Karin Sander, Ohne Titel
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.), March 5 – May 1, 2011
I’m trying really very hard not to open this review with a variant on ‘what a load of rubbish’, but alas, there it is. Truly, this show is rubbish. And yet, it is so much more.
The exhibition space sits on the ground floor of a building of corporate appearance, itself several stories high, and faces the busy street with floor to ceiling windows. This affords pedestrians ambling by a vista into the interior of a considerably large and empty space with blank walls. In several scattered piles on the floor, however, are bundles of paper waste. Once inside the gallery it becomes obvious that these apparently random accumulations of scrunched-up copy paper, flyers, post-it notes and envelopes are situated directly below 30cm holes that have been bored into the concrete ceiling.
Craning my neck to peek upwards into the next level of the building I can see the outlines of a desk with a phone cable dangling down, and the bank of fluorescent lights on the second story ceiling. Returning to the paper on the ground I find myself attentively searching through it, with my eyes only, looking for hints about what the rubbish might say about where it has come from. Like some sort of forensic dissection I can see fairly typical paper detritus including a newspaper opened to a particular article titled ‘das System’, a telephone number scrawled on a crumpled post-it note and an envelope torn into many tiny little squares that obliterates its origin and its proscribed destination.
The gallery space on the ground floor is the exhibition arm of the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.), a contemporary art institution that operates, amongst other functions, a library, discussions, consultations and publications. The artist, Karin Sander, has directly drawn together the divisions of this institution by drilling holes through the physical division that exists between its gallery and its administration. The holes in the gallery ceiling are holes in the floor of the administrative offices on the next level.
The invigilator leans over to me conspiratorially, whispers to me that the pile I am looking at may well be the most important one in the room because the director sits directly above, and points up to the hole above us. The exhibition continues on the second level and I make my way up the stairs and through the doors of the n.b.k. offices. On the floor, where the office staff once had their waste paper baskets placed, are now holes glowing from the gallery lights downstairs. A wire basket restricts other objects from accidentally falling through, and presumably this also includes the legs of the staff. All staff have all been instructed to continue to use the replacement bins as if they were still the original ones, and so they happily discard all paper waste down to the level below.
In a simple gesture Sander has managed to facilitate a myriad of potential meaning. The most striking effect is to have the architectural space of the building opened up. Entry and exist points in buildings are primarily expedited by doors and windows on vertical planes, so to have a direct piercing of the horizontal plane ruptures one’s awareness of spatial transitions. It immediately makes one think of the proximity of other people, other equipment and other materials within the architectural structures of our existence. It made me think more intently about my upstairs neighbour back at home, who literally sleeps less than 3 metres from where I do, but who is not only invisible to me through the ceiling but surely subconsciously ignored by me too. Until now.
The other impact of the work goes to its suggestions about the relationship between administration and the processes that are administrated. This particular exhibition, as far as its presentation in the gallery goes, is a direct consequence of the concluded actions and thrown away materials of the administrative arm of the institution. It was interesting to see that discarded and expired art-opening flyers made up a significant proportion of the rubbish. Other considerations thrown up were issues of recycling and the amount of unused and unprinted paper being discarded; privacy and the sort of information we throw away without adequately destroying its contents; and the involvement of people other than the artist in the contribution to the artwork’s construction.