ANDREA BÜTTNER

Hollybush Gardens, London | October 14 – November 15

Andrea Büttner’s current solo exhibition, her third at the gallery, brings together works featured earlier this year at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and Museum Ludwig in Cologne. The present installation, curated by the artist, juxtaposes recent pieces not seen together previously. Büttner works in a variety of media, from the most direct and traditional to newly developing technology. She utilizes woodcuts, screen prints, glass-painting—several examples of which are in this exhibition—sculpture, video, and performance. Büttner’s interconnected installations often reflect on wider art historical concepts intertwined with personal and social experiences that include themes such as shame, sexuality, vulnerability, poverty, and dignity. As a consequence, the political and philosophical views that support or betray these themes are exposed.

Andrea Büttner, “Ramp,” 2010. Screen print, 120 × 160 cm, Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens.

Central to this exhibition is Büttner’s interest in moss—used here as a poetic/scientific device—a life form categorized and regarded as lowly and marginal. A low, bed like structure planted with a range of different types of moss sits on the gallery floor. In the shallow space beneath it are several glazed clay objects in the shape of tuff stones (consolidated volcanic ash), phalluses, and four clawlike shapes, one positioned at each corner. The claws together with the low bed and scale of the moss—it looks like the roof of a miniaturized rain forest from above—evoke Bonsai Tree presentations. The partially visible phalluses, glazed brown, also have obvious scatological associations. It all adds up to a disorientation of given ideas of size or category, like free association. The moss, collected and installed by Ray Tangney, Head of Lower Plants at the National Museum of Wales, will be maintained for the course of the exhibition. Such a collaborative approach is an inclusive aspect typical of Büttner’s installations.

The anthropology of moss continues with a 3-D flat-screen slide show, “Stereoscopic slides from the Whitehouse Collection (mosses and field trips)” (2014). The images depict a moss-gathering society in action, interspersed with close ups of the various mosses that become sculpturally present when viewed through the 3-D glasses available in the gallery. Information in the form of text on framed sheets of pink paper, “Littleness, Cryptograms, Lower Plants” (2014) offers current definitions of moss. The description of the moss as “low” is based on scientific assumptions and perceptions indicated on an evolutionary scale of development. The connection Büttner seeks to make—for us to discover—is that small scale and the apparently insignificant are attributes undervalued, driven out of society as hierarchies—political, monetary, and social—valorized by capitalism and mass media destroy an idea of equality and alternative independence. The improvised nature and modest scale of the works offer a different value structure.

Andrea Büttner, “Moss Garden,” 2013. Metal, moss, ceramic, 180 × 120 cm.Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens.

Four horizontally placed black-and-white photographic screen-prints, “Ramp” (all 2014), show ramps that are used everyday to overcome obvious mundane obstructions—the edge of a sidewalk for example. The ramps, photographed in Bethlehem and London, provide passage for children’s push chairs, wheelchairs, or wheelbarrows. Each in their simplicity and function has a quotidian logic—the two central ramps effectively white tilted squares, the outside ramps black squares, all formally beautiful—usually overlooked except for practical use. They are a basic tilted plane angled between one level and another, modest yet essential. The mobility that they allow for is an analogy for access and movement socially.

The echo between one piece and another is clear; it just takes a while to accept the formal nuance and playfulness that quickly allows an expanded reading. As always, enjoyment and pleasure in Büttner’s work mitigates against pedagogy and heavy-handedness in what are very serious issues. Take the ramps or the moss, one urban and man-made, the other a product of nature. Ramps are manufactured, hard, and smooth, making for ease of passage—the moss is organic, irregular and softens hard surfaces. Büttner moves between categories and definitions and enables the viewer to follow and not end thought at prescribed boundaries.

Contributor

David Rhodes

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