Carey Young examines law as a conceptual and abstract space in which power, rights, and authority are played out through varying forms of performance and language. "Collection on Display" presents works by Monica Bonvicini, Heidi Bucher, Tom Burr, Urs Fischer, Pamela Rosenkranz, Markus Schinwald and Cathy Wilkes. They engage with the psychological, emotional charging of spatial structures and architectures as places of recollection.
Curator Raphael Gygax
Carey Young (b. 1970, lives and works in London) uses a variety of media to explore the relationships between the body, language, rhetoric, and systems of power. Her exhibition at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst is her first solo show in Switzerland and the first to focus on her innovative body of work featuring law and legal language. The show will include a number of new commissions that are contextualised by various earlier works.
Young’s law-based works address the monolithic power of the legal system. The artist examines law as a conceptual and abstract space in which power, rights, and authority are played out through varying forms of performance and language. With the drafting assistance of legal advisers, her works often take the form of experimental but functional legal instruments such as contracts, and also employ media such as video, installation, and text. The works in the show call law’s authority into question and create slippages in the law by playfully adopting as well as disrupting its forms and methods and by highlighting its gaps, ambiguities, and subjectivities.
Declared Void II (2013) consists of a large-scale legal text in black vinyl with a wall drawing which delineates a corner of the gallery. The text takes the form of a contract in which American citizenship is offered to the viewer, in return for the viewer entering the performative ‘platform’ created by the work. Whilst clearly a fictional proposition, the piece offers a contractual agreement with the artist in which the viewer can enter and share the artist’s hallucinatory proposition. Developed from an ongoing interest in legal ‘black holes’, in which law is used to create zones with unclear legal status and rights, the piece conflates the aesthetics of minimalism and conceptual art with ideas of migrancy and offers a potent political provocation.
By and Between (after Bernd and Hilla Becher) (2013) is a photographic and text piece which includes a seminal work by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gasbehälter Zeche Concordia, Oberhausen. D. 1969, consisting of two photographs of an empty and full gas tank, which is part of the collection of the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst. With the consent of Hilla Becher, a photographic duplicate of this work was created. The original Becher piece and its copy hang side by side, together with a found selection of ‘doublets’ – legal pairs of words such as ‘null and void’ or ‘will and testament’ – familiar from English legal documents as a kind of emphatic and excessive rhetorical device. Young, however, uses them to suggest varied interpretations of her act of appropriation.
We the People (after Pierre Cavellat) (2013) is a large-scale photographic work, featuring a judge’s robe and wig hung on a domestic garden washing line. Made in reference to a French judge and amateur artist, Pierre Cavellat, who created artistic works surreptitiously while judging courtroom trials, the image reworks a snapshot made by Cavellat at the start of his retirement. Young here considers law in relation to performance, and compares the official state role of the judge with the private and vulnerable sphere of the body, whilst the costume’s position subtly suggests a moment of submission or servitude.
The Just series (2013) is a pair of framed prints in which text appears as a subtle white impression on paper. The phrases ‘JUST’ and ‘AS IS’ are legal terms which, to the artist, seem to balance between having ‘something’ and ‘nothing’, or between visual and experiential. Legal Maxims (2013) is a work consisting of a pair of legal phrases created in white neon. The phrases, ‘WRONG IN ITSELF’ and ‘NOBODY’S THING’, are legal maxims – an ancient and basic form of establishing logic or ideal within the legal field – which operate as a kind of rhetorical shorthand, intended to assist judges in deciding the outcome of cases. Contrary to the precision considered so fundamental to law, and selected by the artist for their philosophical suggestiveness, they seem inherently ambiguous and suggestive of slippages at the core of legal thinking. Unintentional Silence (2013) is a giveaway multiple. Visitors can take a card on which is printed a contractual text: “By taking this card, and at any time you carry it, your silence will be deemed to be unintentional silence.”
In the video Uncertain Contract (2008) we see an actor playfully perform a script composed of legal terms from a commercial contract. The specific terms of the contract have been omitted, leading to an “uncertain” contract in which meaning is open to interpretation. Counter Offer (2008) is a two-part text work containing an offer and a counter offer for the viewer, each with a utopian theme centring on human rights. These offers create a legal loop in which both clauses cancel each other out in ‘mid air’. Through the act of reading, the piece both erases itself and ‘withdraws’.
