At Carlier | Gebauer in Berlin, Two Shows Toy with the Essence of an Idea
If one theme unites the two shows currently on view at Carlier | Gebauer in Berlin, it would be transmutation—the means through which an idea can be transformed through visual art. For Iman Issa, this concern is pointed outward, as her art attempts to capture history and the essence of an object. Mark Wallinger, in his paintings and photographic works, looks inward, using art as a means to surface one’s psychological fabric.
In photographs and paintings, hands are a recurring motif in Mark Wallinger’s solo exhibition. The majority of the show is dedicated to his “id paintings,” which examine the relationship between psychoanalysis and abstraction. Wallinger’s jumping off point is the Freudian notion of the id, the part of our minds Freud saw as representing our mental energy and sensual essence.
These large works—twice the artist’s height, and the width of his arm span—seem to pour directly from his inner being. Each piece is made by simultaneously rubbing his paint-covered hands on the canvas. The resultant works are symmetrical in nature, recalling the infamous inkblots used in Rorschach tests.
If Wallinger’s hands in these paintings seem to be controlled by baser instincts, his Ego (2016)—which uses iPhone photographs to cheekily recreate Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (circa 1511–12)—grants his hands a sense of holiness and rationality.
In her solo show, “Heritage Studies,” Iman Issa seems to enjoy playing tricks on her viewers. Though each piece comes with a wall label, one quickly realizes that the objects described are vastly different from—yet curiously similar to—the sculptures on view. The label for Heritage Studies #20 (2016), for instance, describes a small compass made of steel with bone and silver inlays, dating from 1620 to 1740—an object, we’re told, that has been “Misdated to the reign of the last ruler of the Safavid Dynasty.” Yet the sculpture on view is an oversized, two-pronged brass structure emerging from a small white box; Issa made it in 2016.
Rather than remaining faithful to historical accuracy, Issa’s sculptures toy with the historical narratives these objects have adopted. She invokes the authority of a museum, then disrupts it, subtly dismantling the ideas of time and provenance that museums work so hard to proclaim and preserve.