Transparency is kind of tricky if you start to think about it. Believing in it seems to be such a modernist, 20th century thing to do. But how is it with transparency in the 21st century? That’s the question asked by a double exhibition entitled “Transparenzen” (“transparencies”) at the Kunstvereine of Bielefeld and Nuremberg, curated by Simone Neuenschwander und Thomas Thiel.
Nowadays, we live in a society that can assemble data worldwide in less than a split-second and we could call this transparency but then we discover that the more data we have, the more things tend to become opaque. In our transparency society the king is no longer touring the city in a golden carriage, but instead power has become anonymous and invisible, which sounds less transparent and more dangerous. Transparency is an ambivalent, confusing phenomenon, it kind of hurts to think about. Neuenschwander and Thiel know so, and that irresolution is at the core of their curatorial concept: two exhibitions featuring the same artists, taking place simultaneously in two different cities. “It’s funny,” so said my colleague the art critic Thomas Bettridge, while glancing at me on the train from Berlin to Nuremberg. “Most people probably won’t be able to see both … talking of transparency,” he chuckled. During the train ride, I tried to pick Bettridge’s brain but he proved to be quite resistant, unwilling to be a whisperer of some sort. For the sake of transparency, you might have to read his account of the Bielefeld part of the show in the December issue of Frieze.
The clue I got from the curators, is that the two exhibitions are not exactly set up as complementary or contradictory parts, nor do they mirror each other. That didn’t really help me much further, but then Thiel pointed out to me that I could look at photographs of the Bielefeld exhibition online. Acquiring a picture of the whole through mediatisation is exactly what the exhibition is about: how do we see? The one hard fact I ended up finding about the double exhibition situation was on the display table of David Horvitz, the Los Angeles-born, New York-based artist. Next to his mail art with the stamp “a distance between two moments in time”, stands a smartphone variation entitled “the space between us”. The app, created for the show, points out by way of an arrow the direction and the distance to another mobile device that finds itself in the Bielefeld exhibition – it reads “338 km”.
Horvitz’ app is not only for white cube use, but it’s also available to download for free. He told me he hopes it goes viral so he that he’ll become a millionaire by next year – the ultimate California dream. I would like to help him out on that front, but I have my reservations. The app is only to be used by two people, who have to physically meet up and activate it so that upon separation the distance and direction to each other is shown. Unlike social media, this seems to be romantic and intimate, but it can also easily get out of control by triggering this perverse combination of fact, imagination and expectation. Like the arrow in his app, Horvitz’ work moves away from the digital space, towards the physical reality. “My work is made on the beach”, the artist revealed. This is to be understood literally, so I noticed a bit farther in a line-up of vases, made out of pieces of glass found by Horvitz on the beach, then to be melded together in a new form. Since the pieces all have a different chemical makeup, the vases are extremely fragile and can hardly be moved around.
At this point, you might have noticed that “Transparenzen” is an exhibition where not everything on show is simply transparent, (“The issue of transparency,” Neuenschwander told me, “is more cognitive than visual.”) nor is everything internet or post-internet art. I couldn’t actually find any digital codes flickering on a screen, nor does the whole exhibition set-up unfold like Wikipedia – I was happy to be given the liberty to use my own brain (only few curators trust their visitors to have a mind of their own). “Tranzparanzen” even succeeded in perplexing me when suddenly somebody put me on the phone with artist Ryan Gander, which happened on the opening night, over a bowl of lentil soup and meatballs (sadly no Nürnberger Würstchen). Ryan Gander totally had it coming, of course, because his phone number is displayed on a big advertising panel in the entrance hall, giving us free access to his private life. Yet, that night, he didn’t pick up the phone and since he was apparently putting up some exhibition in Aspen, Colorado. Naturally, we speculated that he was probably getting high in the luxury weed shops downtown.
That night I met also artist Juliette Blightman, in person, who later introduced us to her work. It was the first time I’d seen paintings that showed Apple laptops. I guess this was bound to happen but it’s still a surprise to see painting catching up with our newest utensils instead of blending them out. Blightman’s inspiration comes from Gertrude Stein. The most important thing somebody can do for their time is to record it, Stein once said. Blightman decided to do so online. Among her paintings there’s a projection of photographs and audio clips of the artist’s life (also available online), yet, it’s a carefully orchestrated one that contains, for instance, no selfies. More “real” yet was the reality TV film “Data for Desire” by Neïl Beloufa in the exhibition. There’s a reason why I don’t watch the likes of “Real Housewives” (but I know that artist Barbara Krüger does). I don’t want to get that up close to the life of most people; I need a filter of some sort, if not a Joseph Beuys’ felt suit, then at least that space, you know, that certain space between you and me.
Text by An Paenhuysen
“Transparenzen. Zur Ambivalenz einer neuen Sichtbarkeit” is on show at the Kunstvereine of Bielefeld and Nuremberg until 31 January 2016