Obsidian Contract (2010) features a legal contract written backwards and reflected in a black mirror, a device associated with witchcraft and the occult, as well as with the Romantic tradition in painting. The text proposes the exhibition space visible in the mirror as a new area of publicly-owned land, in which certain activities considered illegal in public space at different times, such as the grazing of animals or sexual activity, are made permissible.
Missing Mass (2010) is a sculptural work featuring dark matter particles and a legal disclaimer which proposes the particles as the only truly free entities in existence. Report of the Legal Subcommittee (2010) is a print featuring a map of the stars together with a found transcription of a United Nations meeting in which various international delegations declare frustration with their failed efforts to devise a legal definition of outer space. This admission seems to hold rich poetic and comic potential, the human attempts to bureaucratize outer space seemingly frustrated by the sublime scale and mystery of its infinite depths.
Young’s law works are given further context by the presentation of two projects which engage with ideas of corporate language and control. Product Recall (2007) is a video featuring the artist in the midst of a session with a psychoanalyst. In a deadpan manner she is asked to remember the names of global companies associated with a series of advertising slogans centred on creativity. The Body Techniques series (2007) consists of large colour photographs featuring Carey Young, dressed in a suit, reworking a number of canonical performance works associated with conceptual art. Surrounding her we see a series of depopulated, vast building sites in the United Arab Emirates which are used as "stages" for the artist’s actions, with the artist appearing as one tiny individual, overwhelmed, dislocated from, or even belittled by the corporate surroundings, while dressed up to play a role within it.
Here and throughout her work, Young explores how corporate and legal culture progressively pervade and reshape all domains of life. A disarming humour and a sense of the vulnerability of the body add piquancy to the apparent seriousness of her subject matter.
Carey Young has presented her work in numerous solo exhibitions since 2000, including at Le Quartier – Centre d’art contemporain de Quimper (2013), the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (2010, 2007), the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, and The Power Plant, Toronto (both in 2009); she participated in the Taipei Biennial in 2010, the Moscow Biennial in 2007 and 2013, the Sharjah Biennial in 2005, Performa 05 Biennial of Visual Art Performance, and the Venice Biennial in 2003. She has also recently participated in group exhibitions at Tate Liverpool (2013), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2012), the New Museum, New York (2011), MoMA/PS1, New York (2010) and Tate Britain (2010).
The artist is grateful for the legal advice of Robert Lands, Partner, HowardKennedyFsi LLP, Dr. Jaime Stapleton, and Matthias Studer. Carey Young would also like to thank Hilla Becher. Financial support towards the development of the new commissions was provided by the Slade School of Art and the Grand Challenges Small Grants Scheme, both at University College London.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a monograph, entitled “Subject to Contract”, which presents an overview of Carey Young’s works from 2003 to 2013 and includes essays by Martha Buskirk, Raphael Gygax, and Tirdad Zolghadr. The monograph is published by JRP|Ringier and Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst.
Collection on Display
Monica Bonvicini, Heidi Bucher, Tom Burr, Urs Fischer, Pamela Rosenkranz, Markus Schinwald, Cathy Wilkes
Curator Judith Welter
Collection on Display presents selected works from the collection of the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in changing exhibitions. A new three-part cycle on functions, possibilities, models and interpretations of space and interiors in contemporary art begins in the second half of 2013. The installations shown in the next three exhibitions address specific spatial arrangements or form a self-contained space within a space. In the first section, works by Monica Bonvicini, Heidi Bucher, Tom Burr, Urs Fischer, Pamela Rosenkranz, Markus Schinwald and Cathy Wilkes can be seen. These works engage with the psychological, emotional charging of spatial structures and architectures as places of recollection.
The artistic involvement with spatial issues in recent decades has seen profound engagement, in terms of both content and form. In installational formats, very different spatial models are being transferred from the private domain, but also from the public domain, into the exhibition space. Artists are also reflecting on the potential of such settings by means of three-dimensional arrangements. An "aesthetics of installation", as formulated by art historian Juliane Rebentisch, in the sense of a resistance against an objectivist concept of art, can be traced back to modern and postmodern efforts to break open the two-dimensional, but also institutional isolation of the artwork, as demonstrated, for instance, by Kurt Schwittersʼ Merzbau (1920-1936), El Lissitzkyʼs Proun Room (1923) and, later, Allan Kaprowʼs installational happenings. With regard to the spatial framing, the museum or institution in an architectural, but also contextual sense, the installations shown in the exhibition form a space within a space, which sets itself apart from the exterior by means of clear boundaries, so that the visitor is confronted with various spatial shifts. In the sense of the Foucauldian description of space as heterotopia, the museum in particular has the ability to bring together several spaces, which are actually incompatible, in one place. The works shown in the first section of this exhibition reflect the psychological aspects of space. Pathologies, such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia or acrophobia metaphorically represent the relationship between the space and its "inhabitants". Here, the space becomes a place of perceptions, such as anxiety, passion or excitement, but also a carrier of memories. The psychological space is closely linked to the issue of physical presence or absence, which in turn is related to the paradigm of (physical) experienceability, which is central to the definition of installation.
