The fire glimmers on the island where, until a few months ago, the iridescent arc of "Light Lab" by Olafur Eliasson shone. Flames burn on the roof of the Portikus building in the heart of the city on a thin strip of land covered with wild and spontaneous vegetation in the middle of the river Main.
A text in white chalk on the concrete wall, visible through the glare of the flames on the kunsthalle roof, burns like the leaves that feed the fire. Walking along the bridge that crosses the river leading to the only possible entrance to the building on the island, high above our heads we notice the presence of a beam of light coming from a nondescript building along the shore and landing on the museum roof. The flames and text turn out to be a circular projection on the small piece of exhibition architecture. These images are Douglas Gordon's contribution to the show on exhibit inside.
In fact, the "You Like This Garden?" project is revealed to the visitor crossing the threshold of the Kunsthalle as a system of correspondences between the pieces on view but also, and above all, as a web of relations between the artists themselves.
As in the past, the Portikus - founded by Kaspar König in 1987 as an exhibition space connected to the Staedelschule, one of Europe's most interesting schools of art and architecture - not only hosts exhibitions but is conceived as a place for encounter and fertile exchange among artists. The kunsthalle architecture is simultaneously an extension of the school space itself and is thus an incubator of ideas and thinking, a platform for exchange, as well as an independent organism – a cell within the European and global system of art. The screenings of three films made by Ross Birrell and David Harding between 2006 and 2009 - Cuernavaca and Guantanamera edited to create a new installation, and Port Bou - occupy the museum space. The correspondences between the pieces unfold throughout the show, exploring the artists' biographies.
David Harding, founder of the pivotal "Environmental Art Programme" at the Glasgow School of Art, was one of Douglas Gordon's teachers in the late '80s, while Ross Birrell is now professor at Glasgow. Over the years, the professional paths of Douglas, Ross and David crossed; there were too many similarities and affinities to not think of working together once again. Intersecting and reversing roles and generations, Gordon's passion for the work of Birrell & Harding is transformed into concrete form through the production of their film "Guantanemera" (2009), with the help of the agency that he founded, the "lost but found". The Staedelschule tradition has professors show their work at the Portikus but "You Like This Garden?" is effectively more than an exhibit of individual works and more than a meeting between three artists. It explicitly reveals complex thinking about the atypical format of a kunsthalle located on the edge between the system of art and the world of education, between a city of banks and the natural landscape. In fact, the Staedelschule is located the heart of a city that is a key player on the European economic scene but is simultaneously characterized by an unusual location for an exhibition space: an island covered with trees and wilderness, an inaccessible habitat that is as central as it is distant from Frankfurt's public spaces and flows.
The island's very nature - the theme of the Garden as a transient and mysterious paradise - is one of the cornerstones of the project, a node in the relationship between the different pieces on view. The film Cuernavaca: A Journey in Search of Malcolm Lowry revolves around images of the two Scottish artists in Mexico exploring the footsteps of the British novelist Malcolm Lowry, who wrote his most famous work, Under the Volcano, in Cuernavaca. Between fiction, historic reconstruction and document, Birrell and Harding's film explores the genesis of a novel that describes the protagonist's slow march towards death, consumed by alcohol, expressed in a complex, symbolic, allusive structure in which the confine between life and death is ephemeral. In Birrell and Harding's reconstruction, Cuernavaca itself is a paradise suspended between beauty and horror, threatened and at the same time rendered magical by the disturbing presence of the volcano. "Why is it yours?...Do you like this garden?" the main character asks in Lowry's novel. Birrell and Harding cite the same questions in their films. And in this way, Gordon's piece in the show takes its cue from the metaphor of the garden.
The visitor to the Portikus crosses the kunsthalle offices to reach a small back staircase giving access to the wild part of the island. A concrete wall, painted by Douglas Gordon himself, bears the same ambiguous questions about the Garden, written in German. Before the opening of the exhibition, the artist lit a fire with wood and dry leaves collected on the island. Next to that wall, the flames began to consume the words in white paint. A camera filmed Gordon throughout the operation and the same camera shot the burning flames. The circle closes with the images projected on the building roof. Visible from many parts of the city, they introduce and close the path of the exhibition and its intertwining narratives. The protected nature of the island of Portikus echoes the lush greenery of Cuernavaca. If, on the one hand, the Garden is a threshold, an enclave on the edge of life and death, so the entire project for the Portikus is manifested as a web of correspondences and collected stories, read and re-told between flashbacks to the past and the present. As if the kunsthalle and its island were lit by the plot of a novel.
You Like This Garden?
Until 22 January 2012