Berlin, mid-September. An unassuming white cube gallery space in Schöneberg, House of Egorn, in Berlin’s up and coming art district. A small, careful selection of works by Berlin based artists Mia Goethe and Hyojun Hyun meets a handful of pieces by London based Felicity Hammond and Patrick Goddard. Together they summon a thoughtful dialogue on gentrification and the art world’s inextricable connection to it. Meanwhile, the ABC art fair hums along outside.
London, Frieze week, a low-rise warehouse in the East End. Set within a cluster of ‘emerging’ galleries, this once working class area became a destination for contemporary art in the wake of Maureen Paley’s arrival here in the early 1980’s. It’s art world pedigree is sealed by the fact that the building was once the studio of Wolfgang Tillmans. The mix of brightly lit kebab shops and dimly lit, pseudo industrial bars and cafes bear an uncanny similarity to those of Schöneberg. Inside, works by the same four artists comprise part two of ‘The Bullet Returns to Where the Shot was Fired’, a double exhibition put together with understated assurance by House of Egorn’s curator Angels Miralda Tena.
Art institutions and gentrification are tied in a mutually reinforcing relationship, so to curate an exhibition on the subject is to engage in a form of institutional critique, the product of which serves to fuel that which you condemn. This two-part show is sufficiently complex and self aware to acknowledge its complicity without being curtailed by it. The exhibition takes its name from Hito Steyerl’s performative lecture ‘Is the Museum a Battleground’, delivered at the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, in which Steyerl seeks to makes visible the ties which connect the art world to violent conflict via global capital. The lecture ends with Steyerl turning the camera on herself in recognition of her own inextricable place in this web.
The question of complicity is most directly addressed by London based artist Patrick Goddard, whose film ‘Calex, Rustic Lamp Large’ (2016) represents a conversation, recorded in hushed tones in an ‘industrial chic’ bar about the ethics of this now dominant interior design aesthetic. While highlighting that these establishments are echoes of our vanishing inner city industry, Goddard sips his coffee, acutely aware of which side of the gentrification table he sits.
Gentrification takes place within intricately connected global networks, which this exhibition exploits and explores through its two-part format as well as via the works on show. Felicity Hammond’s ‘Stone Effect’ (2016) incorporates building site ballast the young artist retrieved from a London building site, a material transplant with parallels to the increasing socio-political convergence of the closely connected cities. The theme of causality is cleverly taken up on the level of the visual, humming beneath the surface of the exhibition and translating its political concerns into art historical language. Hyojun Hyun leaves remnants of the act of making within and alongside his finished works, and displays a wooden block used in the making of the ‘Nowhere’ (2015-2016) as a separate work, ‘Untitled’ (2015-2016) positioned alongside the painting in Berlin.
It is the indirect approaches which work the best. In London, Mia Goyette’s resin cast mineral water bottles, ‘Vom Gipfel des Berges’ (2016) speaking to the commodification of our most basic resources, and ‘Window Box #10’, a sad, grubby window ledge looking out to nowhere, recall Cathy Wilkes in their evocation of tawdry consumables. If art has value it is because it is not a digestible commodity, it is sufficiently complex to hold contradictions and complications. The relationship between the thematic content of the works on show in this double exhibition and the art world context in which we find them creates a productive tension, which the best works hold with quiet verve.