BY Mark Prince in Reviews | 25 OCT 13
Featured in
Issue 12

Jeronimo Voss

Cinzia Friedlaender

BY Mark Prince in Reviews | 25 OCT 13

Jeronimo Voss, Model Room, 2013, celluloid on acrylic glass and steel frames, 224 × 145 × 13 cm

The failure of many of Modernism’s socially-assimilated forms, such as architecture and design, became a cliché of European contemporary art of the 2000s. In the work of artists such as Martin Boyce and David Maljkovic, formalist art’s congruences with modernist design allowed it to be reinforced by historical critique. Having previously languished for decades under a reputation for being mere self-indulgent decoration, formalism was revitalised by doubling as commentary on the wane of 20th-century utopian ideologies. Ironically, formalist styles were sustained, and made critically respectable again, by being adulterated with narrative – the very thing they had originally defined themselves by reliquishing.

The young German artist Jeronimo Voss’s installation In Dependent Gravity appeared as a direct throwback to these assumptions. The exhibition was a study of the aspirations of the architects and city planners responsible for the ‘Brutalist’ urban housing schemes of the 1950s and ’60s, and the neo-conservative styles pitched as their replacement. A slide carousel, Phantascope (In Dependent Gravity) (2013), projected a series of promotional representations of architectural projects. First, black and white images of 1960s concrete urban housing are shown, inhabited by happy, playing children. Tendentiously, Voss coerces our sense of this vision’s artifice by cutting out the children’s images and leaving their silhouettes as ghostly white absences. Animated elements were added to the original stills, showing, for example, the children slid out of the pictures to which they belonged. The second type of ‘projections’ were contemporary full-colour digital graphics of the late-19th-century-style apartment houses which cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt are now proposing as replacements for these postwar housing projects. Voss summoned a neat inverse correspondence between the two fictions, showing them to be equally specious, interspersing it with fragments of the propaganda-speak which would have accompanied the proposals: ‘Machines for Living’; ‘Sun-drenched Boxes’.

The children reappeared, printed onto the square glass panels of a series of five sculptures constructed out of a repeating black steel frame module, hinged together into freestanding or wall-mounted configurations. Layers of glass formed a ‘double-glazing’ effect, which allowed images to be superimposed. Model Room (2013) places the children into the interior of a flat that might belong to one of the buildings they were photographed in front of. The flat is in a state of disrepair, its walls and windows graffitied, its linoleum floor littered and filthy with boot prints. But the layering of semi-transparent images, as a metaphor for nostalgia, pathos, and loss, is so glib a conceit one felt manipulated into a response that the objects were not capable of evoking; while the square modules exploited the modernist formal aesthetics which the exhibition’s critical narrative was proposing to challenge. Images which had already had their meanings determined by the slide projection were left untransformed by their reiteration and superimposition.

The sculptures seemed pretexts for the shuffling of a series of elegant, geometric planes, with the adhered images functioning as barely integrated signifiers aimed at sanctioning the decorative formalism of the sculptures with a critical agenda. Voss’s mind appeared to have been made up about his narrative, and the formal combinations wrought by the screens did not have the flexibility to extend or revise that idea. Printed onto the glass panels of Ivory Tower (2013), images of parachutes floating above concrete high-rises might have signified his wish to free himself from the limitations of his adopted formalist language, as much as the shucking of the misguided ideologies which condemned inhabitants to the confinement of such housing. But the exhibition had failed to earn these transcendental symbols, leaving them to represent artistic sentimentality rather than social liberation.

Mark Prince is an artist and writer living in Berlin.