Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Matt Collishaw – Hysteria (Freud museum, London)

Posted in Reviews by matteopollini on November 17, 2009

Hysteric, photo courtesy of The Freud Museum

In a show in which the idea of hysteria seems to entail an interesting conversation on simulation – taking place, moreover, in Freud’s house, now a museum – Matt Collishaw’s latest works match almost perfectly, camouflaged within the myriad of objects collected by the Austrian psychoanalyst and displayed through the rooms. They pulse of their own lives, attracting visitors’ eyes and bodies towards them, machines in disguise fully intentioned to deceive and challenge senses and perception, blurring the distinction
between reality and illusion, between physical and immaterial.

The two works ‘Slipping Into Darkness’ and ‘Women Under the Influence’, respectively constituted by an antique sewing table and a large mirror, found their place in the house’s dining room on the ground floor. On the small table, lies an anamorphic render of a print depicting Martin Charcot in the act of showing his students a patient in a hysterical fit; in the second work, another mirror reflects distorted images of Charcot’s photographic case studies. In both these pieces, glass – the material at the core of any device of observation – changes the relationship between the viewer and the subject of these works: the cylindrical mirror positioned at the center of the anamorphosis has the function to restore the distorted image to its correct, lost, proportions, whereas the mirror of ‘Women Under the Influence’ showing photographs in constant process of distortion, plays the opposite role, making difficult the distinction between recognizable features of a face and the

smoke that generates/constitutes them.
In the zoetrope ‘Garden of Unearthly delights’ – shown in the room of Freud’s daughter
Anna, known for her  studies on childhood psychology – a series of three dimensional
sculptures of tiny imp children smashing eggs, killing snails and butterflies with sticks
and rocks are displaced on a rotating platform, lighted with stroboscopic LED-lights
producing the illusion of movement and recalling the father-daughter’s studies on cruelty
in childhood. The installation ‘Charcot’s case studies’, shown in the adjoining room, is a
slide projection of original photographs of Charcot’s patients on a wall covered with
photosensitive panels. The images remain impressed on the wall for a short time even if
the slide is not actually projected thanks to the peculiar material of the panels, able to
absorb and emit light in an amount equivalent to the intensity of the bygone image’s

shades of grays.
The works presented, question ideas of simulation and illusion by shifting the laws that
regulate various optical-physical effects such as retinal persistency outside of the viewer’s
body. If in ‘Garden of Unearthly delights’ the sculptures move because the persistency
takes place on the viewer’s retina, in ‘Charcot’s case studies’ a similar effect is enacted on
a wall, causing a short circuited situation in which it is no longer clear whether the cause of
the visible is mechanic or organic. Hysteria is a term that describes physical
manifestations not supported by organic causes, and the exhibition appropriates such
definition to extend the gap between order and disorder, that is, to highlight the conflict
between the rational, controlled analytic thought processing and the irrationality of


Andreas Golder – “Surgite mortui venite ad Judicium”

Posted in Reviews by matteopollini on March 20, 2009

Courtesy of the artist and White Cube Gallery

Being in the same small room with Andreas Golder’s works is not an easy experience: paintings of unknown revolting creatures occupy the three dark-gray walls of the exhibition, and unconsciously – for a fraction of a second – the heart skips a beat as the space between the viewer and the works becomes pitchy and difficult to cross. This sensation is assisted by the sculpture positioned in the very middle of the space (Memorial to the last guest, 2008), which intervene as an emitter of the sense of discomfort that almost wafts in the room. The fiberglass sculpture – in fact – is unfortunately very well rendered, allowing the viewer to admire all its abhorrent traits: a long neck supports the heavy skull “accessorized” with a dangling eye-ball, the internal organs seem to have been pulled out and exposed outside of the body – reducing the bones to a mere support rather than functioning as a protective shield – blood and fluids shed on the ground as the possible result of having the sculpture being thrown up by the surrounding paintings.

All the gore and repulsion, however, is soon to be forgotten as the viewer slowly realize that the sculpture he/she is looking at is simply a human being whose features have been re-organized and re-scaled. The creature is not one of us, it is rather all of us: it is both female and male, young and old, dead and alive. It is also virtually situated in a X moment – where “X” is to be understood as a cross, an intersection – in which all of these dualities become possible and tangible. Similarly, the paintings surrounding the sculpture depict the same type of figure in situations that clearly evoke biblical allusions as in Zetigeist, in which one the skeletons genuflects as if at the base of the Crucifixion, or in Economy, a large scale painting in which the Last Supper is evoked perpetuating and finally ratifying the close connection these “living corpses” share with the world that we inhabit.

As difficult as this exhibition is to experience and enjoy – due to the unusual fabric Golder has decided to dress his works with – the intention of the artist seems to be utterly positive and optimistic, for here the so called unknown finds a dimension to inhabit, specifically in what is shared between all the human beings: flesh, blood and bones.

