The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is currently presenting the first major exhibition of work by Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder in a UK public gallery. The artists are based in New York and London. As well as their individual practices Brätsch and Röder have worked collaboratively as DAS INSTITUT since 2007, and are presenting both individual and collaborative works in the exhibition.
Both artists form a strong installational relationship with the gallery space. The show is an intuitive one, where the combination of practices claims an attempt to communicate the inexpressible. That aside, both Brätsch and Röder achieve an inclusivity via humour, pulling the viewer beyond some of the works’ more surrealist elements. This can be seen in the video ‘Am Sonntag (from “When You See Me Again It Wont Be Me” Series)’ where Surrealist performative relationships give way to comedy and in the neon work ‘Comcoröder (Breast) 2010-2015’, which greets the viewer upon entering the gallery with a degree of Emin-esque insolence.
Here the artists’ practices become layered and convergent, forming a more installational dialectic disparate to the languages of the individual works. The installational becomes the singular aesthetic, one that could be argued is the show’s primary concern, or a concern that at least becomes so via the juxtaposition of Röder and Brätsch’s distinctive singular practices.
Röder’s particular assemblages of neon and wooden structures eschew the purity of Dan Flavin in favour of symbolism, exploring non-verbal languages that form particularly accessible works. These reference everything from basic language forms, totems, glyphs and signage, sometimes with a slight Basquiat-esque flourish. The transformative qualities of the body are also mutual references in both Brätsch and Röder’s works, with Brätsch’s psychedelic figurative paintings somewhere between Chris Ofili and tie-dye.
The lights of Röder’s work fade in and out, illuminating the surrounding pieces, including Brätsch’s marbled figures. The effect that serves to bind the works in that single installational universe. Also lit by the pulsating neon are fragmentary stained-glass heads and figures, suspended in their own travelling crates. The eyes of which are in fact discarded remnants of nine stained-glass and agate windows Sigmar Polke created in 2009 for the Grossmünster church in Zurich, here rendered visceral and expressionistic.
Traces of Brätsch and Röder’s own physicality are made visible via performative interaction, silhouettes and the actions of a mark reflecting the ever-present body. There are symbols and glyphs reflecting the tools invented. These form an act of communication between two bodies – in this instance the artists themselves – while creating a dialectic between artist, work and viewer. This exhibition is concerned with art as communication, while communicating an exploration of communication. What seems ironic in hindsight is that sound as a form of communication is largely absent as a medium. That said the show is an often perplexing and impenetrable assault on the senses, a journey into a carnival-esque collective unconscious of DAS INSTITUT in a fevered dialogue.