I experienced a nightmare of unparalleled ferocity the day after I saw this exhibition. In it a dark mixture of industrial and Gothic architecture played host to a fragmented narrative, in which a sinister figure guided me through a mirrored labyrinth housed in a metal-clad church adorned with half-erased graffiti. On reflection I couldn’t help thinking that its source was Robert Elfgen’s Zweieck (Star Fighter, 2005). Elfgen’s work comprises a diptych of archangels guarding a sci-fi model of a missile-cum-fighter plane. Similar to the substance of my dream, its transcendental, fictitious yet disturbing references to war, national boundaries, journeys and fundamentalist beliefs enact a deep split between security and aggression, defence and vengeance. The painting’s faded silhouettes and coloured background – reminiscent of Ross Bleckner’s shimmering works – and the model’s homespun, carefully crafted, shiny black and grey appearance, only exacerbate its parodic, apocalyptic vision.
The title of the exhibition referred to its sum total of artists, all of whom currently live and work in Germany. Seven is also a significant number in hoary antiquity, both in the West and the East, through religion, folklore, fairy tales and astronomy. In this sense a provocative cultural reverence for the mystical was prevalent throughout its other works, all of which play on various forms of uncanny duality.
Originally hailing from Transylvania, twin brothers Gerte and Uwe Tobias presented a stylized caricature of Romanian storytelling in their two small mixed-media collages, via their grinning elfin characters, which appear isolated from a larger, unnamed traditional narrative. Accompanied by a figure made from a much larger multi-panelled woodcut in the composite form of a half folk-art, half pumpkin-headed monster in Untitled (2005), these works are as much a ghostly vision of an expressionist psychosis as they are an externalizing of the myths that surround them through critically inaccurate retellings of various Romanian legends.
By contrast, Thea Djordjadze’s small organic constructions are made from found materials, but they have a similarly uncomfortable effect on the viewer. Spread in sequence over a large area of the gallery wall, the works appear tribal and ritualistic, and seem to mark out a forbidden territory for those entering the space they occupy. If Djordjadze’s works reference Surrealism as much as a shamanistic or Beuysian approach to materials (rubber, plaster, fabric and cardboard, for instance), then the anomaly in this collection is Master Precision (2004). A figurative construction involving a dressing gown, plinth, some old slippers and a tall vitrine, it enacts a parody of austerity, while the use of unlikely objects serves to perform the impossible by investing the work with a fresh and disconcerting energy. Gerda Scheepers’ small household objects also provide a glimpse of the uncanny through a form of DIY Surrealism. The most successful and eerie of her objects is Tote Ecke (Dead Corner, 2004). Situated in the far corner of the gallery, it looked as if it should have acted as a final punctuation mark to the exhibition; however, its indeterminate and formless status (reminiscent of a piece of retro corduroy furniture, it appears to peep momentarily through the wall) frustrates and confuses the boundaries of space and function, acting in a similar manner to Richard Artschwager’s wall-based constructions.
Daniel Man’s hugely enlarged Chinese lantern Drachenlampe (Dragon Lamp, 2003) plays with displaced cultures and missing homelands through the purely decorative (Man was born in London and brought up in Augsburg, and his parents are Chinese), while Martin Wöhrl uses a similarly refined irony, this time to play with art history’s own folklore. Wöhrl’s Carl (2003) takes as its starting-point Carl Andre’s Weathering Piece (1970). As with Djordjadze’s references to early Modernism, or Scheepers’ and Man’s use of household forms, Carl is rendered in sullen second-hand carpet tiles that parody Andre’s original in a particularly insulting manner. In this respect Wöhrl’s work speaks cleverly of contemporary entropy, in terms of the visual puritanism in Andre’s work and the construction of the parallel mythologies and critical reverence given to Conceptualist and Minimalist genres since their conception.
There is an unresolved dichotomy in some of the works in this exhibition – particularly those that take the form of art-historical references within a domestic context – and their attempts to upend mythologies flit between reverie, horror, the mundane and a familiar idea of dystopia. Because of this, perhaps the real substance to the works in this exhibition lay in their ability to confuse and distress on a psychological level, to annoy and unwittingly to set traps that point to the uncanny catastrophes that lie at the heart of the everyday.