November 2008, Mathilde Rosier @ Silberkuppe, Review and Interviews

November 2008, Mathilde Rosier @ Silberkuppe, Review and Interviews
Poster for a Play for a Stage of the Natural Theater of Cruelty Mathilde Rosier, 2008 Courtesty of Silberkuppe and the artist

Mathilde Rosier @ Silberkuppe
Part I: Review
Part II: Interview with Directors Dominc Eichler and Michel Ziegler
Part III: Interview with Mathilde Rosier

Part I, Review:
There is nothing I like better than to be indulged in a full sensory experience, one where my body does not distinguish itself from its surroundings. Unfortunately, this does not happen very often, as it is hard to come by an absorbing situation whose energy makes one forget time and space. 
If anyone were to provide the atmosphere for this to happen here in Berlin it would certainly be Dominic Eichler and Michel Ziegler of Silberkuppe. From the moment you enter into their relatively new project space on Kopenickerstrasse, one gets the sense that everything and anything that is about to happen will be nothing short of enchanting. I think this is due in part not only to their approach to art and art spaces but also their manner in approaching the viewer as well. One gets the sense, that for these two, neither the viewer or artist is more important than the other and that the experience of the artwork is for all to undertake and enjoy, including the artist him or herself. 
Their most recent undertaking involved the French artist Mathilde Rosier who presented, Play for a Stage of the Natural Theatre of Cruelty (including the video: Le massacre des animaux)”, where the evening unfolded in three acts. In the midst of a weekend packed with some of the biggest events in contemporary art, the openings of Art Forum Berlin, Jeff Koons and Wofgang Tillmans, Silberkuppe offered a much needed and welcomed respite. I think we were all happy to be partaking of something on a smaller more human scale, something that felt a bit more real and a lot more Berlin.  
As a crowd gathered and waited there was a palpable feeling of anticipation and just as it there was no room left for the large group that had assembled, the project space doors were opened. We filtered into the dark room as programs were personally placed in our hands, our attention immediately drawn to the single spotlight directed on the artist and the piano. Mathilde was serenely seated in a white lace dress attached with painted poodles, arranged as if they were jumping or pawing at her legs. The piano music and the artist’s presence perfectly introduced the charming yet daunting atmosphere of the night. The music, which the artist composed, felt like a soundtrack for passing through dark and foreboding places, like a haunted dollhouse or a dark forest. A place where one might encounter magnificent things yet in order to reach what is desired a treacherous path awaits. This sentiment was heightened by the fact that at times it sounded as if four hands were playing the piano, yet impossible, as only Mathilde was present. These invisible other two hands (they were actually recorded and coming from speakers in the piano) introduced an eerie presence that would hang over the whole night.
The second act further actualized the above sentiments while maintaining the night’s strong abstract element as well. As soon as Mathilde was done with her piano piece an assistant came to help her out of her dress, first helping her off with her shoes. For me this became one of the most touching moments of the night. It was a small gesture that easily went unnoticed for most people, but one that became, to me, a hallmark of the work’s humanity. After feeling anxious and a bit unsure of what to make of what was happening this simple exchange somehow soothed me, allowing me to see a striking beauty to all that I did not understand. I compare this now to the dialogue accompanying the program, its simplicity is also only a stand in for its complexity.  
The second act really began as Mathilde was leaving the stage and a large wooden wall was pulled into the spotlight from the side of the room. Hanging on the wall was a painting of butterflies that seemed to be pinned to the canvas like a collection of rare specimens. This created, for me, another sense of fragility that softened the darker atmosphere that the first act had created.
At this point the audience was invited “backstage”, behind the wall to peer into half opened boxes containing painted birds and to get a closer look at all the props from the first act. There was a palpable tension as audience members hesitantly crept back behind the wall, not knowing what to expect or what their obligations were. This furthered the sense of being lured into something, like that haunted dollhouse or enchanted forest where the piano music had originated. During this break in performance perhaps the audience also had time to read the program, which was contained a dialogue, “Reveries of two solitary walkers” written by Mareike Dittmer explicitly for this performance. 
The program, at least in hindsight offers some clues into the mystery of the night. One of the first lines that struck me was Jean-Jacques description upon his chance meeting with the stranger Patapon.  
Jean-Jacques: This reminds me painfully of a day like today, when I was out on a walk and collected flowers in the autumnal hills around Menilmontan when suddenly a dog attacked me and I lost consciousness.  
Looking back I wonder if these dogs where not those poodles attached to Mathilde’s gown. Was this the setting of the play? One’s imagination can begin to fill in the spaces the performance left, and following the dialogue perhaps this is/was intended.  
JJ: Imagination relies on concepts. Like the beauty of the flowers that needs the reasoning of a botanist to be fully recognized.
Patapon: This is the terror of classifying everything, ranging, rating and sorting it into boxes.
JJ: The element of terror is necessary to all recognition
P: Do we always have to know if it is one of the other?
JJ: Only by drawing distinctions there might come something like a startling realization, a shocking cognizance.
P: And is there no understanding without fear? 
Once the crowd became more settled into its role as participant and observer the mood once again shifted. A lighter atmosphere overcame the project space where people mingled and shared the experience thus far of the evening.  
JJ: A play, which teaches by being played, not by being watched.
P: Aren’t we all in that play? 
However, just as soon everyone had become comfortable the night took another turn. The video part of Mathilde’s work, Le massacre des animaux (2001) was projected on the back wall of the space, opposite the original orientation. Once again in total darkness, mystery overtook the audience as we sat and watched. The video also had a rather haunting soundtrack as a mostly dark screen pulsated from what appeared to be a distant sun or moon. This lasted for a significant amount of time and for me this had a hypnotizing effect. Just as one couldn’t bare the suspense any longer, and as if the sun rose, the image of the video becomes clear: a manicured park or garden, desolate. This mixture of sound and visuals created another unclear impression. Yet this time around, hours into the performance, I think as an audience we were a bit more comfortable with this unknown. There was a sense of camaraderie to the experience and part ownership of the work. Had we not become part of it? Even though we might have all approached the work with different emotions and references, in the end, didn’t we share the same experience?  
JJ: But I might see what you see. Hear what you hear. And together we’ll see images and hear sounds creating an environment as an expansion of their space of speculation. We’ll be watching a phenomenon in all its strangeness and incomprehensibility merely created in our heads
P: And thus lose the divide between fiction and reality?
JJ: It’s a strangely familiar ritual, a ceremony where the space for spectators merges with stage and back stage and the position of the viewer is admittedly a rather fragile, precarious one, aware of the vulnerability and instability of the given situation but otherwise powerful, too in finding a grip on the props and sets provided.
P: Props and sets for what?
JJ: To understand about the capacity of cruelty and still believe in the potential of compassion and beauty.  

