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Better is Something You Build

Karin Brunnermeier, Graham Hudson, Gereon Krebber, Eamon O'Kane & Ulrich Vogl

curated by Jacqui McIntosh

Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin -
07 February 2008 - 01 March 2008

Better is Something You Build, a group show featuring the work of five, young international artists working in sculpture and installation, has as its focus the artists' engagement with materials and the building process itself. The title of the exhibition could also be seen as a statement designed to provoke and a playful dig at the artistic spheres of the two dimensional. Times have changed since Donald Judd's assertion that “actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” Forty years on from Judd's writings, there are different things to distract us. The Internet, TV on demand, social networking sites, computer games have all contributed to a shift away from the real to the virtual and cerebral. Better remains elusively elsewhere rather than in the here and now. Sculpture in all its forms, still has the power to bring us back to the physical. It has the potential of bringing our awareness to our movement through space and time and of becoming a lived experience.

Installation views, Better is Something You Build, Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, 2009

The sculptures, installations and drawings of Karin Brunnermeier could be seen as a series of intricate portraits. Brunnermeier’s characters and the stories that she creates around them, are based on the real and imagined and are central to the understanding of her work. Sometimes darkly humourous, melancholic, surreal or symbolic, her interest is in the human psyche and moments of ‘fracture’, where injuries, both physical and emotional occur. Essentially a storyteller, the materials that Brunnermeier uses in her sculptures inform the narratives which she constructs. Materials are chosen for their symbolic potential as well as aesthetic form. In her 2004 work Sledge, she cast a sledge in glass to tell a story of immobility, whilst recent works have combined hoops constructed from steel with children’s clothing once worn by Brunnermeier and her brother, connecting her own history with that of the invented and imagined. The dichotomous nature of the clown, with its ability to convey humour and pathos, has become a recent focus in her work. In the first of her ring clown sculptures Hansi-Nummer (2007) the character Hansi has come to a sorry end after being squashed by a giant steel turquoise hoop. The soft bodied clown, made from fabric and children’s clothes and dwarfed by the scale of the enormous hoop, is a pitiful figure – did he try to balance the hoop on his head in an attempt to impress the crowd or has Hansi sacrificed himself for the sake of a punch line? Another character finds himself in equally dire straights in the sculpture Charlie (Ring Clown) (2007). A hoop is threaded through the neckline of his jumper, his arms replaced by the hoop itself, holding him in an inescapable situation. The implied motion that comes with these works – perhaps Hansi will peel himself off the floor and dust himself down, or Charlie will desperately rock from side to side in an attempt to escape - add to the slapstick but also to the desperateness of their situation. Brunnermeier is a sharp observer of human frailties, and when we laugh at her character’s situations, it is tempered by a sense of self recognition. Her works hold up a mirror to ourselves and the knocks in life that we all experience.

The work of Graham Hudson can sometimes appear to be perched on the verge of collapse. Whether constructing walk-through environments that creak and wobble precariously, or banging a house together from bits of junk on Chelsea's Parade Ground, his sculptures, as Hudson has described “look like they are at the point of falling over – but they just about manage to keep it together.”1 Built using objects and materials that are throwaway, scavenged from the 99p shop, dug out from the bottom of a skip or picked up from the side of the street, Hudson transforms our consumption and discarding of stuff into fantastical sculptures and installations. In his most recent solo show at Rokeby Gallery in London in 2007, Hudson created, over the course of a few weeks, a site specific installation that took over the entire length and breadth of the gallery space. This Sculpture is 18m long, a grotto like environment, climbed into rather than walked around, and experienced from the inside out, was one of his most ambitious projects to date. Crammed with objects - MDF boxes lit by exposed bulbs, large plastic bags inflated like giant balloons by electric fans, sculptures made from coffee cups and dripping paint cans - the work, with its wobbly floors and seats, was a veritable but inviting assault course. Sounds also play a big part in Hudson’s work, be it the whirr of electric fans or the music pumped out of the tinny speakers of cheap record players. Dangling light bulbs usually knock the record off course, creating random re-mixes, recognisable only in snippets. In Side A Side B (2005), constructed from amongst other things, discarded head boards, tables and fairground horse, Hudson combined the mock heraldic, heroic and absurd, giving his horse wings made from scrap wood, to the theme tune of Disney’s Fantasia. Hudson’s work is nonetheless greater than the sum of its throwaway parts, commenting on subjects ranging from the political to the commonplace. His garbled sounds, rickety floors and dangling light bulbs coalesce to create works that are not just about the physical objects themselves but our movement through and around them.

