Review: Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, “Pantelleria”

Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin.

When it comes to the soul and ethics, on what foundation should we base our measurements? Developing their ongoing interest in psychopathologies and social value systems, Belgian artist duo Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys present selections from a new sculptural series, “White Elements,” 2013–16, which they posit as a baseline for such judgment.

Solid steel plates welded together and painted white mimic elemental shapes and human forms. Loosely pinned where the heads should be are lightweight sheets of paper with pencil drawings of mug shots found on the internet, each chosen for their striking gaze. Individuals are unnamed but included are faces of convicts and Nazi officials at their time of arraignment. Every portrait is matched with a basic, but fully functional, scientific measuring instrument mounted on the torso, as with Compass White Element and Barometer Altometer White Element, both 2016. The dials spin or the mercury rises and falls according to magnetic pull, temperature, and air pressure, quantifying statistics of the given environment in real time. A series of colorful paintings on cards including Five Beach Balls and Three Blue Umbrellas, both 2016, hang on the walls, anticipating a blistering sun or stormy deluge with the simple objects depicted.

In the accompanying video, Die Aap van Bloemfontein (The Ape from Bloemfontein), 2014, a digitally distorted voiceover narrates an absurdist tale of transformation, akin to a dissociated ketamine trip. The video’s motley performers, frozen like sculptures, appear in a series of vignettes from a therapist’s office to a jail cell, exposing pangs of conflict and vulnerability. Their abstract grievances are on trial, but what guides the moral compass?

First published on Artforum.com, September 12th, 2016.
http://artforum.com/picks/id=63326

arielle bier