Philippe Van Wolputte, We Did It/Undisputed Territory, 2010
Collage, xerox-print, tape. 215 x 150 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Chert gallery
Philippe Van Wolputte: We Did it / Disputed Territory
The 100%-Berlin courtyard leading to Chert gallery feels dark and cold as we approach the exhibition space, passing by a succession of wall mounted, neon-lit display vitrines, the kind you find flanking old storefronts or outside movie theatres. These windows are elegantly scattered around the courtyard, anticipating the larger, brighter display of Motto bookstore and distracting from the small, beautifully designed signs demarcating the entrance of CHERT and its spin-off space, CHINO.
The entrance to the gallery is closed, its front windows revealing a sober installation of crumpled, taped photocopies, a solitary screen and a set of tilted wood steps leading to a large crack in the wall. Following the hint of a partially open door, out by the right side of the gallery space, we sneak in what seems a bike storage or boiler room. The smell of cold rancid coffee and freshly violated construction materials lingers in the devastated space. Broken tiles, graffiti, drapings of black trash-bag plastic and accumulations of rubble/dirt might initially strike one as entropic sculptures but quickly reveal their intentional nature.
We can almost feel the doppelganger presence of long-gone intruders, their hammers smashing hard against the sheet-rock wall, finally piercing it to reveal the adjacent gallery space. The work has started from the entrance door - marked in black duct tape and apparently tampered with - then proceeded to the vandalization of the room and finally focused on the separation wall, smashed open to let adventurous visitors squeeze in it to intrude the lit-up, closed gallery space and become themselves objects of the installation.
The temporary activation of the gallery space has been claimed via an outdoor banner hung by the nearby Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn stop. The banner coldly indicates the longitude and latitude of the reclaimed spot in black spray paint, together with the slightly naïve, triumphant words: “We Did It!!! Undisputed Territoryy (sic)”. Van Wolputte's loud declaration of accomplishment was almost immediately removed by mysterious hands and exists now only as document, xeroxed, crumpled and taped inside the gallery space. A seemingly faux-security camera video further contextualizes the situation by showing the artist and an accomplice as they force their way in the room they decided to elect to the status of temporary autonomous zone.
But what is this temporary space and what should it be made autonomous from, exactly? Differently from much of his previous work, in which he has addressed public space and the phenomenon of shrinking cities by reclaiming actual condemned buildings, Van Wolputte is now at work on the fictionalization of an already rather fictional gesture. As Wilfried Lenz has noted in a text reprinted on the artists' website, abandoned, deteriorated and reclaimed spaces serve an important function in the memory and social landscape of the city, possessing a beauty of their own and, we might want to add, functioning as reminders of urbanism's very own disfunctionalities and failures. The demolition of these spaces deletes not only their “unsafety” and/or inappropriateness but also an unwanted history of chaotic and irrational urban development.
The gallery press release remarks how the installation seems to open itself as a question towards what is public and what is private, fusing space and non-space, the art context and the temporary context made available by Van Wolputte's hammer, tape and spray. While the superficial appearance of the work remains rough, pragmatic and direct, that very look and feel also seems to camouflage the more important issue of authenticity and intellectual honesty. Van Wolputte's handling of the inherent fictionality of his environments/actions is complex and confusing, pointing in different directions while mainaining a consistent attention to detail as well as a rigorous overarching aesthetic. The use of “poor” materials for the reproduction and presentation of his actions, for example, radicalizes the artist's control over what is shown and betrays a partial and -ultimately- idealistic conception of reality. The artist's break-in cannot be considered a performance in itself. It rather suggests a synthetic re-enactment and transfiguration of countless other fictional (and real) break-ins, fragmented memories and afterimages collected from art and non-art sources and projected on the imagination and personal memories of the viewer. The broken wall and its opening onto the light of the clean gallery space is the pierced skin separating the illusion of a fictionalized reality bite from the hard cold fact of artifice, spectacle and commercialization.
Rubble and smashed walls look really great on photocopy, but in the case of this installation they actually are photocopies. One presumes that at the end of this show every single shard of broken wall, lump of plastic sheet, spray and coffee stain will be cleaned. The artist's Disputed Territory will hopelessly get back to its normalcy.
Philippe Van Wolputte, We Did It / Disputed Territory, 2010
Installation view (outside)
Courtesy of the artist and Chert gallery
Marco Antonini is a New York based independent curator and writer. He has collaborated with some of the most reputable organizations in New York, including ISCP, Elizabeth Foundation, LMCC, ISE Foundation, Japan Society, Triangle Arts and the Dumbo Arts Center.
A freelance educator/lecturer at MoMA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, MoMA PS1 and 3rdWard Design Center, his articles, essays and interviews have been published on Flash Art International, Cura, Whitehot, Museo, BMM, Contemporary, AroundPhotography, Arte&Critica and NYArts. He has lectured on various topics for the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa (Venice), Japan Society, ISE Foundation, City College of New York/CUNY and the Rhode Island School of Design.