Article by Louisa Stark // Saturday, Apr. 28, 2018
Jonathan Meese, an artist whose work often transports the viewer into the world of his own anarchic imagination, has taken the idea of immersion to the next level in his new work ‘Mutter und Sohn = Realität trifft Kunst (Z.U.K.U.N.F.T. der Unendlichkeit)’ at Gropius Bau. Made for Berliner Festspiele / Immersion’s project with ARTE—a long-standing cooperation that gives artists the opportunity to create work with Virtual Reality technology—Meese has created an installation and 360-degree film. It is billed as a collaboration between the artist and his mother, Brigitte Meese; a partnership that seems filled with tongue-in-cheek potential, especially with prior knowledge of Meese’s self-referential practice and outlandish performance pieces.
In order to watch the film, I enter a temporary room built within the gallery space, sparsely furnished by a mattress, an armchair, a few random objects such as a toy robot and pot of dried paint, as well as low swivel-stools for viewers to sit on. The walls are white and covered in a frieze of blood-red, loosely painted shapes like Cy Twombly’s frenzied ‘Bacchus’ paintings. In preparation, I sit down, put on headphones and VR googles that I adjust to focus as instructed by an attendant, and then, sensorily deprived of the sights and sounds of my immediate environment, I press a button to begin the 360-degree film experience.
The VR screen shows the same space I’m in, but it’s orientation has shifted: the mattress and the door are now on the opposite side of the room. Dizzyingly, it takes a few moments to adjust to this uncanny environment and notice other subtle differences. The walls, clear of red paint, appear luminous and clinical through the backlit screen like those of a cell and on the mattress the figure of a man is lying asleep. A woman enters through the door and wakes him up; from their interactions it becomes clear that he is the artist and she is his mother, Brigitte. Meese plays an exaggerated version of himself, energetically painting gestural red marks on the wall; the cliché of an abstract expressionist painter in the manner of Jackson Pollock. A succession of ‘mothers’ enter the room to perform different actions, such as bringing Meese a cup of tea or critiquing his burgeoning painting, until there are multiple doppelgangers within the room that induce a mixture of humour and claustrophobia.
The strangest and most interesting aspects of the film were two moments of uneasy self-awareness (or, indeed, awareness of my own absence from this virtual world). At one point a ‘mother’ takes a photograph of Meese with his work, however I occupy the space in between them, unnoticed and invisible like an intruder within a dream. Later, a final ‘mother’ enters with a mirror and holds it up to face me, but the image in its reflection is actually the portrait of a historical figure. While the film itself is amusing and has a surreal, dream-like quality, its content sometimes feels secondary to the medium itself; the narrative is there to facilitate Meese’s exploration of VR, which, as the technology develops further and becomes more wide-spread, is an increasingly exciting and popular tool for making and experiencing contemporary art.
Although I had the ability to choose which aspect of the panorama to focus on by turning full-circle, it was impossible for my VR goggle-encased gaze to escape for the entire 9-minute running time, calling into question the role of the gallery space for viewing work such as this. In fact, the film is available to download for free so people with VR headsets can experience the work wherever they like, albeit without the room installation and wall painting; layers which create the additional peculiarity of being physically inside the artwork that we witness being made virtually. As a non-German speaker, I opted to experience the dubbed English-language version of the film, which heightened the artificiality of the experience and, despite sharing a space with other viewers, made VR feel like a very individual and isolated way of viewing the work.
Brigitte & Jonathan Meese: ‘Mutter und Sohn = Realität trifft Kunst (Z.U.K.U.N.F.T. der Unendlichkeit)’
Exhibition: Apr. 21–29, 2018
Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin, click here for map