until 09.10. | #3135ARTatBerlin | drj art projects shows from 5th September 2021 in the solo exhibition ISOLARE two art projects by the Austrian artist Robert Gschwandtner.
To initiate this year’s autumn art season, and with important social and political decisions in mind, drj art projects focuses on two selected art projects by Robert Gschwantner with the exhibition ISOLARE.
In these, the artist deals with the change of environment and landscape through human intervention, and in particular with the effects of marine pollution with reference to two islands.
The arts and their protagonists are always also seismographs. It is therefore hardly surprising that the most important subject of our time, which has long been recognizable in its impact, is currently becoming more and more present in exhibitions of museums and public institutions: the foreseeable destruction of the foundations to our life and civilization through the unrestrained exploitation of the natural resources of planet Earth by us humans.
Current examples include the socio-critical performance »Sun & Sea«, which questioned global tourism and environmental indifference and won the Golden Lion as the Lithuanian contribution to the 2019 Venice Art Biennale – and was recently also shown at E-Werk Luckenwalde; the group exhibition »Zero Waste«, which ran until the end of 2020 at the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig and brought together international positions in contemporary art that pointed to the urgency of conserving resources, consuming less and living more sustainably; the opening exhibition for the theme year »New Nature« entitled »I hate nature« at the Schiller Museum in Weimar, which uses elaborate media to impressively portray the complicated relationship between humans and nature; or the TOPIA Festival, organized by the artists‘ initiative frontviews at HAUNT Berlin, which deals with the current state of our globe at a crossroads: Either we succeed in achieving genuine coexistence with all beings, positive cycles of nature and a sustainable utopia – or it means to perish.
Of course, the discussion of environmental issues in the field of the arts is not entirely new. For more than twenty years, the German Federal Environment Agency, for example, has been running the series »Art and the Environment« and inviting artists to show their work on environmental issues in an institutional setting. And just recently, at the age of 91, the Berlin action artist Ben Wagin died, who was committed throughout his life to sustainability and thinking about our relationship to the environment and nature.
The Austrian artist Robert Gschwantner, born in 1968, has been exploring the relationship of human activity and threats to the environment in various projects and work cycles for more than 20 years. In addition to ecological questions, he is particularly interested in the fundamental tension between naturality and artificiality.
His own artistic development is closely linked to his personal experience of a major environmental disaster: the accident of the tanker Erika in 1999. The tanker broke in two during a storm, sank off the coast of Brittany and lost most of its cargo of over 30,000 tonnes of oil. The leaking heavy oil polluted 400 kilometres of Brittany’s coastline, settling in the crevices of the jagged rocks and killing tens of thousands of seabirds.
Together with photographer Roberto Conz, Robert Gschwantner travelled to the fishing village of Le Croisic, which was badly affected by the oil spill, and collected spilled oil. He filled thin, transparent PVC tubes with it, which he had previously woven like traditional carpets. The metaphorical term »oil carpet« thus became the starting point for this artistic work.
In a very particular way, he revealed the eerie beauty of the oil that causes death and at the same time is one of the foundations of our prosperity. In the following years, contaminated water, industrially polluted sludge and other liquids were used in addition to oil. Gschwantner calls these materials, that serve as filling material for his carpets and paintings, »landscape relics«.
In the exhibition ISOLARE, two projects from this cycle of works will be juxtaposed: EYE-LAND, or IJsseloog [NL], from 2014 and LOST & FOUND from 2020, both dealing with situations on islands that are very directly affected by human intervention.
IJsseloog is a man-made, two-kilometre-long island in the Dutch inland lake Ketelmeer. A circular artificial lake was created there as a dumping ground for contaminated sludge deposited by the Rhine at its estuary IJssel over decades. In addition, in order to deepen the channel to the mouth of the IJssel to at least 3.5 m and thus improve access to the river for shipping, the contaminated silt was dredged and transported to this hazardous waste dump. The silt depot was placed in the middle of the lake to protect the shoreline from possible negative consequences of the landfill as best as possible.
Robert Gschwantner took samples of this silt on site to be used as material in a series of works dedicated to this absurd place. In the works of the project, PVC tubes filled with seawater and with heavy metal contaminated sludge are stretched over abstract patterns of shapes on three-dimensional panels. The resulting images, visually reminiscent of op-art impressions, reflect the elusive irritation and yet also visible beauty that is IJselloog.
For LOST & FOUND, Robert Gschwantner collected sand from the beaches on the Greek island of Gyali. This island is of volcanic origin and geologically consists of obsidian and pumice. Its landscape is characterized by two hills that are visible from afar, but will disappear in a few decades due to the open-cast mining of the largest pumice deposit in Greece. The hills are connected by a narrow headland with sandy beaches on the north and south sides. The sea currents pollute the northern beach in particular with washed-up rubbish. Environmental organizations collect this once a year, but smaller plastic particles remain on site mixed with sand. To make these microplastic particles visible, the artist has again used the woven carpets made of PVC tubes. Now they contain the collected sand and seawater from the island. By visually isolating these components, however, in addition to a bizarre aesthetic that is revealed by the new context, it also becomes impossible to overlook the dimensions that the impact of human activity has already wreaked on the environment at the micro level. This is impressively underlined by Gschwantner‘s objects in the exhibition.
Particularly with his focus on microplastics, the artist’s personal work has come full circle: in 1999, it was the obvious and terrible devastation of the black, deadly oil in Brittany that he took up as an impulse for his development; 22 years later, it is the waste of plastic products the size of grains of sand made from this raw material that he brings into visual awareness. The supposedly innocent and colourful beauty of the tiny particles in his mesh makes everyone clearly aware of what is so often being overlooked: all areas of our planet have long since been permeated by our civilization’s waste, and there is no longer any real chance of escaping the implicit consequences!
Without raising the moral finger in a bold or lecturing manner, Robert Gschwantner succeeds in showing that closing one’s eyes to this will not be the way to a solution.
It is time to act, even though it is already too late.
Note: Works by Robert Gschwantner will also be featured in »Oil. Beauty and Horror of the Petroleum Age« at the Wolfsburg Art Museum. Here, references to the curse and blessing of this raw material and its enormous impact are at the centre of discussions
Opening: Sunday, 5 September 2021, 11:30 am – 4:00 pm
Exhibition dates: Sunday, 5 September to Saturday, 9 October 2021, open Saturdays from 2 – 6 p.m. and daily by appointment (subject to pandemic-related regulations).
Finissage: Saturday, 9. October 2021, 2:00 – 6:00 pmTo the Gallery
Exhibition Robert Gschwandtner – drj art projects | Contemporary Art – Kunst in Berlin – Exhibitions Berlin Galleries | ART at Berlin