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Berlin Gallery Weekend / a review

The intense pace of Berlin Gallery Weekend can do strange things to the mind. I remember a moment this year walking down Linienstrasse from the open office at Spike’ Magazine’s space on Rosa-Luxemberg-Platz toward the KW to see the performances there and I noticed a strange object on a window ledge. It was a triangular section of mirror leaning against a windowpane and reflecting a bit of the brilliantly sunny sky. It looked, for all the world, like someone’s forgotten Blinky Palermo sculpture, or perhaps some enterprising young conceptualist’s variation on Robert Smithson’s classic Mirror Displacements.

One of the ironic things about spending three days shuttling from one gallery to another is that it makes everything start to look like art, or perhaps it starts to make art look like everything else. Either way, a moment to pause and consider your own reflection in an entrancing bit of rubbish can be a welcome respite from aesthetic overload. This incident was also an occasion for me to reflect, literally, on the dangers of attempting to locate or generate trends from the works on display at the more than 50 galleries that opened over the course of the extravaganza. Reflective surfaces were in though. I counted at least five shows in which mirrors or other forms of reflective surfaces showed me my own warped visage as a component of an artwork. Apropos, in that occasions like Gallery Weekend are inherently self-reflective and self-referential; this dynamic can lead to a kind of stasis even in the face of a desperate attempt for artists and spaces to distinguish themselves, what the poet (and sometime art critic) John Ashbery called “plainness in diversity”. I probably saw thirty shows in all over four days and if there was one overwhelming feeling it was that of the urgent need for a shaking up of the current discourse.

Such tensions were palpable and quite fruitful, particularly in the case of the Aleksandra Domanovic exhibition at Tanya Leighton gallery which brought together the animate and inanimate in a variety of forms and explored the nature of visibility and plurality across genomes, phenotypes and media. There was a confrontational edge to the Oscar Murillo exhibition at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi. The sinuous space of the gallery was disrupted with rock piles and black tarpaulins strung over and between passage ways. Seeing the show felt like a struggle with Ibsen’s amorphous being known as the Boyg in Peer Gynt and certainly this added an emotional context to Murillo’s exhibition, as the struggle to define one’s self against geographies and social dynamics has never been more high-stakes or intense in the post-war period of European history, the show had a surprising resonance that actually transcended my expectations for it. I can’t say I’m a huge Murillo fan, but it was one of the showings of his work that I felt most fully approached engaging the grand discourses to which he frequently gestures.

The same sense of attempting to take on the immensity of the sensory demands made by the current media environment also seemed to infuse the exhibition at The Composing Rooms. The show had been open for a few days prior to the beginning of Gallery Weekend, but I wandered in during the Kate Steciw opening upstairs and was genuinely impressed by the dialogues established by the works by Estrid Lutz Emile Mold in the exhibition I Dusts. The works, large-scale holographic pieces that destabilise certainties between solidity and ephemerality prompted very timely questions about materiality and composition. Nearby the Edmund de Waal exhibition at Max Hetzler Gallery had a similar anxious materiality. The show primarily consisted of a massive sculpture that recalled the physical geography of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman and Buro Haploid. Glass intrusions in the object had the effect of dematerialising protruding sections of the object, suggesting that history, no matter how palpable its consequences always exists in a haze between experience and interpretation: a dangerous reminder of the fraught contemporary politics of Germany—perhaps also a warning.

Amid the sound and fury of these powerful exhibitions were many others, some more and less affecting, but over the greater part of the exhibitions I visited was the same anxiety I felt passing down Linienstrasse that Sunday afternoon: Where do we go from here, and once we get there, what will be waiting for us? Our reflection? A deception? An illusion of our own significance waiting to be destroyed by events and emotions? Gallery Weekend felt in some ways like an unresolved section of a piece of music, the artists showing work can feel a transition coming, but no one is entirely sure what it will entail, or if it will be better or worse than what proceeds it, and so perhaps it reflected a feeling similar to that of another Ashbery poem, They Dream Only of America in which he writes, “There is nothing to do/For our liberation, except wait in the horror of it.”

Images:
Edmund de Waal @ Galerie Hetzler
photos: def-image.com
courtesy of the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris

Estrid Lutz Emile Mold @ The Composing Rooms credit:
Estrid Lutz Emile Mold – I Dusts, at The Composing Rooms, Berlin

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