Joachim Koester: Maybe One Must Begin with Some Particular Places
Review by Rebecca Castermans
‘Maybe One Must Begin with Some Particular Places’, at S.M.A.K. in Ghent presents an overview of the work of Danish artist Joachim Koester (°1962, Copenhagen), which brings together videos, texts and photography to explore the tangible tension between fact and fiction while adding new layers to already told (hi)stories.
The twenty or so works that are collected here are a testament to the artist’s broad range of interests, and feature subjects like mind-expanding drugs, the history of the occult, philosopher Immanuel Kant, the bewildering ice planes of the north pole, and important figures of the 1960s counterculture; Charles Manson and Carlos Castaneda. Together, they map out the artist’s quest to discover, or rediscover, certain elements of history that have been either forgotten or misplaced. Overarching themes are the quest for hidden places in both a physical and immaterial sense, and the desire to explore the boundaries of the unknown.
Exploring the boundaries of the unknown can be taken quite literally here. ‘Maybe One Must Begin with Some Particular Places’ features a dramatic staging that has been conceived in cooperation with the artist himself. A few brightly lit rooms and corridors act like lampposts in an overall darkened and immersive environment. Large parts of the middle rooms are boarded up with wood, creating the illusion of a labyrinth or a haunted house. Visitors can get lost and are encouraged to find their way back by peeking through the slits of the wooden walls in order to discover new hidden chambers; it gives the exhibition a strong experiential character.
In the left wing, installations like ‘Nordenskiöld and the Icecap’ (1999-2000) and ‘Message from Andrée’ (2005) - showing hypnotising video relics of north pole expeditions - focus on the exploration of physical, geographical frontiers, while in the middle rooms, ‘Tarantism’ (2008) and ‘My Frontier Is an Endless Wall of Points (After the Mescaline Drawings of Henri Michaux)’ (2007), together with other more recent work, show Koester’s growing interest in the examination of our inner, psychological unknown terrain, and the outer limits of the human body and mind. In the right wing, several themes explored earlier in the exhibition - hidden places, the human body, performance, mind-altering drugs, art and art history - come together as we wander into the realm of the obscure (The Barker Ranch’, 2008), the immeasurable (‘One+One+One’, 2006), and even the occult (‘Morning of the Magicians’, 2005).
However wide-ranging the artist’s subjects may be, the driving force behind his work remains the same: his fascination with secret or forgotten histories, and with the missing pieces of the puzzle that have been lost in the cracks of time and space. Koester invites visitors to fill in the blanks and to reach their own conclusions based on their personal interpretation of his work.