KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Auguststraße 69 D-10117, Berlin

  • Cyprien Gaillard  2
    Title : Cyprien Gaillard 2
  • Cyprien Gaillard 1
    Title : Cyprien Gaillard 1

Cyprien Gaillard review by Jenny Nachtigall.

Entering the crowded exhibition space at the opening of Cyprien Gaillard’s recent solo exhibition at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, clouds of cigarette smoke, the sound of smashing beer bottles and a cacophony of laughter and chatter strike me heavily. To be sure, the artwork on show is cause and effect of a Dionysian scenario, in which an intoxicated mass of gallery visitors cheerfully destroys Gaillard’s large-scale monument, a pyramidal construction made out of beer boxes. Retrospectively, however, indeed with recovery, something of a discovery hits the weary head. The spectacle of mere consumption entangles as a complex structure of displacements that bespeak a different notion of art and the making of it, that always already entails its unmaking.

To begin with, ‘The Recovery of Discovery’ is based on a spatial displacement, namely the relocation of 72,000 bottles of the Turkish beer ‘Efes’ from Turkey to KW in Berlin and their subsequent arrangement as a pyramidal sculpture. Gaillard’s piece relates to a practice of displacement that was a common strategy in the battle over cultural superiority and, consequently, political hegemony in the colonial Europe of the nineteenth century. The relocation of ancient cultural artefacts was at the heart of numerous prestigious museum collections for which the Pergamon Museum in Berlin is a case in point. It is based on the relocation of the Pergamon Altar from Turkey to Berlin in the late nineteenth century and it is precisely this cultural displacement that serves as an explicit reference point for Gaillard’s show at KW. Yet in his work the grand colonial gesture is actualised through an utterly profane signifier, which is beer.

Only a few days after the opening of the show the literal consumption of the monument by gallery visitors, climbing and drinking it, turns what appeared to be minimalist sculpture into a formless heap of rubble. The (un)making of art appears as trivial and useless everyday practice and the coming into being of the monument coincides with its very collapse, debasing and displacing art into the profane site of destruction and decay.

Gaillard confronts incommensurable spheres, high and low, aesthetics and politics, in whose fissure another notion of a monument specifically and of artistic practice more generally emerges. Placed in this parallax gap his monument highlights a strange temporality of the present. It forecloses the future and obliterates the past. Thriving on destruction and (alcohol-induced) amnesia it undermines the very notion of a monument, which by definition is about remembering the past for the future.

Gaillard’s impulse towards entropy is clearly indebted to the work of artists such as Robert Smithson or Gordon Matta-Clark, yet he introduces a new moment of collective agency that in his current piece is actualised as destruction. Ultimately, the excess of activities that are utterly unproductive, a waste of energy, entropic indeed, such as alcohol consumption and vandalism, perverts the notion of art as productive activity. Perhaps then, what is most productive in Gaillard’s recent show at KW is the sabotage of regimes of productivity that are not only inscribed in conceptions of artistic work but also in our everyday lives.

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