Above/featured: Alicja Kwade exhibition, at the Berlinische Galerie. HL:X70.
In October 2021, I watched DW Culture’s Arts.21 feature on Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade. I knew I had to see her work and exhibition in person, but would it be even possible? My answer arrived six weeks later with a quick jump home to Berlin.
All of Kwade’s sculptural pieces in her exhibition, “In Abwesenheit” (In Absence)”, are “self-portraits.” But none of them show her face; the pieces aren’t necessarily simple, nor are they “selfies” characterized by the present vernacular. She is not physically present, and yet, every piece provides the visitor a glimpse into her mindset including questions she raises about the volatility of the human condition and about where we fit within a very large universe.
As former research scientist, I’m recognizing and I’m loving the influences on her art. She is clearly very interested in mathematics, physics, astrophysics, biology, genetics; but she’d be the first to admit she’d need multiple lives to completely fulfill all of her interests. The deconstruction of “self” into precise scientific elements is another way of expressing those (dreaded) “selfies” or self-portraits. I admire the clever play: it’s the breakdown into those elements that tell us what she is, and it’s the measured synthesis of those elements into the broad strokes of her sculptures that tell us who she is.
We’re all playing this game. Everyday things seem so important. But then you zoom out and realize that you’re standing with another billion [people] on a spinning sphere. With that perspective, you’re reminded to just be glad you’re here at all.
– 16 April 2019, Artnet News about her rooftop commission at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In Abwesenheit / In Absence
Every sculpture is a kind of artist portrait revealing “true bits of her”. The exhibition is on display at Berlinische Galerie until 4 April 2022.
- Self-portrait, 2020/2021
- Gegebenenfalls die Wirklichkeit (Alicja), 2019
- Principium, 2020
- Clout-Count, 2018/2021
- Watch 2, 2007
- Self-portrait as a Ghost, 2019
1. Self-portrait, 2020/2021
This work illustrates 24 chemical elements which make up the human body. Small sealed glass capsules contain the following element in their simplest form (at room temperature and standard air pressure): oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, fluorine, zinc, silicon, bromine, copper, selenium, manganese, iodine, nickel, molybdenum, chromium, and cobalt.
2. Gegebenenfalls die Wirklichkeit (Alicja), 2019
Known in English “As the case may be reality (Alicja)”, this work is a display of the artist’s complete genome, printed on 314-thousand A4-sized pages. About 12-thousand of these pages are attached to the walls of the exhibition space, while the rest are stored within copper archive boxes on the floor. Many pages contain DNA nucleotide characters in bold font, emphasizing the uniqueness of the person the world knows as Alicja Kwade.
3. Principium, 2020
Bronze columns appear throughout the exhibition space. The verticality of each column represents the actual height of people in close proximity/familiar to the artist. The shape of each column invites direct comparison with the double-helix structure of the human DNA molecule. Beginning with a single cast of a generic mobile phone, “phone casts” for each column are stacked vertically with the next cast rotated slightly to produce the familiar “twisty” structure.
• AK: Principium.
4. Clout-Count, 2018/2021
In the middle of the exhibition is a large steel ring over 4 metres wide, upon which 24 loudspeakers are attached. The speakers broadcast (a recording of) the artist’s heartbeat, multiplied and amplified into the exhibition space. The artist also (frequently-occasionally) wears a heartbeat recording device which transmits live to the ring in the exhibition.
• AK: Clout-Count.
5. Watch no.2, 2007
Mounted on the back wall of the exhibition space is a working clock whose front face has been replaced by a mirrored surface. You have to step up not only to hear the clock’s ticking to acknowledge the march in time, but you’re also “forced” to see your reflection in the mirrored clock face.
6. Self-portrait as a Ghost, 2019
A three-dimensional scan was made of the artist who covered herself under a bedsheet. The scan was subsequently reproduced into a life-sized sculpture made of bronze. For the duration of the exhibition, this sculpture appears outside at the forecourt near the museum’s front entrance.
• AK: Selbst-Porträt als Geist.
About the BG
Located in Berlin-Kreuzberg, the Berlinische Galerie (BG) is a wonderfully spacious museum dedicated to the exhibition of modern art created in Berlin from the late-19th to late-20th century. Visitors are greeted by a yellow word-search puzzle at the museum entrance. The museum is open Wednesday to Monday from 10am to 6pm. Check the website for admission information and policies; admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. Exhibition tags include:
BVG bus 248 provides service to stop “Jüdisches Museum (Berlin)” from which it’s a 5-minute walk to the BG. With the U-Bahn, the nearest “metro” stations to the BG are Kochstrasse (U6) or Hallesches Tor (U1, U3, U6).
Except for two images provided by the BG, I made all other images and two videos above on 25 Nov 2021 with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime (X70) and an Apple 6th-generation iPod Touch (iPT6). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-lR8.