Review /

Willem de Rooij at KW Institute for Contemporary Art / Berlin

While the eyes grow accustomed to the half-light of KW’s central ground-floor gallery, the ears are exposed to the swelling cries of sled dog communities at dusk in Ilulissat, Greenland. As if from a choir, an assembly, or a scattered crowd of wailers, their howling rises up through twelve speakers positioned around a square of benches installed in the center of the hall.

Together with the 16-mm film triptych I’m Coming Home in Forty Days (1997), the sound installation Ilulissat (2014) is the pivot point of Willem de Rooij’s “Whiteout.” For this first institutional solo in Berlin after the acclaimed “Intolerance” at Neue Nationalgalerie in 2010, De Rooij has selected works from the past two decades, associating recent pieces with key works from his collaboration with Jeroen de Rijke between 1994 and 2006. The resulting constellation doesn’t purpose to survey; it instead directly addresses the passing of time between then and now as marked by the two central works, both relating to that outlying Greenland town.

I’m Coming Home in Forty Days, with its slow panoramic take of an iceberg near Ilulissat, pared down to its core elements and hovering between depiction and abstraction, is flanked by related works: the C-print Dead Seal (1996–99), the monochrome I’m Coming Home in Forty Days (2001) and various production stills from Blue Table (2004). Juxtaposed with the changeant weaving Blue to Blue (2012), these works appear to be investigations of Coming Home’s traces through space and time.

Meteorologically, a “whiteout” is a disorienting weather condition whereby snowfall or ice causes an optical disappearance of horizon and reference points. In the seventeen years between the capturing of the image and De Rooij’s return to Ilulissat to record the sound, the iceberg melted, Denmark further withdrew its political influence on Greenland, and Jeroen de Rijke passed away. Knowledge of biographical or otherwise contextual facts, however, is not required for one to become acutely aware of one’s own physicality in the spaces of this exhibition. When leaving the building one can hear the howling as if coming from its gut. Be it concerning pure beauty, (geo)politics or an abstract sense of grief, “Whiteout” achieves the maximum impact of the coexistence of reduction and abundance: in here absence is apparent, its presence almost tangible.

by Suzanne van de Ven

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Måns Wrange at Tensta Konsthall / Stockholm

“Magic Bureaucracy” is a small retrospective that presents a series of projects developed between 1983 and 1998 by Måns Wrange (b. 1961, Åhus, Sweden). Mainly known as an artist, Wrange’s work has also incorporated curatorial practice, resulting in projects that have taken the shape of exhibitions, archives and video programs, among other formats. Wrange’s explorations of the aesthetic and conceptual possibilities of new media are guided by an interest in the social effects of the administrative structures of the state.

The exhibition at Tensta Konsthall, curated by Nina Möntmann, leads the visitor into a maze, developed in collaboration with architect Igor Isaksson, which is arranged as a theatrical setting with faint lighting and red curtains. The labyrinth-like arrangement suggests a symbolic structure widely used in the literary genre of magical realism. This reference is present as well in the title of the show, which also conveys Wrange’s interest in Max Weber’s discussions on bureaucracy.

Among the most notable works is The Stockholm Syndrome (1998), which is shown in its entirety, thanks to its original format: it consists of a CD-ROM exhibition that explores the 1973 events which are at the source of its title. The expression was coined after a six-day hostage situation in a bank in central Stockholm in which the captives empathized with their captors. The digital exhibition can be navigated through various networked paths — temporally, spatially and through a scheme of human relationships. The narration also connects the actions with contemporary artworks that shed light on the significance of the events.

Most of the projects are displayed in the form of documentation, yet are carefully selected and staged so as not to overload the visitor: videos, photographs, maps and descriptions provide an approach to The Archive of Deleted Files (1996) and The Metaphysics of Hobbies (1991) — the latter one of his lesser-known projects, which addresses the phenomenon of hobby culture as ignited by the 1930s policies of the rising Swedish welfare state. One of the core foundations of the Swedish state is also explored in a mini exhibition titled The Aesthetics of Compromise (1999), consisting of three photographs of glasses belonging to historically charged locations, and one glass cast in the shape of a computer-generated hybrid of the three originals.