Part II, Interview with the Directors of Silberkuppe:
I decided it would be interesting to ask both the curators and the artist a series of the same questions. I was hoping in a way to mimic the experience of the original performance, each sharing their different feelings about the same experience. 
On Tuesday November 11, 2008 I got to meet with Dominc Eichler and Michel Ziegler the directors of Silberkuppe in their project space.
Jaime Schwartz: Maybe I should first ask you two to explain a bit about Silberkuppe. 
Dominic Eichler: Well about a year ago we started talking about opening up a space that would fill the gap that has been created by the more institutional landscape that many galleries have fallen pray to. We saw so many galleries opening in Berlin with the same industrial sized rooms and very standard programming and we wanted to do something different.  

Michel Ziegler: Berlin had become this center of artist activity but a lot of the old, more socio-political spaces, places with more of a collective atmosphere, were disappearing. We wanted to bring that kind of space back.  
DE: Our project space has a broad and international focus and provides opportunities for a mix of new and established artists. Our space allows artists the chance to do something different with their work, often site specific, as our space is not the typical gallery space.  
We are not interested in having a normal type of gallery schedule either. We feel that artists are fatigued from the sort of production mode this creates. Here artists can enjoy working in just as serious of a space but without that calendar/production pressure. 
JS: So looking back, how do you think the performance went? What are some of your general thoughts/impressions about the evening?
DE: We think it worked out well in the end considering it was a bit of an experiment for all of us. We came to a decision to show Mathilde’s work in this way because her works individually already incorporated theatrical elements.  
When we all sat down to talk about the project, it just wound up making sense. Mathilde is best known for her video works and rather recently decided to start working on paintings and drawings. The idea of showing her works a series of acts popped up as a way to connect the different aspects of her work and the different media she works with. 
JS: Was the tension and confusion created during the performance-especially the second act –anticipated and or planned? Was this meant to be part of the piece? And if so can you elaborate on its function/meaning….. 

DE: I think we were very aware that this was going to happen and I think it wound up being one of the best parts of the night. The insecure transition from the sitting down and watching to becoming part of the performance and also slipping into normal gallery opening mode was really interesting to us. I loved this awkwardness, the spreading rumors about a backstage party, all of it. Especially since part of our interest in having a project space is being conscious of the construction of behavior and challenging how people normally behave in art contexts and within the context of an art space.  
MZ: I would say this definitely was part of the piece, and I think it worked better than we could of imagined. We knew there we would be confusion and chose not offer any explanation. I didn’t think it would be quite as dramatic but it was really gratifying in the end.

JS: Yeah, looking back I quite liked this part as well. Despite the initial confusion I think it was really fun to be thrust into that kind of situation and see how different people reacted.  

 I actually found all the works to be quite beautiful and would feel comfortable using that as a word to describe Mathilde’s work. Do you think that beauty is something present in the works? And if so, is beauty meant to be an element of these works?  
MZ: I’m not sure I would really relate her works to beauty. Mathilde is concerned with Nature, her relation to Nature, and examining this relationship as an artist. I think her work is more about the consciousness that develops being in solitude in nature and having contact with Nature more than beauty. I think the work is more about the conversation that develops from this.  
 For me, I think it is interesting to see Mathilde, especially in a performance setting because she is usually so introverted. I think her relationship with Nature is not about its beauty but how Nature also has elements of cruelty. For example, perhaps you found the piano piece beautiful but its repetitiveness can also be quite irritating.  
DE: Yeah, I think that the work is not about beauty per se but perhaps you can connect that in a sense to being conscious of the fragility of all things and Mathilde’s own lovely self-consciousness. I mean the title of the piece is Theater for a play for a stage of Natural Cruelty, it doesn’t exactly give the sense that it is about Beauty or being a Nature lover in romantic sense. Although, the program’s text does mention the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (who wrote about how Man can reach perfection in a "state of nature”) the text is based on a conversation between Rousseau and the artist’s cat, which really lent the night a nice sense of the avant-garde and absurdity.  

