BY Barbara Preisig in Reviews | 19 MAR 12
Featured in
Issue 146

Spartacus Chetwynd

BY Barbara Preisig in Reviews | 19 MAR 12

Spartacus Chetwynd 2012, Installation view

Spartacus Chetwynd adopted an unusually quiet tone for this exhibition. Instead of a scene featuring life-sized papier-mâché creatures and performance leftovers, visitors found themselves on an empty stage. The only works on the wall were large panels displaying small watercolour monoprints (all works untitled, 2012). A curtain, or rather a backdrop, sewn together from lengths of brightly coloured fabric cut the gallery in half, creating a second space behind it. Any faint hopes of finding some of Chetwynd’s usual dramatic elements in this backstage area, or at least some of the familiar chaos, were immediately dashed. There were no other works – just a view of the door to the service lift and the large window overlooking the courtyard. The view down onto the gallery’s office spaces was a reminder that Giti Nourbakhsch has decided to close her gallery for good after this show, and Chetwynd’s refusal to show anything more than the elements mentioned could be read as a reference to this fact. The metaphors suggested by the mise-en-scène – the closed curtain, the silent, vacated stage, the last performance – pointed in the same direction.

Chetwynd’s colourful monoprints, on the other hand, were marked by an almost childlike joy. Shielded from daylight by the backdrop, she presented a total of 270 pieces on white A4 sheets stuck together in grids to form ten large panels. Fixed to the wall in a makeshift fashion, with black tape along their top edges, the panels themselves, their paper rippled by the paint, formed a fluttering curtain. They recalled watercolour pictures made at school and brought together hybrid figures, each seeming to live a life of its own. One could see in them curious protozoa, pupating insects, squids, floral patterns and sometimes entire landscapes.

The range of forms and colours in this series of works was strongly reminiscent of the loveable monsters and carnivalesque beasts that have featured in Chetwynd’s performances as costumes, puppets and walk-in exhibition architectures. The bat – the main character from her ‘Bat Opera’ paintings (2002–ongoing) – now appeared in print form, along with other animals from her cast of figures. In contrast to her paintings and performances, the beings portrayed in the monoprints eluded clear identification. In the rigid grid, they came to look more like an alphabet of pictograms, focusing increased attention on the mirroring, repetition and variation resulting from the monoprinting technique. Their frame of reference was provided by the glyphs of the Maya, reinterpreted by Chetwynd in this kindergarten version, subverting their cultural and historical significance by means of bricolage and a deliberately unpretentious style. It was obvious that the monoprints were produced quickly and in large numbers, and as such they were possibly not to be read as an autonomous work of printing; instead, they seemed to draw their meaningfrom their interplay with the theatrical arrangement of the exhibition space. The colours of the backdrop clearly matched the prints, acting as a foil to them.

Chetwynd’s complex works are generally characterized by joyfully anarchic deconstructions of grand narratives, fantastic stage presentations and collective performances. Although the backdrop declared the exhibition space a stage/backstage, turning the visitors into potential actors, the reference to theatre worked on a formal level only and the atmosphere was purposefully subdued this time. The frustration of expectations was of course fitting, given the circumstances, but on the other hand one wouldn’t have begrudged Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch a final blaze of glory.

Barbara Preisig is an art historian who lives and works in Zurich and Berlin. Her dissertation project investigates ephemeral forms of Conceptual art from the 1960s and ’70s.