What to See At Berlin's Art Week and Gallery Weekend

From Su Yu Hsin's video installation to Thea Djordjadze's site-adaptive sculptures, Hili Perlson chooses the exhibitions not to miss

BY Hili Perlson in Critic's Guides | 15 SEP 21

Thea Djordjadze, Why hold on to that?, 2018, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Portikus, Frankfurt am Main; photograph: Diana Pfammatter  

Thea Djordjadze

Gropius Bau

18 September 2021 – 16 January 2022

The historic Schliemann Hall at the Gropius Bau was originally designed, in 1881, to house archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations of near-Asian antiquity. It seems only natural, then, that Thea Djordjadze – whose sculptural practice engages with the modes and spatial conditions of displaying artifacts across history and cultures – would choose to respond to the architecture of this space with a new series created for her first Berlin museum show. In fact, Djordjadze’s process of installing is, in itself, an excavation of sorts – of the exhibition space’s history, mood, light conditions, echo and affect, which all become further elements in her site-adaptive works. Several pieces, such as To be in an upright position on the feet (2016), also link Berlin, where the artist has been based since 2009, with her hometown of Tbilisi and, in particular, the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, where Djordjadze became fascinated by the contrast between the institution’s handmade, human-scale, Soviet-era vitrines and its cathedral-like dimensions.

Cemile Sahin, 'It Would Have Taught Me Wisdom', 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin; photograph: Andrea Rossetti

Cemile Sahin

Esther Schipper

17 September – 30 October

It is, perhaps, the exceptional versatility of Cemile Sahin’s practice – she is a prize-winning artist and novelist – which accounts for her meteoric rise in the art world. Moving freely between media, Sahin’s work offers sharp observations on patriarchal structures, violence and the legacies of war, especially in relation to her own Kurdish-Alevi heritage. For her debut show with the gallery, Sahin is creating an installation centred around an image of Minerva – specifically, the porcelain figurine of the Roman goddess that decorated the inkwell used at the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. The treaty ceded nearly 80 percent of the Ottoman Empire to allied forces at the end of World War I. Although never ratified, the loss of power loomed large in the nationalistic rhetoric of the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and, only three years later, the region’s borders were redrawn in the Treaty of Lausanne, leaving Kurds without a self-ruled territory.

Su Yu Hsin, frame of reference (2020), exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Alexander Levy

Su Yu Hsin

Alexander Levy

16 September – 16 October

First exhibited at the 2020 Taipei Biennial, the video installation frame of reference (2020) by Berlin-based Taiwanese artist and filmmaker Su Yu Hsin is a multi-channel essayistic exploration of our reliance on technology to observe, visualize and engage with the natural world. The work was created in collaboration with geoscientists and geomorphologists in Germany and Taiwan and captures an elaborate monitoring network in Taiwan’s Taroko National Park, famous for its precipitous marble gorge. Taiwan is one of the most rockslide-prone countries in the world, and the researchers observing the site are investigating how they affect the climate. Science Magazine describes the geological phenomenon as ‘massive chemical reactors’, and ‘hotspots of CO2 emissions’. The work melds a variety of alternating perspectives of the spectacular natural park, at times positioning the viewer within the riverbed, at others hovering over the gorge. Ultimately, however, it’s the datasets and seismic maps that tell us more about the devastating phenomenon than the information we perceive with our bare eyes.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Untitled, 2021, gouache on inkjet on paper, each 117,5 x 83 cm (framed). Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm

María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Galerie Barbara Thumm

18 September – 31 December

The practice of Cuban-born, Tennessee-based artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons is often concerned with diasporic experiences and nods to her own West African roots, by way of the Transatlantic slave trade. Although her works – which are rendered in a range of media, from sculpture to video and photography – speak of themes such as absence, memory and loss, they also form exultant tributes to resilience and ingeniousness. Her exhibition, ‘The Rise of the Butterflies’, comprises a massive installation of five sensuous Murano glass mobiles suspended in the space and a triptych of paintings on photographs. The show is dedicated to Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death by plainclothes policemen in her own home in Louisville on 13 March 2020. Six months later, Taylor’s sister released Monarch butterflies in her memory.

Aleksandra Domanović, 'Becoming Another', 2021, exhibition view, former Tagesspiegel print house. Courtesy: the artist and Audemars Piguet Contemporary

Aleksandra Domanović

Former Tagesspiegel Print House

16 September – 10 October

Commissioned by Audemars Piguet Contemporary, Aleksandra Domanović’s new installation, Becoming Another (2021), fills the massive empty hall of the former Der Tagesspiegel printing press. Working with a traditional wood turner, Domanović created six columns that are suspended in the space. At the tips of each of these objects, fast-spinning LED fans seem to magically conjure images. (In fact, it’s simple 3D-advertising technology, but the effect here is hallucinatory.) Among the images projected are stock photos of doctors performing ultrasound scans alongside scenes from the El Dorado fire that ravaged California last year, started by a gender-reveal party, which the artist told me she used to ‘problematize individualism’. On the walls, two large-scale prints play with optical phenomena known as the Bezold effect. Lines in two different colours run across an image of the artist’s mother – a radiologist – performing an ultrasound examination on herself, inhibiting the information that the viewer can ultimately perceive.

Head image: Aleksandra Domanović, 'Becoming Another', 2021, installation view, former Tagesspiegel print house. Courtesy: the artist and Audemars Piguet Contemporary

Hili Perlson is a writer, art critic and fashion journalist based in Berlin.