Carsten Holler: Shawinigan Space

By Adler, Dan | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Carsten Holler: Shawinigan Space


Adler, Dan, Artforum International


I ALWAYS SAY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU SAY was the apt greeting at Carsten Holler's recent exhibition "One, Some, Many" at Shawinigan Space, an enormous former aluminum smelting factory that served as a summer outpost of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The phrase is repeated textually and orally--as an English subtitle and spoken Japanese--by a pair of identical Japanese women in Holler's Tokyo Twins, 2005-2007. The two talking heads appear on monitors that here faced one another, sentinel-like, across the gallery entrance. Recalling Bruce Nauman's absurdly reductive enunciations in his video Thank You, 1992, Holler's work introduced themes--including the questioning of cultural assumptions about language, entertainment, and the centered self--that ran throughout the show.

Holler's The Belgian Problem, 2007, consisted of two enormous aviaries situated, like the twins, opposite one another in a naturally lit space the size of a football field. Housed in these netted structures were a number of starlings, songbirds known for their complex and constantly evolving vocal patterns and their tendency to proliferate to the extent that they are often branded as pests, insufficiently exotic or rare for zoos to devote much space to. Centrally positioned metal bleachers provided an ideal site for surveying and listening to chirped exchanges between the two populations, each of which was derived from a locale with its own distinctive language (one group originated in Ontario, the other in Quebec).

Holler took great care in arranging--and duplicating--The Belgian Problem's cages: Each aviary featured the same configuration of three dead birch trees, a floor of sand partially covered with overlapping squares of grass sod, precisely positioned logs, water containers, and feeding dishes. …

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