A remarkably well dressed but sweaty swarm crowded at the stairs of the Vertigo of Reality exhibition on September 17th, displaying a notably pushy enthusiasm for an art opening. But it was worth the wait: through interventions, tech gadgets, and trickery the works delivered an experience that uprooted, subverted, and challenged the viewer’s immediate reality.
Most works were interactive or required the viewer’s active presence. For instance, Tino Sehgal’s ‘This is Exchange’ requires the visitor to speak with a hired performer about the market economy in order to get a discount on the entrance fee for another show, paradoxically implicating the viewer in an exchange as he/she reflects upon it.
Similarly unsettling the coordinates of experience, though in a more physical sense, Peter Campus’ ‘mem’ ruptures our habitual maneuverings through space. As the viewer moves around the room, his/her image is projected, not as a mirror image as we would expect, but as its inverse, creating a dizzying sensation and a distrust of one’s own body. Campus’ work is one of a few that used closed circuit technology: a processes of simultaneous recording and projection that is interrupted by the presence of an animate body. Among these few are iconic works like Nam June Paik’s ‘Three Camera Participation,’ or Bruce Nauman’s installation ‘Live-Taped Video Corridor,’ which requires the viewer to walk down a claustrophobically narrow passage, watching a video feed that films them in the unsettling perspective of security cameras from both ends of the corridor. The footage of the viewer’s back is shown at an accelerated pace, causing a disjunct between the viewer’s body and the two videos.
In memory of German experimental filmmaker Harun Farocki, who passed away this summer, a number of his films are being screened. Farocki provides a helpful entrance into the hybrid globalalized-local, digital-analogue world that the exhibition explores. Farocki was particularly innovative in using film – a visual medium – to materialize the almost hegemonic power that the sense of sight has over our reality. Presented in parallel with Farocki’s videos are the photographs of Trevor Paglen, which appear to be quintessential landscape scenes, but become sinister when the viewer learns that the images capture traces of military and surveillance activity like passing satellites.
Christian Falsnaes‘ work plays with spectacle by requiring five people to put on headphones and follow certain commands. The resultant performance is curious to watch, as the viewer never knows what actions and expressions have been commanded, which of the performers is an actor hired for this project or who is simply a passing person, causing visitors to become suspicious of performance and uncertain of reality.
Vertigo of Reality engages with similar themes from different angles and different media: the works intersect and provide insight into one another in unexpected ways. Complementing how Falsnaes’s work hollows out the authenticity of reality through performance, in ‘Situation Room,’ Franz Reimer reconstructed a cardboard version of the iconic White House Situation Room. The set contains all the necessary props – computers, coffee cups, glasses, all made of paper – to allow visitors to reenact the famous photograph of the room taken on May 1, 2011, as US leaders followed the military operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The works resonate with each other in a multilayered ensemble. Thomas Demand’s large photograph, ‘Control Room’ presents the illusion of a completely normal office, but in reality the scene had been built by the artist completely out of paper. This realization forces the viewer to consider the two-dimensionality of the photograph itself, which similarly creates a virtual sense of depth and reality.
All of the works in Vertigo of Reality make visible our fantasies and phantoms, our dreams for the future and how these are weighed down by material histories and political and economic realities. Amusing and profound, the exhibition entices you to play its games and leaves you with lasting impressions.
In addition to the works on display, there is an impressive program of lectures and workshops arranged for the public.