Review /

Liam Gillick Esther Schipper / Berlin

Liam Gillick is an expert at suggestion. In “Were People This Dumb Before TV? A Curated Selection from the Graphic Archive 1990–2017” he powers through a series of fonts and graphics, all arranged upon a knotty plywood structure. His wry humor electrifies modern-day political discourse, like a hairdryer in a bathtub; one never quite knows if the result is intended to be fatal or slapstick.

Viewers are left to muse over linguistics and codes that they perpetually reenact and unwittingly circulate in day-to-day life. Gossipy scriptures and slogans (“The juice is a brighter red than in real life”) adorn the freestanding panels amid flitting narratives (“The state becomes a super commune”) and cold euphemisms (“Blown up by a bomb, hidden inside a body, blown up by a bomb”).

The sculptural wooden support for all these slogans is both mildly disorienting and seemingly logical as a structure for compartmentalizing information. The panels display an endless overview of the artist’s graphic materials, including prints, posters, books, magazines covers and inserts. One must navigate the maze-like structure to view the archive in full. Included are works that Gillick has found difficult to place, complete or even locate over the years.

One poster, made for the elections in Britain in 2010, is a single white A3 sheet with “Solidarity! Labour” set in the middle of the page. The domain that organized and distributed this project is no longer viewable online, suggesting an ironically fated failure to enact a better country. Walking through this defeated archive, one can’t help wondering, given that streets are burning only a few hours away in Hamburg, whether the white cube is a place where politics can even exist today. Still, slogans like “Welcome to Hell” — the rallying cry of protesters at the G20 summit — are not so far from Gillick’s own rhetoric.

by Penny Rafferty