Anatomy of Restlessness: Joe Clark, Tom Esam, Felix Kiessling, Claus Philip Lehmann, David Prytz, Sarah Ancelle Schoenfeld, Yorgos Stamkopoulos, Philip Topolovac
critical contribution by Lorenzo Bruni
The exhibition Anatomy of Restlessness (Anatomia dell’irrequietezza)– a title borrowed from the collection of “writings from the world” by Bruce Chatwin published posthumously in 1966 – arises from the need to review the journey started by the Mario Iannelli Gallery two years ago since it moved from Berlin to Rome.
The artists involved all held a personal exhibition in the Roman gallery except Topolovac who will inaugurate his in September and Stamkopoulos in December. This group show offers the artist/spectator the opportunity to verify concretely the dialectical similarities that would otherwise have remained only on an intuitive level. The video ‘Now (Diaspora)’ by David Prytz, where words formed on the screen are then erased and replaced by others in an “authorial” and not only temporal loop, influences and is influenced by the proximity of other works of art dealing with the same theme but in different ways. For example the presence of the painting on Jeans canvas by Claus Philip Lehmann, depicting a suspended cylinder in white paint, immediately places as the central theme the ‘Magrittean’ legacy of collapse between the object and its nominalization, which we saw in the course of the last century. Philip Topolovac’s artwork seems to arise from the same awareness, the model to scale of the Berghain, a famous Berlin hang-out, whose name derives from a mix of the names of two neighbourhoods, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, as it is located between the two. The choice of constructing it with cork visibly transforms the architectural element into a sculptural object, with the capacity to make us reflect upon why today we speak of “archeology of the present” and whether we can speak about baroque inflection for modernism too. These same thoughts emerge from Yorgos Stamkopoulos’ paintings, both informal and geometric, thus moving the focus upon the creative process, which forces two pictorial surfaces to coexist on the same support, evoking the technique of the detachment of frescoes, or the decomposition in time of historical buildings’ facades. The peculiar aspect of this curatorial project is that the coral and ‘workshop like’ dimension, established through an intense dialogue between autonomous pieces, does not limit but rather amplifies the fruition of the specific “method of research somewhat scientific and undepictable” adopted by the single artists of the exhibition. Moreover, the ascertainment that the user’s response time to the world of globalized information has become null is not for them the arrival point but rather the starting point for asking oneself what society could mean today by “direct experience”. Their answer seems to be that in a “dematerialized” world where we are dominated by the “expanded present” the only way to create a real gesture in a radical way is to create artwork that is not site specific but “time specific”. That is, images that are like clots of different time-frames – introjecting a performative dimension into the constitutive process of the artwork itself – to open up innovative reflections and visualizations about what it means today to “perceive the surroundings” from a specific instant. These considerations are naturally dealt with by these artists keeping in mind the present passage from the analogic to the digital system. For this reason the sixteen unreleased artworks shown at the exhibition, apart from the ones we mentioned, range from the machine ‘Clock running’ by Felix Kiessling, measuring the duration of the exhibition by using a piece of graphite that repeatedly draws a circle onto a wooden base, to the Snake dance installation by Sarah Schönfeld where a snake skin is animated by a blowing vacuum cleaner whose tube crosses over, connecting/breaking through two of the gallery’s walls. These are “presences” arising from the awareness that today we are dealing with a virtualized fruition and therefore the assessment tools must be thought again or recalibrated when they are tried out. The photographic image ‘Asset Management’ by Joe Clark expresses all of this with extreme delicacy, as it consists of a synthetic surface lit with the technique used for rendering in the virtual space of computer graphics, producing fluttering sheets frozen in a pause that evokes a wider narrative filmic transformation. Whereas ‘Je suis Esam’ by Tom Esam, a silk surface placed on a window area facing outside on which a black and white image of a crowd of demonstrators takes on parade the artist’s name highlighted in red, is an implosion of those advertising and marketing techniques that in the last decades have been applied to the progressive “aesthetization of the political body” and the “community’s emotional participation”. The analytical propositive approach, found in all of the above mentioned artworks, leads these artists on the one hand to a reflection upon the “pictorial”, irrespective of the picture object, hence on analizing in a critical way the concept of art history according to Western tradition. On the other hand they find themselves having to verify and put to test scientific and social intuitions acquired in the course of the past century, in order to form a new “common sense”. The final goal of these intimate and delicate gestures of theirs seems to be to ask oneself what may or should be the artist’s role in the era that is being defined as “post internet”, or rather, art’s real capacity to affect the present world.
