In 2003, the philosopher, Nick Bostrom, proposed the hypothesis that the universe as we know it might well be a computer simulation. The arguments that have ensued from this theory are that an – ostensibly at least – advanced civilisation is interested in reconstructing the way their ancestors lived. Physicists, including Max Tegmark, have made careers out of extending and exploring Bostrom’s theory. Recent global events may have caused many to question the “advanced” part of the proposal, but the notion of the world as a kind of constructed environment seems more plausible – and comforting – every day. With these ideas percolating through the intellectual culture, the status of the installation as a form of artistic expression is increasingly relevant.
The exhibition, Moving is in Every Direction, at the Hamburger Bahnhof explores the evolution of the installation from the 1960s to the present. The show is clearly timely, and it brings together works by artists both canonical and contemporary. The great challenge for an exhibition like this, however, is, like the works that compose it, to somehow transcend the sum of its parts and represent a coherent, legible whole. As noted above, there is no shortage of big names on show in Moving is in Every Direction, Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Beuys, and Fischli and Weiss all make appearances, as well as contemporary notables like Susan Philipsz and Pipilotti Rist. The scale of the exhibition, encompassing numerous rooms of the expansive former railway station as well as areas outside the main building itself, is epic. To an extent, this is true to the themes the show explores, and to the historical positioning of installation as a form – escaping the predetermined elements of and reinventing spaces was one of the central concerns of the first wave of installation-making, and this concern remains an important undercurrent. Nevertheless, it renders the show somewhat exhausting in its scale, and it can lead to an odd bleaching out of meaning when works address similar aesthetics or modes of presentation. I was struck by this disconcerting aspect of the show when I visited the section featuring Broodthaers, Urs Fischer, and a work by Christopher Kulendran Thomas. While all of the artists address notions of domesticity and interiority in their work, the layout and scale of the exhibition leads to an IKEA-fication of such works which may be intentional, but which doesn’t truly do justice to the narratives the works explore and generate.
Scale always bedevils exhibitions by large institutions, so to linger on kvetches over placement and pacing can be a bit facile. The exhibition certainly contains excellent and affecting works. My feelings toward the work of Philipsz often blow hot and cold. The selection of her display space is so deeply central to the success of Philipsz’ works that poor placement can ruin an otherwise transcendent work. Fortunately, Philipsz 2015 work, “War Damaged Musical Instruments”, with its meticulous structural arrangement and institutional aesthetics, is pitch perfect for the space. The sound of instruments limping toward melody over imperious loudspeakers suits the moment and the space as well as anything in the show. Fischer’s work, “Boffer Bix Kabinett” (1998), fights for its unique right to creepiness. There is a murkiness to the space Fischer creates that brings a bit of genuine uncanny to an arrangement of quotidian objects. I was also struck by Rist’s work, “Remake of the Weekend” (1998-2017), a mix of projections, objects and film that evokes the romanticism of both the French New Wave of cinema, but also the ramshackle iconicity of early science fiction. The sheer commonplaceness of the piles of pebbles and sand on which colours and images are projected—amusingly evoking the notion of ‘grainy’ vintage film—lends the work a familiarity that grounds it—literally in the familiar while at the same time estranging it from the range of experience. Though it is impossible to know what the beings that may or may not be generating us would make of the art with which we seek to address ourselves, but the impulse to transform a space as a site of knowledge and experience generation would presumably be familiar, and, perhaps, even reassuring.
Moving is in Every Direction
Until 17 September
Marcel Broodthaers: Un Jardin d‘Hiver, 1974.
Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
© Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, SMB, Friedrich Christian Flick Collection / Thomas Bruns
The Estate of Marcel Broodthaers
VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016