Talbot Rice Gallery, The University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL

Hanne Darboven: accepting anything among everything

Edinburgh Art Festival 2015

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

31 July - 3 October 2015

Review by Maro Psyrra

This year’s Edinburgh Art Festival laid on many surprises for its spectators and the city’s art-loving public. In the context of the festival, dozens of contemporary art exhibitions were realised, including Phyllida Barlow at the Fruitmarket Gallery and Kwang Young Chun at the Dovecot Gallery. For its part in the Festival this year, the Talbot Rice Gallery is hosting possibly one of Edinburgh’s most important exhibitions of the last decade. The exhibition ‘Accepting anything among everything’ with selected works by Hanne Darboven is not just an exhibition-acquaintance with the German artist’s work, but a historical document on conceptual art’s physiognomy and its complex relationship with everyday life, materiality, music and speech.

The curators of the exhibition, led by Pat Fisher, have created a truly biographical exhibition, which in a simple yet comprehensive manner manages to respond to the crucial questions concerning contemporary art, related mostly to the conceptual dipole of ‘art’ and ‘real life’. This approach may have been inescapable for the curators since it is dictated by Hanne Darboven’s work itself. During her entire life, Darboven engaged in artistic activity which can be characterised as “revolutionarily individual”.

The focal point of the exhibition is ‘Life, living 1997-1998’, an installation of 754 framed works, which Darboven created adopting a personal, mathematical form of prose. Her almost abstract script is not random but is led by a logical personal system, which she developed and used in repetition, almost obsessively. It is estimated that the total number of these works exceeds 3,000, and are derived from the artist’s decision to work as a worker, recording every moment of her life through this complex system of communication and archiving. Among the works in the exhibition are black and white photographs of dollhouses, two of which are physically presented at the gallery. These three-dimensional models introduce us to the second “chapter” of the exhibition, where we are transferred from work to real life (although this distinction verges on the obsolete in Darboven’s case, as is also correctly portrayed through the exhibition).

Darboven produced this volume of installations at the “Am Burgberg”, her studio and home in Hamburg. If we exclude her brief two-year stay in New York (1966-1968) where she came in contact with the Conceptual artists Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth, Darboven was, until her death in 2009, permanently resident at her parents’ house, which she also dealt with obsessively. In contrast to the geometric, almost clinical cleanliness of her works-texts, which are often and maybe mistakenly connected to Minimalism, her home-studio was full of objects, an entirely chaotic cabinet de curiosités, with souvenirs and artefacts from all over the world. Gradually, as is described through numerous notes and drawings, Darboven transformed this building into a large studio complex. Each room and each desk had a strictly specific function and as Miriam Schoofs notes: “is now evidence of a particular phase in the life of the artist”. In Gallery 2, objects from Darboven’s home studio are displayed, which reflect her passion for collecting and also her manner of working.

This exhibition of Darboven’s works, accompanied by Walter Smerling’s documentary ‘Hanne Darboven, My secret is that I have none’, may well be one of the most demanding exhibitions for an art curator, given the indiscernible boundaries between the life and art of the presented artist. Darboven is considered a representative of Conceptual art but at the same time she was interested in materiality, she embraced absolute order yet she succumbed to the charm of chaos. These antithetical points are shrewdly observed in the exhibition and allow the spectator to comprehend that Darboven created and lived as a “work in progress”. The exhibition does not seek the creation of a myth around Darboven, on the contrary the artist is presenting her own myth of the world.

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