surplus living group exhibition

Tom Cameron reporting from Berlin

I’d been trying hard all week to get my head around the idea that I was back in Berlin with no job and an ebbing creative energy, so I felt reassured by a show titled Surplus Living as it chimed with my current mood.

I arrived at the opening and descended a concrete spiral staircase down to the bunker where the art was hiding. The works being shown have been diverted from the, supposedly unobtrusive, neutrality of the white walled gallery into the basement of a disused coin factory. It’s atmosphere cultivates the same excitement as Berlin’s, notoriously hardcore, party scene more than a purified art experience.

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(Harm van den Dorpel, Deep Tissue, 2014) (Jasper Spicero, Ice Persons, 2014)

The first works I noticed in the show involve an interesting tension between their URL and IRL existence. Jasper Spicero’s beautifully balanced ice sculptures aren’t intended to last beyond the private view and so they have this confident acceptance. Do young artist’s have a better chance being noticed for their bravery than for directly transferable commodity art objects? In this sense it is a piece that really tackles the overall idea of the show, and the strange human shape, that looks like a computer icon or logo for a friendly user interface, is a good example of art that reifies the visual vocabulary of the internet through formal concerns in real space.

Harm van den Dorpel’s piece can be related to a history of new media art, in that it works with the medium/structure of the internet. A slide show of images appear on the screen with pop up text. He uses the appropriated graphics of the pale yellow boxes that appear when you hover over something with your cursor. The text here, rather than being instructional or explanatory, is instead poetic and vague, the sort of suggestive and inconclusive phrases you’d expect from a piece titled ‘Deep Tissue.’ The images originate from his website / live archive http://dissociations.com/ and were generated using a programme he made with Jonas Lund called Janitor. The programme scripts the images so that they fade in and out very seamlessly and adds in the text overlays, resulting in the video-like presentation. It seems like the sort of piece that could just as easily be appreciated at home online but the accompanying soundtrack, on loud speakers, draws you in and relates the piece back to the space and the other works around it.

The existence of Dorpel’s piece outside the show is a live archive and so its record online is impermanent in that it’s always changing. In reverse the physical object of Spicero’s piece is self-destructive; leaving only the online record. It has a performative quality that plays on the ‘you had to be there’ culture of social networking and is well suited to collective smart phone documentation and insta sharing. The idea of melting could even be compared to the anxiety of capturing moments in photography, the temptation is always there to record something before it disappears even if it has already been photographed by someone else.

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(Jesse Darling, The Adoration of Saint Joan II, 2014)

Jesse Darling takes the experience of making as the content of the work, describing the piece as an affect-labour-performance. The resulting installation is playful and funny but still contains the energy and tension of struggled, hands on construction. Spicero’s piece is site specific in that it will only exist in the location of the exhibition, but Darling’s work really negotiates the specifics of the space in an intuitive, exploratory way. It disrupts the space dramatically but still has the impermanent quality of a temporary structural solution. It blends into some unexplained fictional purpose, as if it was in the space for a reason other than to be exhibited as art. The use of Club Matte bottles is a return to the ready made that creates contextual confusion, rather than a signifier of meaning in a poetry that uses objects.

Does autonomous, photogenic art even need to exist in a gallery space? There are works in this show that could go straight from the photography studio to the collectors warehouse and exist as pure commodity. The exhibition of the object creates the context that gives it value, so for someone who isn’t a collector it is reassuring to also see work that asks unresolved questions rather than presenting a polished art product. However there is something irresistibly satisfying about the sparkle. The cut lines of sugar on a mirror shelf in Amalia Ullman’s piece could be celebrating or criticising the temptation of visual pleasure.

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(L) Trashstone 538, Wilhelm Mundt, 2012; © Wilhelm Mundt, Buchmann Galerie, Berlin (R) Amalia Ulman, He Will Wait For You In The Lobby, 2014 )

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(Amalia Ulman, He Will Wait For You In The Lobby (detail), 2014)

The show proposes a question about the ‘experience’ commodity, so how do physical engagements with the works in this show relate to their inevitable existence online as advertisements for each artists personal brand? When conceptual art was first being explored the majority of the audience for art experienced it as written descriptions in magazines. If you couldn’t make it to the show there was no option to flick through instantly available high-resolution photos. It has been argued that this dominance of textual description of works coincided with the dematerialisation of art towards being totally textual, art as idea.
So, if art follows its means of distribution, then what is the impact of a networked art audience of prosumers who appropriate and conflate art documentation in a constant stream? The works in this show can be considered in relation to this question and some artists have taken a strong stance in their confrontation of it.

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