The exhibition Heart of the Matter can be seen as a parallel position to Matter of the Heart (shown at Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin).
Nina Canell review by Jenny Nachtigall
Nina Canell’s sculptures, on view in Berlin at her solo show ‘Heart of the Matter’ at Galerie Barbara Wien / Wilma Lukatsch, look at first sight like objects from a laboratory, that always appear enigmatic as we fail to understand what they are or what they do. Canell’s precarious arrangements of cables, concrete, glass, water and bread have a similar effect. Perhaps we could see them as an experiment in what sculpture can be today; as a test site for art and its vicissitudes.
Retrospectively, what is perhaps most striking in Canell’s show is the correlation between the visual and the auditory. The experience of a temporal and spatial precariousness that permeates Canell’s sculptures resonates on the acoustic level, hazardously teetering on the threshold of perceptibility.
In the first exhibition room the distanced, ethereal ringing of a bell reverberates from ‘Uttermost Beat of the Heart’ (2011), a sculpture that consists of a glass jar containing a bell surrounded by vacuum. The more air leaks into the jar - initially empty of matter - the more the sound of the bell increases. Like most of Canell’s works, ‘Uttermost Beat of the Heart’ is marked by radical openness towards time, that defines sculpture as process, as an ‘unfixed, durational phenomenon,’ as Canell puts it herself.
The subtle ringing of ‘The Uttermost Beat of the Heart’ commingles with a hushed babbling of water that springs from the adjacent room, in which the core piece of the exhibition is placed. ‘Another Ode to Outer Ends’ (2010) is composed of a plane carrying pulverised cement and a basin with water that contains an ultra sound generator. The generator produces ultrasonic vibrations that turn water into cold white steam that rises beautifully out of the cumbersome basin. The moisture that is produced solidifies the loose cement, simultaneously dissolving already petrified material. This experiment in contingency lasts for the duration of the exhibition and will be taken up where it is left off in her next show.
Because most pieces in the exhibition are relatively contained structures, the first work encountered appears all the more scattered. Bricks and stones, bits and pieces of stale bread and concrete replicas thereof are spread haphazardly on the grey gallery floor. ‘A bit /A bit of Stone /Bread bit/ Bite in Bread/ A Bit or Two/ Broken Bread/ Breaking Bread/ Another Bit/ End Bit’ (2010) does not reveal any particular system or order of arrangement but rather appears as a gathering of objects induced by chance. ‘A throw of the dice will never abolish chance,’ Stéphane Mallarmé observed in his poem from 1897. Homologous to this claim, Canell’s work could be seen as poetry of matter, that does with things what poets do with words. Canell makes tangible the precariousness and transience at the heart of the matter. Doing this she renders her practice intrinsically unfinished, always open for time to enter and change the object of art as well as our perception of it.
Canell’s sculptures are aesthetic experiments structured by the tension between materiality and immateriality, by conversions of matter and transformations of form, turning nothing into something and vice versa. ‘Heart of the Matter’ triggers a bodily experience of perception and its failure, speaking of reality in a material and poetic way.