elyptisch ziehendes Ambiente
bb15, Linz. 4.10.23 - 7.10.23
When I first wandered in, I had the weird feeling I was at a WG party. But I walk in here regularly and normally it’s a gallery… Obligingly it turns back into the gallery, whilst continuing to be the WG party.
Then it spun into the soft, beating heart of a science fiction hallucination of grandma’s house.
Later it was the outside of a body and its brain all at once, still thinking about grandma.
It was scintillating, fizzing fun.
Let’s see if I can help you see what I mean:
The corridor leading into the gallery was full of shoes so I took mine off. I entered a soft, carpeted space dotted with ceramic forms resembling oversized seashells that had thick clear and green transparent plastic tubes coming out of them. There were people lounging about all over the carpets, chatting. It was nicely colourful and relaxing.
The second half of the space was kind of the opposite, although it wasn’t unrelaxing.
It was darkened. There was a step down onto liquid. Water several centimetres deep filled the black plastic chamber floor. Hanging down from the ceiling were four or five black flatscreen TVs, their backs faced upwards like hanging tables, their screens only a short distance from the water. You could see their images reflected in the water. (It was the only way you could see the images because they were too low to look at directly.) There was stuff on their backs, like the stuff you find lying around at house parties.
Mounted on one wall was an elegant metal frame cradling six glittering spheres at roughly head height. They had plastic pipes coming out of them, which bridged the two spaces and led to the seashells. There were blue cushiony fabric tiles sticking up out of the water, creating a cheerful pathway between the monitors. Inviting me to cross over in my socks, passing close to the rack of spheres, in between the downward facing monitors and on.
I didn’t cross over at first. I stopped to have a chat with an old friend and drink a beer, standing beside the shells at the WG party. We had a lovely chat. Then I stepped in.
The blue stepping stones were weirdly firm. I couldn’t figure out what they were made of. It was like stepping onto computer keyboard keys, or medical jelly pads (whatever those might be?). If I stepped hard, I could send little ripples skidding off across the black water.
I approached the rack of spheres. The motherboard, the memory. Each orb contained glowing lights and, on closer inspection, the metallic cones of loudspeakers. The tubes connected to the shells came from them, one for each shell. You could see the pipes going in and how they were connected with larger half-domed bits of plastic inside of the spheres to the speakers, so that no sound could come out of the orbs directly.
Their silence accompanied ghosts swimming in the water: Swans, ducks, dancers. Women in old fashioned dresses. All made of porcelain in a time gone past. The reflections from the black mirrors were playing a dance of ornaments on the big black mirror I was standing in. Contra Charlie Brooker, they were objects you would see on your grandma’s mantlepiece when you went to visit. Barely visible at first, you had to kind of squint and focus to catch them. To watch them twirl.
You could tell how the films were made - ornaments filmed against black cloth, the camera turned around or the fabric pulled, the images then further edited. But it felt like watching dancers being remembered, or objects removed from their context reappearing in a dream. The movements were smooth and elegant. They turned with a wink.
And meanwhile the weirdly futuristic device-rack of spheres was/is glinting and bliiinking alongside them in the black wet mirror, silently processing.
From the darkspace I look back out at the WG party in the softspace. It seems far away now. I am in the quiet space in this NOW, thinking apart. A bit like those moments where you are still at the party but you disconnect from a conversation and it is just you, standing there, wondering what to do next and suddenly you find yourself thinking about your grandma’s house.
I blink. I remember flicking cards into an old felt hat.
Laying atop the flatscreens are strange objects: doilies (Tortenspitzen) both golden and white, a mini pretzel, weird little brittle coloured plastic sticks to spear the olive in a martini glass and other archaic knick-knacks. It creates a strange kink in reality, where you see the objects on the back of TVs at a party and expect to see lighters, papers, half finished drinks. Game controllers. But instead you are looking at classic grandma paraphernalia - specifically Austrian grandma schmuck with the pretzels and plastic cocktail sticks, but it’s eerily ‘close enough’ to jump start internal reflections. And then you realise that nothing can stand on the tops of televisions anymore. It jumps me back in time to two different places simultaneously.
After that I go outside, avoid cadging a cigarette, have some more nice chats and go home.
But I have to go back the next day. I need to know how it is in silence.
I am knelt on the soft carpet, my arms cradling a giant shell as I listen to the soothing sounds of burbling voices in a bath reverberate / the lotto numbers being read out / snippets from news reports / distant conversations in Spanish, all washing around in the shell and in my ear. I crawl from shell to shell, gathering further snippets, each similar but different. A newsreader talks politics.
As I listen, my head turned to let me ear see, I am staring out into the dark, blinking, swaying wet space. It is like being inside a dream again, or a live action replay of a memory. The blinking machines and ghosts on the water, the strange specifics of these snippets.
The lotto numbers and reports about the FPÖ would in many other art contexts make me feel edgy, angry : looking for the catch. Hating these elements that are part of the fabric of our mad world. But here I am just soothed by them. Their real world specifics are rounded off, their happening just an image on a screen past the drum of my ear. I am just a child in a dream.
It's nice, listening to the sounds coming out of the spheres and down the pipes, crouched there on the carpet.
I realise I am a calculating machine and a soft, easy going forest creature at the same time.
I am nestled among leaves on the forest floor. I am digging at the beach.
The lights are blinking.
I am a grown man on a carpet cradling a handmade reproduction of a seashell in a gallery space.
I am tunnelling through nesting tables at my grandparents house.
I like it. It is a good way to look at reality. I wish I could stay there.
And this is the magic of this piece. It takes potentially sinister things - machine-like intelligence, the dark wet space (Under the Skin anyone?) synthetic tubes and pipes, and it warms them up to become friendly. Innocent again. It is a soft sci fi meta play on existence, memory and the experience of being at an exhibition.
I am able to be a body in the space, whilst also being the rememberer possessing such a space inside my own headspace. I am able to cherish my childhood, and to embrace my feminine side.
And there’s an additional, pleasing off-note. One of the spheres is empty. One of the shells has no connecting pipe. As if something was forgotten.
I can hear Pippi Lotti Rist smashing things approvingly in the distance.