Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany
The Latin inscription ‘Salve Hospes’ glimmers above the entrance of the Kunstverein Braunschweig. The phrase, meaning ‘Greetings, guest’, is a throwback to the building’s former life as a private merchant’s house, but it’s also a motto that Karl Holmqvist and Klara Lidén have taken to heart in their dual exhibition ‘Werk’ (Work). Hanging in the rotunda that precedes the main gallery space, for example, is the collaboratively authored Untitled (BLEIBE) (Stay, 2016), a rotating cardboard box pieced together with packaging tape and printed with phrases of welcome in different languages: ‘WIR SAGEN WILLKOMMEN/BIENVENUE’.
In the ground floor galleries, the hospitality theme is extended by Holmqvist’s Untitled (Blanket I’N’I’N’I’) (2016), a black and white coverlet spread across a low plinth on which visitors can recline. Similarly, for her three new sculptures, Lidén built seats into metal fence panels. Large and hardwearing, these panels are of the kind used in urban areas to delineate places of no entry. The artist asks us to resist our instincts and, instead, come around to the rear of the fence to lie back against a jute pillow, perhaps to admire the view of the garden outside. The sculptures, including Chaise Zaun (2016), are in keeping with Lidén’s strategy of misusing ‘found’ (or stolen) objects sourced from public spaces and presenting them in a gallery setting. Here, they can be seen alongside other works in which the artist strips found objects of their original ‘use’ value, such as Untitled (Poster Painting) (2010): a stack of street advertisements with all the information whited out. These new pieces extend the notion of hospitality into an invitation to be a conspirator in one of Lidén’s acts of transformative vandalism.
Upstairs, Holmqvist’s excellent video, I’M WITH YOU IN ROCKLAND (2005), mixes pop lyrics with lines borrowed from Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 ‘Howl’ (the title is a quote from the poem) to create a strange but captivating dada-esque sound poem. Frequent use of repetition in the video, as well as the deliberate misplacement of stress on certain syllables and words, destabilizes the familiarity the audience has with these famous lines. Shown alongside the artist’s white on black text canvases, such as Untitled (Bang <3) (2016), the work evokes literary movements including concrete poetry and lettrism and hints at the radical potential of wordplay.
Ultimately, however, like the situationists before them, Lidén and Holmqvist are more tricksters than activists. Nhite Woise (2016), the second of the two collaborative works in the exhibition, shows the artists dancing to Silentó’s 2015 hit ‘Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)’. It’s a funny and irreverent video, made even more so by the fact that it’s projected within a cardboard construction devised by Lidén, which itself ‘squats’ in the middle of the Kunstverein’s grandest room. Demonstrating the artists’ mutual interest in the hacking of cultural products, as well as in the reclaiming of public space, the work also points to their distinct artistic personas: Lidén is wearing the overalls of a manual worker while Holmqvist (who in 2015 modelled for the Italian designer Brioni) looks elegant and untouchable in black. The two largely ignore one other as they complete the dance routine, causing amusing variations in their moves due to discrepancies in memory and ability. Like teenagers who post clips of themselves impersonating pop stars on YouTube, Nhite Woise is both an homage and a testament to individuality.
First published in Issue 184