How can we view art while exhibitions are closed? In an ironic twist, the group show New Views on Same-Olds offers some perspectives for lockdown.
Booming beats, an isolated basement room, the floor softly vibrating. Alone in the dark, I hesitantly move to the bass, trying to remember the last time I was at a club. Nothing comes to mind. What I am standing in is an alien, empty ersatz-version of a club, located downstairs at xhibit, the gallery of the University of Fine Arts Vienna, part of the exhibition »New Views on Same-Olds.«
The loop is the central motif of the sprawling group show that assembles almost 20 positions, not all of which are strictly ›artistic‹; see, for instance, the above mentioned »Space for Collective Listening« and its musical programming, curated with Soso Phist, or a compilation of ›oddly satisfying‹ videos, an internet subgenre of things being mechanically squashed, of heavy machinery subverting its own productivity. As per the exhibition program, »the compilation is less a historical survey than a phenomenological search meandering through the sensual, untimely, and rebellious.« It particularly aims to give consideration to the ambivalence of the notion of the loop: at once emancipatory and suppressive, as Andrea Popelka puts it, who co-curated the show with June Drevet and Stefanie Schwarzwimmer.
While such an absence of an overtly traceable thematic thread could be read as a lack of focus, a drift into arbitrariness, here, it is just really pleasant. It gives the diverse, formally so radically different artworks room to breathe, both literally and figuratively: neither overburdening them with meaning nor overcrowding the exhibition space. In the same manner, the accompanying publication »Time Flies… in Pirouettes« weaves together the theoretical and the playful – extending the exhibition into print rather than just supplementing information.
Over two floors, the show oscillates between the implicit and explicit: »ariel in counterpoint«, Kelly Ann Gardener’s newly commissioned video-loop, takes us to the moors of northern England, where a voice pleads: »Don’t make this landscape into a metaphor.« She draws inspiration not only from Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, but also the baroque principle of counterpoint, a »musical technique focused on melodic interaction, where multiple voices are harmonically interdependent, yet independent in rhythm and contour. « A reference that subtly establishes ties not only to the theme of club culture present in the exhibition, but also Misha Faulty’s »The Cripple Loop Oscillates,« posters pasted makeshift on the wall that layer ciphers and letters in a reflection of the artist’s hearing impairment. One line reads: »Error is all ears and leaking.«
By focusing on hearing and feeling instead of just seeing, the show subverts the ›traditional‹ mode of art appreciation, currently exercised in online viewing rooms that negate all other senses. Instead, it wants us to enjoy the experience, as Anna Paul’s sculptures illustrate. Loopy, entangled baguettes speak to the sense of smell, while estranging the everyday shape of the bread. Like edible calligraphy, they echo Barbara Kapusta’s »As Many Holes and Folds«, a story spanning the two floors of the gallery, rendered almost intelligible in a wobbly, frayed font.
In many places, feelings of nostalgia bubble up. Of childhood afternoons spent watching ice-skating on VHS – evoked by Susanna Hofer’s »Holiday on Ice (call it horizon and you will never reach it)« – or teenage angst soundtracked by gooey pop like the Sugababes, whose music blasts from the Adam Farah/free.yard installation »Regnorts«. But of course, right now, it’s so easy to be nostalgic. Aren’t we all? For the smallest things. Hell, I am nostalgic for seeing this show a few weeks ago, before the second lockdown, when we could still go and see shows. And then, afterwards, seeing it for a second time around, before museums closed down again. It’s unnerving and confusing and most certainly feels like being stuck in a loop, a purgatory of news casts and Zoom calls.
Just as much as artworks are always filters, through which artists process and express reality, is the exhibition a screen onto which we, the spectators, project our own reality. Especially in extraordinary circumstances as the corona crisis, it is impossible to leave this context out of consideration, even though it might have come to seem trite after months in the loop. But as the exhibition addresses the increasingly blurry lines between art and the mundane, it couldn’t be more poignant in the current moment. It prompts us to appreciate and reflect on whatever small things we can find and feel outside the designated ›art spaces‹ but in our everyday lives.