BY Judith Vrancken in Reviews | 14 NOV 15
Featured in
Issue 22

Markus Selg

De Hallen Haarlem

BY Judith Vrancken in Reviews | 14 NOV 15

Markus Selg, Stream of Streams, 2015, installation view

Primitive Data is an extensive presentation of German artist Markus Selg’s practice over the past decade. Bringing together video, painting, sculpture, digital prints and large-scale multi-media installations, along with works from the museum’s permanent collection, the show creates a dense, otherworldly and dizzying overview of Selg’s heterogeneous imagery. Selg’s roles here are numerous: a collector in the digital realm; a researcher; an avid traveller who eagerly accumulates information and objects and incorporates them into three-dimensional landscapes and figures, compressing the past, present and future – biblical stories with voodoo rituals, and the handcrafted with the highly technological.

Although the show could be seen as a retrospective, together the works form a comprehensive Gesamtkunstwerk that manages to instil a labyrinthian experience with recurring historical and mythological archetypes, from motifs of the snake (e.g., the silent video Schlange (Snake), 2015), the stream (Aztlan, 2007, a soundless video animation of a large waterfall), the earthly paradise, the boat (the soundless video piece Ground control (Yom Adzikou) (2015), and Shadow of the eye, 2014) and bibli­cal references (Sacrifice (Protection), 2012). The latter is the most apparent nod to Judeo-Christian symbolism. Sacrifice (Protection) is a monumental sculpture in the first room, two giant feet carved out of polystyrene that look as robust as they do feather light. The sculpture is a remnant of the stage design that Selg created for the opera Auf Kolonos in 2012 (by director Laurent Chétouane) but it is also clearly reminiscent of the art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer, the ultimate icon of sacri­fice, overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

Rooted in myths and stories from different eras of this and other worlds, Selg presents and restages his discoveries within the framework of current events. In 2013, the artist travelled for the first time to Benin, where voodoo is still practiced, and met Yom Adzikou on the day of his arrival. Adzikou acquainted him with the traditions and rituals of voodoo which existed in parallel to a history of slavery and exploitation. The interview resulted in the video installation Ground control (Yom Adzikou) (2015). The work shows large groups of the local population on a beach working, building boats and talking to one another, while a voiceover is spoken by Adzikou. In light of the current refugee crisis, in particular, the boat and the beach become symbols of rescue, hope and new beginnings. But they have also instilled a fear that covertly surfaces when two worlds collide. This context injects the work with relevance and poignancy that could otherwise have gone in the painful direction of a post-colonial collage of rarities, yet the friendship between strangers and their exchange of distinct histories prevails.

In an interview, Selg has expressed a desire that the ‘world inscribe itself in the works’. This desire is in line with art practices today that operate with claims to maximum theoretical integrity as they verge towards empiricism: the truth of the fact, the truth of the work of art through its immersion in history. Form and content, instantaneity and narrative, inner world and outer world, abstraction and realism: these polarized positions resist unification, yet Selg’s work has elements of all. Primitive Data shows that mind and world alike comprise a maze-like configuration of flows where perception, memory and fantasy are ingrained. We all inhabit many time zones simultaneously; we live in different times, within a certain hetero-chronology (to use Boris Groys’s concept). Selg’s work emerges as an attempt to create a network, a space of exchange and diverse representations of the physical as well as the virtual world, and how our understanding of this distinction is dissolving.