Magazine article Artforum International

"Notation: Calculation and Form in the Arts": Akademie der Kunste, Berlin

Magazine article Artforum International

"Notation: Calculation and Form in the Arts": Akademie der Kunste, Berlin

Article excerpt

"YOU DON'T MISS YOUR WATER," the saying goes, "till your well runs dry." True, 1 never thought I'd miss Hanne Darboven so much. That was my initial reaction to "Notation," a vastly ambitious show on view last fall at Berlin's Akademie der Kunste that travels next month to the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany. Organized by image theoretician Hubertus von Ameiunxen along with artists Dieter Appelt and Peter Weibel, the exhibition is billed as a broad overview of "sign systems [in] literature, music, painting, choreography, architecture, photography, film, and media art." It wasn't that Darboven was altogether absent from consideration; it was that the single, small work of hers in the show--a modest grid of sixteen pages (Score, 1990)--suggested a woeful omission, given how elegantly her work turns on the moment when exercises become aesthetics. What I missed, without a major piece by Darboven, was the clarity with which she articulates this boundary, the way her works marry doodley, "notational" mark making with rigorous conceptual "notation"--the simple act of recording days, moments, months. Her work would be a fitting anchor for a show that means to size up notation in an expanded field: It must have been a willful omission. Standing in her place at the heart of the show was a selection of more than a thousand prints from Allan McCollum's Shapes Project, 2005-. Taken together, these individually framed black silhouettes are like a nightmare wall of cartoony family portraits, huge and slick. The piece is emblematic not of difference, clarification, or classification, but of pure accumulation. The exhibition itself risked a similar effect, with a checklist that literally ran from eggs (Greg Lynn's Embryological House, 1999-2001) to apples (Apple Advancing, in Hollis Frampton and Marion Pallet's Sixteen Studies from Vegetable Locomotion, 1975); from matchbooksto smoke machines; from scientific studies to architectural models. Toss in some Cy Twombly paintings, a sheet of Marcel Proust's

galley corrections, and a Le Corbusier/Edgard Varese/Iannis Xenakis multimedia spectacle about the history of man (re-created virtually--visitors donned 3-D glasses to view it). More than 150 artists, writers, choreographers, composers, and scientists were featured, with about three times that number of works. Perhaps I was wrong to ask for an anchor. Perhaps we were meant for murky waters.

In fact, the galleries brimmed with little bombshells, such as the manifold output of nineteenth-century scientist Etienne-Jules Marey. As the inventor of chrono-photography, in which sequential, almost instantaneous moments are exposed across one picture, he's the Continental Muybridge, a forefather of film (not to mention seriality and many other twentieth-century tropes) and a key example of the fruitful union between the history of science and early photography. Though meant primarily as research, Marey's techniques for observing animal locomotion and imaging invisible forces pack a surplus of visual pleasure. More than as a scientist, Marey emerges as an indomitable tinkerer with the ways things can be seen. His sculpture of a gull in flight--a literal conflation in bronze of consecutive positions from a chronophotograph--is both daft and astounding. The metal is made to embody the indistinct blurs and overlaps that are usually the purview of photography, and fails to create an impression of forward flight, the pressure instead running backward, with each prior "position" pressing uncomfortably, urgently, from behind. This depiction of rime has the most perverse stasis. Nearby, a grid of three dozen photographs pasted onto a board should simply document the flow of air in Marey's proto-wind tunnel of 1899, in which parallel streams of smoke curl, snake, and disperse around an object placed in their way. Again and again, the system is interrupted, with a different shape, to a different effect. These serial images are among the most fragile and mysterious there could be. …

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