until 21.10. | #4060ARTatBerlin | Capitain Petzel shows since 15. September 2023 the exhibition Conspire the artist Ragen Moss.
“When people encounter my sculptures,” says Ragen Moss, “the first question I am often asked is: ‘How did you make that?'” More than almost any other artistic medium, sculpture is believed to be reducible to a list of the technical details of its making or the possibilities and symbolism of its source materials. This is a learned behaviour. At least since the heyday of Minimalism, Western artists and critics have tried to disabuse their audiences of the notion that abstract sculpture could have any meaning beyond its own form and manufacture.
Although the work may be formally in the Minimalist tradition, Moss remains committed to the non-Minimalist vision of abstract sculpture as a form of ‘meaning-making’. It is driven by intense analytical and often political investment, though none of her sculptures tell flat, cautionary tales or flaunt catchy political slogans. Like a deceptively calm lake that hides raging undercurrents, navigating these works and grasping their depth requires the audience to be willing to observe keenly.
C O N S P I R E is the first solo exhibition by Los Angeles-based artist Ragen Moss at Capitain Petzel. The exhibition is an invitation to reflect on what “conspire” means in its original – and broadest – meaning, taken from the Latin conspirare (literally “to breathe together”), with this “breathing together” also formally accomplished through Moss’ airy and incendiary works. In the exhibition, the artist makes the various transparencies and vistas of the gallery’s idiosyncratic building his own by presenting the 14-part installation C O N S P I R E (circle) (2023) at the end of the gallery’s nave. The delicate indeterminacy of this circular arrangement allows for interesting art historical comparisons. It fits neither the tranquil stone windows of prehistoric parliaments nor the tense agony of Rodin’s Burgers of Calais, but relates to both in terms of their social, political and spatial investment. The exhibition also includes seven individual examples of the artist’s signature hanging sculptures. The surfaces of these hollow, irregularly shaped shells alternate between translucency and painted markings, giving them moments of visual and conceptual opacity. Each of these sculptures is accompanied by a lumen, the name Moss has given to the hand-drawn metal devices used to twist living flames into serpentine shapes and suspend them in a state of uneasy equilibrium. In the basement, several construction drawings attest to the highly deliberate, methodical nature of the artist’s creative process. Although recent art history may have taught us to associate synthetic materials with depersonalised fabrication, Moss makes the work by hand. On the other side of the spectrum, however, these drawings remind us that Moss’s process has little to do with many of the clichés with which manual labour is unjustly denigrated; instead, the drawings help us appreciate the robust athleticism required by the artist to produce the sculptures. They also help us realise that while Moss works alone and manually, the process is unsentimentally purposeful, always more deliberate than intuitive.
Our clearest didactic indication of Moss’s “why” for this exhibition and the concerns driving it comes in the form of its one-word title: C O N S P I R E. It describes the exhibition in Berlin as the second of eight steps in a long-term exhibition master plan in which each phase aims to use the spatial experience of sculpture as a heuristic tool to explore a crucial and essentially contested philosophical concept from law. The investigations began with an exhibition earlier this year in New York that explored the legal concept of “privation”. Now they continue here with a lateral approach to the concept of “agreement”.
For Moss, there are parallels between the ability of a work of art to defy simplistic interpretations and the way in which an ‘indeterminate’ concept of law can be used for different, even contradictory, purposes. Both legal philosophy and aesthetics are full of highly abstract concepts that have tangible consequences; both laws and aesthetic artefacts have been used to create social relations and strengthen social cohesion. Moss wonders how sculptures, like laws, affect how we position ourselves in relation to something greater than ourselves. A good way to approach these sculptures, then, is to think of them as training grounds for the most basic task of living in a society: We must learn to experience ourselves in space – and to share that space with others, the vast majority of whom are strangers.
Exhibition dates: Freitag, 15. September – bis Samstag, 21. Oktober 2023To the gallery
Image caption: RAGEN MOSS – C O N S P I R E (CIRCLE), 2023 – Polyethylene, acrylic, aluminum, steel, glass and steel hardware, 14 parts. Signed interior, lumens signed at base. Sculptures: 58 x 25 x 16 inches, 78 x 38 x 26 inches, 69 × 30 × 22 inches, 74 x 25 x 18 inches, 78 x 38 x 26 inches, 58 x 25 x 16 inches. Lumens: Each 55.9 x ⌀ 27.9 cm / 22 x ⌀ 11 inches – B-RMOSS-.23-0002
Exhibition abstract – Capitain Petzel – Exhibitions Berlin Gallery – ART at Berlin