Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Christoph Hänsli. Der Gernerator. Gallery Judin, Berlin. Jan 2019.

Press Release: Banal they may well seem, these every­day motifs trans­posed into paint­ingsalways on a scale of 1:1—by the Swiss artist Christoph Hänsli, and yet the con­text to which he draws our atten­tion with this painterly conver­sion is con­sis­tently profound. After explor­ing the under­takings of human beings in their attempt to give life a mean­ing, Hänsli, in recent years, has turned his atten­tion to our con­stant efforts to defy our vuln­er­a­bil­ity and help­less­ness.
The artist ini­tiated these enquir­ies with two large-scale projects. In 2015 he began work on Der Gen­er­ator (The Gen­er­ator), draw­ing us into the heart of the Saint-Gotthard Mas­sif where the Swiss artillery built a sprawl­ing fortress dur­ing World War II. Hänsli produced a life-size depic­tion of the con­trol panel that oper­ated the fortress’ energy sup­ply. Almost eight meters long, Der Gen­er­ator fea­tures an entire arsenal of switches, reg­u­lators and lamps. They symbol­ize both the man­age­able con­trol that can be gained through technol­ogy and the poten­tial for a total loss of command—thus making this paint­ing a dou­ble-por­trait of confi­dence and fear.
The inspi­ra­tion for Hänsli’s next big project, Deponie (Dis­posal site, 2015—16) was equally sub­terra­ne­ous. His quest for sys­tems of order led the artist to the landfill at Herfa-Neu­rode in the Ger­man state of Hesse, the world’s largest under­ground repos­itory of haz­ardous waste. In addi­tion to over two million met­ric tons of dis­charge con­tain­ing mer­cury or arsenic, a “sample room” dis­plays hundreds of tiny amounts of poi­so­nous chem­icals from all over the world—in inno­cent looking and neatly labeled glass jars that closely resem­ble the ones we use for our kitchen spices. Hänsli has trans­posed 33 of these samples into small paint­ings, tidily arranged by cat­egories of pol­lutant. They pre­sent them­selves as a lit­tle per­i­odic table in pas­tel col­ors of the side prod­ucts of civ­i­liza­tion we pre­fer to for­get.
The fol­low­ing year, Hänsli con­signed a se­ries of six medicine cab­i­nets to canvas and gave them the telltale title Fes­tun­gen (Fortresses, 2017). Many of the labels are illeg­i­ble and the lit­tle boxes and con­tain­ers dis­solve into an abs­tract grid. What the Fes­tun­gen really con­ceal thus remains diffuse: the pills for head­aches and hay fever can hardly be dis­tin­guished from the drugs for depres­sion and can­cer. Their very exis­tence implies secu­rity and sat­isfies our need to be pro­tected. Whether intended by the artist or not, each of these med­ical chests is also a highly inti­mate, if some­what blurred, por­trait of its owner.
Hänsli’s inquiry into our mul­ti­faceted and at times absurd desire for safety is expanded by 100 paint­ings of lit­tle screws, most of them rusty and twisted, picked up by the artist on the streets of his home town Zurich or dur­ing trips to New York, Berlin, Milan, and else­where (Ver­loren, Lost, 2013—14). It was not just the eas­ily over­looked beauty of these lit­tle objects that fas­cinated him. It was above all the idea that every sin­gle one of these screws, how­ever tiny, once performed a func­tion, and that its absence from this important place poses a latent secu­rity risk.
The most recent work in the exhi­bi­tion con­cludes Hänsli’s research into our defense mech­a­nisms and adds a striking splash of color. Bald (Soon, 2018) shows a signal red but­ton intrigu­ing in its ambiva­lence. The but­ton might equally trig­ger a destruc­tive action or a life-sav­ing measure. As so often, interpreta­tion is left to the viewer—Hänsli simply jogs our thoughts with his painterly preci­sion and sub­tle humor.

Galerie Judin.

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