Riding through the streets on my bicycle on Berlin’s second annual gallery weekend, gradually morphing into the half-human, half two-wheeler figure of Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” as I moved from gallery to gallery, my mind kept returning to the infamous question beginning and ending that same circular novel: Is it about a bicycle? Eleven shows, countless conversations and one too many press releases later, it was hard to avoid that rather persistent question of what it’s all about – the art, the artists, the city, the scene. But it was then that I found her: Tatiana Trouvé. Though the art world found her about a year ago after her solo show at Palais de Tokyo – and, as I realised on entering Johann König, I had actually found her once before (at the Venice Biennale last autumn) – it was a real discovery that day, a trouvaille, a moment, a space, an encounter among so many moments, spaces, encounters that was well worth posing that insightfully inane question “about the bicycle”, worth wondering about the “about”.
Lesser known in Germany despite her exhibition in Freiburg last year, the Italian-born, Paris-based artist Tatiana Trouvé makes spaces, sculptures in spaces and strange hybrid machines (including the occasional bicycle). Generally part of long-term, ongoing projects such as her Bureau d’Activités Implicites begun in 1997, Trouvé’s works privilege activity: sculpture as thought, thought as sculpture. Whereas she’s inclined to call the spaces carapaces, others have called them novels, suggesting she might just as well received a prize for literature with all those chapters, figures, subtexts and epilogues as the recently inaugurated Marcel Duchamp prize for sculpture awarded to her in 2007. In the rigorously composed space at Johann König, or rather in the space within the space hooked up by copper conduits and renegade cables to some kind of space beyond the space, there is less of a feel of chapters and epilogues than the micro-architecture of Flann O’Brien’s police station, George Perec’s Paris apartment block, or Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. But there is ultimately more of the stultifying bureaucracy of the policemen about this mildly masochistic laboratory of shifting dimensions and scale, of fetishistic, redundant objects strangely suspended in time. There are door handles, windows and taps at half height and passages either bricked in or openly fractured and doubled by strategically placed mirrors; there are stiff metal rods joined by electrical plugs in a wavering mathematical curve which Trouvé hooks up into a closed, claustrophobic circle of a system that nevertheless sparks with the open-ended flow of imagined electricity. A similar tension of expression and repression emanates from the billiard cues leaning lasciviously against the wall like surrogates, like prostitutes, like objects or instruments of a game. Corseted in leather, the loitering presence of these sadomasochistic ballerinas gives a sense of temporality at once dense and loose.
At the exhibition at Johann König, Tatiana Trouvé offers a counterpart to the bright white environment in the dark drawings of similarly structured interiors on the walls. Interestingly, the sculptures come first, the drawings second, both exuding a conscious economy of means. Far from being sketches, the drawings constitute an attempt on the part of the artist to get back to the original site of thoughts developed within the sculptural process. Partially doubling and partially expanding on the objects and forms in the room, they point towards the space beyond, towards the unreachable place the cables and conduits seem to be leading to. Whether their dimness signals the past or the future, they work as a portal to the psychological realm that is memory, that is the imagination, the intangible labyrinth of a place that nevertheless defines our present.
In the same way that things somehow always are and aren’t “about a bicycle” we might say that Tatiana Trouvé’s exhibition is and isn’t about a bicycle. Yet whether we consider Trouvé’s drawings, her enigmatic sculptural modules, the electrically charged flow of the space at large or the exhibition per se, like O’Brien’s police station, it’s definitely much easier to get in than get out.
Tatiana Trouvé „Density of Time“
Galerie Johann König
Dessauer Straße 6–7
Tatiana Trouvé, Installationsansicht „Density of Time“, 2008 (© Courtesy Johann König, Berlin)