Artist: Darren Bader
Venue: Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
The World as Will and Representation
Date: February 6 – March 22, 2015
Full gallery of video, images, press release and link available after the jump.
Darren Bader, documentation of Jumproaping Lectern, looped video. Courtesy the artist and Blum and Poe, Los Angeles.
Images and video courtesy of the artist and Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne. Photos by Simon Vogel.
In Darren Bader’s first major institutional solo exhibition in Europe everything seems to somehow be different from what we would expect of a traditional presentation. Not only does the show have three different titles to offer and officially begin on 6 February, although it does not open until the 27th of the month – the exhibited works also seem difficult to grasp, in the most literal sense of the word. Thus Bader has arranged, on the one hand, for some works to be presented in different areas inside and also outside of the building and changing from week to week as well as, on the other hand, for certain works to be included in the exhibition (in some cases) for only a few days.
However, it is not just the form of the presentation and the procedure that it follows which raise numerous questions: the 31 works planned for the show, which include sound pieces, films, text pieces, objects and installations, also involve more than a few surprises. Thus the artist’s works generally only remotely correspond to established ideas about what can be an artwork. To a limited extent this phenomenon can be traced back to the fact that, in many of his works, Bader utilises the ready-made principle – the tradition founded by Marcel Duchamp, which is now over a century old – and declares found objects to be art. Instead, it is the perspective from which Bader makes use of this thought and also the implications associated with his works that are of central importance in this context. Thus the integration of the viewer into the artwork represents an essential aspect of many works by the artist and also marks a relatively clear difference between his practice and that of his French colleague. The enticing- sounding work Pretty Face, which (like all of the artist’s works) is undated, can be seen as an example of this approach. According to Bader’s conception, every visitor individually determines what or who the work is by selecting a “pretty face” within the context of the exhibition. The artist’s contribution thus lies solely in the definition of a framework, while the task of making a choice is left to the viewer. Depending upon the given visitor, the selection may therefore be different or may not take place at all, and this can also be seen as an integral part of the work.
Questions of authorship, as evoked by works like Pretty Face, are also characteristic of works such as To Have and to Hold – object J1, in which the – mostly optional – tasks and possibilities of the owner are even more clearly put to work. This piece is based on the idea that the possessor of the work purchases a book about Candida Höfer’s photographs of On Kawara’s Date Paintings, studies this book for a year, then begins to collect additional copies of the publication ad infinitum and finally introduces these into the everyday lives of other people. The scope or, alternatively, the manifest form of this work is therefore in no way static; instead, depending on the collector, it is engaged in a constant process that renders it ever more difficult to grasp.
In contrast the work 110 x 5 x 166.5 cm, which consists of a photograph of a boy of the given dimensions, displays a different form of occupation with questions of authorship. In order to realise this work, Bader did not engage in the role of a photographer but instead bought a colleague’s work, which he presents as his own creation, namely, as a sculpture. Inevitably this act leads us not only to think our way through a critical examination of the mechanisms of the art market but also a perceptive analysis of when and how something becomes a work.
The thoughts reflected in the works mentioned here go far beyond traditional conceptual art, with which the work of Darren Bader has repeatedly been compared. In particular, the absurd tendencies that can be recognised in many pieces by Bader represent a characteristic that clearly distinguishes them from this direction in art, which was founded in the 1960s. The aberrant and preposterous quality of some of the works instead points in the direction of Surrealism, whose role as an important influence becomes recognisable in the course of a more intensive examination of Bader’s artistic practice. This becomes especially apparent in a group of works in which Bader combines dissimilar objects, concepts and thoughts into pairs and thus takes up a strategy formulated by the French avant-garde movement in the early 20th century. In the context of this exhibition, this group includes the works perfume with/and trapezoid, pair of jeans and/with $228, patella with/and theater tickets, sugar and/with axe as well as glasses with/and glasses, in which any given number of representatives of the different objects could potentially be used. At the same time the mundane nature of the objects involved enables us to identify a prominent distinction from Surrealist works, which were usually conceived more unambiguously in terms of artworks.
In many cases the fact that Bader utilises found objects in the majority of his artworks reduces our ability to feel certain about grasping the objects in terms of exhibited works. This factor also enables us to sense his efforts to explore the boundaries between art and non-art – and perhaps even to entirely dissolve them. At the Kölnischer Kunstverein it is above all in works like person sitting in passenger seat of car that the American artist pushes these ambitions to their limits. In keeping with the description of the work, at certain times some particular person sits in the passenger seat of some particular car in front of the gallery. Without knowledge of the artwork, the piece would be overseen without a second thought and the scenery perceived – if at all – in terms of an everyday situation.
Where person sitting in passenger seat of car thus achieves a balancing act between the visibility and invisibility of a work, Bader pursues entirely different aims with his film OSS, which was produced specifically for the Kölnischer Kunstverein. Bader wrote the script for this animated science-fiction film, which deals with a curiously odd competition at the United Nations in which a suggestion is selected that sculptures be built for outer space. In keeping with the bizarre characteristics of his other works, the cosmic works are also peculiar in a certain sense as they include, among other things, a football stadium, thousands of cubes of frozen cow milk and a gigantic human hand which are to be sent into the universe at various points of time in the distant future. Thus, with OSS Darren Bader offers a theatre of the absurd, which is to be situated somewhere between a fantastic vision of the future, a belief in the unlimited possibilities of art and an overly ambitious art film. At the same time, in a series of remarkable steps, he uses the film to expand the spectrum of his artistic practice, whose complexity had already been almost impossible to come to grips with as it was.
In this context, a similar significance is taken on by the sound piece audio files: like the film OSS, it was created specifically for the exhibition and, through its grand scope, opens up new categories within the work of Darren Bader. In this work Bader uses 18 speakers to almost simultaneously present hundreds of pieces of music related to (among other things) the Old Testament, his credit card number, Hegel’s dialectic, the noble gases and the elements making up a Linzer Torte. The result of this unconventional interaction is a deafening roar: with a gigantic force of impact, it sets listeners’ heads spinning and perhaps also suggests a sense of the sound that emerges when Darren Bader and his abundant humour bring about the collapse of the limiting walls between conceptual art, Surrealism and other forms of art.