The Tent Lady’s Hospitality, video still, 2008, Icelandic Love Corporation
It is said Heinrich Boll’s love-letter to the west coast of Ireland, Irisches Tagebuch (1957), brought innumerable numbers of Germans to the region in the latter part of the last century to “play truant from Europe”. Different, but commonly pervasive myths about the particularities of place, draw innumerable artists and cultural practitioners from all over the world here to Berlin. One of the new arrivals is Ard Bia Berlin, a sister-enterprise of Ard Bia gallery in Galway, from the same region of Ireland that Boll once wrote so lovingly of, albeit now a radically different place in all meaningful regards.
Ard Bia Berlin offers a studio residency which has attracted a large interest from Irish artists wishing to practice in the city for a short length of time. In addition the space hosts a gallery exhibition programme, currently showing the work of the Icelandic Love Corporation, who are momentarily also resident in the studio apartment. The show is entitled The Tent Lady’s Hospitality, and is structured into two parts. In one gallery room, an installation; the other hosts a single video work representing a staged performance. The Icelandic Love Corporation’s practice has a strong performative dimension, and Arb Bia Berlin’s co-ordinator (Rosie Lynch) informs me that for the opening weekend they performed in the first gallery space. I won’t attempt to write of their performance background, largely because I am frequently non-plussed by performance in general – or more correctly, fairly ignorant of both the history of the form, and personal experience of good examples – but also because I am more interested in the fact that I missed that aspect of the exhibition.
For the installation simultaneously contains aspects of the tableau, the mise-en-scene, and qualities of the relic. There is a here-ness in the considered materiality of the objects that inhabit the space: inflatable balloon-chairs reminiscent of 70’s Spacehoppers, a mirrored medicine cabinet that seems to hold both a dress (or tent?) repair-kit and a disposable camera, a bizarre crocheted pair of leggings on the wall. A silver tea set and serving tray is positioned in the centre of the room under a fabric canopy, whose gaudy red and white striped patterning is repeated on all the walls. There is a distinct creepiness in the (literally) rose-tinted perfection in the space, and its allusion to old children’s film and television. In fact, something about it reminds me distinctly of the 1968 film Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, and I look over my shoulder half-expecting the Child-Catcher to come though the door. I remember how my own childhood fear of the film arose not just from this isolated character, but also the entire creepy, colour-co-ordinated, and garish claustrophobia of the fictive Vulgaria.
On closer inspection, the silver tray of the tea set reveals the inscriptions of an Ouija board.
My co-presence with the objects is temporally disrupted by a sense of the to-be-ness and the there-ness within the installation. There arises, via the theatrical composition of the space, a notion of being in a place awaiting activity: a kind of empty anticipation. Simultaneously there is a sense I am witnessing the aftermath of something: an action, a performance. I remember a critique of Roman Signer was that his sculptures were merely relics of his far more potent actions. I don’t see this dynamic as a devaluing mechanism. I think there is richness in the dissonance between objects being both contemporaneous and residue. But there is certainly a tangled but forceful feeling here, and it is synthesised from my sense of having missed a thing (an event), the relentless ubiquity in the stylisation of experience, and the childhood references strongly present.