Since the 1990s, Monica Bonvicini (*1965) has been exploring the ways in which architecture’s gender- specific power structures can be read, and can function, as a psychosocial sphere. Modernism makes a fetish of architecture and its forms for purposes of power, and reflects the manifest gender relationships within it particularly clearly. The interrelationships between architecture, power, politics, and the radicalism and aggression intrinsic to them are made clear by the materials with which the artist works.
She primarily uses raw, industrial substances, thus making sculptural installations out of steel, safety glass, fences, metal chains or bricks. The installation A Romance (2003) consisting of glass segments fitted between two steel girders and interrupted by various openings, takes up the whole width of the exhibition space as a dividing spatial unit. The safety glass, which Bonvicini has beaten with a hammer in some places so that it shows signs of forceful impact and destruction, has been given thick black coats of car paint. The text that can be seen across the various segments ("It seems to depend on a romance of prostitution") quotes a sentence from Sigmund Freud’s definition of agoraphobia, the spatial fear of open places. On his search for its causes, Freud arrived at the finding that this phenomenon is not due to any hereditary predisposition, but is instead caused by "abnormalities of sexual life". Freud sees the reasons for agoraphobia (which according to him occurs particularly frequently among women) and its associated fear of setting foot on the streets, or in public places, alone at night, as being directly linked to a suppressed desire to wander about on the street. In Freud’s historical context, prostitutes were granted this freedom, while according to the current societal norm at the time, the woman’s place was in the home. Psychoanalysis assigns spaces (which always also reflect an architecture of the interior) a central position and furnishes them with gender-typical stipulations. Bonvicini’s safety glass, which is broken through and maltreated in places and, like a window, can be read as a transition to the outside world, is a reference to the possible forms of rebellion against the stipulated spatial power structures. At the same time, the dividing wall, via its materiality, also refers to architectural modernism, which assigns the attributes of transparency and democracy to the material glass.
Heidi Bucher (1926–1993) became famous for her so-called latex "skinnings" of interior spaces in various buildings. This artist’s work is characterised by an organic, corporeal materiality. The use of pearlescent pigment, fabrics and ephemeral materials like latex or rubber milk turn the house into a human covering, like a dress. From the end of the 1970s onwards, beginning with the skinning of Borg, her studio space in Zurich, Bucher worked on a series of latex skinnings, which she carried out on rooms or entire houses, but also on individual pieces of furniture. The walls and surfaces of the rooms and objects to be skinned were lined with a textile fabric and subsequently coated with liquid latex. Piece by piece, Bucher pulled the dried skins from their supports in a performance-based feat. What remained was a thin, flexible and transparent skin, bearing an imprint of the room or fitment. The 1987 work Hautraum (Ricks Kinderzimmer, Lindgut Winterthur) [in English: Skin Room (Rick’s Nursery, Lindgut Winterthur)] is part of the central group of skinning works from the Ahnenhaus (House of Ancestors) in Winterthur. Room by room, Bucher skinned this (then empty) family-owned 19th-century villa, the architectural structures of which reflect the hierarchies of a traditionally, patriarchally oriented family.
For the artist, this house, in which she grew up, is a place laden with memories. Bucher turns the intimate, the personal and the domestic outwards; the skinning of the House of Ancestors becomes a cathartic process. Pulling off of the latex skin from the wooden walls is like stripping of one’s own skin, which envelops the body in a similar way to a garment. Preserving the traces of the past on the thin latex walls simultaneously enables an element of transformation that achieves a distancing of the past. This process transfers memory and traces of time to an ephemeral state, the durability of which is uncertain. Like a skin, the initially transparently shimmering latex walls are roughened and discoloured by the aging process. However, the processual element does not end with the skins of the rooms. Bucher also let the removal of the finished rooms become part of the work. One of the skin rooms from the house of ancestors was lifted away from its place of origin with a crane. The transition from the real room to the "room skin" thus becomes particularly clear. In a functionless and placeless room, an object in a state of limbo, this is transparent and yet a reproduction of the original architecture. What remains behind is an emptied house, cleansed of the past.
