‘I prefer the sun, I’m fond of night, I’m fond of my noises and of my sounds, I admire the immense complex factory of the body, I’m fond of my glances that touch, of my ears that see, of my eyes that receive […] But I do not have the benediction of the written idea. I do not have to have my life derived from the intelligible.’ This line, written in 1967 by the poet Henri Chopin (a neglected but nevertheless central figure of the French neo-avant-garde), acted as a kind of anti-manifesto for the group exhibition ‘The Show Continues Upstairs’, staged at Supportico Lopez, which toured from Naples to Berlin in February of this year. Known primarily as a concrete and sound poet, Chopin created a vast archive of pioneering recordings using early tape recorders and the sounds of the manipulated human voice, but he also produced an immense number of ‘typewriter poems’. Five of these small paper works from 1983 featured in the show, including Le paillasson superbe (The superb door mat), in which typed blue and black symbols overlap to form text pictures resembling miniature Arabic illustrations or Turkish carpet patterns. Chopin’s ‘poetry of spaces’ sought to demonstrate the sensory superiority of sound as opposed to normal speech, and to free the subject from ‘the straightjacket of words and letters.’ Like Chopin, the work of all of the artists in the show – a mixture of local and international figures including Sebastian Hammwöhner, Judith Hopf, William E. Jones, Adrian Piper, Lucy Stein, Patrick Tuttofuoco, Klaus Weber and Maximillian Zentz Zolomovitz – engages with the ‘complex factory of the body’ and the limits of sensory perception.
In a curtained-off space a broken chair and fake plant surrounded with aluminium foil appeared to pulsate under a strobe light. Untitled (2009), the installation by Hammwöhner, is domestic but alien, organic yet artificial – a kind of disco Garden of Eden that takes the props of traditional painted interiors and quite literally deconstructs them. In the same space, Jones’ brilliantly witty yet melancholic film The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography, (1998), was one of the few pieces not commissioned specially for the exhibition. The film by the Los Angeles-based artist splices together Eastern European porn films with absurd titles like Hungary for Men and Comrades in Arms with a series of stilted ‘screen tests’ made by a director inspecting, auditioning and interviewing young Russian men about their sexual desires. Against faded Soviet-style interiors the subjects are prodded and stroked coercively, their eyes uneasy and their manner guarded. Jones’ perversely compelling film cogently examines the spread of capitalism in the post-communist era through the lens of the sex industry. In keeping with the sexual theme, the Berlin artist Maximillian Zentz Zolomovitz’s installation Long Live the Flesh (2009) occupied a small cellar-like room next door. Black rubber sheeting covered the floor of this strange sex-dungeon space. The work’s title was graffitied across the brick wall while a TV set showed a hypnotic montage of slowed-down bondage footage spliced with scenes from what looked like a martial arts training film from the 1980s. The bodily turned sculptural in Tuttofuoco’s Untitled (2009), which reimagined the classical statuary bust; in a sort of DIY cubicle, a DayGlo sprayed balaclava sat atop a plinth, framed by tree branches with pink and purple pipe-cleaners clinging to their twigs like artificial moss. A more modest creation than some of Tuttofuoco’s past projects, which have involved mirrors, lasers and neon lights, the work offers a more intimate engagement with the idea of the subject, cast as an alter ego of radical possibility. Weber’s Doppelkaktus (Double Cactus) (2006/8) returned to Chopin’s refusal of the didactic, literally reprogramming nature by fusing the tips of two cacti into one, like prickly conjoined twins reflected in the mirror-surfaced table they sat on.
Supportico Lopez’s founders, Gigiotto Del Vecchio and Stefania Palumbo, who have moved to Berlin from their space in Naples, say that it is more an ongoing curatorial project than a gallery. ‘The Show Continues Upstairs’ – a confident and satisfyingly meaty, raucous little exhibition – proved that this is a curatorial project worth keeping an eye on.
Sarah James is a lecturer in Art History at University College London. She is the author of Common Ground: German Photographic Cultures Across the Iron Curtain, published by Yale University Press.
First published in Issue 125