Artspace Germany is a capsule exhibition by Institut fÜr Auslandsbeziehungen, displayed at VM Art Gallery in Karachi from 20th December to 20th January. The exhibition features works depicting social, cultural and technological changes that the German society had undergone four decades ago, in the form of drawings, paintings, photographs, sculpture and video installations by 13 immigrant artists practicing in Germany. The experience of two or more cultures being the foundation for the selection of artist allows an array of concepts and expressions to be showcased as one. These artworks symbolize artist’s evolution as individuals and in return, the richness they added to the German art culture through their works. Diverse yet akin to the buzzing intercultural environment of berlin, the displayed artworks embody the state of flux that the artists have experienced due to the geographical and cultural shift. Stimulated by the changes in their environment and the times in general, these artists have produced works that permeate by means of the experimental media and diverse material involved in their development as if to document a part of history that enabled the transition from old to new, dark to light and individual to inclusive. Moreover, the collection emphasize an artist’s role as a channel and moderator of the changes during a historic shift while simultaneously highlighting the distinctively affluent role of contemporary art in erasing boundaries and carving new identities.
Tony Cragg’s animated sculptural forms are a result of his discourse into the relationship between found materials and novel techniques. The discs and blobs in Flotsam show his departure from the traditional methods of composition and development. The availability of new plastic based materials in 90’s have also fed into his exploration of spaces and forms that can only be visualized as a whole on completion. In his piece more and more and more he experiments with the idea of interaction between art and its display. The cut out spaces in the board allow the artwork to include the wall to create the whole and vice versa. His drawings go further deep into the notion of spaces and forms that he cannot see but can only experience through the unseen in his surroundings.
Another artist with works revolving around the exploration of material is Herman de Vries. A scientist, artist and philosopher, celebrates the beauty of chance findings, treating it as a study of material culture for his works. . His studio in the woods serves as the source of inspiration as well as material for his works. Terre provencale, 1991, and two days under the hawthorn hedge, 1992 are examples of him creating his work in and around his studio. His primary objective to enjoy the act of creation in his world that is his studio, can be seen in his canvases that he develops with the intention of perceiving his surroundings and building his cognition while rejoicing in the calm of the nature.
The broken, metallic 4 feet ring, Cerchio Spezzato, 1972, on the floor next to the blacked canvases Untitled, 1990 formulate the primal expression of Giuseppe Spagnulo, dictated by the materials and the decisions made within moments while handling the material. His work features his experience of sculpting or painting with the chosen material. How metal changes its direction with each hit of the hammer, dictates the following series of actions making the artist follow the lead of the material itself. He also treats fire as a material, experience and a visual element of the artwork due to his long history with ceramics.
Fire, its fear and fascination, makes up the entire body of work by Marie Jo Lafontaine in this exhibition, focusing on its fiery, warm and, violent sides. The dark canvases allow travelling deep into the frames featuring fire as space, emotion and a ritualistic element in relation to human activity to understand the interaction of fire and human society through time. The photographs of fire taking over a space in Every Angel is terrible and Homme cagoule portant le feu, explore early human relationship to the God like power and fear of fire. Bateau de feu is a rather romantic interpretation of fire in the open sea.
The tumultuous history of Germany becomes the focus of Magdalena Jetelove’s work. The Atlantic Wall series from 1995 divulge into the subliminal reverberations of war. The almost abstract, monuments of concrete that were actually part of the defense mechanism during WWII appear as architectural elements designed to complement the landscape. Jetelove’s photographs show these voluminous concrete forms taken over by the sea as if defeated by the waves; the futuristic monuments from a war past, becoming one with the present scape through the contrast of light and shadow as created by the sea.
