16 Dec

Sometimes nothing makes sense. Imagine a world in which is everything is perfectly transparent.
Take JG Ballard’s “Crystal World”: A doctor goes into a jungle in search of a remote leprosy
treatment centre. Looking to cure one disease, he discovers another. A strange phenomenon
is “crystallizing” everything in the jungle. Like other Ballardian worlds, it’s a mechanism for seeing
through the dreck and effluvium of reality and making sense of it. That’s the value of fantasy, as
Börn Dahlem recognizes in his work.

Group shows do a similar thing. They filter the quirks of individual artists’ works by framing
them within a larger world, a technique that art history also uses. It’s the turn of the year. Time for
twisting the kaleidescope and grinding the lenses. Less clear is why all these shows are touching
on the apocalyptic. I don’t think that it’s just that these are apocalyptic times… Time is always
unhinged. It’s been “Out of Joint” since Shakespeare coined the phrase. But when a gallery like
Gerhardsen Gerner gets a bunch of first division artists together in the name of “Nature” – just after
the close the NGBK’s “Nature’s Calling” – something’s stirring.

Nature, like apocalypse, is shorthand for “back to the drawing board”, culturally speaking. In
the poem “Expostulation and Reply” Wordsworth’s friend excoriates him for an intellectual
delinquent: “You look round on your Mother Earth/As if she for no purpose bore you;/As if you
were her first-born birth,/And none have lived before you!” Wordsworth, unlike his friend, is
looking at nature without looking through culture so as not to repeat all its grim mistakes.

“Magma” at the Autocenter (preceded by “Hell Awaits”) proposes that all the dirty old stuff
gets buried as soon as something new erupts. Whereas Carsten Höller’s “SOMA”, ongoing at the
Hamburger Bahnhof, is an invitation to everyone to enter the “seeing state”, purified by a recipe
for a hypothetical drug, in a lands of reindeer and mushroom clocks. Höller’s point, at least one of
them, is that seeing is not just for artists. It’s there for the grab.

Often, critical and visionary art are viewed as opposed. But seen clearly, a thing reveals its flaws, as
a diamond gives up its dazzle under the jeweller’s loupe. Chances of averting apocalypse are good.
At least if the doors of perception are clean./SW


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