Sunday, February 2, 2020

Making Ruins

Yesterday I attended an artist talk at Republic Gallery -- Sabine Bitter & Helmut Weber's Making Ruins exhibition.

The work is an installation that includes a large b&w photo-print affixed to a wall; a series of smaller b&w photo-prints mounted on supports (foamcore?) that lean against this wall (some over the affixed print); and four even smaller framed works, three of which are hung over the affixed print, the fourth on a bare section of wall to their right.

The first two framed works contain devices on which pictures can be made. Both display pictures from the site of the affixed picture. The third frame carries an image of a crumpled piece of paper. The fourth frame contains another recording device, this one displaying a colour picture from said setting. All four of the framed works -- the three recording devices and the crumpled piece of paper -- are "backed" by hand-drawn grids.

"What is your intention with these photos?" someone asked Bitter at the end of her introduction (Weber was absent from the talk). In response, Bitter spoke of her interest in architecture and how built environments uphold power, shape local and national narratives and, by extension, the lives of those who negotiate these spaces/narratives.

Someone else mentioned Louise Lawler, and he might have mentioned John McCracken, too, and anyone else who had ever leaned an object against a wall.

The subject of the work is the Macedonian capital of Skopje, which Bitter and Weber visited last year. Bitter told us, among other things, how aspects of this former Yugoslavian city had been rebuilt after one of its many earthquakes, how the central building (a civic building, I believe) had neo-classical columns added to its Brutalist Cold War-era design, and that these (earthquake proof?) columns are made of styrofoam (a similar material as that used to support the artists' pictures? And if so, does that implicate these pictures in the same system favoured by those in support of styrofoam columns?). Certain Skopjeans were irritated by these columns and responded to them and other sites with paint balls. Hence the colour -- and the Colour Revolution, as it is known.

Making Ruins is intended to look like a ruin. Leaning as opposed to simply hanging its pictures gives the work a third dimension, except the viewer cannot move around it or through it. As a ruin and as a sculpture it is physically impenetrable, and as such the viewer cannot experience the kinds of sensations sculpture allows; only through information conveyed through a didactic or a docent can the viewer "appreciate the situation," as the British Colonial Office (1854-1966) used to say when directing its operatives to investigate that which ailed it.

So: if the wall is the ultimate support in this installation, how is it symbolically implicated? Is it a signifier of that former Second World work of architecture, the Berlin Wall? Here's another stretch: Making Ruins is a cine-sculpture whose doors are closed to those who want to experience more than what is between the wall picture (master shot) and those leaning pictures (close-ups), or what is obscured by its hanging frames. In that respect, Making Ruins provides not an embodied experience, as cinema is said to be, but its program -- in this instance, a poster curling off its exterior wall.

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