Exhibition // Are We Oppressed More by Representation or Reality?

Article by Alice Bardos in Berlin // Tuesday Jan. 12 2016

Although Dirk Skreber reveals to us the childhood original of his preference for the media and materials used and portrayed in The Long Hello, the theme of this exhibition seems to be about the provenance of a thought that has been evolving since an equally early time. Amongst the 31 pieces, crafted mostly of aluminum honeycomb panels, computer prints, microcrystallin wax and various paint ingredients, the main subjects of exploration are paint cans and paint colours themselves: there is an evident invitation to question appearances. Through the tactile or spliced elements caused by propane torch wax contortion, paint spatting, the cutting of surface materials and even the incorporation of haunting portraits, there is a definite interaction, a power struggle induced by some illusive force between representation and reality which, being so multifaceted, could have only been spawned by prolonged human internal struggle.

There are certain works which come off more as commercial than artistic. One is an image of an empty can placed side by side with an entirely blue-washed board; the two do little to incite any depth of investigation. But they do seem to be a starting place for an unfolding narrative to come. Unlike other pieces, these are as close to being as materially pristine as possible. Their surface appeal seems to be the message. The print does little more than to represent a reality safely preserved in wax. On the other hand, on the blue-washed panel, the sheen texture of the previous image is replaced by the matte of an almost eggshell paint finish, though it, too, does not do much to stimulate the imagination except to attempt to say that this is reality, and not simply a rendition of it. There is the human, insatiable temptation to connect the division, in doing so perhaps imagine that a dialectic between the two pieces might make for a more profound and compelling experience.

The power of Dirk Skreber’s exhibition is in its connection from the abstract and hypothetical to the human. Amid an exhibition both literally and figuratively saturated and bursting with paint, there are a handful of scattered human faces. In one there is an infant eerily tinted blue and entranced in sleep. Again this painting is a representation, Dirk Skreber’s works seem to show that people too suffer from hiding behind representation. In the case of humans, like in commercial arenas, they let themselves be subjected to the expectations of society, with things ranging from the superficiality of fashion, to elements as deeply penetrating as behavior and thought processes. Yet, while the imagine of this child is disturbing, it is also in some ways peaceful and comforting as its closed resting eyes and lips yield a subtle smirk. Concealed and unconscious can also mean safe. These ideas continue in another work, an adult face masked from the eyelids up, and from the nose down also seems be comfortable in the refuge where an individual can evade reality. However, through a gleam of light and look of curiosity, perhaps this subject is in some was enticed to seek something beyond adhering to assumed standards. These images suggest that through an engrained-from-an-early-age process of conformity, we sacrifice the opportunity to have a conscious experience of self.

With the exuberantly and precisely placed lines of paint overlaying and transecting ‘Giest 00110110 00110101’, we have a first, almost idealized, musing of what could happen should true form and its portrayal mingle. A nearly equally enthralling conceptualization of this interaction seems to be present in an ‘Untitled’ piece, in which there is a blossoming of perfectly orchestrated chaos as images of a paint tin are presumably deconstructed to look almost cubistic and take on more interesting aesthetic forms, while white and black paint emotively bleeds from dramatic slashes which compliment the vessel’s shape. Yet, almost unfortunately, that is not where the exploration of this relationship ends.

Next, paint corrodes and displaces pixels in pieces as they begin to embody the perhaps undesirable symptoms of this actual interaction. In another piece, where paint is directly applied over the image itself in a can, the image’s integrity is compromised as it begins to crumble and flake. The question of power arises as it appears that the medium is stronger than any depiction of it, perhaps reality washes something away from renderings leaving in its wake a vulnerable puncture in a once protective facade. In another work grey paint streaks in parallel, calculated formation running down a scrambled picture of a paint can, as red paint circumscribes its rim – there is an evident violent connotation to this piece. The medium will always be stronger than the image, as in this case the photographic picture is oppressed by a cage-like presence, as well as the sheer physicality of the paint on top. Perhaps the real has an inherently greater impact that is more difficult to undo if it does something undesirably. Images of empty crushed tins and weak translucent layers of paint create an almost palimpsest relationship, which questions just how much is lost when we let our true selves be seen. Relating this all back to the human condition, is it possible to end up devoid of both authenticity and protection when experimenting between the two? This question is not answered by the artist.

Though, perhaps, if these investigations into the nature of media are to be all related back to the nature of a person’s identity, perhaps the more important question is what force is strong enough to incite the courage to pierce through preconceived notions of how we should live, to explore who we can consciously be? If there is to be a prediction about where this journey might lead, it may be epitomized in a work which shows multiple layered, fractured images of a face, complemented by surrounding paint forms that seem to be in motion. Perhaps, the best experience is not to gravitate too strongly to either representation or reality, but rather to always remain in flux, ensuring continuous reinvention and reinterpretation. For further investigation into this material debate visit Dirk Skreber’s solo exhibition at the Capitain Petzel gallery.


Capitain Petzel
Dirk Skreber: The Long Hello
Exhibition: Jan 9 – Feb 27, 2016
Karl-Marx-Allee 45, 10178 Berlin, click here for map

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