Michael Bauer / Javier Tellez / Hagar Schmidhalter
Mind The Gap
Javier Téllez (born 1969 in Valencia/Venezuela, lives and works in New York) is one of the most internationally reputed contemporary artists: his work has been shown at many exhibitions, including Manifesta 7 in Trento, last year’s
Whitney Biennial and the Sydney Biennials in 2004 and 2008. Kunsthaus Baselland is proud to present three significant works of recent years in their full scope.
This is only the second time that his most recent film, Caligari and the Sleepwalker, is presented in an installation since it was first introduced in November 2008. Created for the exhibition Rational/Irrational at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, the film is a kind of collage from staged dialogues and documentary interviews with patients of the Vivantes Klinik in Berlin. As in almost all his films, Téllez pursues his long-standing interest in psychiatric institutions and the issues of allegedly normal and pathological behaviour. His parents being psychiatrists, Téllez was confronted with issues of societal exclusion and stigmatisation early on. The use of lay actors, including patients of psychiatric hospitals, is a recurrent feature in his films. In a dialogue with the carefully casted lay actors, Téllez forges Caligari and the Sleepwalker into a cinematographic reference to the famous silent movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene (1920). Wiene’s film is considered a milestone of expressionist filmmaking and as the first horror movie in history. In the film, a man in a dark suit tells his interlocutor the story of Dr. Caligari and his sleepwalking assistant Cesare, who is abused by his master for his murderous plans. At the end of the film it turns out, however, that the narrator is a patient at a psychiatric hospital and the presumed murderer is a doctor. The story, initially presented as serious fact, changes character and turns out to be hallucinatory. Téllez picks up on the doubts Wiene’s film arouses about which level of the story is reality and enhances them in his own version which is set against the backdrop of Erich Mendelsohn’s legendary Einstein Tower in Potsdam. Dr. Caligari (the actor-patient Hanki), for instance, presents Cesare (the actor-patient Henry Buttenberg) to a fairground audience as a strange sleepwalker from the Slave Star. Téllez has him write on a slate that "the whole Star [is] a psychiatric hospital”. In another place, Hanki, stepping out of his role as Dr. Caligari for a while, explains that he felt his psychosis as “being in a different film”. In Téllez’ film, levels of reality and fiction become inextricably entangled. He himself notes: “We could describe my practice as documentation of fictional rehearsals more than something that could either fit within the rigid categories of fiction and documentary.” (From an unpublished interview with Mark Beasley) In the exhibition the film is presented in a “house” made especially for this purpose, with the walls consisting of slate boards so that the visitors can interact with the installation by writing or drawing on the boards.
In 2004, Téllez worked with a group of female patients at the Rozelle Hospital in Sydney to produce the 2-channel video installation La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Rozelle Hospital) and Twelve and a Marionette, which – like Caligari and the Sleepwalker – makes reference to a historic movie. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1928, the silent movie La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc focuses mainly on the emotions of Jeanne d’Arc (played by the actress Maria Falconetti) — shown in close-ups of her face — in the conflict with the church inquisitors. Together with selected lay actor-patients, Téllez has created new intertitles: written with chalk on slate boards, the original sufferings of Jeanne d’Arc are turned into the story of a woman patient to be newly admitted to a clinic because of her delusions of being Jeanne d’Arc. The historical figure of Jeanne d’Arc and Dreyer’s cinematographic version of the historical story are integrated in the discourse on the institutionalisation processes of hospitals, psychiatric admission issues, medication issues and the like. The other film projected on the opposite wall, Twelve and a Marionette, tells the story of selected actor-patients and their individual experiences with disease and hospitals. The video installation is Téllez’ first work to explicitly expose and challenge the historical construction of women’s psychiatric diseases.
For the InSite Biennial, which is dedicated to art in the public sphere, Téllez developed One Flew Over the Void in 2005. In co-operation with patients of the CESAM State Psychiatric Hospital near Mexicali, the artist organised a kind of public show event. It included a patient march with signboards, various sketches, the trumpet solo of a traditional Mariachi ballad and – as the crowning highlight – a circus act where David Smith acted as a human cannonball and was shot across the border between Mexico and the USA. The piece works both as an event and as a film. The use of carnivalesque elements helps demystify complex hierarchical relationships, as the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin notes. He characterises the carnival as a “celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” (in Rabelais and His World, Indianapolis University Press, 1984, p. 10). In One Flew Over the Void, the patients wear animal masks and use signboards to attract attention to their marginalised social existence. “La realidad entre la sanidad mental y la perdida de la razón es muy tenue” (The gap between mental health and the loss of reason is very narrow), is one of the statements on the signs. By flying over the border between Playas de Tijuan and the Border Field State Park in San Diego, “Human Cannonball” David Smith vicariously mastered the leap into mental and physical freedom on behalf of many others.
“Anthem” is the first institutional exhibition of Michael Bauer (born 1973 in Erkelenz/DE, lives and works in Cologne) in Switzerland. With the title, the artist already suggests that music has a great influence on his paintings, sculptures and drawings.
