I happened to visit Eva Schlegel’s show, ‘In Between’, just two days after watching her fellow Austrian, Felix Baumgartner, ascend into the stratosphere and take a giant leap into the void that, in terms of drama and imagery, would have blown even Yves Klein’s mind. The intensity of this spectacular online experience was still with me in my encounter with Schlegel’s show, an exploration of space as a sphere of ambivalent experiences unfolding between freedom and fear, physical and intangible phenomena. But where Baumgartner’s feat was measurable, Schlegel’s venture consisted of abstract approximations of the act of flying and falling that reminded the visitor that before and beyond conquering space, there exists the activity of imagining space – an act that is equally haunting and risky in its own right.
The show, Schlegel’s third at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, was a condensed and further developed version of her 2010 solo exhibition of the same title at the MAK in Vienna. Among the show’s main components were new editions of her out-of-focus photographs of book pages printed on glass and a selection of her smaller silkscreen-on-lead images of cloud-like sky phenomena and – what made the Baumgartner association inevitable – of freefalling people in suits and sunglasses. Their inclusion provided the context for several new works, including Rotor (2012) (the only titled work in the show), a rotating propeller on which a series of clips from movies and sequences of spiralling text about flying and falling was projected. In two new wall installations, Schlegel worked with casts of hands: on one wall, a pair of cast-lead hands was mounted close to the floor, below a drawing of a web-like structure that the hands seemed to be trying to grasp; the opposite wall featured a dispersion of single plaster-cast hands in various act of dropping, gripping and catching.
Spanning three adjoining rooms, the show came together as a non-linear narrative about mankind’s difficult attempts to grasp space (a point quite literally symbolized in the cast hands), whether observing it from the ground or moving through it at high speed. Schlegel’s work addresses the age-old human desire to fly and the attendant fear of falling. Works such as Rotor engaged with the dizzying and uneasy nature of space, which besides the rotating visuals, included quotes from astronauts describing the sensations involved in space flight, reflecting on the metaphorical space between the lightness of flying and the weight of the body.
Art-historically, the show brought to mind a combination of J.W.M. Turner’s super-human scale, Klein’s vision of an ‘air architecture’ – where man would live in a new Eden of levitation – and Bruce Nauman’s body problematics. But Schlegel infuses these primarily male-dominated influences with a sharpened and delicate sensibility towards material and media. As such, Schlegel’s work left Baumgartner’s daredevil heroics behind to poetically address the intersections of human potential, impossibility and failure.