The elusive sculptural and conceptual work of gerlach en koop involves modifying, displacing or copying ordinary objects with subtle, almost invisible gestures. This approach begins with their name (always in lowercase): the moniker actually denotes two Dutch artists who prefer to be called a ‘collective artist’ rather than an ‘artist duo’ in order to distance themselves from their individual identities.
I visited their exhibition ‘Choses tuées’ (Killed Things) at de Appel arts centre a week after the news that the institution’s curator and director, Lorenzo Benedetti, had unexpectedly been fired by the board. The dismissal came as a surprise to the Dutch art community, resulting in open letters and petitions in his defence. The news cast a shadow over the exhibition, where his curatorial hand was unmistakably visible.
Typical of Benedetti’s curatorial tenure, which in his 15-month directorship at de Appel has included shows by Michael Dean and Michael E. Smith, among others, gerlach en koop’s exhibition challenges both the viewer and the exhibition space itself. In the first room, two unhinged doors lie on the floor on top of one another (Denial, 2015). With the exhibition title in mind, this readymade almost appears to be a coffin. The wall text reveals that gerlach en koop dismantled the doors from the entrance. Next, in the main exhibition space, the room seems smaller than usual. The artists erected a false wall, which creates a narrow space behind it (Untitled, 2015) but prevents the viewer from seeing inside.
In the next gallery, a temptingly shiny vacuum cleaner lies horizontally in the centre of the room. The wall text again plays a key role: Gebalgde stofzuiger (Stuffed Vacuum Cleaner), 2015, vacuum cleaner, taxidermic wood wool’. Without the media listed it would be nearly impossible to tell that the appliance has been stuffed. Instead, the domestic tool has become a dead object, deprived by the artists of its function and presented as a mechanical, mounted, hunting trophy.
On the upper floor, the text on top of a pack of A4 sheets, comprising the work Execution, reads: ‘[…] He imagined the spyhole in his cell to be the barrel of the rifle and positioned himself in front of it, three, four metres […].’ After reading the text, I looked up to discover – three or four metres away – a hole drilled in the wall. The hole has been carefully uncovered as a remnant of the group exhibition ‘When Elephants Come Marching In’, which took place a year previously. The title of this minor intervention not only evokes the choses tuées of the title, but is also characteristic of gerlach en koop’s practice: punning on ‘execution’ understood as the act of killing, but also as the act of making.
One work here could be read as a commentary on the dismissal of de Appel’s director: in 1983, the artist Barbara Bloom made a piece to commemorate the former de Appel director Wies Smals, who had died in a plane crash the same year. The work is a small aluminium tag that once belonged to a pilot, which Bloom found in an airport for private jets. It reads aanwezig (present) on one side and afwezig (absent) on the other. Here, the tag is turned to ‘absent’, as if commenting on Benedetti’s imminent departure.
In an even subtler register, gerlach en koop staged an intervention in the director’s own wardrobe: they had all of the right-hand pockets of Benedetti’s trousers sewn shut for the duration of the exhibition. This changed his posture, as he usually stands with his hands in his pockets. The action, which, like many of gerlach en koop’s pieces, would go unnoticed were it not mentioned in the wall text, takes the exhibition beyond the confines of the gallery space itself: these choses tuées have never been so alive.