Berlin in January is a dark and cold place. There is no better time to stay indoors and look at some art. And even though some of the current exhibitions exacerbate the feeling of gloom by combining the Winter theme with a site-specific post-war historical touch, there are also a few that can counteract the melancholy.
Topping the list of feel-good shows is the Roman Signer exhibition at Barbara Weiss. This show presents six new objects by the Swiss artist that transform the gallery into a place of potential excitement.
The objects are scattered throughout the gallery space. Near the entrance a bicycle wheel is attached to the wall by its tube; on the floor sit skis in an aluminum casing. A second pair of skis are found at the base of a motorized paragliding propeller, occupying the center of the arrangement. Behind it is Versuchsanlage (testing ground) (2012-2013), a wooden platform with a hole and a lawnmower motor, a construction built to test out a lawnmower motor performance that also works as a piece of sculpture in its own right. The final two pieces are Pommery (2013), consisting of a hose linking a champagne bottle to a glass on a table, and Blauer Schlauch (2013), a liquid-filled hosepipe meeting the ceiling at one end and a heavy wooden log at the other.
Roman Signer, installation view of Neue Skulpturen; Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin.
The objects are arranged in one room and fill the entire space, transforming the gallery into a kind of playground. One should note however, that the exhibition is not meant to be interactive, nor is there any documentation of the objects in action. Nevertheless, each work’s performative potential is quite obvious and everything that could happen here plays out in the visitor’s mind. All pieces have been tested by the artist and are fully functional. Documentation is not necessary; we can easily imagine what happens when the champagne bottle pops, see in our mind’s eye the log drop on the hose, and visualize the motorized skis roaming the Appenzeller snowfields.
Signer's work is hard to categorize. It goes beyond performance, landscape art, sculpture, or installation. His pieces have been termed “time sculptures” and “action sculpture”, referring to the performative as well as the physical aspects of the work. Questions of cause and effect lie at the heart of this show, both in the objects’ latent functions and in the way they cause viewers to unwittingly imagine these operations. The playfulness in these objects is taken very seriously and they are full of humor without the sarcasm or bitterness that often afflicts contemporary art.
Invitation to Roman Signer, Neue Skulpturen; Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin.
That the works are both aesthetically pleasing and fully operative makes them enjoyable by anyone, regardless of their age or art education. The artist’s use of everyday materials and the joy of exploring their action potential places him in the tradition of the “Swiss Engineer Artists” like Fischli & Weiss or Jean Tinguely. Indeed, Signer’s new sculptures make you wonder if playful engineering might be a Swiss prerogative, a special export from the country that also gave the world multifunctional knives, precision clockworks, and LSD.
[Image on top: Roman Signer, Versuchsanlage (testing ground), 2012-2013, installation with robot, wood, mattress, h: 124 x w: 206 x d: 355 cm / h: 48.8 x w: 81.1 x d: 139.8 in; Photo: Jens Ziehe; Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin.]