Addressing the recent political events marking our times, Galerie EIGEN+ART’s group show ‘Revolte’ consists of six diverse artists and considers the ambivalence inherent in the concept of revolution. More specifically, the show explores the relationship between aesthetics and social reality. The exhibition at EIGEN+ART proposes that revolution is a double-edged sword, necessary to counter injustice yet at the sacrifice of several liberties, idealised by a young, well-meaning left that has not lived through violent histories. It’s a small gallery but ask the gallerists for some explanations and you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time with these really thoughtful pieces.
In the center of the gallery sits Lada Nakonechna’s ‘Negotiating Table’; a flimsy, round table of evenly-spaced, inward-facing photographs of bruised faces. These individuals are actually journalists beaten by state-sanctioned violence during the Maidan political upheaval of 2013–14. It reacquaints the comfortable viewer with the faces delivering their information and the sacrifices they endure to do so. Yet, alternatively, Nakonechna explores the other side of the argument in her sculpture ‘The so-called’, which is also included in the show.
The sculpture consists of small, heavy, brick-like stones, several of which are wrapped in paper decorated with handwritten words such as “terrorist” and “patriot”. The piece presents stone throwing as a desperate, pitiful, and mostly ineffective civilian tactic to counter weaponed government agents, and reflects how our means of protest are severely limited in comparison to state action. It also recalls the strangely visceral, widely-known childhood idiom juxtaposing sticks and stones to words, to point out the superficiality of words. Nakonechna suggests that this idiom is actually quite wrong; words do impact, and teaching otherwise at a young age leaves people unequipped for social reality. Indeed, the consequences of words are particularly felt in our times: the unabashedly Islamophobic comments made by Trump during his campaign—argued by some to be well within his rights—have propagated a 44 percent increase of muslim hate crime, according to reports. Unfortunately, protecting free speech includes protecting hate speech. All of Nakonechna’s work is conceptual and politically pertinent. As of yet, Nakonechna has only shown in Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, which will hopefully change as her work gets more deserved acknowledgement.
Stef Heidhues is evidently interested in materiality. Her flags start to deconstruct the many complex layers of cultural symbols, and how they bring meaning to individuals and inform identity. Made out of loosely formed strands of chains, the flag is meaningfully heavy and unravelling. The use of chains in the piece is supposed to allude to the fact that many protests in America take place on bikes (a fact I was unaware of previously). Usually exhibited in numbers, EIGEN+ART has displayed only one of Heidhues’ flags. Close by, a ceramic piece in her ‘Helmet’ series speaks to religious head-covering. The piece demonstrates how certain, thin materials of head coverings inspire so much controversy, while other materials and forms are entirely accepted. While a woman posing suggestively in a hijab is thankfully absent in this piece, head-covering is a topic that is consistently turned over, and one that the German artist has only tenuous links to.
Known for her ‘Volksboutiques’, American artist Christine Hill‘s slightly archival contribution, exploring how mass culture and mass production relate to revolution, is entirely complementary to the show. In ‘Revolution Fleamarket’, Hill investigates the infinite information the internet offers, accessible to anyone with a wifi connection. She searches the word “revolution” on multiple, commonly used databases such as Yahoo and eBay, and recreates her results using coloured pencils on paper, in girlish handwriting. Her search results include revolutionary socks, strollers, and images of scantily-clad ladies at a fetish party in a second-hand shop. In a presentation format reminiscent of school projects, Hill includes some accompanying information and her personal comments. These comments are funny, simple, down-to-earth, and add some humour to the otherwise heavy show. Bizarrely, this archival work is presented alongside terribly cheesy, short quotes from prominent figures on art-as-revolution, such as Paul Gaugin. Hopefully, Hill is being sarcastic here.