Anna-Sophie Berger (born 1989 in Vienna) is the first winner of the Kapsch Contemporary Art Prize, established to promote young artists who live and work mainly in Austria.
Whilst being young Anna-Sophie Berger has already been able to enter into the art discussion both in Europe and the US, and is probably one of the most interesting personalities in this last generation of artists, not only for her ability in making artworks but also for her capacity to relatethem with an intellectual and verbal structure.
Her research is based on objects and their relation to us. In the Mumok solo exhibition titled Places to fight and to make up the center of the show, at least at first glance, is Parabolic Reflector (2016), comprising two specular and opposite parabolic concrete dishes. The two elements were taken ready made from a park near the appartment Anna-Sophie Berger used to live in, with all the traces left from the people populating this space in their everyday life: tags, lines, words, symbols, etc.
As a piece it incorporates many of the issues upon which Anna-Sophie’s work is based.
This work immediately brings the viewer to enter a space of intimacy, a quality that we can also find in other pieces. One is invited to approach one of the concrete structures but a second person at the other side is needed to fully comprehend the work. Whispering in one of them the parabolas can be used as an acoustic system allowing communication with another person. The duality is a crucial aspect, and in this case it is a double duality: the work is comprised of two interconnected elements as is the case also with the first work by Berger that I saw in person (When I am with you / When I am not there, 2014) in 2015 as part of a show organized at the Cura Basement space in Rome. Two light coats of silk and cotton made by the artist are knotted at the wrists, as if holding one another’s hands.
But in the case of Parabolic Reflector there is also another dual aspect, since the work is made of something stable, or durable I would say, and something unstable and invisible, the concrete on one side and the voices and and the sound waves moving from ear to ear on the other side.
It is something we can find also in older works where coates/garments are soaked with water or even mud and left on the floor, or on walls, drying and, in the case of the mud coat, leaving a trace. It is a second element added to the work that become somehow the soul of the piece in itself. Something evanescent, with a tendency to disappear or to change relatively quickly its status, sometimes invisible and impalpable that we can conceive of only in our mind and with a certain epidermic feeling, paired with an idea of energy released from an ongoing physical process.
The sensation of a flux in progress, a certain performative attitude while leaving traces is present in all her work. There is a movement that becomes symbolic that relates to the process of falling. We see many things placed on the floor, or in the act of falling down, or laying down: sometimes softly, sometimes more dramatically. All these things carry the sensation of a collapse, a physical one that cannot avoid being perceived as conceptual and personal, even if this is maybe unintentional or is not openly declared. I couldn’t avoid thinking about a famous quote from Finnegans Wake where James Joyce posits “First we feel. Then we fall”. The traces left behind are the traces of a relict that become a relic itself as highlighted in the titles of the two framed works on paper (Choicest Relic (1) and (2), 2016) also on view in the Mumok exhibition. Two candid pieces of paper, probably cut from a long roll have their surface corrugated by contact with a wet coat.
The maturity of Anna-Sophie Berger’s practice reveals itself through the never-ending ambiguity that can be seen in all her works, making objects that move around the edge of a certain social and political instability, sucking energies and fears from it, disquiets and hopes, but never embracing them directly. In the gallery at the museum we furthermore see broken benches (do consider these models are almost indestructible) that could have been taken from a common beer garden, yet again from a public space that people use to congregate and have fun in. But they don’t have the lapidary aspect full of dead of the ones made by Jenny Holzer for example. The broken benches seems to be more the result of a violent clash between hooligans. They could also be connected with a wider history as suggested by the stickers (Atlas, 2016) attached to them and on the surrounding floor. These stickers brings forth an image relating both to a historical and contemporary Greek context.
There is a sense of radical social change that subtly runs through the whole show. And these tensions culminate in the piece Drunk or Dead? (2016). It is a white paper Joker, a symbolic figure capable of connecting an idea of political overturning with a more personal and individual attitude that we often relate to the figure of an artist. The silhouette on the floor is fixed by different types of bottles and cans and it alludes to an older work in the show, a hat (Trivial Pursuit, 2013), also on view. Made from four different hats cut to pieces and reassembled in a harlequin style it hangs on the wall as do two sheets of drawings (Spider’s Drawings (necklace) and Spider Drawings (handcuffs), 2016) where the artist pairs a linguistic shifting with the drawing of a choker.
