Tucked deep into Zeeburgpad in Amsterdam Oost, past Browerij ‘t Ij there lurks the P/////AKT initiative space. Having underestimated the distance to the space as well as the severity of the December weather, it was a relief to finally arrive at my destination. However the physical experience of walking into the disjointed sounds and epileptic imagery of Christian Friedrich’s Untitled (2011): Where Time Has Lost Its Relevance II offered no sense of refuge.
The space is completely dark and empty except for the projected film and some stools for sitting. There is nowhere else to look – once inside, full focus on Friedrich’s sounds and images is unavoidable, and these are abrasively difficult to watch. Having previously read of the heavy nature of the artist’s work (frequently referring to themes of violence and sexuality) I had anticipated feeling challenged, yet I was unprepared for the visceral assault of sitting in this room. The sounds are grating, the film lacks any continuity, and the images while not disturbing in themselves are made violent through their editing process.
While feeling physically comforted is not necessarily an essential requirement to make watching audio-visual art feel worthwhile to me, this a-thematic and physically disruptive image/sound sequence left me feeling like I might be undergoing some kind of social experiment of endurance. In this work Friedrich decomposes a beach scene, leaving it entirely devoid of any sense of tranquility, ease, or playfulness, inserting instead coarse sounds and visual effects, which create an overwhelming unease. While I was intrigued to see how strong the impact of color and sound had on my process of perceiving the work, I also had to force myself not to escape this process entirely.
Despite the nature of this particular use of the space, the platform itself is founded on a solid premise and many of the other works previously exhibited there have appropriated the space in radically different (and more palatable) ways. P/////AKT allocates studio space to participating artists for the creation of site-specific art made for exhibition in its space. It defines itself as an initiative rather than gallery, emphasizing its collective nature and the fact that the organizers are not selling you anything. Flipping through a series of photographs of different ways in which the space has been manipulated and reshaped to fit the needs and desires of other artists, it was striking to see how this space is in regular evolution.
(Image at top: Christian Friedrich, Where time has lost its relevance II, 2011; Courtesy of the artist)