The artists included in the exhibition ‘Anatomy of Restlessness (Anatomia dell’irrequietezza)’ are of a generation that matured at the time when the web went from being a democratic possibility of exchanging “official political” information to the use of Apps for entertainment of free time/ work time, or for the “imposition” of data that previously would have been considered exquitively personal. This time of passage, as far as the cultural debate is concerned, has produced an ambiguous demand to return to reality. From the philosophy convention in Cologne in 2011 to the article published in March 2016 on e-Flux by Boris Groyes it seems as if the central focus has become what could be meant by concreteness of reality and truth of the artistic gesture in a world where post-production has become common practice (from Instagram to Wikipedia, from Airbnb to tv series on streaming). This “concretized virtuality” is the conceptual, pragmatic and social future which has been strongly introjected and to which these artists are reacting by creating pieces of art which are like procedural systems conceived to be shared and rediscussed. The unconscious motive that drives them is to understand what could be, in this day and age, the correct outlook on “things/information” and taking on and instilling responsibility for a correct transmission of data and knowledge. For this reason their pieces reveal a quest for balance, on the edge of the impossible, with contradictory materials, amongst natural and artificial elements. Using as primary material a digital one is like placing the practice of collage or of “ready made” into the world of electronic algorithms. So we are facing a new idea of assembly, moving away from the tradition of avant-garde, because the elements it associates are extracted from the virtual reality we are all immersed in today. The method of creating a piece that doesn’t represent an image of reality but rather the mechanism that provokes the epiphanic event live is an open pathway between the previous generation and them, from Mario Airò to Carsten Höller, from Olafur Eliasson to Cai Guo-Qiang, all the way to Thomas Demand. But, as opposed to these predecessors, they act in an “introjective” dimension because it is clear for them that the common idea according to which everything has already been discovered and everything is just one click away, has fallen through. The great novelty they propose however does not reside in this ascertainment, but in the fact that the assembly is not a means for them, but the subject of the artwork. In this way the analysis of the artwork’s surface coincides with that of the object represented and vice versa, thus practicing a third path, not reflected in the tradition of figurative art or of abstraction. This aesthetic/conceptual attitude of theirs wants to cause a short circuit in the spectator’s perception, aimed at increasing his/her level of attention towards the cognitive processes used on a daily basis to communicate with the world.
This point of view is summarized and suggested by my choice of the project’s title, the title of the collection of Bruce Chatwin’s writings written between 1968 and 1987 and published posthumously in 1996. Chatwin, the great explorer of the “short century”, incarnation of the “nomadic alternative”, asked himself in 1966, in the world of economic upturn after the second world war, a world that was starting to deal with colonialism: “Why do I become restless after spending a month in one place, unbearable after two?”. The world, since Chatwin’s death and especially since the book has been published, has become much smaller, apolitical and apparently without mysteries. His question which had given rise to the collection seems to resonate in all the artworks presented in the exhibition. The subject today lives, from his private space of the electronic device’s screen, in a continuous state of restlessness, not knowing where to lower his gaze because he is “over excited” by the thought of being able to be everywhere or that this everywhere is frozen and eternal. Consequently the artists participating in this project explore this state of mind exactly to re-evaluate what we mean by privacy, by archive, by intellectual property, by community, by memory, by artwork and by representation of the visible/conceptualizable.
