Claudia Wieser l All That Is
12. December, 2015 - 20. February, 2016
All That Is is the title of the first solo exhibition by Claudia Wieser at Arratia Beer, borrowed from the eponymous novel by James Salter. In a different story altogether – Jorge Borges’ The Aleph – one of the protagonists recounts finding a place that contains all other places, as seen from any point of the universe. “I’d heard someone say there was a world down there,” he explains. The works on view at Arratia Beer harvest a similar kind of post-modern attainability of forms and materials and a modern archaeology of structures, signs, and spaces. It is unclear whether we are looking back into history, forward into fiction, or are suspended within an extended now. It is also unclear which part of what we see is looking back at us. In a symmetrical black and white wallpaper diptych it is not the eyes of the paired marble faces that meet ours but the uncannily eye-like ocelli of the stone volutes next to them.
Deeper into the gallery, an anonymous volume rests in space. The object’s polished surface and squat posture offer no point of entry. A golden ball in the corner reflects anything that approaches it, and requires constant dusting. The impenetrability of the essential thingness of these Platonic objects, their primordial, yet serenely unrelatable and even quietly sinister artificiality, invoke a Dürer-esque Melencolia; and so the viewer may sit on a bench provided by the artist, winter coat draped over achy knees, head resting on hand, elbow on leg, pondering their sophisticated properties.
Or, if so inclined, she or he might speculate about the nature of the bench and its likely use in a less meditative setting than Dürer’s: the world of Pasolini’s menacing Medea, say, where such an object could have accommodated a high priestess just as easily as the body of a human sacrifice. Wieser seeks to conjure the idea of objects rendered archaic and enigmatic due to the fact that they cannot be entirely placed or interpreted within the here and now. Instead, they seem to offer themselves to multiple uses and readings, some benign, some more ominous, depending on the beholder’s leaning. Wandering through Wieser’s para-archeological cosmos feels like an intimation of past cultures and rituals, or a retrospective divination of their hypothetical meaning.
To the side, a tiled pillar angles its way into the wall behaving like one half of a possible portal that spans both sides of the here and there. It leans into a large digital wallpaper print, showing us what looks like an incorrectly assembled reproduction of an Escher staircase. Four stacked stone containers turn out to be the self-same vase copied and pasted into a column, bordered on the left margin by an alien colour: the warm gradient photographic close-up of a glazed tile that operates in a different register to that of the black and white stripes of the found, photocopied, enlarged, and cut-up images. Instead, this marginal stripe functions much like a book-end. It marks the border of object and structure by visually reiterating the ceramic tiles used in the exhibition. Within the flattened and dematerialised digital collages, perspective, scale, and source material are levelled into aesthetic equivalences.
Wieser regularly uses image material that she has physically collected over the years: historic black and white photographs of ancient and old sculptures, architectural elements and spaces. The images are frequently reproductions taken more than a century ago, royalty-free and often oblivious of their sources, sites, and makers. Rather than referring to a virtual lightbox or image search, the artist chooses her motifs from this imaginary museum assembled in an archival carton. During their shelf life, the reproductions have assumed new relations, incestuous or convenient partnerships, ready to be deployed as appropriated revenants.
Wieser’s work suggests its human use: The bench can be sat on, the prismatic mirrors reflect the viewer, and the materiality of the painted tiles is that of functional architectures. On another level, they are enigmatic and hermetic: as trompe-l’œils, the wallpapers refuse entry even though they suggest permeability. The objects assemble to a kind of scenography in which they act as well behaved and elegant protagonists while disproving the preciousness that they evoke at first encounter: Materially, the polished metal and the paper tapestry refuse the necessary ingredients for the alchemical iconology they hint at.
Who lives or lived here, between these beautiful objects, among the scene’s props? What is the nature of the space that is structured by the geometric ornaments of the tiled pillar supporting no weight? Who leaves their smudged finger mark on the polished orb?
Text by Eva Wilson