Whitehot Magazine

February 2008, Underwood @ Ballhaus Ost

 Marc Hulson, Untitled 2007
courtesy Ballhaus Ost, Berlin


Anouchka Grose, Mathew Hale, Marc Hulson, Susan Morris, Esther Planas
Ballhaus Ost, 12.01 – 03.02.08

The work presented in Underwood, a hastily convened show at the Ballhaus Ost, might be considered either subtext or pre-text to Grose’s writing in the booklet which accompanied the exhibition. The titles of her collection of fragments were provided by the artists who in turn responded to the texts with an image.

comprises four false starts, fictional biographies, lives glimpsed in retrospect and intimations of dread, a compass pointing everywhere. In the text perhaps is buried the key that can unlock the exhibition, in the exhibition the keys that can unlock the text.

The texts, presented at the Ballhaus as large photocopies pasted on the wall and reproduced in the catalogue for the exhibition, comprise a series of narrative sequences, points of departure, flights of imagination whose destination is sometimes completed, sometimes complimented and sometimes perplexed by the themes of the work on show.

Their endings are somewhat peremptory, as if the first page of a novel has been torn out. Sentences are left uncompleted as if, should we care to know what happened next, we must consult the work for answers.

The work on show here is disparate, there is no mutual manifesto, implied, stylistic or otherwise, to which these artists might be signatories. What some of them have in common is a shared history of collaboration, of an ongoing involvement with the 5 years gallery project in London which, for far longer than their project’s name implies, has sought consistently to find new strategies for the presentation of a diverse group of artists work, both thematically and procedurally.

These experiments have always had a vital and spontaneous aspect, a dialogue in which the line between artist and curator was crossed and re-crossed, a space in which strange temporary hybrids of rehearsal and performance, process and result occurred.

Duchamp’s metaphysical typewriter, the Underwood travelling model, is the spectre at this particular feast – co-opted - like the promotion of JJ Abrams Cloverfield, the elephant remains, unremarked upon, in the centre of the room. There is a sense here of the forced mating of a sewing machine and an umbrella. It is not always an entirely happy union.

Hale showed a playful assemblage of junk shop object trouvés which found a small brass drum kit spinning on an old record player, the light refracted by a series of mirrors throwing the fragmented image of a projected slide on the wall. A forlorn DDR disco. For some unfathomable reason a fresh bread roll sat on top of the projector. The title, Enough Tyranny Recalled (1974 – 2006) (I am informed the dates do not refer to the gestation of the work) offered little elucidation.

  Mathew Hale, Enough Tyranny Recalled (1974-2006) courtesy Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

Grose’s response, The First Lesson, is a recollection of a harsh childhood, voiced by a narrator who is grateful that authority cares. It is accompanied by the front page of le Nouvel Observateur promising Simone de Beauvoir, La Scandaleuse.

Next, in the sequence of the text, if not the exhibition, Marc Hulson’s paintings and graphite drawings seemed to offer the easiest correlation to Grose’s narrative fragments. Like stills from horror films, these Lynchian scenes of abandoned staircases and knotted velvet drapes become explicit in their horror as a child’s face appears to melt at a birthday party.

This is a familiar idiom, literary painting. Narrative. The lost storyboard of a film that was never made. It is the territory of Auster’s locked room fixations and Palahunik’s Haunted grotesquery. Unapologetically Gothic. Grose’s Invitation warns of dire consequences in response to Hulson’s somewhat menacing title, There Will Be Guests At The Hall.

Suicide, meanwhile, finds Avi and Dani swimming in the sea. A crashing wave and stirrings of pre-adolescent sex.

Susan Morris presents a series of drawings whose marks recall Tachist abstraction. They appear at first to depict interiors and, rather like Art and Language’s series of paintings from the eighties, there seems some anxiety of correspondence. It was almost as if multiple images have been superimposed over one another, each slightly out of register and in fixing them, some crises of representation has occurred. A super-positioning registering some quantum anxiety of the not quite space, not quite matter.

 Susan Morris, Guardian dyptich: Tangled Trip, mixed media courtesy Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

Their titles (Not Human and Working Drawing for Not Human) and the the pages from the Manchester and London Guardian, presented here as Guardian dyptich: Tangled Trip, in which the Lysergic digressions of a spider are recorded, are suggestive of some narrative disorganization, some crises of meaning. A weird under or over determination of the text, as if the definitive version of the Spider’s narrative might exist somehow in the invisible space between the two geographically specific editions.

In the booklet, Grose’s Suicide, is accompanied by a somewhat doctored looking photograph of a distant ship seen across a flat landscape.

In The Shadow of Underwood, Esther Planas’ retrospectively titled installation, crude Caligari-esque designs are presented as ink on paper drawings, a video documenting her ongoing music project, Dirty Snow (a collaboration with Hulson and others), All Cats are Grey, is projected as a loop and fragile faux-naive drawings depict the clichés of rock star excess, beautiful corpse junkies and allusions to fetishised sex and the occult.

Marc Hulson, Installation view. Untitled series (ongoing), painting Untitled 2007 courtesy Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

Mabuse makes an appearance. The audience is served all the adolescent sizzle of teenage gothic fantasy, in fragile watercolour and biro doodle. Planas is like Nico’s younger, cuter sister, haunted by dead rock stars and occasionally possessed of the Duende, her Dark Pop zine a legend.

Underwood, the final text, the first chapter of the projected novel, begins with a quote from J.S Underwood, “Stories are like shadows – they cling to life.” Mabuse obliges and looms from the darkened corner of the page.

Ultimately, perhaps, there is no key that will unlock Underwood, just a series of allusions, of bluffs and counter bluffs, a series of incomplete narratives in which the McGuffin is never quite disclosed. The strange Weimar, Gothic gloom which seems to pervade the show, seems in some ways just another hoax.

The presiding spirit here seems to owe more to be the convoluted narrative experiments of the Nouvelle Roman. Space, time, interpretation are all exhausted. A series of disparate scenes bound together in the hungry spiral of as yet unwritten text.

David Selden. WM Berlin. 2008


5 years, Marc Hulson, Esther Planas, Susan Morris

Mathew Hale

David Selden

Formerly an artist and  gallerist,  David Selden is a freelance writer
living and working in Berlin. He writes about music for dorfdisco.de 
and maintains the blog Unter den roten Geweihen 

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