BY Noemi Smolik in Reviews | 07 OCT 20

Anna-Sophie Berger’s Take on Immanuel Kant

At Bonner Kunstverein, the artist investigates our relationship to everyday objects

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BY Noemi Smolik in Reviews | 07 OCT 20

New York- and Vienna-based artist Anna-Sophie Berger’s objects and installations – currently on view at Bonner Kunstverein as part of her first institutional solo show in Germany – resist immediate legibility but, ultimately, reward viewers with keen insights into subject-object relationships. 

The first gallery features a tall partition wall consisting of loosely stacked square modules, reminiscent of children’s building blocks. At almost five meters high, Turm 1 (Tower 1, 2020) might appear to present a daunting barrier, yet its component materials reveal the work’s playfulness: some modules are covered with candy-coloured fleece, some with expensive cotton fabrics that connote men’s suits, while others comprise roughly finished wood. The work was inspired by the handmade stalls of Asian street traders, who present their wares on stepped, mostly wooden racks. In such a context, these structures have a clear function, but what purpose does Turm 1 serve at the Kunstverein? It is precisely this transformation and recontextualization of objects that lies at the core of Berger’s practice. 

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Anna-Sophie Berger, Turm 1 (Tower 1), 2020, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2020. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie LAYR, Vienna, and JTT, New York; photograph: Mareike Tocha

Influenced by structuralism – the belief that all elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a broader system – many artists aim to reveal the multifunctionality (social, political, ethnographical) of ordinary items alongside their aesthetic value. Berger, who began her career as a fashion designer and is trained to pay attention to the multifunctionality of garments, turns this around in her art by extricating the objects she utilizes from these manifold entanglements. 

Cutouts (2020), for instance, consists of two rectangular openings in the walls of the central gallery. These correspond to the NYC Construction Code, which requires all barriers surrounding building sites to include, for the purposes of transparency, a window through which the construction work can be viewed. Here, however, instead of looking onto a construction site, the viewer peers into a void: the openings have no function; they are absurdist simulations. (It is no coincidence that Berger referenced Samuel Beckett – the dramatist of the absurd – in the title of her installation Choicest Relic, 2016.)

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Anna-Sophie Berger, Inventur (Taking Stock), 2020, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2020. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie LAYR, Vienna, and JTT, New York; photograph: Mareike Tocha

In the second gallery, Inventur (Taking Stock, 2020) comprises a charred rocking chair, a bicycle stand hit by a car and other objects subjected to destructive processes: crushing, chopping, weathering. Morbid and nostalgic, these items evoke pity and raise the question: why do we assume it is our prerogative as humans to damage, destroy and dominate the passive objects that surround us? Increasingly, however, this disharmonious subject-object relationship – first clearly articulated in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) – has been posited as responsible for our global destruction of nature by the speculative-realist movement.

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Anna-Sophie Berger, Duell (Duel), 2020, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2020. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie LAYR, Vienna, and JTT, New York; photograph: Mareike Tocha

In a corner of the second gallery is the 49-minute video Duell (Duel, 2020), in which Berger combines her own film with found footage from classic movies, advertising and animation. The video is a visual journal set in Vienna, Tokyo and New York that creates a portrait of life in some of the world’s great metropolises – and the attendant precarity. One scene, which returns time and again, shows out-of-focus traffic lights that more closely resemble a colourful abstract painting than a signalling device. Sharing the same title as the video, Berger’s exhibition suggests that the juxtapositions in her works can be read as a battle between the multiple significations of everyday objects.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Anna-Sophie Berger, 'Duell' runs at Bonner Kunstverein until 22 November 2020

Main image: Anna-Sophie Berger, Inventur (Taking Stock), 2020, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2020. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie LAYR, Vienna, and JTT, New York; photograph: Mareike Tocha

Noemi Smolik is a critic based in Bonn, Germany, and Prague, Czech Republic.

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