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Reading Rämistrasse #80: Leila Peacock on Christiane Blattmann at Damien & The Love Guru - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Reading Rämistrasse #80: Leila Peacock on Christiane Blattmann at Damien & The Love Guru

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. This is the iconic opening sentence of Kafka’s parable of the same name, which is invoked in the title of this exhibition. In the story we never arrive at a conclusion about which law (moral, judicial or natural) the protagonist sits before, nor who the gatekeeper is, nor why he yearns to be admitted or why he is denied access. This story sits sphinx-like; as we seek to decipher it we catch our own reflection as we restlessly search for the meaning in a parable about the restless search for meaning.

Christiane Blattman is known for her hybrid sculptures that employ a mix of materials to create intricate and unlikely structures, then using silicone to add figurative details to their surfaces. With a background in set design, she combines a craftperson’s feel for construction and costume with an innate sense of how to stage a work in order to exploit it for its dramatic potential. She also weaves literary references into the fabric of these works, giving them an unusually allegorical quality. There is literary pleasure – complex and elusive – to be taken from these pieces. Like Kafka’s mastery of the oblique sign, we are left with intersecting questions and symbolic gestures that refuse to concede to simple interpretation. This beguiling show of works by the German artist is the inaugural exhibition from the Brussels-based gallery Damien & The Love Guru in their new Zürich off-space, a welcome addition to the Zürich landscape to be found in the Zollikerstrasse complex that is also home to, amongst others, suns.works and a new outpost from Gregor Steiger.

Christiane Blattmann, The Law, Installationsansicht

Courtesy Damien & The Love Guru

There is a temple-like format to the layout of the works, the feel that some serious and unspecified rite is about to take place to which, like the protagonist, we may or may not be granted access. The three works on the wall encompass the headless animal crawling across the floor (Vampires in the Concrete Factory, all works 2022). Cast in bronze with hind legs of marble it is both the gatekeeper and the gate, and feels like a ruined vestige of a speculative alien species, with an exoskeleton reminiscent of one of H.R. Giger’s monstrous fantasies. The three works on the wall (A Chained Chain/ Watershed/ Under The Spell of the Law) hang like bloodied battle standards from a returning crusade. All are hung at gut height and all employ the technique Blattmann has developed of applying silicone to patches of sacking cloth that she has stained and quilted together. These tortured tapestries are emblazoned with images of birds and leaves which have been carved in rubber and then cast in silicon, the cloth then applied to the wet silicon so that it fuses with the material like ornate scarification. The effect of this process is to produce flayed skin-like, sinuous relief drawings over the surface of the works.

Christiane Blattmann, Under the Spell of Law, 2022

Courtesy Damien and the Love Guru

At times the exhibition feels like a face-off between two ancient symbolic systems: bird versus beast. The birds, carriers of the soul and messengers between worlds, beholden to no borders, circle like carrion above a carcass. The grounded, gate-shaped creature squats, threatening and impassive, refusing to grant entry to the secrets it guards.

Perhaps it was Jean Cocteau, or perhaps not, who claimed to ‘prefer myth to history, for history starts out with a truth but ends up with a lie, but myth starts out as a lie but ends up with a truth.’ In these troubled and confusing times of too much history, there is comfort in the age-old refuge of myths and the mythopoeic means of reading the world. Blattmann’s works are pregnant with a mythic sensibility that gives them a majestic and ancient demeanor. Yet they also have the feel of a futuristic apocalypse; there is a consistency in this contradiction, that the past and the future point to one end which is always present.

Christiane Blattmann, The Law, Damien & the Love Guru, Zollikerstrasse 249, 8008 Zürich
5 February–26 March 2022, extended to 30 April 2022

Reading Rämistrasse

Geht der Raum für Kunstkritik verloren, müssen wir handeln. Deswegen schaffen wir diesen Ort für Kritik – Reading Rämistrasse – auf der Webseite der Kunsthalle Zürich und veröffentlichen Rezensionen zu aktuellen Ausstellungen in Zürich. Diese geben nicht die Meinung der Kunsthalle Zürich wieder, denn Kritik muss unabhängig sein.

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