Discovering the world for the artists of ‘Anatomy of Restlessness (Anatomia dell’irrequietezza)’, means first of all verifying and resetting the rationalizing and symbolic mechanisms with which it is made sharable by everybody. In fact, the core question these artists are dealing with seems to be: why is it common opinion today that a photographic image “is born” at the time it is shared on the space of the web and not when it is taken, as was the case in the previous mechanized era? That’s why all of their works are not a comparison/clash with reality, but are visualizing the cognitive and productive modalities they are made up of. Thus they are configured as devices of compressed time turning their attention to the making and unmaking of things in relation to that specific context they manifest in. For example the photographic series ‘Unnecessary Complications’ by Joe Clark, whose subject is a sheet of shining metal on which are cut up abstract forms that allow us to make out the urban or natural landscape it is placed in, becomes a testimony of the attempt to grasp the atmosphere of a general environment and not only the formalization of the piece of art as an end in itself. Tom Esam, by displaying the project ‘ESAid (water campaign 1)’ consisting of some flyers in a plexiglas showcase, with images about a campaign to bring water to children in Africa, directly visualizes the time it takes for the spectator to decipher the marketing messages that politics or fashion adopt to create reassuring and manipulative situations, suggesting a criticism of all this. The photographic series with the title ‘Modulit’ by Philip Topolovac has as subjects the models of satellites sent into space, but translated into cardboard models and photographed not with the will to create a perfect mimesis, but highlighting the trick and searching for the autonomy of that material/object, positioned half way between what it was and what it’s imitating. Whereas the photographic series by Sarah Schönfeld, again working on the translation of movement and the liquid phase into a fixed form and vice versa, represents abstract compositions that are enlargements of the solution to clean the ipad’s screen as it is upon it, thus transforming the means of spreading images on the internet into the subject of that specific vision. These works of art I have just mentioned emphasize the moment of perceptive and constructive translation that transforms an object into another, revealing that its identity depends on the context, but mostly on whether the observer’s gaze is aware or not. In some cases this quest for awareness coincides with the artist’s, related to his capacity to create: create what? Thus Claus Philip Lehmann asks himself about the repeated pictorial gesture of drawing and this leads him to completely cramming with graphite some sheets of paper, erasing or sublimating the single gestures, which however go on to forming part of a wider composition when they are exhibited on a square portion of wall painted in blue. Whereas, with Yorgos Stamkopoulos’ paintings, the painter’s gesture is destructured through paintings that are asking what usually allows the background to become a subject, or a decoration to become an abstract artwork. This query about what is the artwork’s limit and influence on the surrounding, dependently or independently from the frame that contains it, is also widely explored by David Prytz. The latter exhibits an artwork made up of two elements, a glass surface that is exposed on a pedestal and one made of brass that is wall-mounted, containing two geometrical shapes reminding us of the alignment-surface established by the planets Venus, Mars, the Earth and Mercury on the day of the inauguration and on the closing day of the exhibition, thus creating a further temporal tool connected to that physical/mental context. Instead, the sculpture by Felix Kiessling, displayed outside the gallery, is made up of an egg-shaped stone engraved by orbits naturally set within it and balanced upon a pyramidal pedestal, and it summarizes the quest for perfect balance that humans have always yearned for, between abstraction of ideas and elements produced by forces of nature, between maximum systems and specific cases.These artists investigate, through different techniques, the limits and identity of the surface of the “image subject”. Their artworks, therefore, are the representation of intimate gestures that insinuate themselves directly into the mechanisms with which information/images of the “expanded surrounding” are mediated, to highlight their functioning and thus be able to influence, as individuals and as a community, the perception and most of all the capacity of each individual to interact with the world.
1) The concept of “unportrayable” is at the center of new debates dealing with themes touched upon previously by philosophers such as Husserl, Pavel Florensky and Jean-Luc Nancy, but in the light of new digital technologies and of images/information/things that exist through mathematical algorithms.
(2) The first person to theorize and speak in depth about “time specific” artwork, since the end of the nineties, is the artist Antonio Muntadas. The important precedents of this idea of time specific related to images and not performances, before the practice of site specific was even diffused, are to be found in the texts and displays for exhibitions curated by Harald Zeeman, in the works-meetings by Joseph Beuys and in the installations, at the beginning of the nineties, of the Cuban-born artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
(3) ““The term post-internet did not spread because it has been well defined. On the contrary, it’s ambivalence and its openness allowed it to resonate widely. (...) It confirms and denies at the same time, exerting a kind of double bind with the previous period.) From Stefan Heidenreich “Freeportism as Style and Ideology: Post-Internet and speculative Realism, Part 1” in e-Flux, March 2016.