Modern Mutants

Solo exhibition Galerie Burster
6.2. – 12.3. 2016

As if

As if

rocks 3d plastic

As if

As if

Text Nadim Samman & Anja Henckel, solo exhibition Modern Mutants, galerie Burster 2016

The formal reductions of Holland’s De Stijl would reverberate throughout the history of the twentieth century, crossing oceans to effect movements such as American Minimalism and international currents in architecture. For a Dutch artist concerned with the built environment, such as Braam, the modernist legacy looms large. In previous projects such as City of Tomorrow he worked through the tactile and volumetric poetry of failed urban planning experiments – the dead ends of utopian reduction, rather than so many promised clean slates. Through a series of compelling sculptures, installations and wall reliefs, his ouevre has spoken by splicing together ‘poor’ modern vernaculars to address the wrack of good architectural intentions on the shores of lived experience.With this new body of work Braam’s focus has shifted, from imperfect figures of total design to messy ground. From the skein of built control – the masterplan, with its centripital organization – to neglected fringes. Also, to centrifugal fallout: wastelands, junkspace and street furniture; milestones on the pathway between environmental rationalization and entropy. Specifically, Braam’s new works address Berlin – his home – as a mutable cityscape, hovering between the forms inherited from its exceptional history, its planned future development, and its remaining pockets of undefined character. In a work such as Coordinating traces Berlin, a photo-grid depicting sections of various walls encrusted with wear and grafitti, the artist foregrounds memories inscribed upon the built environment. Elsewhere, in a photo of a brownfield site occupied by an empty billboard, he seems concerned with the possibilities that may emerge from unclaimed spaces. What will be written next on the face of this city?

Braam’s new artistic offerings are also hybrid objects. As If contains a found stone that has been sawn in two; one half replaced by a three-dimensional printed copy of itself. Such an object might be said to fulfill philosopher Noel Carroll’s definition of the monstrous. It is a ‘category violation’; a mutant plastic-mineral. But Braam’s agenda is not to cast perjorative stones. This item, like other recent works, is offered as a metonym for what he considers the ‘hyperreal’ condition of the contemporary metropole.[1] Indeed, his gestures respond to the loosening of reductive strictures ushered in by postmodernism, as well as the laissez-faire eclecticism of contemporary urban design where image and structure are fused – in billboards, facade as screen or photograph, cladding and more. Another part of this multi-object artwork consists of wall-mounted plexiglass panels, bearing printed images depicting parts of a sculpture. The source material – the sculpture – is located nearby, placed on the gallery floor. Through this choreography of elements, distributed across media, As If endeavours to pick apart the hybrid or hyperreal municipal condition – marshalling forms that flatten three-dimensional source material into two-dimensions, and which volumize image conditions.

The prevalence of plexiglass in the works is loaded. It is the ultimate ‘look but don’t touch’ material. One fingerprint, or the lightest overlay of dust, and its pristine surface is sullied. No amount of right angles is a bulwark against the profanation of a smudge. The nullility of Donald Judd’s minimalism – ventured as the cousin of transcendence – needs constant tending in order to be maintained. In Immateriality Within the Effects of Time Braam’s eye for the vernacular fate of modern(ist) materials is again put to work: Plexiglass as a protective layer, a tool for preservation out in the ‘real’ world beyond the white cube. The work consists of a rusting square metal plate, its paint flaking and corroded away in places, that has been wall-mounted. Recovered from a wastesite by the artist, part of it is overlaid with a plexi panel – a section of which bares a printed hue that refers to the original colour of the metal plate. Braam’s aesthetic gesture serves to highlight the now profaned design concept for the object, while supplying it with a defensive token. Like other works in this exhibition, here Braam stages the uneasy tension between a plan and its realization; between map and territory.

Through his sculptural borrowing of heterogeneous materials and stylistic traces Braam presents the audience with compressions of architectural time – past, present and possibilty, rubbing up against one another. His works press the question of where revaluation and reuse are most appropriate, and where damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory) is perhaps better applied. The latter was a practice utilized by the ancient Egyptians and Romans to destroy any tangible link to the legacy of historical periods with problematic reputations. In the fields of architecture and design today, the future of communal life and collective memory rests in answers to this question.

[1] The term hyperreal is a key concept outlined by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard.