Visual Recorders Dissected in an Artist’s Resurrection of Our Cultural Past

Dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of music, dialogue, and chatter from the past currently fill Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong—but not a single sound is heard. Building on his own and his audience’s everlasting appetite for nostalgic culture, Berlin-based artist Gregor Hildebrandt has cracked open yesteryear’s cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and other “vintage” recording devices, revealing—and thoughtfully arranging—the naked black magnetic strips of each. This is his newest exhibition, “Coming by Hazard.”

Installation view of “Gregor Hildebrandt: Coming by Hazard,” Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong. Photograph: Vincent Tsang Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

Installation view of “Gregor Hildebrandt: Coming by Hazard,” Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong. Photograph: Vincent Tsang Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

The artist’s introduction to the space begins with a simple used doormat, compressed by (what must be) years of traipsing in and out of the home that he inhabited back in 2010. The mat reads, in gold Chinese letters, “Come in Peace/Leave in Peace.” Having been dragged all the way from cold Berlin to humid Hong Kong, the mat serves appropriately as the entrance to Hildebrandt’s exhibition, which is a sort of constructed home filled with 20th-century cultural memorabilia from Europe and his own mind. From moody, industrial tracks by the German band Einstürzende Neubauten to pieces from French dramatist Pierre de Marivaux’s tripartite romantic comedy, the works bring together various eras and places, but have in common their simultaneous amberization (all are marked with the production date 2015) and potential kinetic energy—as if everything is just waiting to be played.

Take, for example, The Game of Love and Chance (Pierre de Marivaux) (2015), pulled away from its reels, the VHS tape—a recording of Marivaux’s theater show—impressively covers all four walls of the gallery in a horizontal installation. Canvasses of rearranged songs hang on these walls, which have been created through Hildebrandt’s technique of pressing glued surfaces together and producing tape transfers.

Installation view of “Gregor Hildebrandt: Coming by Hazard,” Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong. Photograph: Vincent Tsang Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

Installation view of “Gregor Hildebrandt: Coming by Hazard,” Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong. Photograph: Vincent Tsang Courtesy Galerie Perrotin

One such canvas Let’s Go Home (Susej/Neubauten) (2015) spills out the cassette contents of Einstürzende Neubauten’s song “Susej” in flattened, black strips interspersed with bursts of white where the tape was ripped off the glue. Diagonal from this is its visual negative, a sparse, white piece formed from the bonus track from the same album. A larger wall piece, Euch stoßen, daß es krachen soll (Gregorianische Gesänge) (2015), mimics the cover of Martin Luther’s book of the same name, austere in its symmetry, yet revealing tiny glitches from the artist’s process. No memory is complete, after all.

Incorporating resounding influences of Western culture, including Gregorian chants and European punk music, “Coming by Hazard” resurfaces elements of culture that may have been lost in the past, but now serve as context for our present and future. The show is also deeply personal to the artist, whose names echoes to Gregorian chants, from his doormat to a work made from mixtapes that depicts him sweetly laying his head in his wife’s lap. Narrative upon narrative unfolds in this hazardous array of collective memories, whichever way you come or go.

Ysabelle Cheung

Coming by Hazard” is on view at Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong, Mar. 12–Apr. 25, 2015.

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