In the historical mansion-turned-contemporary art gallery at Haus am Waldsee, the visually intriguing and thought provoking solo exhibition by Alicja Kwade, Monologue from the 11th Floor, is soon coming to an end. Outside in the large gallery grounds, autumn debris littering the sculpture garden is a seasonal reminder of the passing of the year, while inside more complex questions of the very structure of time itself are being nudged and prodded. Through her often simple manipulation of objects and materials, the Berlin-based Polish artist creates sculptures and installations with a philosophical and playful approach to questions of physics, astronomy, and the structures and systems we use to interpret our world.
A painted old fashion wooden door is the first of such sculptures to confront the viewer’s expectations of form and physical structure. The door spirals around into a tube shape, as if its rigid materiality momentarily gave way when swung open, to then re-solidify, frozen in the act of misbehaving. The spiral form of the door directly refers to 17th century physicist, Jacob Bernoulli’s discovery that mathematically consistent spirals occurs everywhere in nature. This work, titled Eadem Mutata Resurgo 3 (‘transformed I rise again as the same’) (2013), is reminiscent of works in Kwade’s 2012 and 2014 solo shows at Johann König gallery, where familiar household and industrial materials are bent and curved along the circumference of a circle or at the meeting of wall and floor. Her execution is so flawless that the manipulated form of the familiar objects seem somehow naturally occurring, as if it were the result of a subtle and temporary rift in the fabric of time and space. In the next room of the exhibition, seven mirrors of equal size are bent, resting against the gallery wall in various stages of sliding to the floor, appearing like mirrored sheets of paper that have tumbled from a pile. This recurring motif in her work – the bending of forms we believe from experience to be unforgivingly rigid – works to demonstrate the instability of things we believe to be constant; a reminder that when it comes to understanding the world on a molecular level, or on the unimaginable scale of the universe, things are not always as they seem.
Time as a human construct is an idea that seems to consistently fascinate Kwade. Many of her works highlight how time as we interpret it – as a seemingly constant and reliable feature of our everyday experience – is indeed just a constructed device, and one that can be challenged and manipulated. Influence (2015) is a wall-mounted clock that over the course of one minute the hands speed up and slow down, replicating the frustrating feeling of how time can drag on or run faster than desired, as well as illustrating Albert Einstein’s discovery that gravity has influence over how fast a clock runs. In a greater leap into theoretical complexity, large scale sculptural installation Hypothetisches Gebilde II-IV (2015) draws its form from wormhole theories. A network of copper pipes with trumpet-like openings dominates the room, disappearing into floors, walls, and ceilings. The whole system looks like a Willy Wonka contraption you expect to hear a surprising rhythm of toots and splutters from. The trumpet mouths mimic the shape of wormhole diagrams where a two-dimensional surface drops away into a tunnel, capitulating matter through time and space. In several of the openings are chunks of granite, and at others, a pile of sediment. Kwade often uses natural rock as a symbol for time, drawing on how we comprehend the lifespan of the earth through its geological evolution. The pipes are wormholes of time where millennia of the steady natural erosion of rock is warped and condensed, beginning and end present at once.
Another recurring feature in Kwade’s work is mirror image sculptures, like that of the two identical branches found in adjacent rooms of the gallery. Of course nature doesn’t produce two identical branches, and so viewers walk to and fro between the rooms trying to figure out which is the fake. The theory being investigated here is that of parallel universes; that somewhere there exists an exact replica of every particle, symmetrical antiparticles mirroring the mass, spin, and lifespan of their twin. Kwade takes this information and interprets it as a possibility for alternative realities. A large stone stares at its silvery counterpart through a glass pane. Sticks in a cabinet are spliced together with their shimmering parallel universe partners. Copies and doubles are all over the exhibition: sometimes side-by-side, or else on the other side of a wall or in a neighbouring room. At first this layout seems confusing and inconsistent, but as more doubles are spotted you get a déjà-vu-like sense of fragments of parallel realities.
One set of copies is a little at odds with the rest. Kwade has meticulously copied the manuscripts and practiced the handwriting of physicist Nikola Tesla, achieving an indistinguishable written script from that of the original. The fake letters were then given to a graphologist for analysis, and their findings – that this is the work of an approximately 45 year old intellectual, with full personality description – displayed next to the two sets of letters. Aside from fitting with the loose exhibition format of doubles and copies, the piece works more as a parody of the concept of parallel universes, exposing the mechanisms of the fake, and as a playful and amusing homage to the famous physicist.
Kwade’s delving into philosophical and scientific theory is not so much an attempt to answer questions or contribute to the theories, but rather as an illustration of key concepts and age-old queries through artistic interpretation. At Monologues From The 11th Floor viewers aren’t getting a crash course in physics as much as they are simply made aware of the forces at work around us, such as the reminder that gravity is both ever-present and inconstant when spotting a set of keys fixed firmly to the ceiling.