The gallery VI, VII has moved from its old, cramped basement space in Grønland to more spacious and rather more light-filled premises at street level in Gamlebyen, reopening with an exhibition by German artist David Lieske. Déformation Professionelle has a stringent, sober format – 59 pictures, identically sized and framed, are hung with absolute precision in a row leading through the three gallery rooms – but offers self-reflective and complex content where life as an artist, or indeed any creative practice, is presented as a continual state of impulses and change.
If we interpret the title literally we arrive at something like this: According to dictionaries, “deformation” is an “active or passive process leading to a considerable change of an accepted or conventional form”. Lieske is a self-proclaimed outsider who dropped out of school at the age of 11 and who recently began an essay about himself with the following statement: “My family is not a stable place but I’m not sure whether I need one.” Not long ago the 34-year-old artist gave up making art altogether after having supplied a considerable number of exhibitions to acclaimed galleries throughout Europe. Oslo audiences may remember him from two exhibitions at Standard in 2006 and 2007. Upon his retirement all the art created by Lieske up until 2012 was officially, and with self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek pomposity, transferred to The Estate of David Lieske, and the artist himself seemed about to devote himself to a career as an electronica DJ, music producer, and gallery owner at his own Berlin-based gallery Mathew.
At first glance the series seems simple enough. Lieske has taken his own photograph in a mirror, which quite naturally means that he holds up a camera in front of his face. This self-portrait has then been printed, using the serigraphy technique, in black and white onto cardboard, the camera cut away so that the portrait acts as a passepartout for other pictures; these pictures thus replace the camera featured in the original photograph. This “frame within the frame” forms a gaping hole right in the midst of Lieske’s own self-portrait – his self-image – and viewers are invited to see the replacement pictures as apertures providing glimpses into the artist’s brain and psyche. Read in this manner they become a visual stream-of-consciousness consisting of brief glimpses from the surface and underground of culture. From homoerotic drawings to cuttings from fashion magazines, film journals, and tabloids the pictures collectively express and represent Lieske’s cognitive system and creative impulses as well as, we are led to believe, a kind of existential psychological foundation.
Viewed from the outside in, with limited insight into alternative eroticism and the social and visual hierarchies of the fashion industry these pictures are not terribly informative except as pointers that may be directed towards any starting point for artistic production. It seems natural to assume that each motif has been chosen on the basis of personal penchants and affinities – in most cases the titles refer to simple facts, such as the names of people or places: Kevin Spacey, Festival de Cannes 1997, Daniel Buren Photo Souvenirs, Butt Magazine Cover, etc.
If one delves deeper one will certainly find more biographical connections to Lieske’s own life, e.g. the fact that Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon has exhibited her art at Mathew in Berlin. But like much other art appropriating material from popular culture the interesting thing is the extent to which the viewer is capable of following abstractions in the material, not whether the combinations carry any obvious narratives. At heart, Lieske’s series points towards the total landscape that surrounds him and all other artists, whether visually, socially, and/or psychologically. The celebrities and semi-celebrities placed in the forehead of an artist depicting himself all become images of a transformation of the same surroundings, the same self. Sources of inspiration, artistic references, friends and family – everything and everyone is reduced, or “deformed”, becoming material for open-ended artistic contemplation. The conclusion may be obvious, but nevertheless interesting as it shows the world as it is seen and experienced by an artist’s soul engaged in constant self-scrutiny and self-centred critique of his own profession.