The exhibition The Genital is Superfluous at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi brings together new and historic works by the Canadian artist and writer, Steve Reinke. Reinke is perhaps best known for film works such as A Day for Cake and Accidents, but the Bortolozzi show is expansive in multiple senses of the term. In addition to the fractured, essayistic film, A Boy Needs a Friend, showing in the central room of the exhibition, Reinke also includes a kind of greatest hits short-film programme in a room in the southwest corner of the gallery. In the gallery’s front room, Reinke presents a series of new works, needlepoints, along with a selection of Polaroids of young men in various states of undress and obscurity. The exhibition is infused with the free-flowing associative quality for which Reinke’s writings are known, but somehow, as a whole, the exhibition feels much more characterised by ruptures. Instead of being carried along by a “stream” of consciousness, Reinke’s works feel like white water rafting.
This dynamic is displayed particularly evocatively in the film A Boy Needs a Friend, in which live footage and found images brush fleetingly against each other, never quite connecting, yet somehow exerting an increasing emotional weight as the accrued scenes pile up. Watching the lithe dancer in the skeleton-emblazoned body suit bounding about on the screen only achieved a level of genuine poignancy by virtue of its proximity to a clip of Sammy Davis Jr. in a similarly skin-tight outfit interpreting the Jerry Jeff Walker-penned country-rock standard, Mr. Bojangles. Watching the aging rat-packer performing a sentimental ballad about Bill Robinson, once among the highest paid African-American entertainers, who died essentially penniless, complete with Walker’s patronising lyrics cuts close to the bone indeed. Though before the viewer knows it, Sammy is gone, and so is the skeleton, a sci-fi tableau is now flashing by as the video loops back on itself. The future is coming for you, whether you like it or not; especially if not, Reinke seems suggest. Time also seems to be an uncredited collaborator in the Bortolozzi Mix of vintage films in the back room. The mix encompasses a period spanning more than 20 years and the viewer can watch as aesthetic tropes from Reinke’s early films become familiarised and then become elegiac.
The materialisation of language that several of the Mix works embody is deepened by the works on paper in the main space. These works, Drawings as Reinke names them, are composed of either phrases or single words e.g. Apergery Sphinx, Chorus of Worms (worm chorus), but their content is as much their methodology of display and their orthographic qualities as their lexical significance. Rarely has a hyphen been more fraught than the one Reinke adds to the image reading BUTT-ER. The centrality of the material nature of these works makes it somewhat perplexing that they are shown in the half-light of the room screening A Boy Needs a Friend, but, perhaps, this crepuscular quality is a part of their meaning too. Much like the images of A Boy Needs a Friend, or the technologies employed in the Mix films, the fact that these words fade into the background if you don’t devote special attention to them reminds the viewer that sometimes even the most aggressively visible things can disappear before your very eyes.
The Genital is Superfluous
Galarie Isabella Bortolozzi
Schoeneberger Ufer 61
Steve Reinke, ‘The Genital is Superfluous’, installation view, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, 15.03.16-09.04.16
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
Photo: Henry Trumble