IN MY GRILL
Some of the constellations consisting of paintings mounted on wooden structures in Øystein Aasan's solo-show SOLO-SHOW at PSM Gallery in Berlin (April 29th – June 4th 2011) almost resembled fish caught in a fisherman's net. However, when trying to pin down some of the elements in the show it is evident that there are some glitches in the art lingo. Formally, the show consisted of more paintings than wooden structures, and not all of the paintings were mounted on the structures. The paintings, made by using workshop tools instead of regular brushes, can in most cases be regarded as either completely abstract paintings or paintings depicting grids or nets depending on how you choose to look upon them. The wooden structures that the paintings were hung on, can either be described as wooden grids or simply structures for walls - without the walls, so to say. The press release for the exhibition informs that the structures are “display units” which are custom-made but not themselves part of the work. Instead, one is to regard the units as something that “frame the work in a way that multiplies the element of the grid.” To most visitors to the gallery, it must however have been difficult to differentiate the structures from the work, i.e. the paintings, as the paintings and the structures were not only interconnected/mounted with each other, but the formal aspects of the grid were the common denominators which enhanced their connection with each other.
More than simply being the backdrop, or the enhancer, of the works (paintings), the structures were highly compelling and stood out as elements of interest by their own, and not only because the material used somehow was reminiscent to JR Ewing's veneer coated office. So, instead of concentrating on the paintings, i.e. the “real work”, and by the risk of pissing the artist off, I'd like to instead propose another focus: on how the artist decided to frame the work, that is, the so called “display units” themselves, even though admittedly one cannot deny its strong connection with the paintings. This, as the structures can be contested, are more important than one at first would think, and also as they prove very difficult to categorize.
The units can be viewed in many different ways, and to be reduced to merely a frame for the main works seems to, at the least, be unfair. This, even though it of course very tempting to see these structures as one of the last in the succession of frames starting with the voluptuous frames painted with gold that came to birth in the age of the salons. In the classic salon-period where the paintings were hung chaotically, almost on top of each other and on to the empire-red wall, it was very difficult for the viewer to focus on one painting at a time as the eye wandered from one painting to another. The “invention” of the golden frame came to the retinas rescue and made it possible to focus on only one painting at the time. This way one were able to isolate one moment/painting after another. This is an interesting thought to follow up on, especially in connection with another work by Aasan (in collaboration with curator Marianne Zamecznik) produced for the Momentum Biennial in Moss which opened in June 2011. This work could of course be seen as an exhibition-architecture, plain and simple, as it consisted of white walls, dividing the exhibition space into smaller white cubes which were “framing” one artist's works from the other's. However, the structure proved to be much more than this, and the relation with the display units for his SOLO-SHOW at PSM is indeed important to mention. The structures at PSM did not constitute complete walls due to their see-through feature, but their function as dividers of the space works in the same way as actual walls. To instead embrace a category of modernistic sculptures would though come easy for these units. Even more easy would be to regard the units as minimalistic structures and somehow as a relative to Donald Judd's installation works, or “specific objects”, that uses space in itself as its medium. To regard the large walls in Momentum (“complete” white walls as in opaque instead of transparent) as simply design or architecture would be unfair. But then again, the structure's ability to be categorized as a sculpture would again be incorrect, as the structure here has an ulterior and ultimate motif for existence, this being an utilitarian one – to hang other artist's works on it. The structures at PSM, similarly to those in Momentum, was made for the reason to hang works on it, but had somewhat of an opposite goal as the structure at Momentum as the structures at PSM made it possible to look at several works at the time and hence be able to make cross-references and comparisons with the works displayed. But the differences to the structures are of less importance than the likenesses'.
The structure at Momentum Kunsthall which was dividing the exhibition space into many, much smaller, spaces by using multiple X-shaped walls, was imposing and absolutely impossible to ignore, just like the units at PSM. The Momentum walls could not be regarded only as “neutral white cube walls” as it didn't only shape the pattern on how one moved within the space, but also how one were to view all the other works (and only one artist at a time) but also how one navigated in this veritable sea of walls as well as the tempo one used to walk the exhibition through. One was forced to contemplate one work, or one artist's work, at the time, creating a pause before entering a new space. As a curatorial strategy this is absolutely to be considered as a disaster if one would have wanted to somehow lead the spectator into a particular line of thoughts by interconnecting different works in juxtaposition with each other, but as an artistic work it becomes quite demanding as it prompts on the spectator's entire attention as some sort of meta-work, or über-work to the whole exhibition in fact.
The experience on had in the Momentum-hall was like a lab rat in a labyrinth, or like in perhaps a more adequate analogy: as a visitor at an art fair, cruising the booths. Never would it come to mind to consider the regular and very anti-sexy walls at an art fair as an art work in itself, however Aasan and Zamecznik's effort added considerable value than simply design or architecture as it demanded something from the visitor: it demanded its own visibility and physicality. Just like the structures/units at PSM. It would be impossible to (dis)regard the structures merely as display units as it definitely has a momentum and monumentality in itself. One of the main goals with Aasan and Zamecznik's structure according to their co-written catalog text, was to structure the experience of the viewer. This was also what happened in the case of the units at PSM. The structure is not labeled as an art work in the catalog of the exhibition, even though Aasan is mentioned as an artist. The work seems to be in the same sort of limbo as in the case in PSM, also as it certainly not is nor to be considered architecture, sculpture or merely display enhancers, neither to be curatorial work.
An analogy to the philosopher Ludvig Wittgenstein thoughts are unfortunately unavoidable, as he regarded the reality to be understood through a “logical grid”. The logic is in itself a sort of scaffolding, a coordinate system of possibilities. The net or the grid is used as a metaphor to describe the relation between logic and the world. The net itself says nothing about reality but the reality can be described with(in) such a net (think “language” as a grid, for instance). The world is seen through this network or scaffolding of a logical structure, which of course doesn't determine anything in itself real, but the structure provides mere form, the framework, upon which all the content of reality is built. Aasan's structures/scaffolding/units described here are similarly both taking the “back-seat” while at the same time becomes completely dominant to how one is to understand, to comprehend or interpret the things it isolates. As demanding it may be to speak about the grid in itself, whether we are speaking about Wittgenstein's logical scaffolding or Aasan's units, it keeps getting all up in our grill, and proves thus important to emphasize and to place in the foreground. It is crucial to find a new structure, or a different language, grid, that would enable us to speak about it other than a “via negativa”. A work that pushes the columbarium of categories, especially by being boundaries in itself, to this point is nothing if not congenial.
Images: Øystein Aasan