Like with these last drawings, the starting point for Anna-Sophie Berger in realizing an artwork is often connected loosely with her biography, but this story is not told openly. What remains is the feeling of it somewhat under the surface, as something subtly present and evoked by the presence of family members or the strict circle of friends that she uses in exhibited images. In this aspect particularly I sense a certain affinity to Felix Gonzalez-Torres and the use of tenderness and intimacy as a political tool of subtle revolution. I feel this connection in the use of the objects as vessels for a psychological climate, for emotional states and as a tool of communication with others. The works refer to strategies that foster human relations while we see a lot of textiles and everyday objects, printed matter in the work of both artists, and an importance placed on the use of food.
Anna-Sophie Berger’s works with and around food can be seen too as an engagement with possibilities of safekeeping and taking care of one another. Finally there is the smallest and yet one of the strongest work in the exhibition, a little Pea Earring (2015) stuck in the wall, almost invisible, and made of a pea seed framed in a silver support.
There is a lot to say also about her use of words and language, but I think in this exhibition it is more important to focus on other aspects. I just want to point out the relevance of the catalogue to the show – actually not a catalogue but more so a piece among the others – or as I should say a Manual, as it is titled. It is different from any other printed matter I saw recently accompanying an exhibition as it is somehow in between an artist book and a small guide to understanding the show. On the right pages there are all the texts, many from Anna-Sophie Berger herself, while every left page displays images from different sources: some are work documentations, others are taken from Instagram or the Internet, some are suggestions (taken or found) which are important for the artist. They appear on these pages like images to be scrolled through on a website or blog, breaking with the tradition of how pages are conventionally edited.
Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today is the first major thematic group exhibition in the United States to examine the radical impact of internet culture on visual art.
Featuring 60 artists, collaborations, and collectives, the exhibition is comprised of over 70 works across a variety of mediums, including painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video, web-based projects, and virtual reality. Themes explored in the exhibition include emergent ideas of the body and notions of human enhancement; the internet as a site of both surveillance and resistance; the circulation and control of images and information; the possibilities for exploring identity and community afforded by virtual domains; and new economies of visibility accelerated by social media. Throughout, the work in the exhibition addresses the internet-age democratization of culture that comprises our current moment. Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today is organized by Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with Jeffrey De Blois, Curatorial Associate.
“Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today shows the extraordinary changes in contemporary art that have developed alongside the rise of the internet. Our exhibition looks at the implications of these changes—and our understanding of self, privacy, community, and virtual and physical space—and the ways that artists convey, explore, and challenge them,” said Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director.
“Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today explores how all art—whether painting or moving images, sculpture or photography, websites or performance—has been radically transformed by the cultural impact of the internet,” said Respini.
“The exhibition also establishes important historical links between ideas pioneered by artists before the internet age and artists working today.”
The earliest work in the exhibition is from 1989, the year that Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory outside of Geneva, Switzerland. This development, and others that followed in quick succession, modernized the internet, and in the process radically changed our way of life―from how we shop, make friends, and share experiences, to how we imagine our future bodies and how nations police national security. The development of the internet after 1989 engendered the introduction of new digital technologies, allowing for the now ubiquitous platforms for social media and communication, and the massive proliferation of images of all kinds, drastically altering the ways in which we access and generate information. 1989 also marked a watershed moment across the globe, with significant shifts in politics, geographies, and economies. Events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and protests in Tiananmen Square signaled the beginning of our current globalized age, which cannot be imagined without the internet.
Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today is divided into five thematic sections: “Networks and Circulation,” “Hybrid Bodies,” “Virtual Worlds,” “States of Surveillance,” and “Performing the Self.”
In “Networks of Circulation” artists working with objects, images, and materials aggregated from the endless stream of information proliferating online and off explore the widespread social and political impact of our previously unimaginable level of interconnectivity, often pointing to how an accelerated image economy increasingly structures our everyday experience.
The age-old question “what does it mean to be human?” remains critically important, and takes on new urgency in today’s technologically mediated societies. Artists in “Hybrid Bodies” explore various related subjects, as well as how the body remains a site for politics, history, and contestation amidst the increasing complexity of science, politics, and international relations.
In “Virtual Worlds,” artists explore the aesthetic possibilities of computer-generated spaces as sites of production and inquiry, even as they mark the increasing elision between the virtual and the real in everyday life.
In “States of Surveillance,” artists employ a variety of strategies to examine the wide-reaching effects of surveillance technologies while pointing to paths of resistance.
The artworks in “Performing the Self” explore the extraordinary visibility afforded to individuals and groups moving within digital networks as well as their far-reaching effects offline.
The exhibition will feature a newly commissioned site-specific virtual reality installation by artist Jon Rafman. The ICA’s architecture and location on Boston Harbor feature prominently in the work, collapsing real and virtual space in a dreamscape that unfolds over eight minutes.
Photos by Caitlin Cunningham and Maxime Dufour
Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today
Curated by Eva Respini
February 7 – May 20, 2018