It was my second time at König Galerie, and I must admit that this Berlin gallery just doesn’t disappoint. It’s located in the impressive, brutalist building of the fromer Saint Agnes Church in the Kreuzberg district. König Galerie was founded by Johann König in 2002, and currently represents 39 international emerging and established artists, mostly belonging to a younger generation. The program’s focus is on interdisciplinary, concept-oriented and space-based approaches in a variety of media including sculpture, video, sound, painting, printmaking, photography and performance. During my visit two weeks ago, I had a chance to see two fascinating and absolutely relevant, temporary exhibitions that took place in the gallery’s vast spaces.
Alexandrinenstraße 118–121 / Berlin
PALIANYTSIA – a solo exhibition by Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova. Kadyrova works in a variety of disciplines such as sculpture, photography, video and performance. Her practice is often site-specific and informed by the malleable and symbolic properties of urban building materials. Collecting stones from her nearest river in western Ukraine, Kadyrova’s sculptures, drawings and short film, take on the urgent situation currently playing out in her home country. Before the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine began, Kadyrova was based in Kiev. Due to the ongoing conflict she fled to the western part of the country. After relocating to the Transcarpathian region, the artist began her latest series which culminated in the PALIANYTSIA project, co-authored by Denis Ruban. Palianytsia is the name of a Ukrainian round wheat bread that Russian occupiers cannot pronounce correctly and therefore acts as a password or recognition mark among Ukrainians. During her days-long search for accommodation and a functioning studio, Kadyrova collected round stones polished smooth by the river’s current. As a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, she produced this series of illusory sculptures by slicing these collected stones whose form take on that of the Palianytsia bread. “During the first two weeks of the war, I had the impression that art was only a dream, that I had only dreamed these twenty years of my professional life. And that art at all is powerless and ephemeral compared to the ruthless machinery of war that destroys civilian cities and human lives,” the artist states. “Today I don’t think that way anymore, and I see that every artistic gesture makes us visible, and our voices audible!” Kadyrova has previously presented these sculptures and drawings in her temporary accommodation in Ukraine. With the proceeds from the sold works, she supplied herself and others with bullet-proof waistcoats, petrol, food, and medicine. She has also supported people in need in Kiev and different volunteer organisations in Kharkiv and Mariupol.
UNINTENDED BEAUTY – another temporary exhibition, this time by one of Austria’s foremost contemporary painters, Xenia Hausner. Here, Hausner explores questions of beauty in her latest show comprising twelve new paintings. UNINTENDED BEAUTY displays how Hausner redefines notions of beauty with an eye towards its treatment in contemporary art. Underpinning the paintings in her current exhibition is also the question of how beauty and dread relate to one another. Hausner shows how the distinction between them can be fluid. “Every angel is terrifying”, according to the oft-cited line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies. The Austrian poet continues, “For beauty is nothing but the start of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us.” Hausner adapts Rilke’s sentiments for her own practice, suggesting that “in art, terror is nothing but the start of beauty”. From these apocalyptic murmurings a glimmer of hope suddenly emerges; prophecies of destruction are countered with the inventiveness and power of art. Chance moments are also written into Hausner’s art alongside her mise en scènes. But Hausner, who uses photography and interior settings to produce her art, does not set out to distort her co-actors. Quite the opposite, in fact: the artist says that she attaches great importance to “the figures retaining their authentic body language”. Yet, at the same time, Hausner adds, the people she paints are also “like actors playing a part in my story”. The traditional power dynamic between painter and subject is transformed by Hausner into a more equitable, bi-directional exchange, where each side of the painterly equation reveal aspects about the other. “Painting has to do with affection”, says Hausner. Her images, painted in acrylics and oils on Dibond aluminium sheets, reflect her continuing interests in the structures of composition, light, and the power of colour. UNINTENDED BEAUTY counters the values of our zeitgeist by holding on to other, contradictory notions of beauty. According to cultural critic Laurie Penny, the toxic-normative core underlying this slickness means that women are bombarded by images in film, TV, ads, print media, and even fleeting encounters, which transmit subtle messages that they are not young, slim, light-skinned, or submissive enough to meet the standard. The actors in Hausner’s predominantly female cosmos appear as counter examples to this world, drawing their aesthetic power rather from everyday reality. They are depicted as confident and fully occupying the spaces around them. Does this amount to a defence of beauty through the medium of art? Hausner’s paintings cleave to the everyday while also opening an unchartered, utopian vision of beauty.
Photos by Edward Kanarecki.