October 30 until December 12, 2015
The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.
Allan Kaprow (1956)
Everyday objects are hardly mute. Upon activation, they make a monotone, drilling sound, create a draft of air or an audio signal. These objects don’t stand alone but rather find themselves in good company. They’re juxtaposed with figures or other objects. Even the figurative sculptures articulate themselves in their expressive enactments. The location, or space of these disparate encounters is not precisely defined. Rather it’s the extraction of these objects from their original contexts which enables a consideration of the indeterminate white surfaces they congregate on. Their displacement from specific spaces and contexts makes one imagine an absent location in which just such a combinatorics of objects could be possible independent of scale or function.
In his first solo exhibition at Clages, Christian Theiß uses photographic wall prints, objects and vitrines to bring the world of everyday commodities face to face with artisanal and artistic production. The sites of encounter in his two wall works under the title The item and its Shadow, installed in the entrance and on the gallery’s front wall, cannot be more precisely defined, though it certainly takes place within the medium of photography and in the display of acrylic glass sheets. Upon closer inspection, the paired objects appear to be halftone black and white photographs. Previously printed images have been recombined in a second photographic step. A hair dryer, recognisable as a design classic, aims its nozzle at the head of a Mary Magdalene sculpture whose windswept robes, hands and face create an impression of extreme distress. The other photographic work, presented on a white sheet of acrylic glass hovering before the wall, juxtaposes a Bosch drill with a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon. The machine is attached to a holder in a perfect right angle with its drill bit pointing downwards, parallel to the lance St. George uses to kill the beast. The photographed sculptures include the well known and “outside of time, so to speak” (Gnudi on dell’Arca, 1942) terracotta figure of Mary Magdalene produced by the sculptor Niccolò dell’Arca, an artist from Bari who was active in Ferrara during the second half of the 15th Century. The Mary Magdalene belongs to his fully sculptural Pietà installed at the S. Maria della Vita in Bologna. The St. George on the other hand is also oriented towards the 15th century, but this time, however, the work in question is one of the small, easily repeatable wood sculptures produced by a South German wood carver in 1982 and intended as a private possession. Theiß’ combinatorics unfolds a life of its own and a fine sense of humour on many levels. The production and availability of the objects take centre stage. Are they industrially manufactured mass products or are they the products of a highly independent audacity, way ahead of its time? Or do they contrast an often repeated commission with an exquisitely chosen vintage object.
The title The item and its shadow also prompts further questions: How is the concept of photography being negotiated here? Are the objects simply recorded iterations of the manifest and pictorially powerful objects or does the blow dryer, posed as a seeing eye, find itself reflected in the figure articulating its lamentation with the utmost excitement. Although the site of encounter between everyday and religious objects remains abstract, it is nonetheless imaginable. One could even think of the image archive as a storage space for displaced objects. Except for the Mary Magdalene, Christian Theiß photographed all the objects himself and juxtaposed them as found objects on the substrate.
In the first exhibition room at Clages, the artist appropriates another space for himself – the space of objects – by showing three other works in addition to the wall works. In a floor work, a chrome AEG blow dryer takes a stand against a seemingly archaic vacuum cleaner of the Mielette Luxus brand. Both objects are mounted on a small stand attached to a steel plate, almost hovering in direct confrontation with each other (o.T., 2015). Here, a disparate dialogue or perhaps a technical war takes place within the exhibition. The hair dryer and vacuum cleaner aren’t attached to a power source, and yet they seem like adversaries – hot air vs. vacuum technology – made almost human or animal. Seen through the display window, the ensemble oscillates between readymade and commodity, exhibition object and agent. The aesthetic displacement negotiated in the photographic images plays itself out again in the objects. The other witnesses of this encounter between objects are a curved, chrome satellite dish (o.T., 2015) installed on the right gallery wall and the white ceramic work Echo (2015), installed on the opposite wall, in which the interior of a casted kidney dish reveals a face with an open mouth. The receiver and the dish not only echo one another in their accumulating and dissipating forms, but the satellite dish also becomes a concave mirror, reflecting both the space and its visitors. Together with the work Echo, the mirror becomes implicated in a drama of sender and receiver reminiscent of the tale of Narcissus and the nymph Echo.
Christian Theiß’ artistic methods of cropping and juxtaposing within a broader assemblage or montage are only suggested in the first room of the exhibition since his engagement with printed, halftoned and readily available photographic images make up a large part of the work’s subject. The second room – the office – however leaves no doubt about the combinatoric play of assemblage as it had played out through the Dadaists, Surrealists and later in Nouveau Réalisme and the combine paintings of the Pop Artists. In two vitrines and a wall work, the artist recombined outdated everyday objects with photographs and other materials, producing idiosyncratic ensembles reminiscent of Surrealist practices. In Tel. Thorax, a photogram of a human skeleton grows out of a black rotary telephone while a cast of plaster scissors stares at it with three eyes from the opposite wall. A black paper puncher installed on the wall clings to a black and white photograph of a masculine back(all works from 2014).
The works in the rear part of the exhibition show how the confrontation of disparate objects proceeds playfully and opens up different layers of time. In the large-format, three-part photo series Hangman (2015), the artist himself becomes both subject and object alongside a larger than life tripod. The title literally embodies on one hand the gestus of the hanged but, on the other, also refers to the eponymous word game. What ensues here is an ironic response to the scale and absurdity of the scene. On the second glance however, a certain temporality of the photographic sequence, one which follows no discernible narrative, becomes visible in the light movements of the photographed subject. The staging is perhaps less about celebrating a method of killing and is rather about revealing how the body becomes frozen as an object within photography. The titular reference to the word game also evokes another Surrealist practice, the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse), in which the Surrealists combined words and then images into absurd sentences and figures. Here, Christian Theiß expands the game of chance into a confrontation between two objects. This manifests itself in the lightbox o.T. (He walks away, the sun goes down, he takes the day) (2015) and, more specifically, in its juxtaposition of a found image of a snake and the lyrics of Amy Winehouse’s song Tears Dry on Their Own.
Georges Didi-Huberman’s questions concerning the development of photographic images (Bild Gegen Bild/Image Counter Image, 2012) also apply to Christian Theiß’ work. In which form do images of images emerge and what does the photograph record of this? What is the relationship between recording and print? What about objects are they capable of revealing?