I can’t remember the last time I felt as considerately welcomed as I did in Claus Richter’s exhibition Ignoranz (Ignorance) at Galerie Clages. Maybe this was due to the depression-soothing therapeutic music within the show (alpha, beta and theta waves in carefully graded frequencies) that made me feel almost lulled into the space. Images of small letters made reference to a conceptual alphabet: from A for angst via F for flamingo and O for Ohnmacht (unconsciousness) through to Z for Zunge (tongue). On the covers of picture books glowed rosy-red cheeks; a three-story puppet palace was packed with leather armchairs and couches, while a little timekeeper man wearing a tailcoat gave the audience the finger. In the final room, a mechanical puppet garbled its words, opening and closing its eyes. Tick, tock, tick, tock – hypnotized, and feeling slightly ridiculed, I stumbled back onto Brüsseler street.
ONE-self, Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s exhibition at Temporary Gallery, shifted the discussion onto the body and soul in virtual space: Hansen melding medical and pornographic 3D software to uncover the contours of ‘pharmapornographic’ capitalism: the conjoining of bodily horrors and societal ones. Whereas Hansen links the terror of the laboratory with that of the data processing centre and a net-based sex industry, Richter’s realm is located between the magical thinking of children’s bedrooms, subdued, anxious mumbling on the therapist’s couch, Freddy Krueger and the top hat stiffness of a 1920s-style variety show.
Jessie Stead at Jan Kaps was a different matter altogether. The palette of objects and colours for her show Left Behind by Runway Interludes seemed to take its cues primarily from head shops and train station kiosks. In the first of two darkened rooms, the New York-based artist screwed flat-screen televisions onto tripods, constructing coffee tables, encircled by camping stools. On the devices, 16 channels of thematic image tapestries flickered without sound: live performances by Stead’s artist’s band, damaged sidewalks, bird carcasses, warning lights, sometimes supplemented by animated LSD-esque mandalas. The screens were adorned with colourful, plastic cigarette lighters and kitschy acrylic objects: dice, chess pieces and spheres. These refracted the pixelated, artificial light into a beautiful colour spectrum, now and then reflecting their fisheyed beholders. In the second part of the exhibition, Stead expanded one of her tapestries into the space; on the floor she placed bear-shaped candy tins, once again filled with acrylic bits and pieces. Blank CDs on the bear-tin lids projected colourful squiggles onto the gallery ceiling.
It’s a while since Hito Steyerl’s essay In Defense of the Poor Image (2009) first made its rounds: ‘The poor image is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution’. These are the sort of images with which Jessie Stead works. Taking things further, Stead also attempts to highlight their cheapness through the use of cheap acrylic kitsch. Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that Loretta Fahrenholz at Galerie Buchholz works with a similar kind of image (alongside high-tech 3D scans and classical portrait photography). Fahrenholz’s Recently Deleted (2015) is a series of consecutively numbered c-type prints, each with several dozen hazy miniature photographs, as if from the preview mode of a mobile phone camera. Fahrenholz’s blurred scenes seem to hide more than they show; for casual viewers they are probably meaningless. But here they are affectionately defended in all their semantic tenuousness and porousness. ‘Poor images’, according to Steyerl, ‘show the rare, the obvious, and the unbelievable – that is, if we can still manage to decipher it’. It may be for this reason that poor images seem so attractive, because, in contrast to their counterpart – the sealed off, high-resolution image – they still seem somehow compromised, offering ambiguity and the possibility of speculation.
‘The public’, writes Stephan Dillemuth in a text accompanying his exhibition Neueröffnung (Reopening) – in a tiny shop front that has been rented by Galerie Nagel-Draxler on Albertusstraße – ‘seems diffuse to us today, paralyzed and deeply furrowed by markets. Institutions select and nobilitate, they create values, they define how knowledge can be made accessible, they translate it into a public relationship with the public. Unlike the institutional authority, the exhibition makes itself vulnerable and tries to keep the access open. This is necessary, if we want to investigate how open sources and open knowledge can change our life conditions.’ Through a display window visible from the street, Dillemuth combined large format, gold-painted cog-shaped casts with cheap electronics: early mobile phones, an old laptop. As if a science experiment, the cog, as a symbol of industrialization (ala Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, 1936) is brought together with the symbolic tools of a contemporary, mobile working world, as well as that controversial standard of value: gold. The work is a demonstration of powerlessness with an open outcome – after all, what chance does visual art have today to exert influence?
At Ginerva Gambino, Julian Stalbohm showed a series of prints: enlargements of real betting stubs that the artist placed with London bookmakers. For Stalbohm, the format of the bets becomes a medium of publication for unlikely predictions: ‘Leonardo Di Caprio will open an art museum before 2025’, or ‘extra-terrestrial life will be proven in 2016’. Here in Cologne it seemed as if art was craving spaces in which the unpredictable can occur. A similar reading could be made of the homage to motorsport that JPW3, aka John Patrick Walsh, has set up in another temporary gallery run by Nagel-Draxler (this time in the former gallery building of Rudolf Zwirner). Like a strange sacred site, a Ferrari engine studded with scent-sticks sat in the back of the exhibition, which featured batik-like wax images and wax objects which had been formed in a wok and tipped out on the gallery floor like puddings. Come inside your mind was perhaps the most sentimental show in Cologne this spring: colour and liquefaction, the technical euphoria of a bygone era, motorsports that have long since petrified into an empty industry. But then again: what are gamblers and racing car drivers if not incurable optimists?
Translated by Joel Scott