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.

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.

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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 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.

CREDITS
Photos by Caitlin Cunningham and Maxime Dufour

Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today

Curated by Eva Respini

ICA, Boston

February 7 – May 20, 2018

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Shot entirely at night over the course of two years, this three-dimensional film connects a series of divergent natural and cultural phenomena throughout Cleveland, Los Angeles and Berlin. Organized into distinct chapters, Nightlife optically, audibly and conceptually brings together an obscure yet significant mix of historical monuments and occurrences, forming a hyper psychedelic experience. This ambitious production ties together several key themes that recur throughout the artist’s oeuvre, such as cultural relics, preservation and entropy, and speaks to the multidisciplinary nature of his practice.

Nightlife chronicles four interconnected subjects: Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker installed at the Cleveland Museum of Art; non-indigenous plants scattered throughout the Los Angeles basin; the annual Pyronale firework event at the Olympiastadion in Berlin; and the Jesse Owens Olympic oak tree at the James Ford Rhodes High School in Cleveland. The film begins with the camera panning over an unidentifiable undulating green form that resembles an indiscernible tropical leaf. As the camera continues rightward, showing the viewer a scaly, dense metal object, Rodin’s The Thinker is unveiled in its full form. One of the last casts overseen directly by Rodin, this work is shown in its current state outside the Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1970, the work was partially destroyed by a bombing attributed to a cell of the anti-imperialist group ‘Weather Underground.’ Through the lens of stereoscopic vision, Rodin’s damaged thinker permeates the exhibition space, establishing both the spectral and sculptural nature of this film.

The viewer is then transported to Los Angeles, where different species of street vegetation appear to dance throughout the city. Yearning and swaying against artificial barriers and anonymous buildings adorned with pulsating bursts of technicolored lights, Gaillard records and highlights the various florae’s humanistic qualities. Each plant seems to respond to the light and music in a choreographed and humanistic way, creating a trance-like spectacle of movement. Primarily focusing on the Hollywood Juniper, an East Asian species of trees that Gaillard has returned to throughout his practice, these plants directly engage and struggle with the imposing architectural forms they are situated alongside, providing a deeper narrative about cross-cultural cohabitation.

In the third act of Nightlife, the setting shifts to the Olympiastadion, the site of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin for the annual Pyronale fireworks event, a two-day international pyrotechnical competition. Built from 1934 – 36 during the Nazi regime, this Stadium was once a monument to the Third Reich and a symbol of Germany’s connections to World War II, but is now used for a multitude of contemporary events. The viewer enters the scene at ground level, but is stealthily levitated into a field of fireworks, entering an abstracted landscape of lights and motion. Gaillard captures the action of this event in one long take from a unique aerial perspective, moving through blasts of light and plumes of smoke, forms that resemble ghostly depictions of trees or gun smoke from a violent battlefield. The event looks like a cosmic blast, blurring the line between reality and a hallucinogenic trip. The film concludes in Cleveland at the site of Jesse Owens’ Olympic oak planted at the Ford Rhodes High School. Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, was awarded four oak saplings by Hitler, one of which still lives on today outside the stadium where he trained. The sapling turned full-grown tree is illuminated from multiple perspectives by a circling helicopter, creating a cascade of shadows that dance throughout the trees sturdy branches.

Mirroring the three-dimensionality of the film’s visual narrative is the dub soundtrack to Nightlife, a space-filling and deliberately low-tech soundscape made by the artist using a variety of analog filters and basic sound effects, such as reverb and delay, creating a disorienting illusion of expanded space. The soundtrack features a sample from the chorus of rocksteady singer’s Alton Ellis’ song, Blackman’s Word, played on a loop throughout the film’s first three acts. Originally released in 1969 on the Treasure Isle label, the lyrics sang, “I was born a loser.” The song was later re-recorded on a rival label, Coxsone, in 1971, and the song’s title was changed and the chorus sang, “I was born a winner,” a subtle yet powerful audible transformation that is reflected in the film as Gaillard turns his attention to Jesse Owens’ Olympic oak.


CREDITS:
Photos by David Regen
Courtesy the artists, Sprüth Magers and Gladstone Gallery New York and Brussels

CYPRIEN GAILLARD
Nightlife

Gladstone Gallery, New York

Through April 14, 2018

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