Undocumented at PS120 / Berlin

Undocumented / Co-Curated by Juliet Kothe and Justin Polera

Katja Aufleger, Julian Charrière, Petrit Halilaj, Christine Sun Kim, Yann-Vari Schubert , Alvaro Urbano

13.9- 9.11,  2019

Potsdamer Straße 120, 10785, Berlin

Undocumented, A Group Show at PS120

reviewed by Dara Eleanor Jochum

To be undocumented, at the end of the 2010s means to not be something. Unproven, unreal. Millions of undocumented humans traveling across continents trying to find new homes. Undocumented knowledge ceases to pass as such. To be undocumented means to exist beyond legitimization. To not be documented however, also allows a freedom to mutate, to shape-shift and thus triumph over a single, eternalized form. The autumn show at PS120 using that exact status as its bold title brings together forms of artistic expression that challenge standard modes of documentation and through this manage to evade equilibrium. 

While art institutions struggle more than ever to motivate visitors to come and see their exhibitions instead of scrolling through visual documentation in the form of tiny squares on Instagram, curators Juliet Kothe and Justin Polera have deliberately decided to abstain from publishing yet a single installation shot for the length of the show. Many of the works by the seven selected artists defy a purely aesthetic experience and compel the viewer to complete the work through imagination, speculation or in the case of Adrian Pipers Humming Room, direct involvement.

A curtain and a strict guard separate the room from the rest of the space, only accessible to those who hum a tune. Sound reemerges in multiple forms throughout the show. Christine Sun Kims site specific murals depict the fictional sign language gestures, grand swooping hands, of The Sound of Low Frequencies Attempting to Be Heavy and The Sound of Temperatures Rising. Sun Kim, who has been deaf since birth, makes no distinction between audible and inaudible sounds and thus challenges hierarchical models of perception. Here, to be undocumented refers not only to art which ceases to be documentable, but art as a possible expression of the undocumentable - the intangible.

What do rising temperatures sound like? Placed in immediate proximity to Katja Auflegers soundscape Al Wakra, where the deep humming of the singing dunesof Al Wakra, Quatar, dominate the space, this question becomes one of current geopolitical relevance. Seven glass pipes made out of the sand Aufleger collected in the Al Wakadi desert, are fed air at varying intensities, literally bringing the presence of the wailing dunes and endless red deserts into the space. We find ourselves confronted with yet another alternative presence, that of mass destruction, in Auflegers Newtons Cradle, where three glass balls filled with nitroglycerine are suspended from the ceiling cheek to cheek. So delicately hung, were the balls to break and the liquids meet, they would trigger an explosion strong enough to eradicate the building. These works not only charge the space with a sense of acute vigilance, but also invite potent response. You cant help yourself from thinking - what if?

Julian Charrière, Alvaro Urbano and Petrit Hlilaj all seek to document things that no longer exist. Halilaj does so by using golden boxes filled with animals modulated in dirt, which only reveal themselves when viewed close up, to explore the cultural heritage of his no-longer existing home of Yugoslavia. Urbano reimagines lost or destroyed objects, like artist On Kawaras briefcase stuffed with postcards to friends. Julian Charrières charcoal sculptures are slabs of wood burnt to cinder, printed with illustrations of now-extinct tropical fauna. The delicate black-on-black printing reveals itself only in immediate proximity, similar to Yann-Vari Schuberts equally monochrome prints hung close by. In two series, Schubert mixes automated, highly complex algorithmic printing techniques with natural interventions. By manually adding pigments or printing on flowing water, the computable processes are destroyed and the outcomes are unique. Standing in front of the series H2HNO, all UV prints on the surface of water, I couldnt help but pull out my phone camera before hastily, almost embarrassed, changing my mind and putting it away again. You could never show it to anybody, as its elusive beauty would only be betrayed.

In the show notes, Dieter Mersch speaks of the performativity of art. Revisiting Benjamins thoughts on Auraverlust, the loss of aura through reproduction, updated for 21st century contexts of digital reproduction where overstimulation emerges through over-saturation. When I went to visit PS120 I was alone in the space. It was still early in the day and one of the last sunny days of the year. A passage from Ben Lerners 10:04, one of my favorite novels, came to mind. The protagonist is invited to visit the Donald Judd boxes in Marfa, Texas, after ignorantly dismissing them of being of inferior interest to him. When he arrives in the space, however, he is stunned. The light floods across the reflective aluminum, making it hard to tell what is inside and out. The reflection of a deer racing by. One box is a mirror, another an abyss; all surface one moment, all depth the next.When Katja Auflegers sand dunes flare into a crescendo the sounds mixing with those of the bustling Potsdamer Straße outside, the sun reflected in the glas and drenched every corner of the space in bright, crisp clarity. Maybe this it, I thought, the thing Ben Lerner meant when he speaks of a profound experience of art.