‘Tunnel’, the title of Nora Schultz’ twin exhibitions at Sutton Lane’s Paris and London galleries, refers to the Channel Tunnel, which acts here as a handily pre-existing model for the sort of labour-intensive demateralization that fuelled 1970s land art – one that happily foregoes any of the sweaty work of drilling holes, shifting earth and moving mountains. For Schultz, it seems, tunnels are a paradox: they are defined by what they lack, yet their hollowness depends simultaneously on a great mass of physical presence.
In London, Schultz arranged a series of scrappy monochromatic assemblages according to a restrained formal lexicon. The results were unfortunately somewhat predictable: sculptures that look like shelves (I’ve long been tempted to curate a show of post-minimal sculpture called ‘Century of the Shelf’); sculptures that look like unusable furniture; objects lightly propped into place that that you could broadly categorize as ‘performative’. Construction/Pieces of a Tunnel (all works 2010) features three discrete units: a bent sheet of battered black-painted metal hung from the wall; an awkwardly oversized frame that also protruded horizontally from the wall; and a floor piece made from a section of square tubular shelving and sheet metal. Piece of Tunnel and Black Square Times 2 are both made of square-tubed structural frames and junky sheets of metal, whose construction seems ad-hoc and suggestively incomplete.
The motivation behind this somewhat sombre-looking work is, however, surprisingly fun and quietly playful. This was more evident in the artist’s Paris show, where Schultz presented a slide-projection of a BMX ramp in Berlin built on top of Teufelsberg, an artificial hill built after World War II to cover an Albert Speer-designed technical college that was, apparently, too difficult for the Allied forces to demolish. Today, Teufelsberg’s debris-strewn slopes and abandoned Cold War-era buildings are regularly picked over by inner-city tourists and bored (or curious) locals. Schultz obliquely referenced this engagement with materials in a series of actions prior to the opening night of the Paris show, over the course of which she printed a set of simple ink prints, which feature the numerals 0 through to 10 (‘Countup / Countdown’, 2009–ongoing). This series was initiated in 2009 in a collaboration with the Japanese–American artist Ei Arakawa, who bent a sheet of metal into the numerals 10 down to 0; images of this action then formed a limited-edition magazine (The Countdown Poster Magazine, 2009) to accompany Schultz’ exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein last year. Similarly, in the artist’s first solo show at Sutton Lane’s London space in 2007, she showed Zero Ruler (2007), a text-based work that describes two characters who attempt to walk around a building only to find it is following them, until they decide, abruptly, to destroy the building.
In the London section of ‘Tunnel’, Schultz suggests a back-story to this embattled relationship with materiality. A series of modestly sized unframed black ink drawings were attached to the gallery walls and balanced delicately on two of the sculptural assemblages. While these semi-abstract images suggested tunnel-like passages with lights flickering off into the distance, they are, in fact, intended as a reference to Kasimir Malevich’s conception of ‘non-objective’ art (an idea that dovetails neatly with Schultz’ reference to the objectlessness of tunnels). Schultz’ work has suggested in the past that the act of creating sculpture is a feedback loop in which the artist attempts to destroy an object only to create a new text-based or materially compromised entity (the metal she uses is second-hand, battered and worn). The idea is perspicacious, but the works here seemed too polite for such ambition.