Some might say that Alessio delli Castelli’s view towards art is a bit jaded, pessimistic even. At the center of his practice rests the antithetical notion that every possible image has already been created in various guises. For him, contemporary art is merely a regurgitation of things past only with a glossier veneer. In his current solo exhibition at Dan Gunn in Berlin, this manifesto takes the shape of haphazard collages, failed sculpture, and a simple site-specific installation. The show, aptly titled Geometric Application for Times of Peril, is constrained and smart, the works belying their glum conceptual groundings by providing something as beautiful as it is affecting.
Classical statue meets pretty cigarette girls from the 60s meets Gauguin meets German Löwe candy bars meets Nietzsche meets communist architecture meets homosexual sex club and the list continues ad infinitum. If it seems overwhelming, it is. Overwhelming in a way that provides both pleasure and artistic anxiety—jouissance for the visual sense. The collages appear prosaic (irreverent?) at first gleaning, but connect effortlessly to a web of dense collective memory and cultural experience. I’m caught thinking: I have seen this or that picture before, but I just can’t place where and the specifics aren’t really so important. The delicate nature of the paper contrasts their lack of hermetic or decorative protection as if to say, “These are just pictures. There are a million more somewhere else.” Do not let my nonchalant language fool you, however. The act of making connections through the sparse clues provided here is ultimately satisfying.
Time plays a key role for delli Castelli. Literally, in the imagery selected for the cut paper collages, and linearly, in the form of charts and graphs and the site-specific wire installation. The aesthetic is dated, but not out-dated, and feels cool in a city like Berlin that is reaching a pinnacle of imagistic production. Historical references supercede kitsch and allow the viewer to daydream in multiple planes of time over the course of the exhibition. Rodin and Richard Nixon exist together in the space created here.
The steel-wire installation, If you study the logistics and heuristics of the mystics, you will find that their minds really move in a line, is a surprisingly simple addition that radically changes the dynamics of the gallery. Two wires are strung perpendicular from each other, one running the length of the second room in the gallery and the other from floor to ceiling. They are connected by a loosely bound twist-tie like those found at the grocery store. It draws attention to the physical environment where these images exist and the tenuous nature of the gallery’s construction. The tension in the wires plays tricks on the eye. It seems to be pulling and pushing simultaneously, an element reminiscent of Arte Povera sculptures from the late 60s and early 70s.
The show culminates in a series of plaster sculptures resting underneath the wires. Partially broken and hastily painted, these structures are the artist’s attempt at making three-dimensional imagery from two-dimensional painting. Here we see delli Castelli dissecting his source material one step further. These sculptures show small children engaging in a game with a large ball and hoop. They are permanently frozen in the act of play, a loop, just as the rest of us are suspended in the never-ending cycle of images delli Castelli approaches throughout this display.
Geometric Application for Times of Peril is the inaugural exhibition for Dan Gunn, the self-titled solo venture by the former director of Capitain Petzel. As I am exiting the gallery I can’t help but think of what an appropriate choice it is. Housed on the third floor of an old-style apartment building on the edge of Kreuzberg, the gallery is situated between two spans of time. Aesthetically in the past, but looking toward the future with the promise of invigorating Berlin’s cultural marketplace. Is it one-in-a-million or just another drop in the bucket? With more provoking shows like this one on the horizon, it looks to be the former.
(All Images: Alessio delli Castelli, Geometric Applications for Times of Peril; exhibition view, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and Dan Gunn)