Located in Charlottenburg, Zilberman Gallery builds a bridge between Istanbul and Berlin in a turn-of-the-century building with a contemporary salon atmosphere. In a similar fashion, ‘Some Descriptive Acts’ by Simon Wachsmuth—the gallery’s current exhibition—translates historically-charged ceramics and fabrics as well as personal and public documents into acts of memory. Via photography, performance, archival collages and video works, his various materials and textures manifest as traces and transform into momentary monuments.
Wachsmuth reveals himself to be an archeologist, excavating and reframing historical details. The photographic series ‘Signatures’—first exhibited at Documenta 12—allows the viewer to zoom in on engraved signatures by travellers, visiting Xerxes’ Gate of all Nations in Persepolis, Iran. Dating back centuries, on one hand, a kind of old-school tourism or ancient graffiti becomes visible—if not a monumental guest book. On the other, a basic human desire to leave a territorial mark behind manifests in these scratches.
Addressing cultural heritages with an opaque vocabulary of movement, ‘Qing’, a 2-channel performance video installation, is the exhibition’s focal point. Inspired by the 2016 Steirischer Herbst’s festival’s topic ‘Body Luggage’, this projected monument creates an analogy between modern dance movement and the literal and metaphoric baggage a migratory body schleps. The work insinuates a wide geographic and historical field from Austria to China. The underlying narrative of the piece pays tribute to Wachsmuth’s grandmother’s flight during World War II, but the storyline is visually abstracted. Gertrud Tenger-Wachsmuth was a modern dancer, a dance-style deemed degenerate under Nazi rule. LouLou Omer acts as her, navigating on all-fours through and in family heirlooms from Wachsmuth’s personal family collection. On screen, intricate fabrics blur into nostalgic close ups and, weighed down by an exquisite robe, Omer slinks through fine porcelain tea cups. The ceramics seem to transform into a landscape and the dancer’s movements seem to slip through these materialities, without adhering to the body.
Still on the trails of his family history and his grandmother’s dance troupe, the photo series ‘Master of the Nets-The Kochi Tiles’ uses the notion of the net found on ancient Chinese tiles —depicting fishermen scenes—discovered in the Pardesi Synagogue. The work spins the net of migration further, linking it to a history of international trade. At first glance, they seem to duplicate themselves like viral images on the internet, yet look closely and the cracks in the blue and white ceramics become clear. There is nuance in such repetitions.
As a whole, the exhibition demonstrates there is a choreography to historical narratives. Two large vitrines collect and contrast different collages made up from his personal family archive with images from the Bronze Age to Antiquity. An asymmetry is at play, ancient Roman vessels and frescos versus his grandmother in the 1920s locked in geometric dance-poses. In effect, Wachsmuth’s materials act as catalysts, weaving, tiling and scratching a subjective history into a wide scope of geographic ancestries. It is all relational.