in Reviews | 01 FEB 13
Featured in
Issue 8

Matti Braun


in Reviews | 01 FEB 13

R.T/S.R/V.S, 2003–ongoing, installation view, water, wood, paint and pond liner

In terms of the number of works and sheer referential scope, Gost Log – Matti Braun’s largest exhibition in the UK to date – felt like a significant event. Across the gallery’s three floors, the Cologne-based artist had installed a diverse range of works, from inky black paintings to ersatz and antique textiles, pottery and floor-based installations that viewers could walk over. While there was a concentration here on craft techniques and traditions, Braun has clearly harnessed his interests to post-colonial discourse and notions of globalization: most of the works shown suggested the migration of goods, skills or ideas. This interest, combined with feverish research, allows Braun to move rapidly between motifs of trans-nationalism – from 19th-century textile trading to the 20th-century Négritude movement. Yet, for all its expansiveness, the logic of these quick-fire references is very contemporary: the associative textuality of the Internet and modern communications technology; a tendency to expand outwards, like a pleasant, if rather erudite trip through Wikipedia.

The most visually impressive work was the installation R.T/S.R/V.S, which Braun has been remaking since 2003: a flooded room with a series of stepping stones hewn from tree trunks. (Previous iterations have been shown at, among other locations, Kunstverein Freiburg and London’s Showroom in 2003). The version presented here was made using a locally grown but non-native tree (a Douglas Fir). The work references an unrealized film by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray titled The Alien, about a friendly alien landing in a lily pond near a Bengal village – allegedly the script, written in 1967, inspired Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982). In Braun’s installation, the materials and framing narrative redoubles the motif of the outsider-immigrant (the Douglas Fir and Ray’s alien). The title of the work also alludes to two other wandering heroes of Indian modernity: the poet Rabindranath Tagore (R.T.) and the founder of the Indian Space Research Organisation Vikram Sarabhai (V.S.).

While R.T/S.R/V.S is Braun’s signature piece, a more muted environment came in the shape of Pierre Pierre (2012), which was previously presented at Esther Schipper, Berlin, in 2010. A new floor of rough, uneven concrete had been laid in the gallery; the space was illuminated with black light (ultraviolet or UV-A light), and the walls coated in a UV-reactive paint so they glowed ominously. Rather than helping the presentation of the works, this ‘black’ light was perhaps a nod to the motifs of Black history in the prints series Pierre (2009) and the eponymous Pierre Pierre (2010), which apparently referenced Léopold Sédar Senghor, the poet and first president of Senegal and leading advocate of Négritude (the connection to Senghor was tangential, and is only really made apparent in the gallery texts). Also exhibited in this room was a series of untitled inky abstract paintings on silk from 2010. Together with another group of more colourful works in the same medium (Ave Vala, 2011), shown in another room, these works made a tenuous insinuation of American post-WWII abstraction’s quest for universa-lity (the press release states, perhaps too apolitically, that American Abstract art had a ‘desire to overcome the division in styles and schools’).

Another work explored a more literal search for a new language that might transcend nations, which occurred between the mid-1800s and the late 1970s. Named after a novel written by Andreas Juste (1918–1998) in the invented language Ido (a lesser known relative of Esperanto), Bunta Garbo (2002) is a wooden lattice screen that divides the space in two – a social object akin to Dan Graham’s pavilions or Liam Gillick’s platforms – and includes a series of digital prints made by Braun in 2002 that re-imagine jacket covers for more of Juste’s out-of-print books. Braun’s images are an exercise in knowing futility, since only a handful of people still speak Ido, and the whole quest for universal understanding today feels like a noble if ill-informed adventure.

Rather than radical departures, this exhibition felt like a finely interlocked series of ongoing concerns. For example, a selection of untitled silkscreened textiles – made by Braun in 2002–3 and based on Guajarati textiles called patolas – were dialogically enriched by the presentation, in another room, of a couple of 19th-century batiks. And a series of pottery bowls made in collaboration with Philip Leach (grandson of the famous English potter Bernard Leach) point to new directions in Braun’s exploration of craft. In general, Gost Log was a series of re-presented solo exhibitions from his last decade of art production. These reference-heavy revisits clamoured for the viewer’s attention, creating a heady rush of information-overload, and gave me the feeling that Braun’s (evidently interesting) reading habits tended to wring the visual or experiential ambiguity of his engagement in craft and visual histories. Less, in this case, would almost certainly have been more.