Appropriating language #14
From 4 March to 10 April 2016, Manière Noire is pleased to present Vicious Circle, the 14th exhibition of the “Appropriating Language” series.
The invited artists are Vanessa Henn, Johnny Koch, and Sebastian Rogler, who not only bring attention to the limitations of language, but also rework these barriers into complex material presences through art.
Language offers a way out. It is a way out of being misunderstood and being unknown. It is a way out of loneliness and separation. It is a way out of the self and into the world. But words can also be a trap, an illusory salvation. We try to explain and defend ourselves with words, as if they will finally set things right, but this is just the start of a vicious circle: the more we depend on language, the more we come to realize the impossibility of perfect expression.
Umschreibung, by Vanessa Henn (b. 1970), takes an old wooden handrail and twists it into the “rewriting” or “description” (the English translation of “Umschreibung”) of an imaginary cube. The cube is powerfully suggested, but not quite present: Umschreibung is a speechless narrative, a motionless dance, a silent sonata. While the work opens up the possibility of a new form, one that goes beyond the linearity of the handrail we are accustomed to understanding with our hands, it also evokes the immobility and endless circling-within-itself of the handrail. No matter the extent of its reappropriation, the handrail cannot escape its essential character.
In The Wall, Johnny Koch (b.1982) arranges 30 rectangular concrete blocks, each inscribed with a text, on a wall. Some of the texts are familiar (“go big or go home”), but there is something curiously awry about the others (“enjoy knowing today”), even humorously nonsensical (“I hate sand”). Throwaway words, of the kind that might be overheard on the street, have been gathered and reconfigured into simple but provocative utterances that are literally written in stone, demanding the viewer’s close attention. In Koch’s own words, his work should operate like a billboard seen from the highway: “It disappears out of your eyes, but this small vibration in your mind stays and maybe strikes back later or in another context.”
The collages, paintings, and drawings of Sebastian Rogler (b. 1961) repurpose existing artwork into destabilizing forms that highlight a particular word or phrase. In his featured collages, the words are stripped of their context, making them seem frozen in place and voided of meaning. But they are also given new life through their freedom from the social and commercial forces that often underpin them. Letters literally fall apart into geometrical abstraction, while the meanings of the written words follow their own trail.
Is there any cohesion to be found in language? As the narrator of a story by Samuel Beckett, an inspiration for Vicious Circle, says, “Name, no, nothing is nameable, tell, no, nothing can be told, what then, I don’t know, I shouldn’t have begun.”*
* "Texts for Nothing" - by Samuel Beckett