Whitehot Magazine

March 2009, Simon Starling @ Temporaere Kunsthalle

March 2009, Simon Starling @ Temporaere Kunsthalle
Simon Starling, Installation View, Courtesy Temporaere Kunsthalle

Simon Starling’s concern with cultural and natural processes of transformation, exhibited in the three works currently on display at Berlin’s Temporäre Kunsthalle, seems especially apt when one considers the broader historical picture of the site of the Kunsthalle and the architectural status of the building itself. Starling is surely aware of the vortex of historical transformation swirling around the adjacent Stadtschloss site, the ephemerality of the exhibition architecture itself, and the relevance of this to the process and product of his work. The work Under Lime (2009), the only new piece created for the exhibition, displays some level of awareness of these facts. For this piece Starling used a chainsaw to cut a branch off of one of the lime trees growing on Unter den Linden, the historical boulevard adjacent to the Kunsthalle. He then converted the chainsaw into a makeshift lift to hoist himself and the branch into the rafters of the exhibition space. The tree branch and the chainsaw pulley system remain as the fixed sculptural form of the work.  Unfortunately Under Lime feels more like a passive acknowledgement of the historical weight of its specific site and fails to ask that we rethink this history or critically engage with the dense, complex circumstances of its creation. A second work Plant Room (2008) is a mud brick building, which, owing to its natural cooling system, creates the perfect environment for the exhibition of a series of plant photographs by the photographer Karl Blossfeldt. But Starling is at his best when he is most kinetic and it is the third work in the exhibition that most clearly and strongly expresses the conceptual orientation of Starlings practice.

In 2002 Starling was traveling through the Tabernas Desert in Andalusia, Spain, home to Texas Hollywood Film Studios and the setting of many spaghetti westerns of the 1950’s-1980’s.  On one of the sets he found a cactus, which he proceeded to dig up and transport 2,145 km to Frankfurt am Main, Germany in the back of his Volvo 240 Estate. Upon arrival in Frankfurt Starling removed the engine from the car and installed it and the cactus in the Portikus Gallery by the banks of the Main river. The piping of the engine was reconfigured to snake through the gallery and act as a heating system, creating a temporary greenhouse for the resilient cactus. Kakteenhaus (2002), as the work is titled, has now, seven years later with the cactus having grown several inches, made its way to Berlin.  

The themes of travel and journeying have played an important role in Starling’s work over the last decade.  He won the Turner prize in 2005 for dismantling a shed he discovered on the banks of the Rhine River, converting it into a boat, rowing the boat to Basel, Switzerland, and reassembling the shed inside a gallery.  However it would be wrong to understand these works as a passive reflection of current nomadic artistic practices or a celebration of the heroic image of the itinerant artist. Rather Starling’s work illustrates the fragility and vulnerability at the heart of these practices and their oftentimes antagonistic relationship to ideologies of environmentalism and social equality. Nor does Kakteenhaus capitulate to exoticism or a glorification of place bound identities. There is nothing particularly special about this cactus, except that it seems out of place – and this is the point exactly. Starling’s best work dwells on a terrain between mobilization and specificity and the result is work that is, in the words of Miwon Kwon, “out of place with punctuality and precision.”


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David Knowles

David Knowles is a musician and researcher living in Berlin.  He fronts the video/music project Donkey Kong and has performed extensively in Europe and America.  His ongoing writing, research, and performance projects in the fields of architecture, urbanism and new media are documented extensively on his website www.openofficepok.com

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