Sunday, 25 November 2012

exhibition in three episodes: review in three parts by Claire Briegel

Edgar Schmitz – Surplus Cameo Decor
18 October 2012 – 14, December 2012
Cooper Gallery

exhibition in three episodes: review in three parts
episode 1: palasthotel, 18 October – 6 November

Before seeing Schmitz Surplus Cameo Decor in reality—in as much the setup of palasthotel can be termed as such—I began talking to someone who had already been to the preview, commenting upon the discrepancy between the sparsity of the set-up and the apparent superfluity of information encircling it. The conversation that ensued streamed into questions of encounters and experiences of art, the role of art in relation to the institutions that circumscribe it, and the responsibility of the complex discourses surrounding art to reflect it rather than support or even swallow it (or is it art's responsibility to fulfil its promises?)
With such questions in mind, as well as the shards of information that had already been presented to me, I did not enter the eponymous palasthotel as a distracted viewer. The initial encounter with Schmitz' gallery-come-backdrop was one of engulfment; the scene is both decor (setting the scene) as well as being tangible and (temporarily) inhabitable. This element of the decorative—coming across in the scene's ambient backdrop snapshots and the mesmerising bronze glow—is not something viewers normally experience in an embodied sense. Decor is either meant to indulge a certain sense of ambience without being an element in itself, or simply exist to be looked at. The scene that has been occasioned here allows the incomplete elements that normally become engulfed by the mastery of the whole to exist together in semi-real / fictional time. The ambience created by the interplay of these lofty super-signifiers—the seductive bronze two-way mirror taken from the Palasthotel in East Berlin, the neon reflection that is at once glamorous and sleazy, snippets of isolated conversation and suggestive filmic stills—creates such a saturation of stimuli, the viewer cannot help but be in some way immersed (albeit within the bitter-sweet reality of being in the German Democratic Republic of foreign travel under StaSi surveillance in the semi-fictional palasthotel).
This isn't to say that the viewer wouldn't leave the exhibition feeling slighted by the scene's persistent oscillation between suggestion and promise. I would say that the exhibition doesn't deliver completeness, and with regards to the conversation that pre-empted my visit, part of the pleasure of this exhibition is in the overlapping and intersection of 'remote' dialogues infiltrating the present scenario and the snippets of incomplete meaning within it. In the same way that Schmitz' manipulation of reality interrupts the fictional scene—the use of real, borrowed and notorious material, the references to veritable historical and political moments, as well as the durational existence of the exhibition in real time including real 'celebrity' appearances via Skype—I would say that the art work resonates beyond its material manifestation and 'ambient attitude', enveloping the discursive and fluctuating networks of understanding that surround it, and muddling the distinction between art and discourse.
Rather than making viewing arduous and confusing, I think the first episode of Surplus Cameo Decor allows its viewers (should they choose so) to indulge in and accept a certain level of mystification and incompleteness. The episodic duration of the exhibition itself makes space for an experiential process, which in turn affects the responses that ensue - in which there is a real and persistent sense of there being more-to-come.

Claire Briegel studies at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and is part of Exhibitions' Student Curatorial Team.

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