Review of the Current Show
“...We are all flowers in spring that God picks up from his garden. Some sooner, some later...” the fragment form the letter of the prisoner written a century or more ago in jail short before his execution - as one of the visitors kindly translated (since the letter was originally in French and my current mastering of the language would require for more) - is undoubtedly a handwritten proof of anguish and grief over the injustices of political persecution. Sadly as the letter implies the unfortunate author had to pay with his death for his political and religious beliefs.
Speaking of language as the means of artistic expression, it can speak volumes about human condition, via signs and signifiers and the modes of power distribution evidenced through linguistic turn. Artist Danh Vo's this particular work on show in Boros Collection – a letter - an open edition in fact – written upon the artist's request - is a moving witness of continuity of political violence in each time and epoch with the bodily trace of handwriting that resists the effacement in time. Danh Vo certainly knows how to awake repressed memories and to remind us of history, and judging by the impressive size of another work of his exhibited in the nearby room of Boros collection this history acquires somewhat entangled, global scale and concerns us all. Whether the American flag depicted at the time when the amount of stars suggested some more to come or the monumental fragment of the American Statue of Liberty reduced to parts, impressive in size but almost beyond recognition in its abstractness these works discuss the past veiwed from our present perspective. The fragments of the Liberty Statue ironically reminding us of the human aspiration to freedom might be as beyond possible as the effort to assemble Danh Vo's version of the American dream. The statue parts although original size have been produced oversees, scattered all over the world thus leaving liberty seekers little hope whatsoever.
On the other hand, the Boros Collection, that houses Danh Vo abovementioned works, with its second presentation open for public since September 2012, is promising in as much as it gives hope for change through art and expands one's knowledge through senses. Dimension, time and history are not only issues questioned by Danh Vo, these are the issues that come into dialogue with the narrative of the exhibition space itself. The Berlin bunker housing the new Boros Collection is a monument too – a “failed monument” or a monument transformed by art. Originally conceived as Friedrichstrasse Imperial Railway Bunker by Karl Bonatz under the supervision of Albert Speer it was to shelter around 12 000 people from air-raids during the World War II. The Bunker itself is a historical site of remembrance per excellence. Therefore the artists bringing history into the context of their works involve into a dialogue with the building expanding upon its past and the present.
After years of serving various purposes: from Red Army Prison to a notorious Techno Club the bunker was finally bought by Boros and refurbished to accommodate his private art collection. The narrow bunker ceilings have been partly removed laying bare the rough uneven fabric of the massive walls. The miminalistic interior design is austere and suits perfectly the purposes of exhibiting.
Awst & Walther, an artist duo whose contribution to the collection contextualises the space inside-out, expands upon the implied history of violence related to the building, bringing into play the concept of irrevocable sacrifice. Their work in situ: an arrow shot through the side wall is stuck inside at the height of human heart threatening with inevitable death and commenting on the bunker's original purpose to protect against the impossibility of protection. The gaping hole in the opposite wall left by the arrow strikes one not only with the glimpse into its actual dimensions and mass but also its fragility pointing out the impossibility to protect.
Impossibilities virtual or real are also the subject of Thea Djordjadze's work: installations with elaborate carpet work, or pieces in reverse stages of progress, focussing on the process rather than on the end result, almost inviting into the mysteries of creativity yet as unresolved as ever.
Clara Lidén's site-specific installation “Teenage room” blackened by fire mourns too. Histories personal or collective thus converge attempting to come to terms with the exhibition space. The claustrophobic space constructed by Lidén, her constructed reality, indicates inevitable trauma subtly related to the traumatic experience of the past related to the bunker. The diversity of forms and objects like the diversity of life itself: pieces of furniture, shelves, objects of personal use and study are reduced to a monochromatic, menacing accumulation of objects all in black introducing the rhetorics of the inner world discussed within the private interior placed in a bunker that survived the fires of war.
The installation by Ai Weiwei – a monumental tree – one would say a tree of life ironically made up of pieces of wood specially used in China for making coffins attempts to join the opposites of life and death. The tree assembled of wood pieces by special so-called “schachtel” technique refers to the various dimensions of existence introducing the mythological theme of vegetation with its perennial cycles of death followed by rebirth symbolised by trees and inevitably related to the collective memory and the unconscious.
Last but not least the exhibited artists analyse existence modes, its dimensions, some even ranging to eleven, according to Alicja Kwade's installation title, put to test our perceptions and senses of smell, taste, sound, varying colour and lighting as for example in the works by Tomás Saraceno, Olafur Eliasson and Michael Sailstorfer whose popcorn machine output is not only for seeing but actually for smelling and tasting. Whereas Thomas Ruff's photographs of the infinite skies impress with scale and the process applied by the artist in the work (the photographs are actually taken from the NASA and reworked by the artist by colour addition among others). And, of course, the irresistible poetry of Wolfgang Tillmans' photography, the purchase of whose work set start to the whole Boros Collection, adds a particular human dimension to the exhibition and invigorates the space.
The Boros Collection is an absolute highlight in Berlin's art landscape offering an insight into artistic production of the young and upcoming generation of artists. And, in spite of the fact that the presentation of the works lacks thematic unity and the general framework context, one leaves the historic building with the wish to come back for a second look.