Seamus Kealy:  fast forward rewind                (2019)

Salzburg-based artist Gunda Gruber works between drawing, painting, sculpture, video and installation. Her current work plays with fields of space and shadowy figures and forms within fluctuating spatial and time-based zones, altogether existing between these different media as an overall installation. Flitting between notions of interior and exterior, real and imaginary, and architectural and model, this installation in the Kabinett offers the exhibited space as a moody and transient “creature” to be encountered by the visitor and to ultimately immerse within.

The artist is concerned with questions of space in different ways; space as a social construct, as a system of thought or controll, but  then also as quotidien experience, or even a kind of sensation and sometimes even an expression of identity. We are connected by space, we all move within it, and this curious banality is a recurring principle to Gruber’s work.

Therefore the artist has made an installation where a spatial situation is arranged and staged for the visitor’s encounter. This is, on the one hand, a theatrical staging, and on the other, it is a small set of different kinds of spatial analysis. Time is a subject, as are shadows, architecture, cinema, sculpture and the working space of a studio itself too. From all these elements, the artist arranges the space as a network of “superimposed layers and levels of reality.”

When one enters this exhibition, it is indeed akin to entering the artist’s own studio. That is intended, actually, as everything in the Kabinett space is arranged and presented just as it might be in any given moment Gruber’s studio, as if we have come unexpectedly. The installation is therefore “in process,” and it’s state of being unfinished may itself be an important subject and topic of the installation. The artist has assembled a series of sketches with space, objects, light, video, shadows and architectural elements, but as she says, there is no real conclusion or definitive meaning to this installation. It is as if the visitor has accidently walked into her studio while she is still working on some ideas in space. The visitor is thus invited to decide what is in fact going on. This encounter has something intimate about it as well, like reading a writer’s manuscript before it is published. Therefore ideas of “readiness,” “completion,” and “the finished artwork” are all under question by the artist. This installation seems to ask, how does one decide when an artwork is finished? What are the pressures and conditions that lead to completing a work of art or an installation so that it is ready for exhibition? The questioning itself is both serious and also exerts a dry humour that is echoed in the arrangement of objects in the room, as well as the quirky self-portrait videos that the artist has projected over an assortment of cluttered, architectonic models on what appears to be the work-table from her studio. In the videos, we see the artist, like a female Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, moving about different spaces, arranging objects, or ladders in some blank, white space. Everything is black and white, and the videos are slightly sped up, in reference to early, comedic cinema. On the one hand, there is this reference to the silent film comedy, and then on the other hand, there are clear references to German Expressionist film from the 1920s, which the artist has long been fascinated by. These two film genres are aesthetically parallel to the graphic nature of Gruber’s oeuvre, where she has long played with black and white elements, architectonic shapes, and plays on shadows and space. In this installation, the play of shadows is especially witty. We see two sets of architectonic shadows placed deliberately alongside each other on the back wall, one appearing in video format, the other being actual shadows made from the model forms that sit between the projected light and the wall. An ontological question appears to emerge in this very play of light, “what is a shadow?” Here space, shadow, light, illusion and material reality are all intertwined very simply and elegantly. The video images projected onto the models and different objects are themselves also like an actor, much as the artist herself moving around quirkily in this very moving image. Here is another clever and funny merging of medium and actor, where we see parts of the projected image almost hiding within an object on the floor, so that the projected light and image is, in a way, oddly showcased. This is offbeat twist on the banality of a projected image is an active form of defamiliarization (Verfremdung) and is matched by the background sound that also deliberately does not match the moving image as well as the tipsy-turvy arrangement of objects and props that appear to be in a constant state of almost falling over.

Altogether, this installation is a zany and humorous contrast to the blockbuster spectacle of mainstream Hollywood film or the preponderance of ever-available, slick material online. It thus offers us some respite and quiet wit away from the world of everything around us that has become, in short, normal.