Review: “Welcome to the Jungle”

KW – Kunst Werke, Berlin.

Unfurling a seductive recapitulation of American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses’ hit song “Welcome to the Jungle”, the KW Institute of Contemporary Art kicks off Berlin Art Week with the eponymous group show curated by Ellen Blumenstein and Filipa Ramos as part of the citywide museum initiative STADT/BILD.

The original song was first released in 1987 on the album “Appetite for Destruction”. It was the first time President Reagan first challenged Premier Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. It was also the year AZT (the AIDS treatment drug) was approved; worldwide nuclear tests were rampant, and the Dow Jones was booming as tensions in the Persian Gulf were heating up. Axl Rose and Slash’s “jungle” was not an invitation to bathe resplendent in the awe and inspiration of the raw wilderness, but an invitation to participate in a romanticised version of a masochistic civilisation. According to the exhibition’s press release, “The jungle is seen here as a symptom, which incorporates a common absence, our desires, but also our fears, that is out of our control.” Manipulated images of lush green plant foliage, isolated animals, desert and urban landscapes are coupled with depictions of humans struggling to come to terms with changing technologies and the complexities of realising self and nature in unfamiliar environments.

Libia Castro & O?lafur O?lafsson, DEIN LAND EXISTIERT NICHT, 2013 (From the ongoing campaign YOUR COUNTRY DOESN’T EXIST, seit 2003) Neon sign, 190 x 700 cm Installation view, Courtesy Libia Castro & O?lafur O?lafsson
Libia Castro & O?lafur O?lafsson, DEIN LAND EXISTIERT NICHT, 2013 (From the ongoing campaign YOUR COUNTRY DOESN’T EXIST, seit 2003) Neon sign, 190 x 700 cm
Installation view, Courtesy Libia Castro & Olafur Olafsson

Entering first through the basement, the exhibition begins with Marianne Vlaschits’ “Malibu Sunrise” (2012–2015). Outside the doorway hangs a small square canvas with a loose and symbolically painted landscape of a full moon rising over a darkened barren island with an isolated palm tree. The piece functions like a placeholder for an Instagram image of the real life behind the curtain. In her installation Vlaschits mixes live models with life-size illustrations of their skinny underwear-clad selves, ionic columns, palm trees and clouds in an erotic bathhouse setting and feels like moving through a theater set remake of Fassbinder’s film “Querelle” with a dose of innocence and insecurity. Exotic presentations of real and artificial objects and dreams blend together.

Installation view, V.l.n.r./F.l.t.r.: Ulu Braun: THE PARK, 2011 Basim Magdy: MY FATHER LOOKS FOR AN HONEST CITY, 2010, Klaus Weber: SANDFOUNTAIN, 2012 Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton: From the series ROUNDABOUT MONUMENTS IN THE UAE, 2014, Photo by Timo Ohler
Installation view, V.l.n.r./F.l.t.r.: Ulu Braun: THE PARK, 2011

Basim Magdy: MY FATHER LOOKS FOR AN HONEST CITY, 2010, Klaus Weber: SANDFOUNTAIN, 2012; Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton: From the series ROUNDABOUT MONUMENTS IN THE UAE, 2014, Photo by Timo Ohler

In the main space, video art, sculptural installations and photography dominate the exhibition with a surprisingly clean and ordered effect considering the messy precariousness alluded to. Although the tedium of sitting through multiple thirty minute video works in succession may overwhelm the short attention spans of art-going audiences, taking time to process the narratives built by each artist in the exhibition proves a rewarding experience. Olaf Breuning travels the globe in his video “Home 2” (2007), touring from Japan to Switzerland and Polynesia, finally ending up in New York City, incessantly commenting on the relative similarities, aesthetics and cultural exceptions of the places and people he meets, with witty sarcasm and playful humour. Across the way, Melanie Bonajo’s video “Night Soil/Fake Paradise” (2014) contributes a spiritual element to the exhibition, waxing poetic on internet culture, sex energy, shamans and ayahuasca trips as costumed and nude characters move between forest and urban locations documenting their experiences on their phones and iPads. In the video “Landscape Painting (Jungle)” (2015), Julius von Bismarck plays out a futile exercise of envisioning and acting upon the natural environment as he whitewashes a section of jungle, then paints it green again.

Installation view V.l.n.r./F.l.t.r.: Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton: From the series ROUNDABOUT MONUMENTS IN THE UAE, 2014, Ulu Braun: THE PARK, 2011 (Detail) Roman Schramm: From the series SATELLITE CITY, 2014, Photo by Timo Ohler
Installation view V.l.n.r./F.l.t.r.: Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton: From the series ROUNDABOUT MONUMENTS IN THE UAE, 2014, Ulu Braun: THE PARK, 2011 (Detail) Roman Schramm: From the series SATELLITE CITY, 2014, Photo by Timo Ohler

An outstanding addition to the exhibition is a photographic series by Roman Schramm. The artist has been using the design software Cinema 4D to render images of both sumptuous and grotesque organic objects and their representations, along with architectural and natural environments, playing with the multiple dimensions of vision and clarity that art can offer.

At the heart of the exhibition is Klaus Weber’s large baroque concrete fountain “Sandfountain” (2012). Sand granules glisten under the low dramatic lighting, eternally spewed forth from the gaping mouths of the adorning lion heads. Here, the slow accumulating effects of a disturbing clash between natural and constructed environments offer a mesmerising moment of pause. Growth, development and change cannot be stopped. Bit by bit, the mounds continue to rise with a silent violence of covering up and wiping away what came before. The jungle is momentary, existing only in the fleeting moment as you envision it.

First published on Sleek-Mag.com, September 16th, 2015.
http://www.sleek-mag.com/showroom/2015/09/welcome-to-the-jungle-at-kw-a-rewarding-experience/

arielle bier