If there’s one word required in any autumn lexicon, it would be melancholia. And if you required an introduction into autumn melancholia, there’s hardly a better place to go than Kensington Gardens. With summer over, the grandiose (or pompous, depending on your perspective) Bjarke Ingels pavilion has a crane eating away at it, reducing its curvaceous outline to that of stacks of boxes. Though the sun is out, beautifully illuminating the trees, its light is more of a memory of warmth. Even Alex Katz’s Ada, the elegant black-haired lady adorning the wind vane, overlooking the deconstruction site from her high view point on a steel pole, looks sentimental, moved by the cold wind, and reminding the passersby of the bleakness to come.
This sense lingers upon entering Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s exhibition at Serpentine Gallery. Upon wafting through the small entrance, the familiar voice of the late David Bowie haunts an abandoned looking space, scattered with party and personal ephemera, drenched in colored lights, reflected in disco balls. The walls are graffitied with the words “Enough Tiranny”. It not only feels like a déjà-vu, it actually is.
Conceived in 1972 for the Serpentine Gallery, originally a thirties park café which had only just been converted into a gallery less than two years before, the installation was the second “scatter environment” (the artist’s description harks back to the works of Allan Kaprow and Robert Morris) the artist realized. The first was Celebration? Realife, created for Three Life Situations at Gallery House London a few weeks earlier, alongside Stuart Brisley and Gustav Metzger. For the duration of his exhibition there, the artist slept in a room next door and would welcome visitors, offering tea, inviting conversations, and in general allowing for a sense of involvement. The myths surrounding this piece turned it into an important reference point for many young artists that started out in the nineties with an interest in redefining participatory artistic strategies.
But the role of artist was only one issue at stake. Maybe more importantly, the idea of the exhibition space was challenged by reframing the white cube as a space furnished for and by the artist. Or, expanding on this, the idea that any space could be an exhibition space – as any domestic space already represented objects reflecting the history, habits, taste of its inhabitants and offered room for display, rituals and performativity. In an artistic and idiosyncratic exploration of domesticity, the artist’s focus turned increasingly towards the idea or concept of furniture, what in effect created a whole World of Interiors (2006). The title of this work came from a commission by the eponymous magazine. Asked to write an artist’s statement to complement a picture story, Chaimowicz’ text was turned down as too intellectual. In response the artist took the April 2006 issue of the magazine as a template for a now legendary artist’s book: the individual sheets cover one wall in the gallery and thereby map a landscape of reflections on aspects of the artist’s work in the shape of texts, photographs, and collages, featuring the whole cosmos of the artist’s prolific oeuvre of domestic objects, furnishing and decor exhibited here: bookstands, side tables, carpets, wallpapers, curtains, and their inspirations, from Proust to Madame Bovary. In the exhibition the individual pieces still maintain an ambiguous air, clearly functional, but intensely decorated with loose lines and patches of color, as if providing camouflage to allow for hiding in plain sight. What is privacy if not a space for being reclusive?
Man Looking Out of Window (for S.M.) from 2006 illuminates this notion. A black and white photograph depicting a tall, skinny man with his back to the viewer, looking out of a bay window with the curtains partly drawn. No anonymous voyeur, his face is not quite recognizable, one hand is raised, frozen, as if tracing a thought. An Eileen Grey side table with a burning candle is complemented by a small rendition of Gustave Rodin’s Kiss, placed precariously at the feet of the protagonist as if to be knocked over in the next instant. But an elongated prop or sculpture gives the photograph a distinctly surreal feel, an object that extends from the floor to the ceiling, curved on one side and straight on the other. Half an arch, elegant and inexplicable, even if it may have been inspired by a detail of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau (originally built in the artist’s domestic living room). It adds a sense of scale to an already lingering sense of innuendo.
Privacy and domesticity appear as odd subjects as visitors take snapshots with their phones. Maybe the idea of tyranny has shifted to another realm? It’s absurd, but to stay on the point and focus, I need to enable flight mode on my mobile. Even if I wanted to, it’s impossible to flee this contemporary melancholia. It’s autumn, it’s cold outside, and it feels good to be inside, with my own world of interiors. And to look out of the window.