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Issue 231

‘Autofiction’ Reveals the Incoherent Principles of Ownership

At Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam, a group show explores the myriad of ways that artists claim space

BY Jim van Geel in EU Reviews , Reviews | 20 SEP 22

‘Authorship is a mode; it has to do with vocalizing, naming, claiming. Does authorship only happen when it is recognized? By which I mean: is a diary-writer also an author?’ So asks Perri MacKenzie in Hot Author (2021), a text written to accompany two works – both titled The Author (2021): one in acrylic paint and the other collage – depicting a naked, recumbent woman holding a pencil. The question is a pertinent one within the context of Fons Welters’s current group show, ‘Autofiction’, curated by Melanie Bühler, which brings together works by Gina Fischli, Clémence Lollia Hilaire, Kinke Kooi, Win McCarthy, Phung-Tien Phan, Josiane M.H. Pozi, Trevor Shimizu, Lily van der Stokker, Evelyn Taocheng Wang and Bruno Zhu, in addition to MacKenzie, to explore the complex concept of authorship.

Lily van der Stokker, This Belongs To Me (do-it-yourself wall painting), 1989-2013, acrylic on wall, 28 × 40 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam; photograph: Gunnar Meier

Van der Stokker’s This Belongs To Me (do-it-yourself wall painting) (1989–2013) is a small, cartoonish, pink rectangle painted on a vast, otherwise empty white wall. Spelling out its title in childlike blue letters – complete with yellow ears, ‘X’s for eyes and a single-line smiley mouth – the work could be read as an amusing joke for a collector’s wall. This Belongs To Me, however, is a bold declaration of ownership that reaches much further than the half a square metre it physically occupies. If authorship has to do with vocalizing and claiming, Van der Stokker’s contribution to ‘Autofiction’ asserts just that. In fact, it is located on one of the few walls in the gallery not covered by the large, yellow and silver, five-point stars of Zhu’s Room Temperature (2022): a series of meticulously placed – if somewhat overly present – vinyl stickers.

'Autofiction', 2022, installation view, Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam. Courtesy: the artists and Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam

Other works in the show deal with authorship in more literal ways. Fischli’s painting series ‘Albers’ (2022), for instance, comprises four square plywood panels that partly obscure sections of Zhu’s vinyl stars. The panels are a campy re-creation of German modernist painter and educator Josef Albers’s signature works, such as Young Prediction (Homage to the Square) (1954). However, Fischli has rendered her versions in colourful glitter rather than paint. Camp can become kitsch when it lacks a certain subversiveness and, in an exhibition that deals with authorship, these works begin to seem a little too literal: an artist who spells it out.

More successful is Phan’s charmingly sardonic video Girl at Heart (2020), in which the artist walks down a bougie shopping street carrying a bag emblazoned with the word ‘murder’. The video begins with an instrumental version of Azealia Banks’s 2012 track ‘Luxury’ (a quintessential ‘hot girl’ anthem) before cutting to an ironic monologue of Phan obsessing over overhyped vintage furniture. It closes with brutal images of expensive, mid-engine supercars on fire – a fitting end to this seemingly effortless and elegant satire.

Phung-Tien Phan, Girl at heart, 2020, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam

Ultimately, however, this exhibition raises more questions than it answers. If we consider Bühler, as the show’s curator, to be its ‘author’, then what, to quote MacKenzie, is the exhibition ‘vocalizing, naming and claiming’? Presenting a broad selection of works that explore authorship in vastly different ways – and between which the connections aren’t always clear – ‘Autofiction’ fails to offer a coherent thesis. But perhaps that is the point. After all, life itself is rarely coherent. Documenting our lived experiences to try to make sense of it all, Bühler seems to suggest, can make authors of all of us.

‘Autofiction’ is on view at Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam, until 8 October.

Main image: 'Autofiction', 2022, installation view, Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam. Courtesy: the artists and Galerie Fons Welters

Jim van Geel is a curator and writer based in Amsterdam. He is currently public programme coordinator at the Rijksakademie.