In his photographs, sculptures, installations and drawings, Tom Burr (*1963) has been addressing architectures and their political dimension, as well as the structuring of public spaces, since the end of the 1980s. On the basis of his formal vocabulary of signs, which comes from minimal art, he creates surfaces, with which he reveals societal power structures and simultaneously reflects the potential of minimalist aesthetics. This post-minimalist language of signs is interspersed with elements of pop culture, music culture, gay culture and underground culture, thus acquiring a societal level of meaning. The form of Oblong Box # 4 (2002), a black sculpture fixed onto the wall, alludes to the tabooing of same- gender male sexuality and its existence in the niches of the public space. However, the title also refers to a short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. This tale is about a traveller crossing from Charleston to New York by ship. Among his fellow travellers, he discovers his friend, the artist Cornelius Wyatt. The first-person narrator asks himself what is contained in the box that the morose Wyatt is taking with him in his cramped cabin. He assumes it is a famous painting, a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. However, rather than a painting, the box contains the artist’s wife, who has died unexpectedly, and whom Wyatt wants to bring to his mother-in-law. A maid travels with Wyatt in an additionally booked berth, playing the role of his wife as cover. The oblong box and the cramped cabins serve as the stage for an eerie drama, which revolves around societal conventions. Burr’s minimalist wooden box, in contradiction of its plain aesthetics, thus becomes a carrier of meaning for various cultural allusions.
The work of Urs Fischer (*1973) is characterised by the always masterly, experimental and unpretentious handling of heterogeneous materials, media and perspectives, which refer to various artistic and art- historical styles and movements. In a playful and subtly ironic manner, Fischer defamiliarises, invokes and collages everyday objects and settings, as well as motifs from high culture and popular culture. Always using new techniques, Fischer combines famous images, or image worlds, with objects, defunctionalising them or placing them in a humorous or seemingly absurd context. The 1997 work Leiter (Ladder) comes from a group of works that incorporate the art-historical trope of shadow casting. A normal aluminium ladder from a hardware shop appears to cast a shadow on the wall, which at second glance turns out to be a painted image. The resulting trompe-l’œil effect, like the pieces of furniture in other installations by Fischer, evokes an odd and uncanny mood. The chair, for instance, also acts as an ever-recurring motif. Fischer’s chairs are not readymades, in that they are not fitments destined for use; instead, he recreates them and defamiliarises them at the same time. The cobbled-together and self-made objects are divested of their traditional function. These spatial intimations are accompanied by the representation of that which is human, created by Fischer, for example, by means of melting self-portraits made of wax, or by means of skeletons and body parts made of synthetic materials.
The juxtaposition of such motifs, which are iconographically loaded with significance, belongs to the artist’s repeatedly used vocabulary of forms. They evoke a space that cannot be read clearly, or that perhaps no longer exists, a space that is rendered meaningless and anonymous by the absence of protagonists.
In his films, photographs and installations, Markus Schinwald (*1973) devises an aesthetically charged panopticon, in which, in a peculiar way, the human being is the central subject of observation: bodily extensions, prostheses and mechanical apparatuses transform people into puppets and simultaneously give mechanical engineering a life of its own. However, issues regarding the spatial context also form a central reference framework for Schinwald’s works. In the 2004 film work 1st Part Conditional, a traditional Biedermeier flat with its occupants becomes a psycho-architectural theater. The interior design and the architectural style of the 19th century refer to a bygone Vienna, the artist’s home city and the birthplace of psychoanalysis. At the centre, is a female androgynous protagonist wearing a grey suit. The initially sitting figure suddenly struggles through the room, driven by spasmodic movements. Whatever is guiding the convulsions and contortions, be it an inner state forcing its way out, or an external invisible force causing the protagonist to move, remains unclear. From a corner of the room, she is observed by a calmly sitting male figure, whereby his role, between witness and initiator, also remains open. During the course of the film, the movement begins to transfer to the flat’s furniture, which collapses in on itself to an increasing extent. As it is typical of Schinwald’s films, a text consisting of poetic and scientific text fragments is recited in a voiceover. The film portrays a self-contained, psychologically charged interior world, which comes apart at the seams for reasons that are inexplicable or not apparent. Here, the space and the body are, in equal measure, carriers and witnesses of internal tensions and emotional states.
