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Tarik Kiswanson / Carlier I Gebauer, Berlin

The presence of Tarik Kiswanson’s “vestibules”, three sheer, strangely delicate, steel sculptures positioned across the main gallery of Carlier I Gebauer, could be, at first glance, somewhat disconcerting. Their phallic, diaphanous outlines suggest some form of modish accoutrement for life-style blog addicts ready to level-up from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Moving closer, this sleek domestic dimension of the works makes them more, rather than less, resistant to purely decorative interpretations. The sculptures are, according to the exhibition’s press release, inspired by Kiswanson’s father’s work as a mechanic in the Jordanian Army, referencing the engine parts and mechanical fittings with which he worked. Undoubtedly, there is something militaristic as well as commercial in the appearance of the vestibules which is deepened as the viewer approaches and finds their face reflected in the individual louvers of the sculpture. The works have distinct surface characteristics; in some, the viewer’s face is broken into sections, in others, it almost appears to be shredded. The evening of the opening, two children circulated among the minglers, passing into and out of the vestibules, flickering across the surfaces in ways that seemed to evoke a genteel variation on the images of war and violence that have become all too familiar in recent years. To reduce the works simply to references to conflict, or even consumer culture, is simple-minded, however. They offer a perspective on materials and materiality that positions them firmly in the lineage of other reflection-based works, for example, the altered mirrors of Pistoletto, the mirror displacements of Robert Smithson, and the polished, surrealities of mid-period Anish Kapoor.

Though the vestibules are undeniably the centrepiece of the exhibition, Kiswanson’s works in the adjoining “cabinet” space of the gallery continued the disquisition on space, interiority and perception. Consisting of filing cabinets with rectilinear sculptures made partially of silverware grafted on, the sculptures are as solid and stolid as the vestibules were airy. The careful rationality and strict teleology of the filing cabinets sparred with the superfluity and geometric whimsy of the sculptural appendages in generative ways. One can, with some effort, forgive the rather gormless joke Kiswanson makes by placing cabinets in a space referred to by the gallery as a “cabinet”, but even this dull punnery feeds the larger aesthetic aims. The works are, at once, exactly what their materials define them as, but also vastly more and less. Kiswanson’s ability to collapse such relations so neatly is a remarkable feat in its own right, but the positioning of these works is also notable. The first cabinet is immediately visible, placed as it is in the centre of the viewer’s line of sight upon entering the cabinet space the other is secreted off to the far right creating a pleasant visual tension, but also a determination to make nothing easy or unduly “iconic”. Any dumbass can put a cabinet in a cabinet, but to hide a cabinet in a cabinet is so bloody-minded only the most churlish would sneer.

Tarik Kiswanson
Flowers for My Father
Carlier I Gebauer
Markgrafenstrasse 67
10969 Berlin
Until 16 November
www.carliergebauer.com