1 Graham Hudson quoted by Laura Allsop, The art of falling apart, ArtReview (2007), p 35

The sculptures of Gereon Krebber raise a lot of questions. ‘What is it?’ for one, ‘what is it for? What is it made from?’ Somehow, our interaction, our wondering about what we’re supposed to make of it and how we are to move around the often gigantic thing adds us into its ultimate meaning. Krebber’s sculptures often don’t make enough space for you, have to be squeezed past, seem to ignore you but say with a shrug ‘I’m here, I’m big, deal with it.’ He makes works that may remind us of something - a cloud, a giant button, a slice of something or other, but whose definition is allusive and which are not symbolic of anything. Krebber constructs his sculptures and installations using day to day materials. Balloons, cling film, gelatine, tin foil, gaffer tape - whatever the material it is, it is always transformed from its original function. In its final form it is not always immediately apparent what you are looking at - cling film takes on the appearance of plasma, or a skin with glowing colours beneath; gelatine becomes shiny, sometimes formed into edible looking shapes good enough to lick. Krebber’s works alter and redefine the space and architecture in which they sit. Works such as Spill (2005) in which gelatine seeps in through a doorway, sharply cutting through the gallery space, obstruct our path and force us take the long way round. The gigantic button like sculpture Schwarze Linsse (2006), which lay against a wall in Düsseldorf’s Parkhaus am Malkastenpark, appeared to be wedged tightly between floor and ceiling blocking half a doorway. Not content with taking up the length of the gallery in another exhibition, Krebber’s gigantic balloon sculpture Turd (2005) partly escaped out a back window. These are works which manage to finely balance their own contradictory nature; that are sometimes massive in scale but light in weight, that suggest permanence whilst having a limited lifespan, some existing solely for the duration of an exhibition. His materials gently erode and shrink, deflate, drip or crumble, their physicality ultimately transitory.

Eamon O'Kane is an artist not used to restricting himself to one medium. Painting, installation, photography, and drawing are all areas that he has worked widely in. Even within single works there is often a crossover between disciplines, with stop motion animated paintings projected onto sculptural objects and large scale installations that combine drawing, man made objects and organic materials. The themes that he returns to and continues to expand are concerned with the relationship between nature and civilisation, our connection to place, to architecture, and the aspirations that we project onto those spaces. In his series of paintings, Studio in the Woods, O'Kane examined the utopic ideal of the isolated retreat. These imaginary studios, inspired by modernist structures, real and imagined, at first hold the allure of a secluded hide out away from the demands of the everyday. But O'Kane's paintings suggest that architecture will fail us, that the fantasy is just that, and what's more, the reality may do us more harm than good. O'Kane's paintings have always had a strong sense of form and spatiality - ideas and structures that lend themselves easily to the three dimensional into sculpture and installation. The painting Drive Through(2007) which depicts the back of a disused drive-in movie screen, could be seen to correlate with the 2007 installation work Untitled (Seasons Blockbuster) in which a stop frame animated painting is projected onto a structure made from discarded wood collected from the farmland where Christmas trees grow. The structure mimics that of the drive-in movie screen, as in Drive Through – an object onto which dreams and aspirations are to be projected and which when we look more closely reveals itself to be makeshift and unglamorous. It is an antidote to our fantasy, the grime behind the glamour of Hollywood where starlets die of overdoses and spend very public stints in jail and rehab. O'Kane draws attention to the artifice of the fantasy that is projected in which a building used as a bookshop at the Venice biennial, materialises from a simple line drawing and through a series of painted layers travels throughout the seasons before de-materialising once more.

The ideas and processes involved within Ulrich Vogl’s work revolve around the medium of drawing. His wall based works, installations and site specific interventions could be seen as an extension of drawing - a liberation from the confines of paper, framed and contained behind glass, into the broader dimensions of time and space. Light and reflection also come into play, with works that change with the light and that mirror their environment and viewers thereby creating themselves anew with each glance. Vogl’s use of mirrors also has the ability to fragment our image and the space around us, disorientating, or at the very least to tricking us into questioning what is real and what is illusion. In new works such as Kleiner Berg (2007) Vogl creates a drawing created by absence of materials rather than by the presence of a solid line. Using mirrored tiles, polished incandescent mirrors, his works play to narcissistic tendencies, to Lacan’s idea of the idealised self captivated by its own image. We catch further glimpses of ourselves in his series of chandeliers – elaborately detailed works, scratched into the surface of glass coated with black enamel paint. Silver reflective strips, rather like the materials used in party decorations, form a curtain behind the glass. Our movement, the air that shifts around us, causes the curtain to move and the chandelier glimmer more with it. Many of Vogl’s site specific works could be seen as interventions. The 2005 work The last person may turn off the light saw Vogl drawing directly on the walls of the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, creating a chandelier on one side and a light switch on the other. The idea of a work that disappears once the light is out, like a film once the projector is switched off, or a planet without its sun, weaves through much of Vogl’s work. LimeLight (2008) plays further with ideas of spatiality. Using only available light, mirrors and drawing, Vogl creates a virtual stage complete with microphone and spot lights. The scene is set ready for us to enter it and glimpse ourselves in the spotlight. As with with Vogl’s chandeliers we hope that some of the glamour might rub off on us.

All texts by Jacqui McIntosh