Karma International has been present on the Zürich art scene since its first exhibition with Chris Lipomi in 2006. In 2007 Karma International project space opened in the Enge neighbourhood, rubbing shoulders with Swiss Re’s headquarters and the Rietberg Museum. This is neither a customary location for contemporary art, nor is the gallery traditionally designed, being one small room paved with kitchen tiles, down several steps on a street corner.
Each year, about half a dozen shows are hosted here, often organised by guest curators, though the directors, Marina Leuenberger and Karolina Danków, conveniently call these one-off projects rather than exhibitions. Until recently Karma did not represent artists, but it has recently become commercial. How this will affect the future programme is an interesting question, but for now it hosts Reduced Construction, an exhibition arranged by Jacqueline Uhlmann, curatorial assistant at the Kunstmuseum Basel.
Reduced Construction brings together works that share formal rigour despite construction from everyday materials. Genêt Mayor’s two sculptures are created from cable ties and off-cuts respectively. David Hominal’s works are made from cardboard and paint. Mitzi Pederson uses a few wooden batons and pieces of plastic, while Tove Storch prints images of creases onto paper.
But despite this simplicity and the restrictions of the space, nearly every piece avoids being weighted to the gallery.
Storch’s prints are bewildering optical illusions, even though their genesis is apparent; creases become lines, recorded, enlarged and pixellated, then reprinted onto large sheets, the surfaces of which are not easy to interpret. If these surfaces are difficult to make sense of, at least the prints fit the space.
Though the red floor is inexorably present, the remaining works conjure in miniature, a sculpture park where Alice might encounter the Queen of Hearts playing croquet against a backdrop of soaring structures. Though modest and straightforward, these floor works have ambitions far beyond their scale.
Pederson’s untitled piece combines a long, fine, curved, rod, which braces the wall from a small stand, determined to face off the architecture; her ‘hello again’ has reached eye level, but its twitchy cellophane tail threatens to take it further up in the air.
Hominal’s ‘Curbe’ (Curve) is equally possessed by its own energy. Made by roughly coating cardboard in acrylic paint, the drying paint has pulled the card into a taut arc that rests on its back. ‘Element’ has its own plinth, solemnly signaling a viewing point. The complex black surface and the revelation of its structure from behind, merits a leisurely viewing orbit. What matter the best perspective is from 30cm above the ground.
Mayor’s two works communicate on several registers. His ‘Handsome’ sits on the windowsill, the off-cuts combined to make a bundle of black wrought energy, but the bright green and yellow spots at each end flirt with passers-by in the street beyond. ‘Noar’ is simply a ring around which hundreds of black-cable ties have been bound, their ends waving like tendrils that suggest it may yet come alive.
The title, Reduced Construction, suggests several readings. The media employed are diminutive and everyday. In addition, they have been arrested in their development. But it is no secret that a gallery elevates the materials placed within it. And though the works all ostensibly follow a formal tradition, in these odd surroundings they are alive with figurative allusions. Though Karma International space is indubitably a gallery, it has neither the sanctity, nor formality, nor mystique of O’Doherty’s white cube. This exhibition is a group of works operating as reduced essences, concentrated symbols not tethered to their physical forms, but gesturing toward other ontologies.
Aoife Rosenmeyer is a writer and curator based in Zürich