Two further projects, The Aerial Kit (1984–89) and U-media (1987), were developed with the interdisciplinary collective VAVD, of which Wrange was part between 1983 and 1988. Furthermore, Wrange curated the video art section of the Stockholm Film Festival in 1991 and 1992; some of the works that were originally screened are presented again here, including Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988), Keith Piper’s The Nation’s Finest (1990) and John Di Stefano’s The Epistemology of Disco (1991).

by Alba Baeza

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Adriano Amaral Jaqueline Martins Gallery / São Paulo

In order to produce the works presented in his first exhibition at Jaqueline Martins Gallery, Adriano Amaral returned to his grandparent’s farm in Poços de Caldas, located in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Upon entering the ground-floor gallery space, the viewer encounters an abandoned wasp’s nest, the first out of five in this room, accompanied by loudspeakers that emit minimal bug sounds. Two video loops on suspended flat-screen monitors (Rurais, all works 2017) depict drone footage from a night around the farm. Modified with a blue filter treatment, the images evoke a clandestine military operation or a somnambulist passage through the grounds of a decaying laboratory or sci-fi farm.

The exhibition continues in the upper gallery, where viewers are invited to take off their shoes and step onto a floor cladded with black neoprene panels. Here the ambience of a laboratory is epitomized through seventy sculptures produced from trainers and soccer boots, all collected from farm workers and conserved through a process of silicone immersion. A suspended ultraviolet light creates the illusion of these sculptures as animated research objects.

The combination of organic materials such as bones and feathers with inorganic silicone and solid and hollow acrylic tubes — sculpted through a process of burning, mending and amalgamating — alludes to a fusion of human and artificial intelligence. In one of the many untitled pieces installed throughout the show, silicone casts of corncobs are connected to hospital tubes that merge with a tree branch. The junction of the two acrylic tubes that support the arrangement is wrapped with a cracked laptop screen.

Positioned against the rear gallery wall, the artist appropriated three tractor appliances used on the farm for fertilizer pulverization and modified them by attaching water tanks. Alluding to productivity in the absence of human company, the water tanks now emit the almost-inaudible reverberations of evaporating liquid.

If, as the press release claims, the exhibition is an attempt to formulate a “new understanding of our environment as a network-based platform,” one is rather held spellbound by a series of alien objects that leave no potential for interaction, only contemplation. The apocalyptic scenario laid out by Amaral is instead suggestive of a post-human condition in which corporations, with their scientific products, have taken control.

by Tobi Maier

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Lucio Fontana Hangar Bicocca / Milan

In a time when environmental installation has lost its sense of genre-specificity, eclipsed by the holistic scope entailed by almost every artistic experience, Lucio Fontana’s exhibition “Environments” at Milan’s Hangar Bicocca underscores the primitive goal of such investigations: to augment the beholder’s temporal and spatial experience by undermining the static nature of perception as presupposed by traditional art forms.

The exhibition includes nine Ambienti spaziali [spatial environments] and two environmental installations, all realized between 1949 and 1968 (the year of the artist’s death), most of which have been reconstructed for the first time through in-depth research in the respective archives of the artist, the architects who were responsible for engineering the works, and the institutions that commissioned them.

The 1949 Ambiente spaziale a luce nera [black light spatial environment], first presented at the Galleria del Naviglio, in Milan, sees biomorphic shapes made of papier-mâché and painted in florescent colors, suspended from the ceiling and lighted by ultraviolet lamps — a nod to aerospace discoveries of the time — while the 1968 Ambiente spaziale for Documenta 4, in Kassel, embeds one of the artist’s eponymous “cuts” within a maze-like all-white space. Facing the cut’s deep blackness, the visitor might wonder if she hasn’t actually stepped into the territory that lies beyond the cut: not just an extraterrestrial space, but the center of a black hole, the very embodiment of emptiness.

