Wandering through Haus am Waldsee, one is tempted to focus on the architectural details, the surrounding woods or pristine lake rather than the actual works of art. Yet it is this intimacy of a private home turned gallery, tucked away from the center of the city that makes this exhibition a refreshing change from the impersonal immensity of the white-cube gallery.
The curatorial program plays with this concept of art in a private home by placing unlabelled works among those of the biennale. When one refers to the map, these works are indicated only as “A Private Collection,” but are actually by various artists personally selected by the curator and biennale artists, creating a relationship between their works and those of another, and rather well-known artists at that.
Yet these “private collection” artists’ names are listed only once in the front room, otherwise there is no indication of titles or whose work belongs to whom. There is something humbling about this moment–– a break away from the who’s who that usually dominates the art world. By cleverly turning this curiosity on its head, the concept can at first be puzzling. Without signage, I could not help wondering what these works were doing there and who had done them, scanning between wall to map and back again. But once I understood, I was gratefully forced out of the undeniable zombie routine of art viewing. No more cycling between reading placards: title, name, date, pan upward to artwork, title, name, date, pan upward, title, name, date … I was forced only to look, to observe.
With this addition, one senses this year’s focus has moved away from the expected large art event and into something a bit more informal. There is no denying the shift away from anything obviously political, as this year’s theme floats somewhere along the intersection between larger historical narratives and individual lives. The works at Museum am Waldsee, especially, seem to showcase this connection to the different perspectives on the facets of and relations in history.
Take Sector IX B Prophylaxis of Sleeping Sickness (2014) by Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, a collection of documents and artifacts alluding to colonial pasts, or the various interpretations of materiality in the works of Christodoulos Panayiotou. Continuing upstairs, the works of Matts Leiderstam more explicitly explore the theme of relations in history. Set perpendicular to the wall or within bookshelves, as if truly archived in this way, the works beg you to read not the paintings themselves but what is behind them. A highlight tucked amongst the “private collection” pieces is a segment of the perfectly conceived piece Ravel, Ravel, Unravel (2013) by Anri Sala, which was first presented at last year’s Venice Biennale.
In a dark room to itself, the heavy beating of a drum emanates from vyLö:t, (2012), a video work by Patrick Alan Banfield. Try to ignore the chaos of those coming and going and just stay put. It’s worth it. Parallel images play against a wide black space in between and have your eyes shooting back and forth between the slow panning movements of the camera. Your heart begins to race with the music, wandering up and down through crescendos and deep bass that vibrates with the images. There is definitely something to be understood here, but the images themselves are so poignant, the conceptual necessity seems irrelevant.
In the video, architectural images play against nature, sometimes in congruency, sometimes switching between. There is nothing monumental about the architecture – just nondescript, unobtrusive apartment buildings that line the blocks of a city reminiscent of Berlin, their pebbled concrete surface has a certain sadness, almost exhaustion to it. Hues of brown, gray, deep green, perhaps a few red flecks in the overall composition from an awning or potted plant. Suddenly shots of a typical forest floor fill the screen, but the camera quality allows for a detail that is beyond human experience. We move slowly among leaves, branches, fallen trees, dirt, water droplets. All the while, the camera moves in unexpected ways, mostly very slowly, so that moments in this rather ordinary composition are noticed in detail for the first time.
Leaving Haus am Waldsee, I feel as though I am leaving an intimate gathering, where the who’s who no longer matters and one is invited only to appreciate a collection of diverse works. There are ones that focus on material, others on atmosphere, or history, and politics, if you choose to see it that way. Or you can just absorb, take in the images, and relish your personal interpretation.
Sarah Gretsch has been living in Germany since January 2012. Originally from the United States, where she pursued her Bachelor’s in Art history, she is now continuing her studies in Berlin.