Review: Karl Haendel, “Unwinding Unboxing, Unbeding Uncocking”

Wentrup Gallery, Berlin.

Karl Haendel’s exhibition posits the practice of yoga as an alternative to accelerationism. Citing the anxiety around self-optimization, Haendel presents lifestyle- and body-enhancement products marketed to reinforce the need for self-betterment to question the ways these objects aid or inhibit our sense of self-worth and identity.

A maze of built-in walls—each painted mint green, golden yellow, bubblegum pink, or aqua—is paired with geometric floor sections filled with corresponding colored gravel, made from dried split peas, couscous, beans, or packing peanuts, which audiences can shuffle and crunch through as if in a Zen garden in a children’s museum. On the walls hang precise graphite drawings of young svelte women in yoga positions. The works are cropped tightly around the bodies’ silhouettes with custom frames—resembling enlarged Tetris pieces—and each is titled with Sanskrit or Persian names, as in Surya #3 or Shaheen, both 2014. Atop angular cardboard structures lie additional works on paper, such as Hip Hole, Libra Lens, 2014, featuring painted Zodiac symbols together with pencil-drawn personal objects that can be inserted into, enhance, or regulate the body. Here, descriptive titles are scribbled on the works alongside depictions of a butt plug, tampons, a hip prosthesis, contact lenses, books, cigars, or an IUD—as if the act of naming will either validate or negate the objects’ existence.

In the center of the installation, the video compilation An Unboxing Film Festival, 2016, shows YouTube clips of consumers opening objects they’ve purchased, a practice that started as a volunteer-labor marketing phenomenon and became a lucrative business model. With this piece, Haendel reminds us that the only reason such material frameworks for identity exist is because we choose to ascribe to them, and the allure of dependency comes wrapped in the package.

First published on, March 28th, 2016.

arielle bier