“Environments” arrives in the wake of a revaluation of the legacy of movements such as Fontana’s own Spazialismo and the contiguous Arte Programmata (the Italian version of kinetic art). Indeed, the exhibition forces a reconsideration of the purely technological content of early Italian environment art (ultimately, the role of the protagonist was here played by lighting) that the “ecological” claims of Arte Povera had supplanted. Such an inference could help frame the search for abstract but functional domestic environments that Italian Radical designers would pursue in the late 1960s and early 1970s — thus bringing together two rarely correlated major expressions of Postwar Italian creative production.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Adrián Villar Rojas The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA / Los Angeles

The Geffen’s doors shut out the blinding sunlight of Los Angeles as one’s eyes adjust to Adrián Villar Rojas’s immersive installation “The Theater of Disappearance,” in which a dark dystopia descends upon an alien world. Theater is acted out here in the form of post-biological still lifes or perhaps time capsules rotting away under the viewer’s nose.

The Geffen seems like an almost impossibly difficult space to fill with a solo show, though it is the institution’s preferred exhibition format, and artists are given carte blanche to dig up the floor, as Doug Aitken did for his solo show last year. Villar Rojas has taken the challenge of filling the space quite literally; a landscaper who worked on the install confirmed that sixteen tons of material was brought in to make the loamy floor, which slopes downward from the entrance to the dark depths of the former police car warehouse.

The result, in which custom glass refrigerators serve as sculpture-like ecosystems for human bones, tentacles, mushrooms, rotting fish and dismembered robots, evokes both a Renaissance cabinet of curiosity and an apocalyptic ruin. It’s unclear whether the temperatures in the glass cases are cold enough to suspend the organic material in time, but a fuzzy mold is beginning to crawl across muscle sinews and tubers. Is it real?

References to Gaia or the post-Anthropocene echo throughout the exhibition, and viewers are left to explore the cavernous, industrial space amid a forest of towering monoliths. One has to discover the show, so to speak. At first, one doesn’t quite know what is being illuminated by the dim blue light emanating from the refrigerator sculptures; it’s nearly impossible to discern between rock, dead coral and petrified wood. All are layered with silicone and wires to form surreal monuments to a future techno religion. Meanwhile we mere mortals are left in the dark to imagine a world in which we don’t exist.

by Devon Van Houten Maldonado

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Xavier Cha Performa / New York

Experiencing interruptions? Xavier Cha transposes high-speed digital hiccups — those maddening breaks in the time/YouTube continuum — to the analog realm in Buffer. The live performance piece, made earlier this year during Cha’s residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and presented there last week as part of Performa 17, is at once intimate and distant, cozy and chilly: a trio of streaming browser tabs brought to contemporary life, where strong, stable connections are just as elusive.

Los Angeles-born, New York-based Cha typically creates non-narrative works that viewers can engage with on their own spatiotemporal terms — as with her 2015 video abduct, screening on New York’s High Line through November 22, during which people may come and go as they please. The proscenium format offered new possibilities. “I thought about the experience of sitting and viewing a work for an hour and how that’s pretty unusual now,” Cha has said. “When do people do that? Usually it’s when they’re in front of a screen.”

Contemplating public versions of private encounters with buffering icons of death (spinning pinwheels, animated infinite circles) led Cha to a tripartite structure of alternating scenes in Buffer, each with its own cast, set and lighting. Nestled on an expensive sofa is a couple deep in abstracted conversation, even as one (played by the mesmerizing and mesmerized Cassandra Freeman) rarely looks up from her MacBook. Cut to a contemporary dance accompanied by an opera singer, in which the plaintive libretto (by Juliana Huxtable) and apocalyptic choreography (Cha’s own) suggest the conflicted couple’s roiling subconscious. The third scene is a return to the sofa, recolonized by two naked male lovers.

In braiding these three distinct channels on stage, Cha builds up layers of emotions: first igniting the audience’s imagination with the familiar format of a scripted play, then frustrating grasps for meaning with an alien dream world of opera and dance, and finally providing the relief of human contact: physical connection. There are deliberate glitches — frozen moments, skips, reverses — to be processed (and tolerated), but the buffer at work here is as much a shock absorber, an insulator, a shield against blows to soft bodies. Cha describes the work as “a puffy, fluid-filled sac between you and me.”

Not content only to test boundaries — between public and private, audience and performer, real and imagined — Cha’s Buffer probes the spaces between, inhabiting interstitial worlds in which humanity is paused, subverted, syncopated or unfiltered and served up raw. There’s much to feed upon.

by Stephanie Murg

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