A series of grey images–a pineapple, painted landscapes, book extracts, electronic texts on poet Mallarmé’s pictorial deconstruction of language, Baroque festival architecture and email banter between artists: these disparate elements feature on the Non-solo show, Non-group show poster, hovering together like covert subjects of an underexposed photograph, neither creating a legible image nor a textual instruction. From its laconic title to the inconclusive evidence and scenes of activity found inside Kunsthalle Zürich, one is never sure of how seriously to read much of the information supplied.
This exhibition takes its name and cue from a 2008 project conducted by Ei Arakawa at Franco Soffiantino Gallery, Turin. The Japanese artist invited fellow New Yorkbased artists Nora Schultz and Henning Bohl to extend the parameters of the solo platform he had been allocated. All the artists Arakawa chose to exhibit share a performative interest in issues of self-organisation and collectivity, as well as a need to destabilise accepted art-object practices and modes of display. Schultz plays a key role in Non-solo show, Non-group show as an individual maker and member of a sculpture-oriented collective, which features Arakawa, German artist Nikolas Gambaroff and New Yorker Nick Mauss. DAS INSTITUT, a faux visual-solutions agency run by Adele Röder and Kerstin Brätsch, has opted to expand the visual library of their irreverent ‘DI WHY’ series, while Swedish artist Klara Liden has created several installations and become the focus of a collaborative book.
It might be argued that the laboratory premise of the show is exercised throughout the many spaces of the Kunsthalle, but it is most obviously pushed to collaborative, material and curatorial limits in the first gallery space. The scene is of a happening disbanded: a blending of 1960s ideals and contemporary critical perspectives on the past, which cannot not be reconciled.
Brätsch layers sheets of acetate into a set of reprographic sandwiches entitled ‘SWISS SPA ?A VA’. One sheet reads ‘Treat Your Neck’ and depicts a woman’s head sticking out of a pineapple. This quaintly absurd lifestyle campaign might have suffered a printer bleed, thus creating modern motifs of Röder’s fabric works draped and deposited on nearby surfaces and furniture. Yet, the sense of collapse evoked between image and object, product and art work, brings to mind the magpie predicament of an artist in the digital age, rather than that of the individual as corruptible consumer of stuff.
The viewer is cast as a trespasser in a clubhouse, a feeling exacerbated by the implied illegality of two fat pillar structures by Arakawa, Mauss, Schultz and Gambaroff. One unit pumps out ambient music, the exterior of which is clad with typewritten lists warning against political ennui and the clichés of current social tribes: ‘Declare independence from money wage slavery holistic wholefoods’. Given the exclusivity of the group and its visual vernacular, visualone loses the will to keep track of the changing ironic pitch.
This work, however, is part of a successful body of works, the components of which convey a sense of the tipping point between a useful collective endeavour and a failed utopian dream. The series, made by the group, includes a partial metal and textile grid—the slack tension of which must have taken hours and multiple hands to achieve. In the first gallery, Carissa Rodriguez’s metal S&M-cum-DIY rails on one wall offer a glimpse of something shiny through the grey—a playful but firm formalist grip on things. Beyond this point, save for a few recognisable motifs (such as Rodriguez’s red-dot splat ‘paintings’) one might be in a different exhibition.
With the introduction of the major solo projects, the exhibition smacks of a brief flick through a survey book of new assemblage practices. Shultz’s material handling is characteristically subtle. Her arrangement of printed matter, projected imagery and related technological ephemera could function as a set for a social-realist play. Liden fares best, though. Her installations exist beyond the main action in a series of interconnecting rooms. The process of moving through Arakawa and Co’s letter-stencilled, fabriccovered tunnel into the dark, sensorially charged first space she has created (with just a cardboard box and an angle-poise lamp) is genuinely disquieting.
Arakawa’s presence here as project instigator and director is light, as is his solo contribution: a conversation between himself and Mike ‘OZ’ Owen of Elstree Studios, pasted inside a doorframe. Again, one is left questioning the intention behind this visual strategy when the probability of those passing through being able to read it is so slim. Here, and elsewhere in the exhibition, the palpable desire to ‘test’ traditional modes of making and presentation becomes an itchy barrier to engaging with the work as either instructional content or performative action. It’s not as if this group are trying to lay claim to the territory–there are nods throughout to conceptual art experiments with semantics, objecthood and performance of the 1960s and 1970s. There are some interesting works here, but as a collaborative effort it does little more than remind one of how difficult it is to deal with this legacy, particularly given today’s glut of technological and theoretical perspectives.
Rebecca Geldard is an art critic based in London