Currently: You Are So Many
CURATED BY MARCO BRUZZONE at Skalitzerstr. 64, Berlin
Reception: Saturday December 11th 2010, from 7pm
Open hours: December 12th - 15th 2010, 2 - 6pm
Its somewhat exotic (southern Peru!) provenance notwithstanding, the potato is not a particularly noble vegetable – indeed, the potato could well be called the proverbial proletarian of the food Reich. [I can’t help but think here of Peter Sloterdijk’s notorious characterization, in his magisterial Critique of Cynical Reason, of the anus as the proletarian of all body parts: “The arse is the plebejan, the grass-roots democrat, and the cosmopolitan among the parts of the body – in a word, the elementary kynical organ. It provides the solid materialist basis. It is at home on toilets all over the world. The International of Arses is the only worldwide organization that has no statutes, ideology, or dues. (…) The arse crosses all borders playfully, unlike the head, to which borders and possessions mean a lot.”] In fact, the potato is so plain and common a foodstuff that it is hard to imagine the Middle Ages, those dark times of brutal commonness, without them – but that’s how it was: Solanum Tuberosum was only introduced into the European culinary sphere in the second half of the sixteenth century, one of many gifts bestowed upon the motherland by the newly discovered and colonized American colonies. [To continue the scatological imagery invoked in the Sloterdijk quote above, it is worth noting here that gold, that other great gift of the Americas, was often referred to as “sun shit” in many indigenous cultures of the Precolumbian era.]
I haven’t known Rachel Carey’s work for that long, but for as long as I have known it, potatoes have been a constant presence in it – in one fondly remembered moment spent in Carey’s studio, I even spotted one mounting an oversized equestrian statue – and I have of course long wondered what this long-standing love affair with the potato really means. Is it an expression of Carey’s deeply felt (I’m not going to say ‘gut-level’) socialism – her guilty sympathy with the downtrodden or ‘little’ people, the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, the homeless and tempest-tossed”? Leaving that question unanswered, huddled masses certainly do figure quite prominently in her work (potatoes are plentiful: there really isn’t such a thing as ‘one’ potato – not in the same way as there is, say, ‘one’ artichoke), and one reason why I was drawn to Carey’s practice in the first place certainly concerned the visual intelligence, one which deploys potatoes as bonafide sculptural elements, with which she handled the subject of the individual’s – the artist’s? – fraught relationship with the multitude, the vagaries of group psychology and “crowds and power” (to paraphrase the title of Elias Canetti’s well-known study of crowding phenomena) being one of her main ‘political’ concerns, also within the context of, or with regards to, the art world’s reliance on the perpetuation of certain power structures. “You are so many” is no innocently chosen title, nor is the centrality of an image of a seemingly leprous Egyptian pharaoh in the exhibition without meaning (the artist has confessed to having been preoccupied, of late, with leper colonies) – in fact, what ever is?
And then, of course, there are the haikus, testament to the artist’s fine writing abilities, her ruthless talent for distilling the various essences of group behaviour, and, more importantly still, general sense of artistic economy. How ironic, with regards to the above discussion of power, that (arguably) the world’s most powerful Belgian, a compatriot of mine called Herman Van Rompuy – who has been compared, in front of the European Council he so valiantly chairs, rather unfavorably with a damp rag – should be fêted as an accomplished composer of haikus (my personal favorite: “Hair blows in the wind/after years there is still wind/sadly no more hair”). This leads one to wonder: how do haikus and power relate to each other? And how do both in turn relate to potatoes? I am not hoping to elicit an answer from this exhibition of Rachel Carey’s work, but I can make a couple of wild guesses egged on by it. A deftly sculpted ensemble of seventeen syllables will do to enthrall and enslave any mass – of vegetables and people alike.
Text by Dieter Roelstraete