JS: I guess in some ways that is a better description of what I found beautiful, the idea that we were sort of privy to this usually private thing that happens between an artist and their work. I think that is why I was so touched by seeing Annie come help Mathilde out of her dress and why I liked the transition between the first and second act so much. I liked being reminded that there wasn’t this untouchable space between the art and us but that it needed outside help to be actualized.  

 In reading other reviews of Mathilde’s work I came across one where her work was likened to a puzzle with missing pieces. What is your response to this comment, is it an apt description? 
DE: Well I think most good art suggests rather than explains and usually some sort of relation or coordinates are set up that create some kind of problem which the viewer then has to negotiate. So I have no problem with describing the work in this way.  

JS: Following that idea, do you think it is important for the audience to “get it”? In relation to Mathilde’s work and the performance, how important is it that the audience takes away some sense of understanding of what they experienced? 

DE: The point is never about getting to a full understanding, there is no such thing as absolute understanding. Every single viewer is different which makes the artwork an intrinsically different experience for each viewer. Artistic intention once realized is generally thrust into the public domain, offered up for interpretation, and that is its strength. One potential understanding of an artwork is just as good as another. 
MZ: Showing Mathilde’s work in these three parts was not about giving solutions, it was more about offering up more questions.  
Part III, Interview with Mathilde Rosier:
About a week later I was able to speak with Mathilde and ask her the same set of questions.

JS: So looking back, how do you think the performance went? What are some of your general thoughts/impressions about the evening?  
Mathilde Rosier: I think the evening went well, it was for me a stimulating experience and I think the way we presented the works wound up enriching them. I hadn’t played the piano piece for five years so it was nice to revisit the work five years later. 
 Also it was nice for me because I think this time I performed the piece a bit more subdued, which made the work more mysterious, more opaque.  
JS: Yeah, that’s true, I was fortunate to see the original performing of the piano piece and you were much more of a “performer”. Although that situation was totally different and playing the piece that way fit that performance. Do you normally make your own clothes to perform in; did you make that lace dress yourself? 
MR: Yes, typically I do and I had intended to for this performance as well but in the end I only had one week to put everything together, so we improvised lots. I think in the end it all came together really well. 
JS: Was the tension and confusion created during the performance-especially the second act –anticipated and or planned? Was this meant to be part of the piece? And if so can you elaborate on its function/meaning….. 

MR: Yes, that was what we intended. The tension and confusion nicely mimic the video and the work. I wanted the experience to not be completely casual; I wanted it to be a both physical and psychological experience.  
JS: I actually found all the works to be quite beautiful and would feel comfortable using that as a word to describe your work. Do you think that beauty is something present in the works? And if so, is beauty meant to be an element of these works?  

MR: I would say I am in interested in beauty but my definition of beauty would be one where it is more defined as a state of harmony, and in that sense only. However, this harmony is of a very precarious, fragile nature, one where the balance can be easily overturned. 
JS: In reading other reviews of your work I came across one article where it was likened to a puzzle with missing pieces. What is your response to this comment, is it an apt description? 
MR: Maybe in some ways but not really. I like the idea of the puzzle and missing pieces, and in some ways it’s a compliment, as I think good art should always be like this.  
JS: Following that idea, do you think it is important for the audience to “get it”? In relation to your work and the performance, how important is it that the audience takes away some sense of understanding of what they experienced? 
MR: I think it is about mystery, and the magic of the mystery. However I try to be generous to a certain point in order to allow the viewer to participate. 

JS: I realized that it took me almost until now to really digest what had happened that night. And only now could I really begin to understand how the program’s dialogue related to the works much more than I had previously thought. It occurred to me that this process, how things take time to settle in and make more sense probably relates in some ways to your artistic process. Like how the connection between our experiences and consequently what they inspire doesn’t happen immediately. That these conversations develop within yourself and only as they sink in they provide the clues that enlightened the meaning behind what you have experienced. 
MR: Yes, absolutely 
Excerpts from “Reveries of two solitary walkers” written by Mareike Dittmer courtesy of Silberkuppe and the artist.



whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Jaime Schwartz

Jaime Schwartz holds an M.A in Contemporary Art Theory and Curatorial Practice from San Francisco State University. Jaime currently resides in Berlin, after many years in San Francisco where she worked for the SFMOMA Artist's Gallery, The Judah L. Magnes Museum and The San Francisco Arts Commission. Most recently, Jaime is the Co- Founder and Director of The Center for Endless Progress, a new gallery and project space in Neukölln. More information can be found at endlessprogress.or


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