For this exhibition, the cosmos of Antje Majewski’s ‘Gimel World’ – an imaginary world where everything is possible – comprised a total of seven objects, most of them acquired by the artist on her travels: from an exotic plant called Buddha’s hand and a chunk of meteorite from China to an obscure Osage orange fruit from Oklahoma and a white stone from her grandmother’s house. They formed the basis for the exhibition ‘The World of Gimel. How To Make Objects Talk’ co-curated by Majewski and Kunsthaus Graz curator Adam Budak to mark the bicentenary of the Universalmuseum Joanneum, a vast museal complex which includes the Kunsthaus.
The result of two years of research and preparation, ‘The World of Gimel’ was not a classical group show but more like the artist’s own private museum. It examined the circulation, classification and discursivity of objects, as well as the possibility of rethinking the organization of knowledge between artistic research, myth creation and fields studies. As the artist Issa Samb says in La coquille. Conversation entre Issa Samb et Antje Majewski. Dakar 2010 (The cockle. Conversation between Issa Samb and Antje Majewski. Dakar 2010, 2010): ‘Every time a person moves an object from one place to another, he takes part in changing the world, the order of things.’
The exhibition started with a display of Majewski’s seven found items, followed by separate thematic rooms devoted to each one. The artist-curator focussed on the individual objects in a series of six large-format paintings which recall Surrealism: the items often appear enlarged many times over and mostly in interaction with human figures. In The Guardian Of All Things That Are The Case (2009), six of the objects are shown in a guarded museum vitrine – an encounter between a 19th-century museum and a baroque cabinet of curiosities, between the need for objective classification and personal systems of ordering.
The show was marked not only by the found objects’ geographical and visual shifts but also by references to their involvement in Majewski’s past projects and collaborative works. Mame N’Dyaré (2011), Majewski’s painting of a naked woman looking into a huge seashell, was made for a joint exhibition with Juliane Solmsdorf at Galerie Töplitz in Potsdam entitled ‘Eyland’ (2011). That show also featured Solmsdorf’s Knie (Knee, 2010), an imprint of the artist’s knee, which was included in a ‘Gimel World’ room dedicated to shells. The shell motif appeared multiply in Mathilde Rosier’s Shells and Shoes Collection (2008) – a gigantic object made of painted cardboard behind a screen – while Marcel Duchamp’s Coin de chasteté (Wedge of Chastity, 1954/63) referred to its sexual symbolism.
‘Gimel’ is the third letter of Semitic alphabets but was understood as a symbol for the universal. The word is also derived from the Hebrew ‘gamal’, which can mean ‘to give’. It denotes the circulation of Majewski’s objects while recurring throughout the exhibition in relation to gestures of generosity and bestowing gifts. ‘A whole world can pass through an open hand,’ says the filmmaker and occasional tarot card reader Alejandro Jodorowsky in Majewski’s video La main qui donne (The Hand That Gives, 2010). Another of her videos – La pierre, la boule, les yeux. Conversation entre El Hadji Sy et Antje Majewski. Dakar 2010 (The stone, the ball, the eyes. Conversation between El Hadji Sy and Antje Majewski. Dakar 2010, 2010) – shows El Hadji Sy, a member of the Huit Facettes artists’ collective, presenting Majewski with a gold-painted block of metal which was also included in the exhibition under the title Lingot d’or (Gold Ingot, undated). These video interviews allowed Majewski to examine her Gimel objects in dialogue and within different cultural frameworks.
The exhibition was coherent in its specific logic, which relied upon an associative
flow of knowledge between objects, individuals and the world. Besides Majewski’s paintings, the selected works related formally, thematically or via personal association to the found objects and – in the sense of the exhibition’s subtitle, giving a voice to otherwise mute things – successfully expressed their polyphony.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell