“I know it when I see it”
– Do you really?
mean so many different things.”
AF/CH – Adib Fricke meets Christian Hasucha, the title of the exhibition in the Galerie Nord | Kunstverein Tiergarten in Berlin, sounds like two parts of the same formula: first we have the puzzle, then its solution. This announcement should not be understood, however, as the programmatic principle of the exhibition. Like much in “AF/CH”, the title is far more a first hint of the multilayered questions that Fricke and Hasucha together present to the audience: an invitation into uncertainty.
The Inner Journey
The works made specially for the exhibition in the Galerie Nord bear witness not only to a singularly creative encounter between the two artists but also to a sophisticated treatment of the gallery’s topography. The combination pieces that result from this process fill the space with almost playful gestures and at the same time readily utilise the potential of the windows with generous views to the exterior of the gallery.
The 17-metre long I-girder, a dummy of an IPE-beam 2100, stands as a central element of the exhibition and stretches through the door to the entrance lobby as if attempting to escape. The border between inside and outside dissolves in the extensive window areas in the gallery’s facade; the over-dimensional exhibit lies literally on the threshold between exhibition and public space.
For the artists, the I-beam is the place where the essence of their practices comes together, where word and object are inseparable. Known for his Public Interventions, Christian Hasucha had to develop a new relationship to space and consequently to the visitors to the Galerie Nord; an ambiguous relationship that he had already explored in 2008 with his project “+28,33 m3” in Berlin-Moabit in which the gallery space was turned into a public space. For Adib Fricke, who has been working with the meaning and perception of words and text since the end of the 1980s, public space is also a familiar area of experimentation. For example in his project ➚ Your Brain is Your Brain, 2013, which was first displayed on billboards in Berlin and then inside local buses in Ingolstadt.
However: the interior is the surface – both horizontal and vertical – on which Fricke and Hasucha’s combination pieces unfold. One walks past the exhibits, backwards and forwards, in an attempt to understand the altered scale of the cloakroom and the dimension of the I-beam, lets one’s eyes wander along the Superwords and the texts from the series “Word Shadows.” The visitor must physically and mentally approach the word REVLOTUION, and the truncated armchair placed perspectively deep in the last room of the Galerie Nord; the ultimate signal of Fricke’s and Hasucha’s intent to take the visitor out of his comfort zone.
Confusion as A Model of Perception
Irrespective of where one starts to view the exhibition, one is confronted with works that question one’s comprehension and usual perception of everyday texts and objects. Straightaway with the over-dimensional cloakroom in the first room in harmonious combination with the puzzling word construction, IOAN , on the wall next to it, the view is disturbed: is it not too big for the room? Is the scale correct? The transparent adhesive tape holding the furniture parts together, the still present labels from the DIY shop and the banality of the materials betray the artificial and fleeting presence of the furniture piece built after a photo in a newspaper advertisement. The Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome comes into effect here and generates the confusion that is showcased throughout the exhibition.
It is not without irony that the metal ladder on rollers leads to the superword, PIHLOSOHIPE . The mechanism of alienation that both artists use in their own work reaches a new dimension in this combination piece. Visitors could playfully say to each other: “I spy with my little eye…”, for the usually clearly defined meaning of concepts and functionality is disturbed, thus leading to a questioning of our perceptive abilities.
As with the Surrealist, René Magritte, the presentation of the commonplace always comes in connection with an element of disturbance, turning our apparently confident cognition of familiar objects on its head. From the fragment of a sentence, “seit ich weiß” (since I have known) on a pedestal, through the I-beam with the superword GEWIHSSEIT cut into it, to the sentence “I know it / it when I / I see it” written on something like a stop sign, the subversive message threads through the exhibition like a motto. The displaced orthography on the I-beam is first visible from a certain distance, for example the street outside. The installation “I know it / it when I / I see it” , includes a hat with a piece cut out of it, which can only be seen when one has completed a circuit of the work. It penetrates the safe order. It, too, can be considered an homage to the Belgian artist. Almost overlooked, this piece still crystallises with a bang the attitude with which Adib Fricke and Christian Hasucha confront us with their combination pieces. The spatial and mental shift that is an unavoidable part of the observation process is, moreover, the result of a pervasive game of transformation of familiar words, materials and objects.
The Poetry of Transformation
In 1999 in his project “Die Pulheimer Rochade”, Christian Hasucha exchanged an area in the Pulheim Secondary School with a same-sized area from the pavement in front of the Brauweiler Abbey, 5 km away. In the spirit of this first experiment with transposing sites in public spaces, in 2004 he turned a 100 sm city square 180 degrees: the “Münster-Coerde Drehung”. A practice long used by architects and city planners with CAD software and computers was implemented in the real world to the amazement of the local population: an analogue copy and paste in the urban landscape. An echo of this permutation is found in Adib Fricke’s superwords, in which letters within a word are swapped over – PIHLOSOHIPE / GEWIHSSEIT / REVLOTUION – and tie in with his earlier word constructions – the Protonyms. What effect does this transformation have on the viewer? Are they still the known concepts that we understand and are we waiting for them to be corrected, like the swappable letters outside an old cinema? Artificial constructions that call for new interpretations or like the protonyms back then, meaningless word constructions, that could mutate into a brand? In both cases, the confusion triggered by the two artists leads to a type of mental processing that could go on forever.
The tactility of the words painted on the walls as well as the composite objects provide the means for the manipulation of sense and form to which both artists differently and yet similarly help themselves; and add to the question about the essence of what our brain visually and cognitively perceives. Is the truncated armchair with the REVLOTUION sign next to it still an armchair? Is the I-beam, made of plasterboard and painted with rust-proofing paint like steel, containing the puzzling word GEWIHSSEIT, capable of carrying out its function?
The fragile balance that subtly emanates from the works is expressed in the construction process – for example, the furniture held together with adhesive tape – as well as the deconstruction process that is envisaged, for example for the I-beam, by the end of the exhibition. Fricke and Hasucha’s works jolt the constancy of familiar concepts of perception and expected functionalities of the everyday. They tell of a world in which what we habitually consider to be dependable reality begins to withdraw itself from our perception.
In the first exhibition room, the ventilation slots constructed by Hasucha combined with words from Fricke’s “Word Shadows” series could be a symbol for the transient, for the short-lived that is inherent in our certainties and finds its nostalgic expression in the text:
as a child I was
I was just the same
the same for a long
a long time
The exact spatial and graphic harmony that emerges from this work is exemplary for the creative potential that distinguishes the shared process of transformation and with it the whole exhibition. The eight combination pieces in “AF/CH” are part of a single body, expressions of a homogenous, creative power that flows poetically through the exhibition.
Text from the catalogue “AF/CH”
Alexandra Le Faou lives and works in Paris.
© 2017 Alexandra Le Faou and Adib Fricke/Christian Hasucha, translation (from German): ➚ Heather Allen.