Private view: September 26th, 18:00 - 21:00
Neon light is reflected in nickel-plated CO2 cylinders. Finely engraved lines contrast moments captured in oil. For Berlin Art Week 2018, the Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery exhibits work by Berlin-based Marcel Buehler and British Chris Agnew; two artists united by an interest in what lies beneath the surface.
The exhibition title "And He Built A Crooked House" refers to a science fiction short story of the same name, written by Robert A. Heinlein in 1940 – obsessed by the idea of creating a spatial, rather than a temporal, 4th dimension, an ambitious young architect builds a house in the form of a tesseract. An earthquake makes his ideas an unplanned reality; formerly distant rooms are suddenly close together, or even occupy the same space. Windows look out onto different cities and worlds. Leaving is impossible, until a second earthquake occurs and the house disappears into Nirvana.
Now almost 80 years old, many elements of the story seem shockingly contemporary. Digitisation has indeed introduced a fourth dimension into our lives and thinking. Time and space are blurred, and literally at our fingertips. As the digital universe becomes a new reality, what seems true in one moment may be obsolete in the next. This dance of permanence and transience, of coming together and breaking apart with increasing violence and intensity, is powerfully captured in the works of both Agnew and Buehler.
Chris Agnew’s series of works explore the innate human desire for clarity, stability and trust in a digitized world of shifting perspectives and information-overload. His unique technique is concerned with the process of story-telling itself, and the power and permanence of the contemporary narrator’s voice. Using imagery from real-life investigative journalism, among other sources, he applies fine layers of oil paint to wooden panels prepared with around 20 layers of handmade gesso. The intensity of the colours emphasizes the mysterious and immersive qualities of shadowy forms and textures. Some areas of the paintings have been sanded-down to further underline their transience and volatility. Finally, he uses -in an act of artistic self-vandalism – ancient engraving tools and a dentist’s drill to carve through the surface of the painting with deep, irremovable lines and motifs. Thus, the lowest surface of the gesso is excavated and elevated to the highest, most visible position. The question of truth – sometimes fixed and sometimes flexible – plays a central role in Agnew’s practice, where facts are often overshadowed by emotions.
A similar, deliberate uncertainty is present in Marcel Buehler’s exhibited works, in the neon-based light sculpture "On ne sait jamais" (You never know) and in his unique copy silk screenprints “Machiavelli 01 (NOBS)”: the end justifies the means, the world is nothing but a stage – even presidents and policy-makers prefer distraction and empty spectacle to truth and reason. The nickel-plated CO2 cylinders used in "Rumour IV" and "Rumour V" urge the viewer to reflect on the strength and potentially explosive danger of misplaced words. Already threatening in the pre-digital past, fake news now travels at the speed of light, the leading edge of a digital shitstorm with the power to destroy everything it touches. Despite our “right to be forgotten”: the internet does not forget. Our avatars depict us, every keystroke revealing our desires and fears, our acquaintances and our secrets. Buehler’s works hint at those parts of us that might withstand the storm, those nuggets of gold among the dross which stand for permanence.
Both Buehler and Agnew are sensitive observers of the (all too) human condition. They question our
identity - and the degree of our alienation. Humanity has always been shaped by evolution and revolution, by progression and disruption, but today’s unparalleled pace of change forces us to confront the fact that we may not recognize ourselves tomorrow. Undoubtedly, the potential of the "fourth" dimension is vast and intoxicating. The question is: what does it want in return?
On ne sait jamais.