Even as the year draws to a close, there is still time to see some of the standout shows of 2017. From intimate Polaroids by Wim Wenders to an immersive mist installation by Ann Veronica Janssens to major solo exhibitions by Zach Blas and Haroon Mirza, we have put together a handy overview of the artists and exhibitions currently on display in London and Berlin.
Until 11th February 2018
“Polaroids were all about present tense. They were each time unique, singular, one-off,” Wenders intones over a nostalgic short film that accompanies the first comprehensive exhibition of his ‘Instant Stories’ – that is, his previously unseen Polaroid archive. It is a rare treat to see personal shots, holiday snaps, famous faces and behind-the-scenes frames from some of his best-known feature length films. Over 200 of Wenders’ Polaroids are on display, fleeting, diaristic and poignant. Multiple American landscapes reveal Wenders’ fascination with the USA’s back roads and highways, from roadside diners to cars on the move.
Significantly, Wenders returns in the exhibition to his 1974 film Alice in the Cities, as he recalls how Polaroid agreed to loan a prototype of their very first camera as a vital part of the movie’s narrative. The film’s photo-obsessed protagonist could be seen to mirror Wenders’ own fascination with the immediacy of the Polaroid, and the director describes the allure of the “act of producing an instant memory.” At the time, the camera was a technical marvel. In our modern age of social media, and specifically Instagram, the physicality of the Polaroid is all but lost. However, the original intimacy and thrill of the act of taking an instant image remains with digital cameras and smartphones. In a nod to this connection, Wenders also chose a single iPhone photo for inclusion in the accompanying exhibition catalogue. As he concludes, “Polaroids were the last outburst of ingenuity of the analogue age and a go-between, some sort of missing link, to our present digital age.”
Until 16th December 2017
Light is a tricky ‘material’ to work with, and yet – when done skillfully – work with light has the power to transport the imagination of audiences far beyond the confines of the gallery space. Brussels-based Ann Veronica Janssens is an artist well known for her work with light, but what sets her apart is the sheer precision that defines each of her immersive installations and minimal sculptural pieces. She is a puppet master of our perception, adjusting each element at will. Her last major outing in London was 2015's immersive Yellowbluepink at the Wellcome Collection, where shifting colours, undulating lights and mist came together to create a show far greater than the sum of its parts. The same can be said of her recent exhibition at White Cube, and her current installation at Esther Schipper Berlin.
At White Cube last month, two large glass panes could be seen coated with an almost luminescent surface reflect visitors back into the room. It was as if an Instagram filter had been added in real life, all haze and dreamy colours. Janssens is undoubtedly aware of the profound impact that the digital world has brought about, in life and in art. Since the 1980s she has questioned how we engage with the world around us, often through the simplest of gestures. At Esther Schipper, she introduces a new iteration of her iconic mist installations, to create an experience that is at once disorientating and liberating. At a time when so much of our experiences are mediated online, it is a refreshingly present reminder of what is right in front of us. Janssens opens our eyes to the here and now – and her work demands to be seen in person. Go, if you can.
Until 17th December 2017
Photo by Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection
Haroon Mirza’s major new exhibition is a disorientating, multi-sensory experience. The imposing 19th century former chapel that houses the Zabludowicz Collection has been transformed, its unique architectural form accentuated with flashing LEDs that line its swooping ceilings and balconies. The illuminations keep rhythm with the distorted beeps and sound collages that have become a trademark of Mirza’s work, as if the vast space were being played like a remarkable outsize musical instrument. It is immersive, bewildering and utterly beguiling.
Mirza plays with our expectations and our perception, taking inspiration from diverse sources, from psychoactive drugs to works by artists Rachel Maclean and Stan VanDerBeek, whose films are displayed in the exhibition alongside other works from the Zabludowicz archive. The exhibition builds upon itself in layers of sound, image, text and more, exploring the varied possibilities for collaboration as creative practitioners are invited to produce new works within it. One new commission, Chamber for Endogenous DMT, stands out from the rest, stripping away the show’s many sensory layers in order to reach an alternative level of consciousness. It takes the shape of a sensory deprivation chamber, cutting off all noise and light to leave each visitor in temporary isolation. It is a surreal, out-of-body experience after the visual and sonic overload of the other works. Sitting alone with nothing but your thoughts, it doesn’t take long to realise that this final piece in Mirza’s expansive exhibition offers respite too from the noise of the world beyond the gallery. It is a rare moment of calm.
Until 10th December 2017
An endpoint to the internet is imagined in Zach Blas’ major new commission at Gasworks, as we are transported to the year 2033 in a sci-fi film and installation. Silicon Valley control is omnipresent following decades of deregulation, and the online world has become indistinguishable from the real world. Blas’ film opens just after the collapse of the internet, as a young prophet teaches new ways of living that escape the repressive principles of the ‘Silicon Zone’ that they have found themselves under.
Blas is interested not only in how our online habits shape our behaviour as a society, but specifically in how minority communities can organise in the face of the growing hegemony of the internet. In a nod to Derek Jarman’s 1978 queer-punk film of the same name, the work is titled ‘Jubilee 2033’, and it is indebted to Jarman’s radical focus on counter-culture communities. The exhibition forces us to confront the hidden forms of control that lie behind our idle online browsing. Blas’ surreal and dystopian vision, in which clicks are bought and sold by governments and corporations, warns of what may be our not-so-distant future. For those not in London, the exhibition will be presented at Art in General, New York from January to March 2018 and at MU, Eindhoven from May to July 2018.