The works of Pamela Rosenkranz (*1979) deal with philosophically complex issues in a conceptual manner. They address the significance of materiality and immateriality, but also the presence and absence of the body as a metaphor for possible human states of existence in a consumption-oriented society. Furthermore, the plain materials that Rosenkranz uses and the minimalist aesthetics point to art-historical references. Situated in front of a wall that has been painted in a skin tone, is a pair of ASICS-branded trainers, filled with blue silicone and rendered useless by this intervention. The colour used for the painting of the wall is from a colour palette in the Ralph Lauren interior design product line Home. Rosenkranz thus establishes an association with a series of works that juxtapose various skin tones (for instance in the form of pigmented silicone, as in the series Firm Being, which began in 2009) with an intense ultramarine blue. The artificiality of the blue counteracts the pastel skin tones, which were traditionally made by mixing pigments with human blood. In the absence of an actual body, the immediate effect of human skin colour evokes a peculiar corporeality. Traces of human presence are also embodied visually by means of the trainers. The blue tone used for the dyed silicone compound is that of IKB (International Klein Blue), which has been patented by the artist. Just as Ralph Lauren declares mixed colour tones to be a brand, IKB becomes an artist’s commercially exploitable, yet immaterial brand. In this world, interspersed with immaterial and material values, the human being is continually compelled to optimize themselves and to shape themselves, as is also publicised by the brand ASICS, which stands for the Latin phrase "anima sana in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body). The title of the 2011 work The Wild Blue Me refers to the English expression "wild blue yonder", which describes the absolute blue of the sky in the sense of a physical, corporeal experience. It is said that the corporeal fusion with the sky, for instance during skydiving, enables a dissolution of this world and the next. Here, space (also in the sense of a human living space) becomes a projection screen, on which the desire for mental and physical "fitness" is reflected.
The ephemeral installations by Cathy Wilkes (*1966) are made up of many individual fragments that form a pictorial spatial framework. Paint and wood flake away, thus bearing witness to the fleeting nature of the objects. Situated on the tables that structure the spatial framework of the 2001 work Our Misfortune, as well as on the floor, among the worn garden furniture, are fine geometric wooden figures, which appear to be made of iron or steel when seen from afar, and which are based on a modernist language of forms. Various fragile objects lie distributed across the floor: a shrivelled slice of cucumber, as inserted in hamburgers, and several little pieces of wood, which are so subtle that it is only upon closer inspection that they can be identified as part of the installation. All objects appear to be connected by invisible threads and to interrelate within a reference system. Harboured within the mysteriousness of the arrangement, but also in the counteracting effect that the items (which are afflicted with memory and emotions by signs of wear) have on the cool paintings and sculptures (which refer to modernist forms), is a poetic element that creates an auratic impression, which is also intrinsic to modern art. Wilkes explores the possible pictorial nature of a sculptural, object-like arrangement of items. At the same time, she takes up a questioning of modernism, in that she repeats the paradigm of giving forms an auratic charge. However, in her installations, this does not occur by means of a divestment of meaning and symbolism, like that seen in modernism, but instead via personal, emotional charging, which becomes apparent in the act of precise arranging and the selection of private, domestic items, some of which refer to her own family (such as the tie hanging down on the sunbeds).
They bear a symbolism that can often be decoded via the artist’s biography. The patina that covers the arranged items and tells the story of their use refers not only to the items own signs of use, but also to those of the employed repertoire of forms, which is also marked by historical applications in various contexts. In Wilkes works, the engagement with a modernist canon of forms is coupled with a subjective approach, which depicts the personal, biographical cosmos of the artist. With Wilkes, space is a place of personal recollection.
In collaboration with the research project “Anagrammatic Spaces: Interiors in Contemporary Art” of the Institute of Art History at the University of Berne, a three-part program of events on space and interiors in contemporary art will be held in conjunction with the Collection on Display exhibition series.
“Daheim. Überlegungen zu einer Topografie des intimen Seins”
Thu 9/19, 7 pm.
Lecture by Dr. Andreas Cremonini (in German)
Dr. Andreas Cremonini studied philosophy, art history, and German literature in Basel and Berlin and received a Ph.D. in philosophy.
“Towards Minor Architecture”
Thu 10/3, 7 p.m.
Lecture by Adam Budak (in English)
Adam Budak is an independent curator of contemporary art. He has worked at Kunsthaus Graz, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. and other institutions and curated the Estonian pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.
The event series will continue on December 5 with a lecture by Dr. Nina Möntmann.
Image: Carey Young, Uncertain contract, 2008
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Opening: Friday, August 30, 2013, 6–8pm
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