Speculations on Anonymous Materials, Fridericianum Kassel
/ ArtReview

ArtReview – January & February 2014

Utopias are out. The artistic self as well. And who still cares about narration, abstraction or anything like the museum space? Not the current generation of young artists, whom Susanne Pfeffer – new director of the Fridericianum – has brought together for, it seems, the first time in Speculations on Anonymous Materials. Here hardly any artist is over thirty-five, and after years of well-behaved retro-citations that have recently allowed even biennale curators to rely on old masters, a new kind of art is shown here: one that thinks through the world of technological change and the products of the digital age in a novel way. This work, involving 3d print sculptures, yoga mats, animated films, plastic water bottles, advertising images and shower gel, orients itself outward and produces synthetic surrealism instead of losing itself in private mysteries. Why ‘anonymous materials’? Because these aforementioned objects, as well as sports shoes and tv screens, are mostly not things one can simply make oneself. When the Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz presents Purity You Can Taste (Ultra Strong Contents) (2013), a refrigerator filled with ‘Smart Water’ plastic bottles, which she has filled not only with water but also a mixture of silicon and artificial skin pigments in shades from pink to dark brown, she indicates on the one hand that we are made up of 70 percent water, and on the other hand the value that the liquid has gained in the twenty-first century as a resource for the future and a lifestyle accessory, a symbol of purity and health. At the same time, however, not only are tons of trash produced daily by bottled waters, but also the whole thing leads to infertility thanks to the plasticisers. It is these inconsistencies between advertisement and reality that repeatedly come through in the show. The body plays a particularly important role as well, despite the amputated rubber aesthetic that permeates the 2,300 sqm building. For example, Josh Kline shows silicone replicas of his friends’ hands, produced using a 3d printing process, which clutch their favourite thing, whether it is a BlackBerry, aspirin or computer mouse. In Axe Effect (2013) Timur Si-Qin drives a samurai sword through Axe shower gel bottles, whose neon coloured contents have dripped on the floor; and it is only in this strange setting that the absurdity of the body conditioning, here literally drilled for power, becomes apparent: the varieties are called Anti-Hangover and Skin Contact, while the bottles resemble a sporty gearshift. In his fantasy world of digitally animated figures, Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths (2013), Ed Atkins lets his own voiceover indulge in deeply philosophical questions. And Simon Denny’s installation, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Documentary Restoration (2011), involves research into fatigue syndrome, from which Charles Darwin supposedly suffered. The curator thereby bears down on a trend, one that distinctly moves away from the autonomous space of art and instead turns to the machines and phenomena of our immediate surroundings. Here the artists no longer distance themselves in order to produce new, subjectively coloured images and assertions; rather, they see themselves as a building block of our everyday stock. One could understand this as a continuation of Pop and Appropriation, but this would not go far enough. The digital natives move through the things of the last decade with their slick, smart view in order to make them into nightmarishly clean and, in doing so, often extremely ugly or at least exceedingly unattractive psycho-fetishes. They are, as a result, much closer to the skin-coloured cinematic prostheses of David Cronenberg than to the image-exploitation machineries of Warhol or Richard Prince. No question – it’s getting cold in the world of contemporary art. Cold and artificial.

Translated from the German by Emily Terényi

© Gesine Borcherdt