeed, what is perhaps most remarkable about these works, is their attention first and foremost to the material experience: they draw the eyes, the ears, the nose. It is only in a second instant that the mind comes into play.

The power of ‘The Door opens inwards’ lies in intimating a truth that all of us are looking for but never find. Perhaps because we do not dare to look. Perhaps because we do not know where to look for. Perhaps because what we are looking for cannot be found. Perhaps because it should not be found. The power of the exhibition lies in stating, and daring to state, that the mere fact that we are looking means we are never lost. Or at least not for ever. And that simple truth or truism, indeed, is something that no one has dared to say for a long time.

Image: Sejla Kameric, Marshalla (2010). Courtesy Galerie Tanja Wagner.

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