On Stage

On Stage
Kunstverein Hannover

Birgit Brenner, Christoph Büchel, Janet Cardiff/George Bures Miller, Björn Dahlem, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Stefan Exler, Rodney Graham, Stefan Wissel, Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler, Ross Sinclair

With the exhibition ON STAGE, the Kunstverein Hannover has taken on one of the central themes of contemporary art: theatricality and stage-like aspects in current artistic production. Twelve European and American artists have created an impressive crossover between contemporary art and theatre. Most of the videos, installations, sculptures and photographs were made especially for this exhibition, which was conceived in cooperation with the Villa Merkel in Esslingen (Feb. 16 – March 30, 2003).

Ross Sinclair's (born 1966) installation at the opening of the exhibition is set at the border between stage production and conscious alienation. The Scottish artist, who had the words REAL LIFE tattooed onto his back, has been occupied with the perception, localization and movement of the real since 1994. In front of walls completely covered by cardboard boxes, he created a seemingly cryptic reference system made up of discolored flags, neon colored letters on slate tablets, white school blackboards with a windrose pointing in wrong directions and a gaudily colored map of the world.
In a crossover utilizing various media, the Canadian Rodney Graham (born 1949) combines photography, video, film, book production, sculpture and music. His video projection City Self/Country Self (2000) is a psychosocial farce about the meeting of two doppelganger, both of whom are played by Graham himself. In this emotional representation of the two men in the style of Hollywood narrative movies, the seemingly blasé City Self kicks, without any apparent reason, the poor Country Self in the behind. This moment, which takes place before the opening sequence, is repeated many times in slow motion without, however, giving the film's story a logical narration.

Stefan Wissel (born 1960) adds industrially produced objects to pictures and installations, which load the rigidity of the series and the neutral structure of Minimal Art with personal and emotional elements. The work playstation, created especially for the exhibition, is made up of ascaffolding of brass pipes onto which a bicycle bell is attached. Wissel interprets the frame as a "set of collective narratives", creating a playing for the bell, symbol of the "blossom of abstract thoughts", in the truest sense of the word.

Christoph Büchel's (born 1966) lavish room-size installations transport social situations into art spaces and give these huge ready-mades the status of works of art. In Minus (2002) Büchel crosses the boarder between the staging of fictitious life and actual events by freezing a concert hallm complete with all of its furnishings after a punk-rock concert to 25 degrees centigrade below zero, thus turning it into a
cold-storage space. As soon as the visitor enters the room, which is now covered by the thin sheet of ice, a space full of meaning opens, full of subjective fears and personalnexperiences, whose latent aggressiveness and seductiveness makes one freeze in one tracks not only in the bodily sense of the word.

Stefan Exler's (born 1968) large-format photographs are evidence of the „geological hunt for clues" of life lived there. The images create model thought spaces in which everything seems to be related to everything else. At first glance, Exler's cellars depict normal basements from above in which folding chairs, floor mats or rakes are grouped around an empty center. It is only after a closer look does the researching viewer discover amazing coincidences and connections, but also inconsequentialities in the compilation of everyday items. The room turns out to be a finely calculated, but enigmatic scenario. The wildly growing assemblies of material by Björn Dahlems (born 1974) seem like a hybrid between experimental systemization and temporary structures.Conglomerates made up of roof batten, carpet fragments, styropor and neon tubes develop into a allusionary mix of various forms and contents, combining the mysterious attractiveness of the baroque horror v cui with the improvised charms of a do-it-yourself home building site. The crude property market attitude of his materials meet up with very complex contents – theories concerning Black Holes, astrophysics, Plato's cave or the hyper-psyche –, whose findings Dahlem translates into the ordinary by testing their mythological und narrative connotations and their entwinement in the field of general culture on himself.

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen (born 1967) joins apparently ambivalent opposites such as beauty and threat, a gressiveness and pleasure together in an especially subtle way. His Laughing Gas House for Children (1998), a colorful toy house, is connected by a hose to bottle of laughing gas. The drug itself is not available for visitors: the windows are sealed, children are not allowed to enter, and adults cannot enter because of the size. Thedouble inscription "ANGST“ on the work vis-à-vis, conceived as a large advertising poster, seems to add a more than obvious commentary to the situation.

The opening up of various antithetic and seemingly opposing subjects is also the theme of videos by Teresa Hubbard (born 1965) and Alexander Birchler (born 1962) – the intimate protected interior and the hostile exterior. In Single Wide (2002), a woman crashes her car repeatedly into an enormous American camping vehicle: The exterior splits and in an act of incredible violence reminiscent of futuristic paintings, penetrates from the street into the house. The basic motif is based on the alienating intercourse between raw violence and the never-ending loop, which persists in its unfulfilled possibilities.

The works of the artistic duo Janet Cardiff (born 1957) and George Bures Miller (born 1960) are concerned with the creation of unique visual and acoustic realities. In their installation The Muriel Lake Incident (1999), they utilize the classic proscenium stage, a simple, unornamented wooden shack as an invitation to a film presentation bordering between peepshow and puppet stage. The sounds and conversations heard on the earphones present a second aural level seemingly coming from a fictitious auditorium. A complicated scenario surfaces in which the viewer is caught in the crossfire of complex realities and projection possibilities. The cinematic fiction space takes hold of everyday reality, so that the two levels cannot be told apart.

The text and video pieces by Birgit Brenner (born 1964) present a very different kind of narrative. In the multipart work Angst vor Gesichtsröte (Afraid of Blushing, since 1999), she created a seemingly schizophrenic feminine protagonist, whose depressive, schizoid medical history is documented in fictitious interviews and conversations, spraying red excerpts from these diary-like texts directly onto a wall in the Kunstverein, illustrating them with detail images of the person.

In a third outside piece, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen exaggerates the competition between power and pleasure even further. He set up pink perfumed sheep pasturing in the Georgengarten – an historical reference to the much loved staffage during Marie Antoinette's times in the rococo era in the style of baroque pastoral lyrics. This exaggeration and taming of threatening nature, a typical leitmotif in the art of the 18th century, is a harmless and cute representation only on the surface.