• Christian Hain

A Threesome with Robots, ‘Nature and Sh—‘ at KW Institute


(Berlin.) Three new shows at KW, three (still, rather) young artists presenting their work. First thing we notice on ground floor is a plush wheelchair/throne/tank with added ceramic elements. Cotton rolls not unreminiscent of firecrackers or cable fixers cover the seat and armrests - to strap in an unsuspecting sitter? a stylized electric chair even? - together with pear or WWI era hand grenade shaped objects. From other angles, there could be a hint of imperial orbs, eyeballs, and even snails... More evidently, the headrest is a broken abacus (or Frida's Column?).

Further into the room, a thick layer of dry white paint like a discarded overall occupies a sofa chair. Other works that don’t seem entirely different group around tube TVs but this is no furniture showroom, nor KW Institute for Contemporary Art continuing in the vein of their recent T&R Haussmann show, but Tamara Henderson who allows – even encourages - you to take a seat. It all feels a little bit like an artistic playground, from first childhood to last, rocking horse to chair: It’s all about getting into the swing.

I was told, the main topic here were “digestion”: different things - sounds, thoughts, images, objects - passing through the artist’s body and mind. ...So that’s what those cotton straps are really supposed to remind of! You won’t be surprised to hear this show is less impressive than Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca machine (not to mention Piero Manzoni). Then again, Henderson is still a young artist. It sounds like a mean thing to say, but no offence intended: Expect to see more of her sh— soon.

Don’t you always have the best ideas when sitting on the throne, too? Another inspiration – and that’s still according to official interpretation! – consists in the artist’s recent pregnancy. That eight-legged chair does not recall Louise Bourgeois without a reason! “Things” that travel through her body, then leave. Did Henderson by any chance call her newborn Hank? (By the way, I like the classic male reply: “My wife and me, we dine together, but we visit the restroom each on their own” to the question whether or not you’ve witnessed the birth of your child; I really do).

We further learn about Tamara Henderson’s profound fascination with the subconscious (some never exit the faecal phase), those videos on the antique TV sets are the result of a hypnosis session she’s undergone in the hands/eyes/voice of “famous hypnotist” Marcos Lutyens. For unknown reasons, KW chose not to tell you about him being an artist – even dOCUMENTA proven - in his own right. Represented by a small, but nice gallery in Paris and Venice. Sitting down, leaning back, taking the headphones, visitors listen to the voice of Lutyens trying to hypnotize them too. Good luck to you!

Oh yes,... that official interpretation is actually much more elaborate, referencing enigmatic entities who manifest in disguise &c, but to be honest, it sounds like a lot of cattle crap, reaching whole new levels of pretentiousness.

Step upstairs and into a sauna, but better leave your clothes on. Take a deep breath of plastic, a smell that will take you back to childhood, unwrapping action figures from China (No? you got your first iPad when you were four? Just go and watch an unboxing vid on YouTube then. But it might be worse than having an artist mother associating you with faeces). Bad air, warm and moist, is needed to breed mushrooms here, and not for recreational purposes – unless: KW boss Krist Gruijthuijsen personally told about a projected happening with friends and family on the show’s closing. Rest assured: the (anticipated) effects are only boring health-related. The mushrooms in question figure in recipes of that infamous “traditional Chinese medicine”, but, very surprisingly indeed, their cultivation does not involve any torture or killing of rhinos, tigers, cats, dogs, or political prisoners. Still supposed to work magic - on the other hand, they are of no use for “male complaints” either, so... (reminds me of those last, stubborn and unfaltering, smokers who will trade “impotency warning” packs for cancer ones; need to set your priorities straight).

At KW, the mushrooms grow in freezers with glass fronts, and Steve Bishop links them to the story of a ghost town in his native Canada. Behind plastic curtains – that’s where smell and humidity emanate - we distinguish copies of paintings whose originals are rotting away in the town that was deserted when a mine (gold, rare earths, or whatever? we'll never know) closed shop years ago.

- Are you familiar with that episode from rural China that made the tour of the internet some time ago? A farmer dug up what he believed to be a sort of weird mushroom, and local TV dutifully reported until somebody came up with the sobering information that it was a sextoy, somebody (else?) had abandoned after dutifully performed services. I wouldn’t be telling you this, were there not a connection to the third show at KW. Now that I have your attention, stay tuned: more to come shortly.

There’s also a film - sorry: single channel video installation! -, documenting deserted buildings, offices, one might have been a hospital once. Like I am Legend without Will Smith (a future option for The Walking Dead, now they’ve decided to kill off every main character?). A janitor is still making his rounds to keep everything in order (-ly state of decay), without a doubt a dream job for some.

The keyword here is preservation. Behind one more last plastic curtain at the end of the corridor, the air gets better, almost breathable indeed, and we discover the fully grown mushrooms lined up on a shelf. They look like foam and feel like plastic. There’s a fog machine besides, shaped like an old kitchen stove. The greenhouse atmosphere might allude to climate change, if only because this is contemporary art.

On the second floor, Danish Sidsel Meineche Hansen, who by a strange coincidence is represented by the same Greek/British gallery as Tamara Henderson (premature Black Friday 2-for-1 promotion?), wants to share with you her interest in sex androids. There’s a documentary film on an American (where else?) “robot brothel” - no indeed, this exists, although as is true for most start-ups: No clients needed where investors smell an opportunity. Also the prototype of a an interactive - but good Lord, please not “artificially” or in any other way: intelligent! - doll reclining against a wall. Something’s fishy here, though: This is only a design prototype from wood (no, you're wrong: it's supposed to be a female). In later life, Mister Geppetto took his talents further than ever.(?) Hansen won’t allow – or encourage even – you to give it a try.

KW does promise a performance, though. Promises to stand in the great tradition of contemporary art performances: It ain’t history book-worthy if there's no t’n’a.

A flag in the centre of the room displays a hole with something around (ever watched Teeth?), and finally, drawings on the wall have to be in one way or other related to the topic. Don’t expect serious reflections on male self defence in the age of absolute female control over sexuality though.

Lest I forget: Wanted to put a link in here somewhere, to this guy. Only for the name.

Steve Bishop, Deliquescing;

Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Real Doll Theatre;

Tamara Henderson, Womb Life;

3 November 2018-6 January 2019, KW

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



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