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Kirstine Roepstorff and Matyáš Chochola

Last Tango
Röntgenstrasse 6
December 8–January 27

Matyáš Chochola, X-Rays, 2017, glass, 24 x 12 x 12".

Upon entering the main exhibition space of Last Tango, one is hit by the pungent smell of fresh asphalt. Most of the floor is covered with sheets of it, and some of the walls are painted matte black. This oppressive and industrial environment is occupied by the strange sculptures of Matyáš Chochola. Consisting of glass, melted asphalt, and various types of found objects, they tend to resemble crystal formations, such as “X-Rays,” 2015–17, or echo Cubist sculptures, as in No Name, 2017. These works are paired with debris of recently obsolete digital technology, including an old ink-jet printer or a CD rack. One piece from the “X-Ray” series appears as if it were an exotic mineral growing from the printer, while No Name, incorporating a minidisc player, is reminiscent of a gravestone. The installation brings to mind a sci-fi cemetery where technology goes to be laid to rest.

Above this macabre landscape hovers a mobile by Kirstine Roepstorff titled Heart of the Whale, 2017. Made of brass and steel wires, its design evokes at once Art Deco and retrofuturism, while its materials recall those of musical instruments. Indeed, the artist refers to “timbre” and “vibration” when discussing this body of work, which in turn speaks to historical precedents, especially Earle Brown’s Calder Piece, 1963–66, in which an Alexander Calder sculpture is used for percussion. Seen from this perspective, her large collages on the walls become scores, and some of them, such as Spherical Music 5, 2012, directly refer to music. In dialogue with the works of Chochola, Roepstorff’s pieces become a visualization of the funereal tunes reverberating through the necropolis of technology.

Yuki Higashino

“Keine Zeit – Kunst aus Zürich”

Helmhaus Zurich
Limmatquai 31
December 7–February 11

Susanne Keller, Musicisti, 2015–16, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!” cried Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit, the absolute archetype of both our present moment and an alternate one—wherein he exemplifies a different, fantastical order. Helmhaus’s exhibition, “Keine Zeit – Kunst aus Zürich” (No Time – Art from Zurich) also moves within such an adventurous dialectic, honoring regional artistic practices, as is traditional in Switzerland.

The results are a breathtakingly beautiful exhibition that includes an installation of cacti by Magda Drozd; powerful towers and arks rendered in watercolors by the eighty-seven-year-old Willi Facen; four fascinating concrete rugs by Noomi Gantert; and the audio installation Poser, 2016, by Susanne Hefti. Also on view are Cécile Huber’s joyful parade of small sculptures; Susanne Keller’s monumental stage set made of cut paper, Musicisti, 2015–2016; Martina Mächler’s audio-installation, 71% (play), 2017; and the precise drawings of Daniel Zimmerman. Meanwhile, Michael Meier and Christoph Franz made concrete blocks using leftovers from Zurich’s Nagelhaus, while Patrizia Vitali’s video performances muse on the passage of time. In the glass vitrines of 7 Stationen (7 Stations), 2017, Klaus Tinkel arranges found materials into absurd landscapes.

Of this creative baker’s dozen, the artist Peter Schweri deserves special mention. The painter, illustrator, photographer, and object artist died in November, 2016, at seventy-seven. On view are early drawings by Schweri, as well as examples of the image-production systems, exemplifying Zurich constructivism, that made it possible for the artist—who had been completely blind since 2002—to work in a controlled, sculptural manner. In his art particularly, the creative potential of the city is revealed to be both clandestine and furious.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Tilo Steireif

Robert Walser-Zentrum
Marktgasse 45
November 19, 2015–December 23, 2017

Tilo Steireif, untiled, 2012–13, watercolor and ink on paper. From the series “The Robber,” 2012–13.

In 2012, Tilo Steireif, a Swiss artist whose research-based practice has favored photography and installation, began work on a suite of aquarelle and ink cartoons inspired by German-speaking Swiss writer Robert Walser’s posthumously published novel, The Robber. The labor posed two challenges: It was Steireif’s first foray into watercolor, and The Robber—a digressive novel with a weak plot first published in German in 1972 and in English in 2000—doesn’t easily lend itself to visual exegesis in the way that the Book of Genesis did for Robert Crumb. Walser’s novel begins briskly: “Edith loves him.” Edith being a waitress and estranged paramour of the Robber, an impoverished “good-for-nothing” from the Swiss capital of Bern whose precarious lifestyle—he is more lotus-eater than criminal—chimes with the author’s own traumatic biography. Still, Steireif emerges as a mordant guide to Walser’s elliptical modernist text about a solitary walker with urbane habits.

Installed in three rows across three walls in a small room that has previously shown Walser’s idiosyncratic microscripts, Steireif’s 112 clear line cartoons (all works untitled, 2012–13) are tonally reduced. The worn-out Guston pinks and variations of “sky blue audacity,” to quote the novel, lend his visualization of petit bourgeois anxiety and listlessness an understated pathos. One panel shows the Robber, who bears a striking resemblance to a mustached Walser, examining his bleeding heart while on a walk. The cartoon is faithful to the book, gleefully so, grimly depicting what is understood as metaphorical introspection in the text. But Steireif is ultimately an empathetic interpreter of the writer’s world of homburgs, cigars, carousel rides, strange monuments, and low-key despair.

Sean O’Toole

Monica Studer and Christoph van den Berg

Galerie im Gluri Suter Huus
Bifangstrasse 1
August 27, 2017–December 10, 2017

Monica Studer and Christoph van den Berg, Wesen (Beings) (detail), 2017, HD 3-D video projection, color, sound, run time variable.

This venue, in the center of Wettingen, outside Zürich, radiates with the atmosphere of a picturesque Swiss farmstead—a visitor doesn’t necessarily expect to find contemporary art here, and certainly not the kind that Monica Studer and Christoph van den Berg are known for.

Within a clever and finely tuned scenographic series spanning two floors are the interactive moving-image installations (Wesen [Beings] and Forscher [Explorer], both 2017) and the digital videos Dark Matter – One Million Years Later, 2017, and Wind-Wasser-Wolken (Wind-Water-Clouds), 2015/17, as well as supplementary smaller works, such as the “real-time” animation Verlauf (Gradient), 2017—generated frame by frame via an algorithm—and a series of ink-jet prints, “Flackern I–III” (Flare I–III) 2017.

The pieces, and the experimental arrangement of the exhibition, are captivating, humorous, and intelligent in their self-reflection. The observer enters the installation Beings as if for an initiation, bending to pass through a low door. One then stands in diffuse light in a room with a platform painted green, gazing at the digitally animated projection of a silhouetted image of an ancient forest. Birds chirp and trees grow by the second in the thicket. Scaffolding, which seems both strange and fitting, underscores the constructed and virtual elements of the staging. Using a control lever, one can follow a bird’s call in the image until a magically luminous, abstract figure appears. The sounds of nature break off and a threatening electrical din becomes louder and louder, while the bright shape rapidly grows larger until it disappears and the game can start anew. In this way, Studer and van den Berg plumb the boundaries between chance and necessity, reality and fiction, powerlessness and authority.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner