While creating “Surface Values” Eemil Karila learned that the cleaning lady with whom he was collaborating on the project had previously been a nurse in the Ukraine. She did not want her name to be listed in the show’s press material because she did not want her current occupation to be revealed to her family at home. But her marks on the gallery’s floor are what transform the space from an empty dark room into a haunting work of art.
For his first solo show in Berlin, the Finnish artist invited the gallery’s regular cleaning staff to mop the floor using a mixture of cleaning products and UV inks. While viewers stand in the otherwise empty gallery the white lights are timed to flick off and switch on black lights. Once the black lights beam, the tan floor reveals patterns like painterly brushwork.
The black lights also accidentally set off leftover details from previous shows. Under their glow, one can see the ghost of glue where a painting was taped to the wall, as well as glittering golden traces of a previous artists’ installation which give the deceptively naked room its creditability and lineage as an exhibition space of record. Karila’s project compellingly brings to light the traces of the past, which still haunt Berlin’s buildings, even those now used as open and welcoming artistic forums. And Karila’s engagement with the gallery’s cleaning staff exposes the invisible support system which allows Berlin to remain a creatively liberated, promising environment.
--Ana Finel Honigman
(*Images: Eemil Karila, Surface Values, March 5 - April 11, 2009; Program, e.V., Berlin, exhibition views.)