On ‚Air‘ by Clara Halpern

Air Installation by Jenny Brockmann, curated by Clara Halpern, German Consulate, New York, May 8-31

Nobody looks at the moon in the afternoon, and this is the moment when it would most require our attention, since its existence is still in doubt…. It is like a transparent wafer, or a half-dissolved pastille; only here the white circle is not dissolving but condensing, collecting itself at the price of gray-bluish patches and shadows that might belong to the moon’s geography or might be spillings of the sky that still soak the satellite, porous as a sponge. —Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar, 1985

Mr. Palomar, Italo Calvino’s collection of short stories, follows a figure that spends time looking at the moon in the afternoon sky, or watches the waves in the ocean, trying to isolate a single one. It is an attempt to look at conditions that are difficult to observe because they make up the fabric of what surrounds us, the phenomena that underpin everything yet recede into the background because of their all-encompassing nature.

Jenny Brockmann’s site-specific installation at the German Consulate in New York, AIR, has similar stakes in drawing attention to phenomena that often go unnoticed. Brockmann’s recent work takes up spatial and temporal perception and considers the ability of urban planning, architecture, and works of art to alter perception. Part of a body of research concerned with how the brain interprets and constructs reality through the observation of space and time, this exhibition builds on several facets of this investigation to consider the role of natural cycles such as light and temperature in urban settings.

AIR, a site-responsive project installed in the gallery and mezzanine of the Consulate, brings together two installations and a series of drawings. WINDOW, 2014, a projection on the rear wall emits an ever-shifting light, synched to the hours of daylight in Berlin, mirroring the existing window and architecture of the space. This projection points to an elsewhere, but an elsewhere that is connected to this site, embedded in a building in Manhattan that houses various German organizations and businesses. Brockmann is interested in initiating a dialogue with those who will see this work on a daily basis at the consulate; in the period preceding the exhibition, she has taken up the space of the notice board in the elevator to pose questions, daily prompts for images that could form a portrait or an affective thermometer of the building.

In addition to conveying these shifts in light throughout the day, the exhibition includes STONE, 2012-2014, an installation that responds to modulations in temperature in Berlin. The weather stone is made up of two granite diabases, quarried from the Hohwald region near Dresden. As the temperature shifts, an air pocket between the stones expands and contracts causing the upper stone to rise and fall reflecting weather conditions on another continent in real time. The act of bringing a stone from Germany to New York is slightly out of sync—an anachronistic gesture, since so much of the stone used for building in Berlin now originates in other countries. 

CLOUDS, 2014, a series of stippled ink drawings of clouds, are records of observation and memory. Drawn over a period of time in both the artist’s studio in Berlin and her residency at ISCP in New York, their origins are not identified; unhinged, they could be from anywhere or any moment. Through the dislocation of both time (light) and climate (temperature), and the stratification of several sets of conditions, the exhibition creates a temporary heterotopia, a site of dual meanings that is neither here nor there. A heterotopia is disturbing because it troubles language, naming, and syntax. The introduction of light and temperature from another site generates a state of connection yet paradoxical distance.

Artist Gordon Matta-Clark has described the process of “undoing a building,” as a process of pulling apart existing enclosures and their conditions. The work in this installation builds on previous engagements with architecture in Brockmann’s work, such as Shy Room, 2011, a room that engaged sensors to open and close its entry ways in response to visitors to the exhibition and Alignment, 2011, a series of responsive rooms nestled within rooms. Similarly to the Situationist dérive, a practice of using different tactics to explore, negotiate and move through the urban space of Paris, these works gesture toward a set of unsaid rules that architecture puts in place and the possibilities to respond in ways that go beyond the expectations or conventions of those conditions. Through recording, gathering, displacing, and undoing, the transposition of conditions from Berlin to New York offers pause to consider the architectural systems that frame and shape this relationship.

It is challenging to address systems that are so pervasive, and even more difficult when these systems have an enmeshed feedback loop within them. To isolate a wave, or see the moon in the afternoon sky, something needs to shift or be displaced—the light from Berlin needs to appear in a window in New York that didn’t exist, or the climate of Berlin needs to be enough to move the weight of heavy stones.

Text by Clara Halpern, curator and writer based in New York and Toronto.

Jenny Brockmann is an artist based in Berlin whose work has been exhibited internationally. She is currently Artist-in-Residence at ISCP, International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York.