O, swear not by the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Romeo has just sworn to the moon that he loves Juliet with all of his being, but for Juliet this is not enough. She finds the moon unstable. She urges Romeo not to promise this way because she worries that his love will not be consistent. This line resurfaces for me each time I catch a glimpse of the scarred surface of our celestial neighbor. A pause for reflection then a forward motion.
I am brought back to this quote again while taking in Anna Betbeze’s most recent endeavor at Lüttgenmeijer in Berlin. Betbeze’s exhibition, aptly titled Moons, is a continuation of a body of work in which the artist manipulates shaggy wool carpeting with various processes like dying, burning, and over-painting. The resulting objects are brightly toned, pockmarked entities that appear as desirable as they are traumatic. Like the moon, these works act as markers of time—coded with the artist’s intentions, marred by a progression of action, and emerging as remnants of that which follows us. For me, their importance lies in their quality as ‘things’, but it is in their multifaceted surfaces that their intrigue truly lies. They teeter on edge of painting, sculpture, and found object yet orbit somewhere beyond the atmosphere of all three.
Anna Betbze, lava, 2012, wool, ash, 274x182 cm; Courtesy of Lüttgenmeijer.
The base materials for each piece are relatively the same: luxe wool-fibered rugs in various color schemes reminiscent of your grandparents’ living room in the 60s and 70s. Betbeze’s choice is kitschy but smart. Imbued with a familiar cultural essence, the material provides an immediate point of entry for the viewer. At the same time, its structure provides Betbeze with a strong and malleable canvas that lends itself to ever-changing interpretations. There is an innately human quality present in this work that, despite any direct reference to the body, holds a strong visceral connection when experienced in situ. They beg you to touch them. It’s something you know you shouldn’t do, but like our star-crossed lovers, you can’t help yourself from breaking the rules.
In these newer works, the rug itself seems to take a starring role. Earlier iterations relied heavier on the treatment given to each piece, but at Lüttgenmeijer the object as a whole receives a bit more of the spotlight. Pieces like Moon 2 and Lava hang tenuously from simple nails, sagging under their own weight. It looks as if they could fall apart at any moment. In contrast with the scale and heft of each work, this fragility is pleasing. Moon 2, comprised of a large yellow circle partially enclosed within a field of disintegrating black, provides a grounding reference in its shape and styling. This work especially highlights material over process. Initially the honey-tinged hue of Lava brings to mind images of a luscious playboy apartment ravaged by fire after years of decadent debauchery. On second glance, I am transported back to my godmother’s beach house in the languid summers of my youth. I can picture myself laying on a carpet this color and texture one breezy evening, picking out grains of sand embedded in the fibers. Over time that carpet became matted and dull with the residue of intimate living. Years of parties, arguments, spilled drinks, dropped cigarettes, and dirty shoes covered its surface as our marks and our stories remained fixed in its core. This is the magic of Betbeze’s work—her marks carry that weight, too.
Anna Betbeze, Moons installation view, left to right: milk, moon 2, pool; Courtesy of Lüttgenmeijer
This kind of double-picture comes up several times for me as I survey the gallery. Betbeze is not only pulling from (and relying on) a collective cultural consciousness, but also more deeply seated personal histories. It seems as if these two mercurial elements revolve in binary orbit throughout the exhibition. Much like Juliet’s unreliable moon, Betbeze’s artworks are fluid and fickle; they refuse to be pinned down. They’re magnetic, in fact, playing as much with one’s memory as one’s desire to touch.
(Image on top: Anna Betbeze, Moons installation view, left to right: moon, shade; Courtesy of Lüttgenmeijer)