CIRCUS, BERLIN | APRIL 27 – JUNE 16, 2012
Varda Caivano and Yael Davids’s two-person exhibition opened during Berlin’s hectic Gallery Weekend, and despite the profusion of new shows in the city, this proved to be the one not to miss. Exhibiting in one room each, these artists make work that is both searching and resourceful. Beautiful and understated, yet not lacking in ambition or rigor, this was not an exhibition for a walk-by experience, as is almost always the case during packed events.
Caivano’s paintings are diverse, arriving as if from different directions and at different speeds to the same place, a place made recognizably the artist’s through what can only be called handedness. What I mean by this is that each painting, in the end, always incorporates the scale of a hand’s movement in the act of making. The painted surface of “Untitled” (2011–12) is reversed to become the back, and the work is finished through this simple action. It is warm and rich; paint traces stain and seep across the entire surface. Like all of Caivano’s paintings, it was begun unstretched. A brushed cobalt blue, its vectors bending and halting, covers most of the previous states of “Untitled” (2012). Along one edge, the wood of the stretcher is exposed, as the canvas has been cut down from a larger size. Runs of thinned paint melt and flow across the last painting in the room, stopping short of the edge and forming an angle at two sides. Because of this, the supporting canvas can appear shaped.
Always, the surfaces can breathe; nothing is ever completely obliterated and no process is ever exclusive. The paint is moved around to build a torqued space of interlocking configurations, which feel at turns listless and determined. Although clearly unmoored from the necessity of depiction, there seems to be a desire for a picturing of otherness through processes circumscribed by the use of paint and canvas.
Caivano, an Argentinian artist living in London, has hung these three paintings on three separate walls. The placement of the paintings in relation to each other and their individual positions on the walls are crucial. The experience of each painting is intensified as a result of a subtle asymmetry, which is felt all the more because it is not emphasized in an obvious way—altogether unlike the calculatedly wayward hangs so often executed now. Installation of Caivano’s paintings is not finished until the placement is precisely as specified, and this can take days of consideration on the artist’s part. It is through this slow process that the particular light and space of a room, and its effect on a group of paintings, is fully acknowledged.
For an artist in a studio, or in a room with objects to install, there are the options of search and re-search, limited only by time, perception, imagination, and the properties of a chosen material. In this, the artist and the scientist have much in common. An artist feels new limits, recalls paths taken: a color, space, shape, surface, or dynamic. A scientist does so in different ways, yet is similarly bounded by means and subjectivity. Svetlana Alpers has described the importance of a studio, in relation to the laboratory, as an environment for developing painting and for asking the question, “What is to be done?” This is not a question of, for example, influence; it is a more dangerous question: “Why are we making art at all?” Materials—old work and new—exist in this space apart, where something beyond language can be intuited, like a shadow yet without its object. In art and in science, it’s not all a rational process, nor is it aimless, though both approaches can contribute decisively to a discovery. In that the paintings are searching and resourceful, they connect strongly with the similarly sotto voce works of Yael Davids.
In Davids’s installation, “Ending with Glass” (2012), many elements are divided, broken, or rejoined. A text of several pages in length, included as part of the exhibition, provides descriptions of these elements. The objects have been used before in performance and are now resituated here; this text provides both a recollection and a context. The artist, who lives in Amsterdam, is from Israel. The constant rending and healing of conflict and its resolution (or not), to which Davids is accustomed, is characterized here, albeit with a quietness. Small photographic images are torn in two and moved slightly apart, the narrow fissure furthering notions of emotional and physical estrangement alongside the potential for reconstruction.
A group of Japanese vessels used for tea drinking are presented on a low wooden base. Once broken, they have been repaired with gold inserts: the repair itself more valuable than that repaired. An intentional psychological equivalent would be the need for rapprochement, or the work of mourning as a healing process. Twice, two abutted rectangles of acoustic board are placed on the floor; over each is a single offset sheet of glass. Davids again projects movement from a static origin; these objects have also been used as part of an earlier performance. The accompanying text is in fact a script from her performance “Learning to Imitate in Absentia” (2011). As well as providing an oblique connecting thread for this room of objects and images, it includes quotations and historical references that form poetic and factual associations. Temporality is manifest in the tension provided by the restlessness of a now absent body and its actions, together with objects that are carefully selected and acutely positioned.
This provocative and engaging exhibition leaves one with a strong desire to return for repeat viewing. Visual pleasure notwithstanding, the thoughts and feelings that have been subtly triggered continue to further shift and unsettle over time. At Circus, then, off the exhibition’s disjunctive corridor: on the one side, a room made possible through the workings of a studio; and on the other, a room in which the workings of the world can become a studio. Doubts and convictions in being lost and found are reconfigured as questions and contingency. What can be done? This is what can be done—and this is perhaps why we need art.
Obentrautstrasse 21 // Haus 17 D—10963 Berlin