It is often said that talking about the weather is what we do when we run out of interesting things to talk about. It is a development of conversation that marks the imperceptible transition from talking about something to talking about nothing. Lisson/Michael Craig-Martin/Jon Rafman, a collaboration between Scandinavian artists Hedvig Berglind and Amalie Jakobsen at the combined hair salon and exhibition space DKUK in London is built on such allusions to the opaque and frail relation between utterance and meaning.
Upon entering the rather small exhibition space, the visitor is pre- sented with multiple screens displaying Berglind’s video Everybody Talks about the Weather. Each screen presents an isolated scene from the video, as if wanting to break up linear time into small bits. The experience of the video is framed by Jakobsen’s site specific installation Untitled #44: Long orange and pink latex strings are stretched over the floor and ceiling of the exhibition space, forming a clear-cut geometric pattern – a sort of spatial drawing – wrapping the space and framing the viewer’s gaze and movements in the room. Berglind’s video is set in the Casa Barragán in Mexico City; a modernist architectural treasure, designed by the internationally celebrated architect Luis Barragán (1902-1988). Over the course of four isolated scenes from both inside and outside the house, we are presented with the same woman answering three phone calls: the first in French, the second in Spanish and the last in German. The coloured walls of the modernist house provide the visual backdrop. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, alternating between boredom and fright; a distress mirrored in the physical experience of Jakobsen’s installation that demands ownership of the viewer’s body in the small space.
The video’s only hint at a world outside is a small TV on the staircase of the Casa Barragán, transmitting an image of on-going, violent explosions. Within the frame of the large monochrome walls, the tiny TV is a strange and foreign element, but the silence and immobility of the walls allow the eye to settle on its moving images. The suspense created in the dialogue generates a feeling of anxiety, coupled with the expectation of what will happen: ”When are the explosives arriving? Ok. Ok. Well, hurry up please.” A feeling of simmering unrest is transmitted to the viewer, since none of the pieces is sufficiently informative - neither physically nor intellectually. We are left helplessly trying to de-code a message between the fragments of conversation revealed to us, and the mute latex strings structuring our movements.
The exhibition title was originally a reference to Liam Gillick’s show Edgar Schmitz at the ICA in 2005 (Jakobsen and Berglind installed the same show under the title of Liam Gillick in the Mexican artist run space, Feral, during the spring of 2015). At DKUK the audience is invited to the same show, but under three different titles: Lisson, Michael Craig-Martin or Jon Rafman. These were all shows on view in London during the opening week of the DKUK show. The arbitrary choices of the shows referred to, takes the initial mind play of the Liam Gillick title even further in a strange approximation or semiotic displacement – not only of the artists in question – but of well-known galleries such as The Serpentine or Lisson Gallery, hosting two of the shows referred to. This confusing play with the cult of certain artists or cultural institutions, whose names become brands or codes in themselves, seemingly points fingers at existing cultural structures and the value of cultural branding. The shift of function and meaning that occurs in the shallow transfer of the colours of Barragan’s architecture in the video to the latex strings and the clothes of the hired performers on the opening night is only a different means to the same ends.
Transmitting a sense of repressed violence on the verge of being released, Everybody Talks about the Weather hints at the politics and power structures exercised by the lean forms and surfaces of now iconic modernist buildings. It is probably no coincidence that Berglind chose the Casa Barragán as her stage. An icon of modernist architecture, Barragán is – genius aside – inevitably a sign of European fashions making their entry in Latin America.
But where Berglind relates explicitly to certain events and concepts in history, Jakobsen stubbornly refuses history: the silent strings that slice up the room seem to act as empty, hollow signs that work as counterpoints to the overload of tension and meaning in the video’s repeated allusions to the code language of the German Baader-Meinhof terrorist group: "Hello, yes I am Moby Dick, I am ready, I will soon proceed. Everybody talks about the weather, we don't."
Ulrike Meinhof’s 1969 essay “Everybody Talks about the Weather”, which is referenced here, adopted its title from Deutsche Bahn’s late 1960’s advertisement slogan “alle reden vom Wetter… Wir nicht”. In the context of the present exhibition, its meaning seems to unfold as part of an experiment testing the creation and viability of codes or signs in different contexts. But it also deals with a reality that keeps forming new narratives and new fictions based on the old. Is this what Lisson/Michael Craig-Martin/Jon Rafman is about? It is hard to tell through the dense web of references and travelling brands and names. However, one thing seems highly certain: we might always be talking about something, but we don’t know what it is.
Lisson/Michael Craig-Martin/Jon Rafman. A collaboration by Hedvig Berglind and Amalie Jakobsen, DKUK, London, Nov 27 2015 - Feb 6 2016.