The anxious minimal lines and dark disoriented strokes in deepest gray and black on white paper, only briefly communicate Armando’s experiences of occupation and war as witnessed while growing up near a concentration camp. Untitled portray the long lasting effects of war on individuals as compared to the holistic and abstract influences on the people and the land as featured in Jetelove’s work. The interrupted, stuttering lines reflect inner conflict, a sign of working against clear consciousness. These lines offer insights into the lasting influence of internalizing the horrors of war as a child, making his work just as meaningful now as it was thirty years ago. The contrast in his canvases allow the viewer to see the contradictory attributes of numbness and turmoil within a person. Triggered by his move to Berlin and its war ridden history, his work became a quintessence of these contradictions.
Candice Beatrice comments on socialization and its influences on individuals through her parallel video installation Factum Kang. The videos feature twins answering questions about same events showing similarities and contrasts due to the common biological but different social composition of their personalities. The simplicity of the methodology allows rational insight into the development of personality through society.
Christine Hill’s Volksboutique Official Template has been travelling with the exhibition for two decades collecting and organizing information, feeding into the core of her practice i.e. communication. For her Art is Communication, where this communication is not a performance due to its multi-faceted interactive nature. It seems as if it is a life that the artist and the participant lives; an unveiling of sorts. Being a New Yorker immigrating to the buzz world that Berlin had become by the 90’s, the cultural shift reinforces the interactive aspect of her work. Her work includes several media and methods of collecting information to focus on artist’s role as a channel for communication.
Seemingly playful trapezoid forms titled Here and There by Ayse Erkmen change the space and alter their own perception through reorientation. These seat like forms create a synchronized sculptural piece that conforms to the traditional notion of “art on wall”. The trapezoid nature of forms also allow them to act as a puzzle and break away from this traditional setting to form completely nothing as though to question the significance of interaction between artwork and space rather than association of artwork with the wall or floor. Here and There lends from the debate of perception of artwork in contemporary setting and its interaction with the viewer. Erkmen’s work poses questions of order and chaos, and polarization of the space and the interaction.
The Candle TV from 1975 and Internet dwellers from 1997 portray Nam June Paik’s venture into experimentation with new media. As a pioneer of video art, Paik began working with experimental media upon arriving in Germany in 1960’s. His fascination with the innovation in technology and its subsequent influence on society, made him document and manipulate photographs and videos to come up with almost alien characters. Candle TV is about illumination in life, both realistically and metaphorically. Whereas his approach of deconstruction and reconstruction of existing forms dictate Internet dwellers. He believed “the cathode ray tube will replace the canvas” when he started working on video art in 1965.
Joseph Kosuth explores art as a concept rather than a visual, studying the role of elements integral in the constitution of meaning. One and Three Pans from 1965 explores the assimilation of information and reinforcement of the concepts through constituents of art alongside role of perspectives in building perception. The object, illustration and dictionary definition all put together create a multilingual perception of the object commenting on the large number of ways art can communicate with the audiences. The series Art as Idea as Idea from 1967/68, further delves into the notion of communication within art and the languages and media it can use to achieve that.
Per Kirkeby’s canvases feature dissolving forms that appear to be one thing and change into another as the angle change. The Untitled series explores perception theory through color, line and shape. His visual exploration of the concepts of experience, imagination, memory and perception make the layers of elements merge into each other making the viewer loose its connection with the visuals and engage more with the concept.
Marianne Eigenheer’s “Your time, My world” series, explores autobiographical content curation. Using photography to communicate “in the moment” essence of her work by selecting pictures randomly from her personal photographs, she builds juxtaposed narratives. The triptych and polyptychs let the juxtaposition of several narratives simultaneously to create multiple interpretations. Random selection of photographs allow her to portray life as it is rather than a composed narrative that is distant and unrelatable.
War, society, material and technical advancement when paired with the approaches of contemporary art, made the artists produce works that act as a window into an era of shift in German history. The departure from singular culture to plurals that co-exist due to intercultural exchanges within community act as the source and anchor of the art movements between 60’s and 90’s highlighting the role of artists as global residents. A “reflection of supranational phenomenon” as Ursula Zeller, a renowned historian and curator calls it. Artspace Germany has travelled through several countries during last two decades to showcase the art and artists that enabled German art to not only persevere but shape its identity for the future.