It was in Phaedrus (370 BCE) that Plato first introduced his concept of the soul. Unlike other ancient Greek philosophers, Plato argued that body and mind are fundamentally distinct, and that the soul is immortal, survives physical death and moves on to a new body.
Titled ‘Souls’, Henrik Potter’s exhibition at PSM Gallery assembles 26 human-sized works – composed of muslin, wood, oil and clay – that are spread throughout the gallery. Part of the installation ‘Heedless Sleep’, which was first shown at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart last year, they comprise fabrics attached to wooden supports that lean against shiny metal poles spanning floor to ceiling. Neither hung on the walls, nor fixed to the ground, the works appear transient, ready to be moved at any time. In one of several instances of Potter’s playful incorporation of language in the show, J’arrive / Figure (Bruised) (all works 2017–19) appears to highlight the modular installation’s mobility by featuring the French phrase j’arrive (I’m coming) on its pink surface.
Sharing the same pole, The Lovers (2018) (In Two Parts) and Les Amants (2018) (en deux parties) lean against one another, forming an unusual couple. While other panels in the show feature fully stretched fabrics, these two are only partially covered with translucent pastel-coloured muslin and segmented into corresponding grids. Emphasizing their affiliation, the titles of the works not only share the same meaning but also denote that they belong together. Elsewhere, Potter’s use of language speaks more to the feeling of being lost in translation: Mauer B. Heidelberg / 1989 / Figure (In Duality) is inscribed with the German phrase Wir Sprachen Kein Deutsch (We Didn’t Speak German), referencing moments of misunderstanding in which language fails us.
While Potter’s linguistic embellishments hint that the works can speak to each other, it is the small details he incorporates – a bundle of copper coins pinned to an empty wooden frame in Figure (Drinking), a tiny embroidered rose in Another Sea / Your Past / My Place? – that give them their true character, their soul. Contrasting with these minimal gestures, Le jeune / Figure (Flayed) / Kallisti (Reprise) integrates colourful fabrics and braided bands that jut out from the panel like protruding tongues. Whether skin-like membranes covering wooden frames or recycled torn fabric scraps, Potter employs textiles as a means of generating personality in his work, and further enhances the relatability of these human-sized forms by attaching the canvases to wooden supports that allow them to stand upright on ‘feet’. In the narrow corridor that connects the gallery’s two exhibition spaces, the works make their physical presence felt even more intently as visitors are obligated to navigate cautiously between them.
In the second space, the work The Past Again / In the Present Tense / Applause? presents a selection of Potter’s recent photographs. Featuring deserted playgrounds, snowy mountain peaks and leafless treetops, the places they depict are vacant, soulless – a stark contrast to the dense array of works in the main gallery.
While Plato’s understanding of the soul distinguished it from the body, Potter here appears to contend that the physical form can, in fact, reflect the inner being. With every intervention on these objects, not only does he emphasize the corporeality of his painterly sculptures, he brings them to life – creating the illusion that the galleries at PSM are indeed populated by souls.
Henrik Potter, ‘Souls’ is on view at PSM Gallery, Berlin, from 21 January until 29 February 2020.
Main Image: Henrik Potter, ‘Souls’ , 2019, exhibition view, PSM Gallery, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and PSM, Berlin, 2020; photograph: Marjorie Brunet Plaza