At first glance Michael Bauer’s works give the impression of stemming from imaginary worlds where phantasms, psychedelic elements and various moods meet and merge into temporary form. His compositions often look as though some of the ramifications might have taken another route; there is so much movement inherent in the works that the next move is already palpable. Graphic or geometric forms, circles and framing elements appear on mud-coloured ground with condensed areas and isolated swashes. Recognisable elements often appear within the overall composition. An eye here, or even a face, a hat there, a shower head discharging colours, testicles and penises, suggested harlequins, cigarettes, pipes and, repeatedly, table-tennis bats or lines that might have been taken from the green surface of a ping-pong table. When asked about the sexual parts in his paintings, one of the answers Bauer gives is: “I believe that the phalluses (…) are rather sad attachments, robbed of their original function. Like a last sad wave of virility” (Die Figur ist Legion, MB in an interview with Stefanie Popp, cat. Borwasser, JRP/Ringier, Zurich, 2008).
Like teasers, individual shapes attract the viewer’s eye and immediately direct it to the muddy or shady mêlée of grey-brown areas, where it would get lost but for the geometric, clearly structured elements. Chessboard-like figurations, striped bars or frames reminiscent of patterned borders, frame the paintings on the top and bottom and/or both sides. They interrupt the imaginary roaming and lead the viewer back to the here and now. Michael Bauer compares his paintings with movie trailers: “The thing that the mind does when it fills in the blanks of a film that one only knows fragments of. (…) This teasing can very well be used in painting. Attractants, red herrings, a false sense of security.” (Die Figur ist Legion, op.cit.).
Bauer uses plinths in a way that this stop-mode also works for his sculptures to prevent anyone from getting too close in reality or in their imagination: “DJ Penize, for instance, consists of three plinths. The first carries the figure, the figure is the plinth for the ballpoint pen, and the latter is the plinth for the contact data of my tax advisor” (Die Figur ist Legion, op.cit.). Bauer’s sculptures intrigue by their mix of materials, with a rough wooden or cardboard plinth, glass tiles and isolated everyday objects such as nicotine patches, rice cakes, pills cast in resin or said ballpoint pen. Like in his paintings, the artist often welds together abstract compositions with very literal objective components. Here, too, he plays with the relationship of closeness and distance between work and viewer.
Together with Robert Kraiss and Florian Gass, Michael Bauer constitutes the Ylmaz House Band, whose music fellow artist Stefanie Popp describes as the “billowing sensation of the bloodstream in your veins, or, perhaps, digestive peristalsis.” The singing she defines as coming “from very deep down inside. (…) Like the unconscious turned into sound. Or the freely flowing inner pulp,” (op. cit.) and thus cleverly hits the point where music and visuals meet.
“With their irrepressible lack of rationale, Bauer’s paintings, drawings and sculptures keep telling us: you cannot rehearse a painting or an emotional reaction, and you cannot expect that the materials or your imagination will always do your bidding. A painting never is and never was an explanation — and it will always want to conceal as much as it reveals.” (Begin Again, Jennifer Higgie, cat. Borwasser, op. cit.)
Set against a blue sky with clouds and water
Hagar Schmidhalter (born 1968 in Raron, lives and works in Basel) presents her first institutional solo show at Kunsthaus Baselland, featuring works produced especially for this exhibition.
After graduating from HGK Basel the artist, who also spent time abroad on study visits in Edinburgh, London and New York, has repeatedly attracted attention in recent years for the work displayed at regional group exhibitions.
With the title of the exhibition, Set against a blue sky with clouds and water, Schmidhalter draws an imaginary picture which could also serve as a description of the images she uses for her paintings. Photographs from magazines, books or the internet which she likes for their composition, style or motif, are used by the artist for her interventions, which include over-painting in part or in toto, as well as other types of appropriation and integration in her installations or exhibition contexts.
A photograph from the shooting of Wild at Heart, for instance, is used in an installation with violet painting. Schmidhalter soaked a canvas in metallised varnish and the slowly drying paint made the texture of the plastic foil underneath stand out, which in turn corresponded with the leather jacket of the actor on the photograph from the film set. The experimental creative process informs the surface appearance of the painting: the amount of paint that leaks through, the drying process and the transformation into the surface structure of the underlying foil — these are the elements that control the character of the painting.
An image of the Fallingwater building by architect Frank Lloyd Wright is the point of departure for a floor-piece involving synthetic resin on plastic foil. The photograph shows how outside and indoor spaces have been defined by a different treatment of the floor with a matte and glossy surface finish, respectively. In Schmidhalter’s work, too, the differences in structure, blank spots and accumulations of paint, are determined by the application of the paint, the folds in the foil, the drying and “defoliating” process. Schmidhalter places the floor-piece at the window of the exhibition space and deliberately integrates the effect of daylight in the composition.
Spatiality also plays an important role in the artistic strategy in Mantelpiece. Individual paper bags have been glued together and painted with several layers of varnish. The existing wrinkles and folds in the paper, together with individual cuts made by the artist after painting, give the wall-piece a three-dimensional structure which reflects the incident light in different ways and makes the work seem to follow the contours of an imaginary object underneath.
Continuing a strategy she repeatedly employed in recent years, Hagar Schmidhalter explores and experiments with painting processes. She takes up a historical discourse around monochrome painting, which she has recently complemented by responding to the issue of painting supports. Steven Parrino’s paintings, twisted off and around stretchers in an attempt to get rid of their corsets, served as inspiration to Schmidhalter’s work. Schmidhalter, too, challenges the limits of the canvas and the relationship between surface structures and spaces. The exhibition at Kunsthaus Baselland is the first event that presents examples of these investigations.
Image: Javier Téllez, Caligari und der Schlafwandler, 2008; Ausstellungsansicht, 2009
Marianne Baviera email@example.com
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