Knock on wood and you stave away bad luck. The saying entails a performative act: interact with an everyday object and you, the subject, are protected. The exhibition frm vs fnctn nd bck gn at neugerriemschneider gallery presents reflections on one's relation to the material world. Its point of departure is "the creative confrontation with everyday objects” and it features artists Ai Weiwei, Pawel Althamer, Olafur Eliasson, Isa Genzken, Sharon Lockhart, Renata Lucas, Jorge Pardo, Simon Starling, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Pae White.
The exhibition’s title denotes the illiteracy that can result when the elements that comprise your everyday world are dismantled or disfigured. One is already confronted with such an, apparently, unknown dependency when googling the exhibition space and realizing that the gallery has no operable website. One would have expected some EU legislation code to regulate the Internet for such matters. Yet it was most probably an actual EU legislation of public space that led me to walk past the first artwork I should have encountered upon arriving at the exhibition. In the gallery’s courtyard, PawelAlthamer presents three simple wooden benches and it was not until I had left the exhibition that I noticed the work on the exhibition floor plan. When entering the exhibition space itself, however, you are confronted with everyday objects in the most upfront manner, almost as a reminder of your, that is my, inertness in the courtyard: you immediately face a display of furniture design.
Aside from Olafur Eliasson’s Timetable (2007), a whole oak wood table with supportive geometrical metal structures, most of the furniture seems to have only a marginal relationship to its assumed functionality. Antique stools stacked together to form a cluster – Ai Weiwei’s Grapes (2011) – provide, at best, an unleveled sitting plane with inconvenient gaps. The elaborative wooden lounge structure by Jorge Pardo titled untitled (2007) is not very inviting upon closer inspection and the dysfunctional wooden frame by Renata Lucas, quadroquadro (folding) (2013), is, contrary to its material qualities, folded on one side. The artworks have an eerie presence as they deny your own presumed consumer utilization.
Pae White, remedy tree: piñata, 2011; Courtesy of the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.
The objects become teasers to the human body, a feeling that further develops with Pae White’s remedy tree: piñata (2000). A piece of root wood spills out on to the floor a colorful spread of M&M’s, Skittles, Butterfingers, Kit Kats, and Snickers bars which are unfortunately presented within the usual art context of don’t touch.
These art works can be seen as readymades that don’t so much shed a different light on their previous contexts as they do on their material existence. The exhibition touches on today’s environmental consciousness by reflecting on the elements of the material world as possible waste when they aren’t providing the service needed. In the exhibition, Rirkrit Tiravanija, an artist most famous for bringing people together by rejecting the art object in favor of cooking for exhibition visitors, presents the work untitled 2013 (endless rolling rock) (2013), a sculpture of aluminum alloy with chromium finish in the form of stacked glass bottles. With not a drop of human saliva on them, the bottles become a monument of objects recycled not for their constituent material, but as art.
RirkritTiravanija, untitled 2013 (endless rolling rock), 2013, glass bottles coated in aluminum alloy and chromium finish; Courtesy of the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.
The exhibition leaves an echo of the knock on wood almost as a reminder of a materialistic presence that we are perhaps always aware of but would rather not know about, unless we are making sure to put the recycling in the right bin. That said, the most surprising element of the exhibition was the kitchen of the gallery space itself. Christiane Wohlrab, an employee of the space, informed me that for this particular exhibition they decided to use of the wall across the gallery’s kitchen. Sharon Lockhart's Coleção de latas de metal (Metal Can Collection) (2010), a black and white photograph of metal cans in what seems their natural habitat of usage, hangs opposite the kitchen. Turning away from the image, I was overcome with a surprising feeling of relief upon encountering the order of things in neugerriemschneider’s spotless galley. The heightened sense of confrontation with everyday objects that frm vs fnctn nd bck gn provides also leaves you receptive to the potentially harmonious relations between subjects and objects.
(Image on top: Ai Weiwei, Grapes, 2011, 23 antique Chinese stools; Courtesy of the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.)