BY Dan Wilkinson in Reviews | 10 OCT 02
Featured in
Issue 70

René Daniëls and Karin Ruggaber

Bloomberg SPACE, London, UK

BY Dan Wilkinson in Reviews | 10 OCT 02

Two viewings of this exhibition, the first showing of paintings produced by the Dutch artist René Daniëls in the late 1980s alongside current sculptural work by the emerging German artist Karin Ruggaber, weren't enough to dispel the feeling that there is something insubstantial about the pairing - which is a good thing.

What the curators describe as the 'spatial promise' of the show places an uneasy emphasis on the corporate architecture of the gallery and the slightly absurd capitalization of the venue's name. In a roundabout way it also works in favour of Daniëls and Ruggaber, whose playful pieces reflect, in subtly distinct ways, from different generations and in contradictory media, on the role of the artist in facilitating access to both real and imaginary spaces.

It doesn't explain, though, why simply getting into the gallery is such a challenge. An arrow at the main door instructs visitors to 'Use Other Entrance'. If you find it, locked and reinforced by a crowd-control barrier, you are forced to retrace your steps and have your bags checked before you can even enter the building. The detour is fantastically instructive. It creates an awareness of the difficulties involved in the physical movement of people, of ideas or memories through space, and it tests the degree of investment, emotional or in exchange value, that a viewer can be persuaded to make in a difficult visual interaction with an art work.

Curiously this is more than appropriate in the case of Daniëls. It is tough to make any form of investment in his paintings beyond an emotional or biographically based one, especially when you read that they were produced just before the artist tragically suffered a brain haemorrhage. This and the fact that Daniëls belongs to an earlier generation of artists make appreciating the seemingly incomplete canvases a challenge. Viewed in a contemporary context, the paintings move uneasily in the expanded space of the gallery. They rely on a slightly unfamiliar form of collaboration with the viewer, an invitation to untangle iconographic motifs floating in various translucent states on a roughly handled, very painterly surface. The most immediately satisfying of these motifs are the endlessly recurring 'bow ties', which on closer inspection turn out to be basic 3D representations of rooms. In Het Huis 1986 (The Hut, 1986) a whole series of these white-walled rooms appear intriguingly above a large hazy image of an art gallery. They contrast with a second motif, a tree-like map with hand-painted texts giving vague directions to buildings where 'money becomes slowly or suddenly less in value' and places where 'people think they can take the worry out of life'. The emphasis on architectural space moves gently in these delicate poetic images towards an insistence on place.

In one particular version of Lentebloesem 1987 (Spring Blossom, 1987) the two motifs effectively combine. The text is replaced by a simple map leading to a selection of 'green rooms', places more commonly associated with the time before or after a theatrical performance. The implication is that a 'real' place exists between the two motif explorations - the rooms with their redundant art works and the written aspirations - and that it is constantly being renewed and redefined by the viewer.

The relationship between this investigation of space and Ruggaber's work greatly expands the 'dialogue'. Standing amid the glass and steel walkways, Fence 2002 (2002) is a human-scale structure resembling a collection of cattle pens. The casually constructed wooden framework offers entry points that cry out for a physical investigation akin to the textual mapping explicated by Daniëls, but the difference is that the fence, with its dead ends, actually becomes a barrier. It hints obligingly at notions of display and function and at the ambiguities of the site, but acts more as a permeable structure - one that doesn't really inhibit movement but selects those spectators who will and won't be granted access to the wider dynamics of the existing space through a genuine willingness to engage with the structure and an ability to observe from a position inside the incongruous work.

Light 2002 (2002), a functioning lighting rig, also by Ruggaber, designed to 'illuminate' the space as an extra layer to the existing architecture, successfully supports this aim; so imperceptible is your involvement in the work that it is easy to miss it completely.