BY Anke Kempkes in Reviews | 02 JAN 02
Featured in
Issue 64

Bjorn Dahlem

Kunstverein, Hamburg, Germany

BY Anke Kempkes in Reviews | 02 JAN 02

The gallery space narrowed to a small, white hall, the walls of which were built from polystyrene - Björn Dahlem's version of a quantum tunnel (Quantentunnel; all works 2001). The tunnel led to a large sphere filled with the gleam of innumerable lamps of varying brightness. A many-armed creature made from wooden slats and neon tubes dominated the centre of the space, its corners crowned by living-room lamps that looked like searchlights on a spaceship. In the centre of this fragile construction floated a sweet, dodecahedron, built also from polystyrene covered in black carpet. This object hovered weightlessly over a laconic, raft-like, wooden pedestal placed upon a square of uninviting, cheap beige carpet. Its surface was partially bound by a rustic fence, which was interrupted on one side by a more abstract piece of fencing made of two raw tree trunks.

Dahlem's bizarrely beautiful Club Superspace 3 - Deuterium Attenzione (Charm-Sphären) was like a spaceship that had landed directly in the front yard of its art historic references. It recalls both Martin Kippenberger's neo-Dada constructions and Georg Herold's wooden slat sculptures - important influences from the Rhineland in the 1980s, which Dahlem was exposed to during his years as an art student in Dusseldorf. With carefree, space-dominating gestures, Dahlem incorporates their aesthetic while distancing himself from the ponderousness of associated rhetorical obligations. If Kippenberger, Herold and their disciples felt they had a fundamental obligation to make overtly masculine, mercilessly ironic, politically saturated references to ordinary life, it is certainly missing from Dahlem's work. None the less, he made allusions to such rhetoric by separating an otherwise empty room from the large space of the Hamburg Kunstverein with high polystyrene walls and giving it the mock-political title Das Charm-Quark führt das Volk (The Charm-Quark Leads the People). Irregular scaffolding on the inside of these walls created an oddly jumpy impression. It might have evoked the outline of a pagoda, but also looked like a three-dimensional gestural painting, recalling the popular tactic from the 1980s of replacing masterly painting with a makeshift reference to it.

Dahlem's obsession with quantum physics and science fiction, however, ultimately lends his work a narrative dimension independent of the legacy of Kippenberger and his followers. The black foreign body floating in the centre of the spaceship is a modest, self-contained shape which recalls the legacy of empty volume prevalent from the Renaissance to the black cubes and polyhedrons of Tony Smith.

Yet the fact that Dahlem uses the kind of material used by children or craft practises makes the more history-laden references seem slightly absurd. Embedded in the cold light of neon, this black object also vibrates with a more contemporary atmosphere of club spaces, makeshift social utopias, dark resistance and escapism, creating a tension between the influences of art history and a kind of new pseudo-science. But this scientific rhetoric is just as improvised as the work's disparate materials. They are part of a game, the aim of which is to allow the artist's visions find a niche in past languages.