BY Kari Rittenbach in Reviews | 01 NOV 12

Gelitin, Monsieur, 2012

For the start of the autumn season in Chelsea, rowdy boys-only Austrian collective Gelitin presented their second solo exhibition at Greene Naftali under the deceptively banal title, ‘The Fall Show’. The big joke was ostensibly about gravity: 17 precariously stacked bric-à-brac sculptures positioned with care along a designated route through the space each rested atop a seemingly standard plinth. The plinths were, in fact, jerry-rigged with a mechanism that would upset the awkwardly balanced objects, with the appropriate application of pressure to a pedal neatly jutting from its base. Thus a delightfully curved wiener-like foam tube in a taped-up casing (Warm Whole, all works 2012) might at first stretch elegantly toward the ceiling, but soon after lie despondent on the floor. In other cases, the risk of damage to object-actor-context proved more extreme: when the piled plinth pairing Fuckeded Up ejected its rectangular MDF double, any lingering notions of health and safety were dashed along with hunks of wood fibre scattering in the vicinity with every (repeat) crash.

The evening of the private view unfolded like a behavioural study. It saw certain visitors enact, guilt-free, casual improprieties within the sanctimonious white cube, while others more predictably cowered from tumbling debris, which included a gargantuan, top-heavy statuette upholstered in salvaged plush pelts (Strawberry), a brutish plasticine bust grimacing cartoonishly (Monsieur), and towering buckets affixed with a ragged American flag (Untitled) and every so often raining loose fiesta-coloured plastic Easter eggs to the ground. Which is to say boisterous activity was everywhere audible, if not always visible, from across the subdivided room. Bashful viewers returning later under the pretext of further contemplation would be sonically outed for playing with the works.

Despite the pun of the exhibition title, Gelitin’s conceit is neither as one-dimensional as the mere question of whether to step, or not to step, on the tempting foot pedal, nor as fully resolved as a punch line. The show did not end when all the unfixed objects had teetered from their pedestals, leaving inert objects like so many Relational Aesthetics leftovers (crushed beer cans and empty soup bowls telling the latecomer they’ve missed the party). Instead, there is a question of recovery: how to put the wooden blocks (horizontally or vertically?) of Latte Macchiato together again so the next eager participant, or indeed the titillated same, might inflict another fall.

Like the drug addict and the sadomasochist, ‘The Fall Show’ was imbued with a sort of sculptural death drive, continuing to submit to the performance of violent degradation over time – such that its battered objects and other light constructions are most likely to wear themselves down to decadent remnants of questionable resale value by the end of the month, depending on specific material qualities and toughness. (The re-stitched Frankenstein soft toy Emma, for example, proved far too pliant to be dislodged from her perch, no matter how vigorous a force was applied.) By just the second week, the gallery space made a crude metaphor for late-capitalist devolution: a noisy scene of individualized catastrophe and general disarray. Austrian curator Herbert Lachmayer has remarked that prototypical Gelitin creations from ‘collaged trash’ somehow tend to resemble ‘translucent poesy’, invoking Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s famous treatise on representation (Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, 1766). Yet via the clever conceptual programme of crowd-sourced soft destruction, trendy post-industrial sculpture here poetically transformed itself back into detritus through the amalgamation of profane object and unconscious middle-class social anxieties keen for expression. Laocoon What’s the Time makes reference to art’s ephemerality today, whereas sculpture and painting in Lessing’s period were imagined to be more fixed in their materiality. Unsurprisingly, Gelitin’s piñata-like Laocoon was one of the works most easily bruised.

As Paul Chan’s accompanying text delicately proposes, no objects are innocent: ‘… won’t hurt please I promise come on just there, it’s so nice, please I promise please come on it’s so nice, please just a bit, please please just a bit, I swear, please come on I promise please please come on please it’s nice come on …’ By animating the libidinal relationship between subjects and objects which drives most of art history, Gelitin pithily lampoons the high-brow theories of object-orientated ontology and anti-humanist curating simply by demonstrating that desire is not strictly contained by the form of the fetish object. If production, too, is a form of consumption today (by means of precision tools and technologies from rapid prototyping to Photoshop), the modes and means of annihilation remain a fruitful avenue for artistic inquiry.

Kari Rittenbach is a critic and independent curator in New York City.