Matteo Pollini

Andreas Golder
Surgite mortui venite ad Judicium
White Cube, Hoxton Square – London
16 Jan. – 21 Feb. 2009

Florian Hecker – Pentaphonic Dark Energy, Sadie Coles HQ

Posted in Reviews by matteopollini on November 27, 2008

In Pentaphonic Dark Energy, five white loudspeakers, each one connected to the gallery ceiling through a metallic arm, are positioned slightly above the visitor’s head. From this position, the acoustic devices emit a wide spectrum of quite disturbing sound frequencies, generating something that resembles a random and quite scary audio composition. From time to time however, this chaotic irrepressible jumble of sounds finds its own sonic match, filling for a short lapse of time the exhibition’s space with a powerful and homogenous sound – a “discordant accord”; when this happens, the relieve is immediate: the correct combination between the diversities has been found and the resultant is crystal clear and loud. Yet, it is only audible, is the triumph of the invisible on the visible.

In the past, Hecker’s has worked in collaboration with Russell Haswell on Iannis Xenakis’ Upic (Unit Polyagogique Informatique de CEMAMu), a device that permitted to transform hand drawing into sounds. These researches conveyed in ‘Upic Diffusion Session 14 (for Cerith Wyn Evans)’, a performance during which the sketches of Evan’s neon sculpture You’ll never guess it’s the pacific ocean again have been re-drawn with an electronic pen and translated via the Upic system into sounds. In Pentaphonic Dark Energy the process goes in the opposite direction: the sonic emissions intervene in the volume of space between the four white walls of the gallery, virtually drawing audio-coordinates to define it,   just for few seconds. The balance of the different forces is in fact destined to be broken, causing a momentary disorientation and shock.

Hecker’s artistic practice is well known for its strict relation with accurate researches on mathematic, science and acoustic; The relation between sound and maths has been a topic of interest since Pythagoras and his followers, committed to the application of the numbers’ rules to the concept of order; these pioneers of the scientific studies regarding sound and then music devoted their life to the study of numbers and ratios that could be used to combine two or more sounds in what they defined as ‘harmony’. To be precise, the ‘harmony’ or ‘order’ was a versatile concept applicable to the world, the ethic and eventually the cosmos. There is an archaic substrate of knowledge and a deep, complex research in ‘Pentaphonic Dark Energy’, which calls into question the spatial perception through the use of a wide spectrum of different frequencies of sounds.

Kent Monkman

Posted in Reviews by matteopollini on October 15, 2008

This month, the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London is showing a selection of new works by the Canadian Artist Kent Monkman. At a first glance, the unquestioned protagonist of this exhibition is Nature, which dominates almost all the available space of the largest paintings, leaving the human presence far from the very centre of the image, in fact left at the bottom of the composition. As a matter of fact, when Monkman decides to focus his attention on human subjects, he decreases the size of the paintings and removes the presence of Nature positioning the subjects in front of a neutral background. However, in both cases Monkman’s aim is to offer an opportunity to reflect upon human cultures and their consolidated clichées, refering to Cultural Anthropology and more specifically to the Nature-Culture debate.

In the main exhibition room, a series of small portraits is placed between the larger landscape paintings. In one of these works, “Two Crows, A Band Chief with Tinselled Buck No. 7,429” (2008), the vivid image of the subject almost obscures a blurred second presence, a spirit or, more likely, a representation of the Culture of the Native American. These manifestations of the presence of Culture(s) are very much defined and increase in number in the landscape scenes. Interestingly enough, the white men populating the scenes are not able to see these presences – and we know it for, at a closer look, there is no trace of them on the canvas of the painter depicted in “Clouds in the Canyon” (2008). All this painter is able to see and perceive is the immensity of the landscape of the American West. Thus, the incapacity of seeing (therefore understanding) is a prerogative of the human who tries to find Culture within the Nature.

Consequently, in “The Treason of Images” (2008) and “Forest with Trees” (2008) the artist-explorer is depicted in the attempt to capture an image with the help of another much neutral device: a camera. We are not given the privilege of knowing what will appear in the pictures taken, but we can suppose that the small portraits – in which the presence is actually visible – have been painted using those shots as a guide. Native Americans, cameras and eventually cine-camera bring our thoughts to the last years of XIX century, when anthropologists Lewis Henry Morgan and Franz Boas tried to collimate the alleged gap between Cultures, not aware that in this attempt they probably stretched it even more. Kent Monkman has declared that his new works were inspired by his studies of the artist and anthropologist George Catlin (1796-1872) who, ‘with the zeal of a missionary, set about “documenting” aboriginal tribespeople across North America as they faced the threat of extinction’, an attempt not dissimilar from what the movie director in the double-screen projection positioned at the end of the exhibition is trying to do, shouting to his actors ‘More Authentic!’,disappointed by the dance movements the two Native Americans are performing in front of the cine-camera – a dance he considers not enough folkloristic or “typical”. Doing so, Monkman places the European colonialist ambition and therefore cultural identity under scrutiny; the past should be revaluated and history understood as the result of the collision of fact and fiction.

 The exhibition starts before entering the Friedman Gallery when, walking toward the glass door and windows, the eye encounters Monkman’s works and misjudges them as generic nineteenth century paintings of landscapes. Once the gallery’s threshold is crossed, the viewer realizes how superficial and hasty his/her judgement was. A closer inspection is needed, and it is precisely this moment of physical approach that enables the decoupling of the artistic operation of the works and its shifting into the exhibition space. In this perspective, the blindness of the painter, the photographer and the director-cameraman could be considered as a double of a situation we have already experienced before getting close enough to appreciate – for the fact that we are able to see – the multitude of elements that constitute the picture.