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  • Christian Hain

Pump Up the Jam: Inflatable Art by Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne

(Berlin.) We visited Schinkel Pavillon again, and this time we’ve been prepared. The area still looks like a ground zero, if anything, there seem to be even more craters and half finished skyscrapers than last year. In short, this is a part of Berlin where those Syrian refugees should never go as it could easily trigger traumatic flashbacks. On the other hand: Should be fun to play paintball here. Once you’ve made it to the art space, and shook the dust and debris off your hair, you’re rewarded with a nice show - this has not changed, either.

The first time you travel by train in Germany, you will inevitably be conned by a young person pushing a cart from seat to seat. S/he will approach you with a smile: “May I offer you a coffee, and a chocolate bar”?, whereupon you think: “Not that different to flying after all!”, take the plastic cup, and lie back. Then they ask for money. It’s not a language problem, Germans fall for the same trick. The term “to offer” is open to interpretation. The reason we’re telling you this is a paper sign at Schinkel Pavillon: “Donation 2 Euros”. If you don’t want to make the donation, or at least not before having seen the show, the girl behind the counter will cough and politely point at the sign. Of course, we apologized for having been lost in thought, and duly paid the “donation”.

To be fair, before performing this forced act of charity (great contradiction-in-adjecto), you may watch one video on a tablet opposite the counter. It shows somebody painting his/her fingers to poppy 80s porn music. Black- and yellow handing, passive finger-painting, probably about colour and form; for those who think, lacquered nails are not enough.

The artists, British couple Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne, have left a leaflet in form of a dialogue/interview/script (not a manifesto) to explain/remotely talk about their works in the main space, and there is either a problem with their keyboard, or thEY DELIBERATELY WANT TO SCREAM AT YOU. Hamilton and Byrne’s sculptures look like inflatable pools toys, or bouncing castles – and that’s exactly what they are! It’s irritating. In art we’ve grown so much used to Jeff Koons and his followers, when was the last time you’ve seen “inflatables” that do not actually weigh 16 tons? Art has reached a point when the consistency of appearance and content accounts to a "play on surface, surprise and fact, on viewing habits, stereotypes and spoilt expectation” itself. Honesty is the new lie. We should probably not go so far and infer a comment on an art market bubble about to burst. And better resist the temptation of creating another deflate-gate.

The sculptures are transparent, allowing in- and “through-sights”, with forms, objects and images of historic artworks printed on the surface. These include an antique behind - voluminous yet flattened-, Brancusi’s stylized Torso (we’ve never noticed before how much it looks like Tetrapod blocks used in breakwaters) and a hint at auto destruction: the constant menace of a scissors, a Damocles’ sword that only exists in appearance. Remove the third dimension from a sculpture that depicts the human body, and replace it with a nothing that is something. Air and æther. What was this video at the entrance, again? Painting on a surface, but no air behind, only water (not less transparent). Could every painting be a flayed sculpture, are these objects inflatable canvasses? Some works feature carved in speakers, and you remember, air transports sound waves, then think about resonance and fullness, about an invisible presence.

In a way, this show is silly, but there’s definitely something to it. At least we wouldn’t say, it’s just a lot of hot air.

Anthea Hamilton/Nicholas Byrne, LOVE IV: Cold Shower, 13 February-10 April, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin



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