Wednesday, 9 November 2011

REVIEW: Julia Oschatz – Below is Flat Up There

Palagkas.Temporary’s most recent exhibition space is the Old Pimlico Library. A building filled with disregarded shelves, books long gone, tables upturned and still speckled with pastel mounds of chewing gum; glass panels giving view to laminated office desks no longer occupied. 

German artist Julia Oschatz, who created an entirely new body of work for this exhibition, was not presented with the plain canvas of white walls and clear floors, synonymous with the modern gallery. But rather a space saturated with remnants of its past. This teaming, however, has resulted in a wonderfully integrated show, where location and art enter into delicate dialogue.

Oschatz has created work sensitive and empathetic to its situation. Large cardboard structures reach in precarious shapes up into the ceiling, and curve to form hallowed caves in the children’s reading area, where tiny red plastic chairs still populate. Constructed roughly, silver tape and staples left visible, the physical weakness of each momentous object is made apparent.  As a result, so too is the vulnerable fate of the rooms they occupy. 

Embedded within these installations and scattered lopsided on the floor are old TV sets displaying videos of Oschatz’s performance art. Across each convex screen moves an odd creature dressed in loose plane grey clothing, with large clumpy blocks for feet and various bulbous, featureless heads: some spherical, some tubular, others loosely resembling a rabbit. 

In most, this mute, mysterious animal enacts fruitless actions: scrubbing the floor aggressively with a broom covered in black ink, frantically tying knots in a long rope, spilling ping pong balls over the floor. Predominantly playful in tone, there is also a disarmingly sinister undercurrent. In these moving images the viewer witnesses both mania and the creation of chaos to no clear purpose. The futility articulated highlights the fruitlessness of these previously long unused rooms.

While the re-presentation of performance art in film format can often dampen the mediums effect, (as many art theorists have argued, a large part of performance art’s power lies in the physical presence of artist and audience together in a particular temporal moment), here it only adds.

The TV screens enforce a barrier between audience and creature, rendering the viewer utterly helpless to the bizarre, destructive actions of Oschatz’s fantastical protagonist: a sensation particularly poignant considering the many library closures across the UK this year, despite frequent and substantial protests. 

Yet through these videos, Oschatz also offers a glimmer of hope. Each screen presents a documentation of her live art, thus making this somewhat dilapidated space fulfill its original purpose. Through the work shown in ‘Below is Flat Up There’, the Old Pimlico Library is, delightfully, made an archive once more.

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