…in which your host ascends, because it’s that time of year.
This week, Artipoeus visits “Phenomena in Space,” works by Anke Roehrscheid at Galerie DNA in Berlin.
Sometimes art just happens. Sometimes it happens because nothing else is open. The month of May in Germany, as in most of Western Europe, is full of holidays — because they still celebrate all the Christian holidays, despite the separation of church and state. Kinda makes it feel like religion is just an excuse…
May 5 this year was Ascension, the day Jesus stopped screwing around in the underworld and joined God in heaven. It’s also Father’s Day, or Men’s Day in Germany, when groups of men hang out together, go for a hike or a bike ride, and generally commune. As men. Together. It’s a day about dudes.
So on this day, being sans-dude as I am, I ascended from bed a little late, enjoying the holiday and all, and set out to find some art… not realizing that everything would be closed. Even after 6 years in living in Europe, I still forget how literal “closed for the holidays” is — I mean, everything is closed. Except for Galerie DNA, which I stumbled into on my way to see if a different place was open, and went inside thinking I’d better look just in case, so I’d having something to talk about.
And that’s when art happened.
Inside, the first thing that hit me was color — dense explosions of red on shades of red in large format on the walls. At first, they looked like post-modern chrysanthemums to me, the celebration of pink or red flower that features so often in Asian watercolors. The name of the exhibit, as I saw from outside, is Phenomena in Space, I suppose these are actually nebula. But since the chrysenthemum is the symbol of both longevity and rejuvenation, it kind of makes sense for nebula, and kind of makes sense for Ascension day too. Everything that rises must converge.
These paintings are watercolors on handmade paper — not the chunky, fibrous kind of paper, but quite fine, actually, and just the right amount of porousness to soak up the color and then keep it, making the tints that much deeper and brilliant. Get up close to these giant explosions, and you’ll see they are comprised of tiny little parts — leaves, matter, people, DNA… all the things that might go into the fiery nebula of a red dwarf, say. But I like them better a bit farther away — the paintings are quite large, around 200 cm by 150 cm — and although the parts up close are so numerous and gently rendered you can get lost in them, I prefer the effect of the whole, the slight movement these smaller parts give to explosion, as though it will continue to expand long after you’ve turned away.
Moving back into the gallery, there is a small stage the gallery uses for display as well. On teh wall behind the stage, are a series of smaller works, these being about sketchbook size, again using watercolors on handmade paper. When I was there, the little steps the gallery had in place to get on stage had broken during the opening, so I had to clamber on stage — hardly the dramatic entrance I was aiming for, but certainly theatrical.
In this series — there’s about 16 of them — it’s as though the components of the explosion in the previous, full color paintings, have been placed under a microscope, magnified in a kind of petri dish and put on display. They figures depicted here, in a kind of brownish wash almost like a sepia tint, actually, could be organic, could be alien, could be parts of a greater part, like squiggling, squirming, almost unstable strands of genetic code. There are long stalks, knobbed or jointed; whorls that could as easily be the developing fist of a foetus as they could be the gnarled knobs of an old tree. There are groups of figures met, clung together that again look almost human. Each image depicted, with a hand that is as deft and delicate as a Japanese watercolor, has that eery, uncomfortable quality of vegetable matter being slightly humanoid, like a mandrake root… all painted on a black so deep its infinite.
I have to admit, they’re a little creepy, almost like a cabinet of curiosities — which is kind of a thing, lately, in the art world. And also kind of a thing in Germany, where they are called Wunderkammer, and it seems like every third museum or gallery has one. But this series is only meant to lead to something else…
Hopping back down — not so easy on the knees when wearing heels, I have to say — I followed some very Berliner electronic music that was playing on an endless loop downstairs.
ON the lower level, medium sized water colors, again on handmade paper, hang in teh front of the room. The paper itself is so well done and quite beautiful, but it’s just as much a part of the paintings as the color Roehrscheid literally infused them with, and the images she paints on them. While I really respond to the large red paintings on the main level of the gallery, these made me gasp. They depict more vegetable, possibly insect, matter, beginning as a whole image, sort of the mid-range view between the squiggling strands and the explosions upstairs. They start as a whole, but are enlarged and enlarged, the composition shifting from dead center of the canvas to one corner or another, zooming in on an antenna, a jointed leg, a foot, until only the traces of movement are left. What’s most striking about these, though, are the color: a fuschia so intense it almost glows itself right off the wall. I like the images Roehrscheid suggests — like they are beetle shells in infrared light — but it’s this amazingly profound color she achieves that blows me away.
I couldn’t get close to one of the paintings because someone was preparing a painting to be shipped. While it was a holiday for everyone else, it was a normal work day for the poeple at DNA gallery, who I guess don’t believe in God or fathers — a little pocket of social democracy on Auguststrasse. Or capitalism, I guess. But I hope not, because we all know how capitalism is going to end. And I like this gallery.
It’s always funny to see a gallery at work. Last year, while interviewing the American artist Cleon Peterson at the Agnes b. gallery in Paris, someone was preparing artwork to be shipped and was diligently hammering away in a back room, building a crate, I guess. Maybe an arc… and art arc. Quelle apropos for Ascension Day. But oh wait, the flood was before the Ascension. I’m getting my bible stories mixed up, but maybe bible stories are just an excuse talk about something else. Kind of like art.
Anyway, so all of these things floating around in space and time, the squigglling strands, the fireburst explosions, come together haphazardly or not, and create LIFE. Bing! Something is born, and connects, and morphs and grows into… a dot on the black horizon of space, that grows bigger and bigger until it takes form. Roehrscheid’s video, Aperception, plays on a loop at teh back of the gallery: a humanoid torso with glider wings appears on the screen, silvery white coming out of the black void left by some molten slick of oil or lava when the video loop begins. The music swells and pumps into… well, into music that feels kind of typical for Berlin, but that also suggests a hybrid techno-organic creature that is born, that multiplies and advances in formation like fighter jets before swooping around and connecting, end to end, to make one long, swirling and swooping vertabrae… the next structure to be formed in a growing embryo. The video is simple, the images very simply rendered, but… but I really like it, actually. I like it as the end point – beginning point of the whole exhibit.
It’s a well laid-out exhibit, and the evolution of the work is clear, if you move counter-clockwise. Starting with the large pieces as you enter, these beautiful starbursts of molten red, like life exploding, or perhaps a zoomed out overview of a mass of life. And then almost like going back in time, the small works on black in the raised stage — the little strands of what could be molecules, what could be people, stark colors and forms squiggling in high resolution, as if under a microscope — that make up the whole of the explosions. One more explosion takes you downstairs, where the strands have formed organic matter, baking to time in the infrared light, until it’s all ready for movement, silvery beings fusing with versions of itself to create something even bigger, more complex. Sometimes life just happens, explodes into being, ready for motion, to arrive out of, or up from, the darkness and to ascend into the light.
Phenomena in Space is on view until May 29th at Galerie DNA, located at 20 Augustrasse in Berlin.
I’m Susie Kahlich. That’s all for Artipoeus this week — Artipoeus — pronounced like octopus, because art is everywhere. See you around town!
From Susie Kahlich originally posted on Artipoeus
Anke Röhrscheid – Phenomena in Space
Curated by Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer