The last time Gelitin had a show at Tim Van Laere they constructed an elevated outhouse atop a bare bones stairway and invited visitors to urinate in it. The pee flowed down through a transparent tube where it collected in a giant yellow bladder of a waterbed on which said visitors were encouraged to recline.
Yeah, that happened.
As you can imagine, when I recently visited the collective’s second show at the Antwerp gallery I was ready. I wanted to pee on something. Or burn something. Or knock something over. Bring it, you crazy Austrians!
Alas, the current show, you you and w, is of the non-audaciously participatory variety. It’s a pretty standard gallery show comprised of discrete artworks representing the collective’s recent-ish practice. No wacky new projects unveiled here, though the quartet’s spirit of somewhat vulgar playfulness remains in object form. Oversized Plasticine-on-photograph collages make up about a third of the exhibition, which also includes clay “paintings”, a sculpture of grafted furniture limbs, a tilted video installation supported by a kicking chorus of cast concrete legs, some strips of brightly painted wall, and six specimen jars containing the preserved remains of plush animals.
GELITIN, Die Schwebende Liegende, 2011, 90 x 190 x 190 cm video, concrete, steel; Courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery.
The collages are a highlight, and in perfect line with Gelitin’s cooperative character. The many people who populate the photographs generally seem to be working toward some collective goal and, indeed, it turns out the images are documentation of past Gelitin projects and performances. Erupting from these photo backdrops come colorful clay arms, boobs, limbs, and other protrusions – all very Claymation-y. Irreverence and childlike materials aside, there is a historical precedence for these types of crowded compositions – your enormous tableaux of warring parties signing peace treaties, coronations, night watches – only here, outrageously costumed figures are digging ditches, stoking fires, and otherwise playfully performing. To be honest, it’s not always clear what’s going on, but it certainly seems vital.
Fear not: there are, naturally, recurring references to bodily secretions and the holes from which they come. And we should expect no less. Human rites, rituals, festivities – culture, one might say – are never too far from needs, necessities, and desires. “We all need to pee,” as Gelitin pointed out in a 2011 interview. The works (in keeping with the performances from which their imagery derives) are thus cheeky and good spirited, but also urgent, primal even.
The preserved stuffed animal bits – strips of plush, plastic eyes, and crochet – seem to strike a different note, the artists perhaps sharing Mike Kelley’s uncanny ability to take something ostensibly sweet, blow it up, and turn it sinister or embarrassing. And maybe these creepy preservations do get at a darker side of Gelitin, grown men whose artistic actions are ever recalling childhood. (Gelitin mythology states the artists met at summer camp in 1978 and have been “playing and working together” ever since.) Yet somehow these stuffed animals aren’t as awkward or unsettling as Kelley’s. For Gelitin, there’s no shame in messing around. It’s just fun, and funny.
GELITIN, Twee Pausen één God, 2012, 194 x 120 x 24 cm, collage, plasticine on photograph; Courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery.
Ultimately, I wanted, needed to see more – an exhibition double or triple this size would have been welcome. For with all its bottled up spirit, the show may have sprung a leak. What is the half-life of artistic energy, and how much of it lives on in these objects? Art making can certainly be a means to an end, but in a practice where play is paramount, viewers would be forgiven for feeling a bit like they arrived late to the party. We’re seeing the aftermath of some crazy binge, perhaps feeling somewhat like the artists themselves did after removing their blindfolds following a ten-day sightless sculpture-making extravaganza at Greene Naftali Gallery in 2010. But screw it. All my musings miss the point. Gelitin is having a laugh; they’re just playing around. Next time I want to play with them.
(Image on top: Gelitin, Reine Magarine Rilke Jean Jacques, 2013, plush, oil, bottle, light box , 52 x 165 x 24 cm.; Courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery.)