Cyprien Gaillard, The Recovery of Discovery
KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Mitte, Berlin, March 27 – May 22, 2011
Signing a legal waiver before admission to an art exhibition has almost always set me up for a disappointment. It sets my imagination running wild with expectations of truly dangerous and perilous conditions. The sort of vivid concoctions of outrageousness that inevitably over-reach the logistical capacities of even the most ambitious artist, especially within the confines of a gallery environment.
With this trepidation in mind, I signed my name for the attendant and headed off down the hall. Stumbling onto an abundance of broken green beer bottles, clutching at the walls for balance I was struck by competing concerns. First, a fear of punctured soles in my new sneakers, but equally, excitement at the sort of danger that has occupational health and safety officers clutching at their chests in exasperation.
Off in the distance, at what I took to be the end of the hall, was a large blue pyramid of boxes, stacked neatly, retail style. Toward the end of the long passage, and after carefully picking my way through the broken bottles, it became apparent that the pyramid I was looking at was only the tip of the iceberg. The hall opened into a giant room that swept upwards toward a massive skylight and plunged down a whole other level. It was like an indoor sports centre in scale and plonked right in the middle, heavy, symmetrical and monumental, was the pyramid of blue boxes. The boxes, it turns out, were cases of beer. Seventy-two thousand beers. If I drank a six-pack every day, it’d take me nearly 33 years to get through it all. That’s one massive pile of beers.
Heading down into the vast space and circumnavigating the monolithic sculpture one could not help but be taken by its material presence. Its geometrical and symmetrical configuration, aside from the obvious Egyptian connotation, also resonated equally with Grecian temples, Mayan metropolises and Roman ruins. More empty and broken bottles were littering the floor around the massive form, together with cigarette butts, chip packets, nightclub flyers and torn cardboard from the boxes wrenched open by the punters desperate to set loose the free beer inside.
Climbing up the steps of the pyramid I was immediately put to mind of the imagery of tourists scampering their way on rock and marble in far-flung lands. Reaching for my camera to capture the view from the top of it, I felt like I should surely be wearing a trucker’s cap, cargo shorts and a giant fanny pack in some sort of parody of western mass tourism.
I sat down to wrench out a warm beer of my own to ponder the work. Another viewer walked around below me, a small speck down on the floor, and took a picture of me before he too began an ascent on the mountain of beer. The beer itself was imported from Turkey, the most popular imported beer from any country into Berlin. This carried with it a variety of implications. Berlin is home to a large population of Turkish immigrants. Like all new arrivals into foreign lands they assemble themselves into configurations, perhaps not unlike architectural assemblages. Also, Turkey is home to a vast assortment of ruins and ancient monuments. Many of which, like those of its neighbour Greece, have been stripped, pulled down or simply stolen away, to be reconfigured in cultural contexts not dissimilar to the nature of a gallery.
Drinking the beer down it dawned on me that my active participation in the consumption of the sculpture, not just its observation but its literal internalisation into my digestive system, echoed that great paradox of mass tourism – we destroy the very things we go to celebrate. Looking around at the discarded cigarettes, the bottle lids, the broken glass, and, I kid you not, the McDonalds wrappers at the apex of the sculpture, it all seemed so ingeniously reflective.
Delicately picking my way back down the steps of boxes, pausing occasionally to snap a memento image on my camera, I actually debated in my mind whether or not to keep a bottle lid or corner of cardboard as a souvenir of the show. I didn’t but I was also more curious than I had previously been to go down and now visit the Berlin wall. Or what little of it is left and not sitting on over-priced beer steins selling on ebay.