Under Destruction I & II

Today’s article is from our friends at Art Practical, where Christine Wong Yap discusses the group shows Under Deconstruction I & II at the Swiss Institute. Under Deconstruction III is open through August 7th.

Nina Canell. Perpetuum Mobile (40kg), 2009-2010; water bucket, steel, hydrophone, mist-machine, amplifier, cable and 40 kg cement; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin/Düsseldorf.

What if we thought of the substance of art not as media, but as matter? Matter exists continuously, whereas media must be elevated to the status of an art object. In turn, by making art, artists are performing manipulations, not transformations. The process shifts from an alchemical to a quotidian one.

The works in Under Destruction I and II inspired that thought experiment by presenting creation and destruction as interdependent—and sometimes as the same. The well-curated exhibition features cerebral, oft-kinetic sculptures, installations, and media projects dating from the past twenty-three years. It’s a welcome introduction to contemporary European, American, and Latin American artists and their open-ended works that provides little resolution and much room for interpretation.

A group exhibition originating at Museum Tinguely in Basel, Under Destruction appears in New York in three consecutive and heterogeneous chapters, all at the Swiss Institute. Under Destruction I was a quiet, poetic prelude featuring understated sculptural works made with commonplace objects. Nina Canell’s Perpetuum Mobile (40kg) (2009–2010) is an elegant example. A bowl of water sits on the ground next to a paper sack of cement. Activated by sonic vibrations, the water is frothed to a fantastical mist, which solidifies the adjacent building material imperceptibly.

Seductive illusion has little pull in this show—forms result from materials and processes. Nina Beier and Marie Lund’s History Makes a Young Man Old (2011) is a crystal ball that was rolled to the gallery from its place of purchase in a site-specific performance. The marks of experience obscure the clarity for which the material is valued; it’s not much to look at, and that is the point. In Monica Bonvincini’s White (2003), a cube of cracked safety glass houses an armature of neon tubes, interchanging structure and surface. Pavel Büchler’s Modern Paintings (1999–2000) is a series of abstract paintings collaged from found paintings that have been cut up and put through a washer.

Liz Larner. Corner Basher, 1988; steel, stainless steel and electric motor with speed control mechanism, 10 feet high. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Michael Janssen, Berlin.

Two single-camera media works hint at the active destruction in the next chapter. Micheal Sailstorfer’s Untitled (Bulb) (2010) shows a light bulb fracturing on impact. Originally shot in high-speed HD video and then transferred to 16mm film, it literalizes the high compliment that digital images can achieve film quality. Alex Hubbard’s Cinépolis (2007) adopts an action painting–like procedure for video, in which a projection screen is destroyed in service as a canvas for blowtorched Mylar balloons, tar, and feathers.

Everything the first isn’t, the second chapter is: noisy, spectacular, and physically stressful. Under Destruction II is a dissonant factory of counter-production. The influence of Jean Tinguely’s kinetic machines is acute. Visitors control the speed of a wrecking ball that demolishes the gallery walls in

Liz Larner’s Corner Basher (1988). Whacking the sheetrock at low speeds is pleasantly subversive. But at the highest setting, it whips around with the frightening velocity of a trebuchet, and the centrifugal force threatens to topple the machine. I felt a palpable breech of safety; Larner had created a scenario that cast my limits in high relief.

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