Nina Beier’s sculpture series ‘Plunge’ at her debut solo exhibition in Metro Pictures immediately reminded me of a set-piece in ‘The Seventh Continent’ (1989), the first, least admonitory of Michael Haneke’s ‘glaciation’ films. It’s stock-in-trade for the director - a bourgeois family, methodical and officious even in its own catastrophic rupture. With all the emotion of a crashing PC they chop furniture, shatter mirrors, shred books, flush currency and finally smash a large fish tank leaving its inhabitants to expire on shoals of household flotsam. With the camera lingering on chance compositions, we realise that the crystalline, catalogue-friendly neutrality of the interior is unspoilt. Even with fish flopping in its shards it looks blandly tasteful, only herniated - the breach violent but internal.
Beier’s knee high wine and martini glasses, jars and glass mannequin heads all brim with this space, rock-solid in blue-tinged transparent resin. Various trinkets, housewares and hardware are embedded in it, alongside bones, seashells and crustaceans. They allegedly recreate stock photographs found in image databases, but the outlandish fusion of the domestic and marine makes them difficult to imagine as photos, unless in multiple exposure. Some look like bedside table or kitchen counter paraphernalia as post-apocalyptic coral. Others make images that appear dull in adverts almost unfathomably weird out of context. Coins pouring from a faucet, for example, transforms from the usual caution against water wastage into something quite otherworldly, begging the question, if this is stock, what could it possibly be used for? A cursory recap of stock logic yields the obvious answer - almost anything.
Maybe the huge glasses don’t quite hold the same space as ‘The Seventh Continent’. It is close but it’s too warm, for one thing - too club med. Alongside them there are Island-like mounds of soil dispersed around the gallery floor. Emerging from which are the plant kingdom’s largest known seeds - those of the Lodoicea, a palm native to the Seychelles. The seed is commonly known as the coco de mer, sea coconut, or love nut. The latter name is presumably earned from its suggestive shape: Its resemblance to a salaciously upturned ass is uncanny, complete with the faintest impression of a vulva low in its cleft. As a token of erotic availability or receptivity it exudes a balmy funk of sex tourism.
The third distinct body of work, framed and hung like photographic prints, is composed of thick, downy textiles and garments such as bedding and jackets pressed under glass tightly enough to appear as solid fields of colour or tone. Otherwise amorphous looking, they are detailed and punctuated by Hermès neckties and human hair wigs. They hinge, to some extent, around formal ambiguities - they could participate in a somewhat limited dialectic around the figurative and abstract, illustrative and impressionistic, the readymade and the bespoke etc. - but are thankfully irreducible to those binaries alone.
In Metro Pictures’ early years it championed several artists of the ‘pictures generation’, in light of which, my hunch linking Beier to Robert Longo’s drawings of yuppies frozen in free-fall (‘Men in the Cities’, 1979-1982) may be lazy guesswork. Their affinities if any, are obscure but they reward comparison. Putting them in context, we see that as Beier collapses image and object, or causes each to haemorrhage within the other, the same movement applies to stasis and kinesis. The relation of the image to temporality is always one of discontinuity, of excision. All pictures (even in motion) are, in some sense, stills - a phenomenon to which Beier and her gallery forebears, Longo included, are similarly responsive.
What really makes me think of the gasping, contorted urbanites, though, is the aspirational lifestyle fetish writ large in Beier’s material. Brands loom: The Hermès ties conspicuously display their labels and the Coco de Mer, by way of a strange counter abstraction becomes an avatar for the lingerie label that bears its name and whose logo is a stylized illustration of the seed. Even the glassware signifies some notional cosmopolitan sophistication, some naive picture of “the good life” - a distant sexy archipelago built on a midden of crushed and shattered jpegs.