Kristina Buch “EXECUTION SEMANTICS for a necessary criminal” at Kunsthalle Bremerhaven
“If meaning is a construct, a zero can turn into a one can turn into a two”
0110100010101 and so on. The sequence has been running this way for a long while. Exactly for how long, I do not remember. It must have begun way before I started sensing and thinking. In fact, I do not recall anything before its time. Perhaps it has always been there. The digits run their course, on and on, permeating matter and thoughts, through and through, one zero one, and so on. They are programmed that way, and how could they run differently, if the sequence has been clearly decided. Unless. Unless you introduce a virus, a necessary criminal in an extra-moral sense.
In programming language, execution semantics are the orders fed into a system, the meaning created by the implementation of what has been written, if not in stone, so in code. The title “EXECUTION SEMANTICS for a necessary criminal” of Kristina Buch’s exhibition at Kunsthalle Bremerhaven cannot be reduced to a single understanding. On the one side, it may hint to a rigid system running its predetermined course without deviation. On the zero side, it may point to beheadings. The blade falls and a body, a notion, a concept stops being a whole. At the cut grows a mutation, a necessary criminal, a state, an individual, perhaps the artist herself, weaving a web of questions.
Near the counter at the entrance of the exhibition, an A4 standard-sized frame hosts two black-and-white photographs, a dyad within one work. Both images show a woman’s right hand held up close to her shoulder, her thumb, index and middle fingers forming a gun pointing upwards, iconographically reminiscent of the Christian benediction gesture. As if referring to the digital’s own historico-mythological digit/finger, one image shows the front and the other one the back side of the gesture, shifting gracefully between benediction, aggression and insult, between history and the day we currently inhabit. The work is titled Judith. In the Deuterocanonical Book of Judith, the heroine of the narration can enter the tent of the Assyrian general Holofernes because of his desire for her, and decapitates him to save her home town Bethulia he is about to destroy. In contrast to Salome, who as a child requested in cold foolishness that John the Baptist be decapitated in service of her mother’s grudge against him, Judith’s reputation is that of a heroine. Divides become blurry, the binaries between feminised sexuality and male aggression collapse. Can a zero merge with a one?
The main exhibition space is empty and seems completely untouched. But here, in delicately brutal fashion, a part of the body of the room has been cut. Buch removed the handrails and three lowest steps of the stairs leading to the upper, floating gallery. The gesture of removal introduces a small shift, not a major material alteration, yet a significant change in the function and hence the reading of the room’s body. Since the upper gallery cannot be accessed any longer, a pseudo-private space is created within the public space. A spatial censorship occurred, which creates and decreates simultaneously.
The notion of removal cuts through Buch’s oeuvre. In the work untitled (holes), the composer and musician Iko Birk played a score that was left behind by the artist’s grandfather, who had worked on it for his entire life. The man, who stopped speaking at the age of seventeen and never returned to oral language, had meticulously created a score with small colourful drawings, words and few musical notes. When he deemed it complete, he went on to erase the writings, leaving the papers wounded with the gaps of erasure. Buch decided to ask Birk to perform the score at Kölnischer Kunstverein during one night only. I didn’t attend, and nobody else seems to have witnessed the performance. Then again, googling the name Iko Birk doesn’t give many results, and birk, the tree, translates to Buche in German. Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps an example for how Buch (note the closeness of the names), pulls away the ground and railings we think are solid reality from below our feet and hands.
In her recent installation It’s normal that reality happens. (these games will fall apart) commissioned by Arte Merano and BAU, Buch created an abstract gamefield, where white local marble, a material the area is known for, is laid as lines into the lawn of a public park in Merano. The passer-by might wonder whether Buch cut a standard gamefield into pieces, removing parts and leaving the lines to float into new constellations to play on, creating a framework for a fictitious game, the unknown rules of which might only have a fleeting existence. The work, conceived as a permanent installation, intervention and ongoing proposal, suggests imagining different games transcending the limits of possibility of a field stretching somewhere between the past and today, pressing towards and beyond rigid delineated systems, creating a situation that the artist describes as an ongoing “already but not yet”.
Covering the cloakroom in the passage between reception and right wing of Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, a curtain held in black and white, like the photographs, appears to have suffered a glitch. It shows the top horizontal tips of the heads of a word cut off, then multiplied and shifted slightly along the vertical axis to achieve a new ambiguous semantic, a pattern shifting between the abstract and concrete, visually reminiscent of op art. The fabric was woven with the Jacquard technique, a late eighteenth century invention that paved the way for automatic production of unlimited varieties of patterns. While weaving reveals a necessity of a constant covering and revealing of information, here of threads, the big invention was the control mechanism that automatises the patterning. Once the machine has been programmed, it runs its due course, just like a code. Yet, since the Suffragette resistance, the “primitive” connotations associated with textiles in the “West” have become unsteady and weaving has become noted as a practice defying categorisations between inside and outside, male and female, zero and one.
In the adjacent space, a 25-minute video work allows a glimpse into the everyday life shared between the artist and a chicken. The white bird is crossing the pane of the camera, pecking crumbs from the floor as Buch is eating breakfast. The scenes are little spectacular, yet full of strange and sensitive detail. The cohabitation seems well attuned but forever foreign. Buch bought the chicken three years ago. Her original plan was to live together in an exhibition space for two months, and to prepare a chicken bouillon during the finissage for the gallery visitors to enjoy. However, the bouillon, which necessitated an execution of the chicken at some point, was cancelled out of moral reservations by the institution who had initially commissioned the work. The video, titled One of the things that baffles me about you is that you remain unmurdered., seems to be the silent and poetic summary of a two-month project turned into a three-year project, yet, the end remains ambiguous. The simple decisive question of dead or alive, zero or one, is not resolved. The video is an eternally alive loop. Stills of the video and a written report that Buch finally ate the bouillon of the chicken with her lawyer on a weekday’s meeting, were included in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) Grossformat, a format dedicated to artist contributions, last December. Last minute before printing, the newspaper consummated a decapitation by cutting the title of the work from the headline above the contribution. The censored and original newsprint, as well as an email conversation between Buch and the editor-in-chief of the feuilleton, whose acronym coincidentally comes down to Frau S.Z., accompanies the video and traces the argument, a conceptual and witty egg dance about censorship, curating and the danger of an attempted and impossible assault on a conceptual work like this. Buch unlocks and steals, gently kills and eventually releases the discussed notions – like a necessary criminal.
Buch is in search for an outside of the zeros and ones, and understanding of the digital beyond its reduced definitions, which concerns a finger/digit as much as weaving, censorship and the death or non-death of what could be seen as Schrödinger’s chicken. Just like the glitches in the curtain, she builds narratives that try to pierce through the codes programming our reality. In weaving truth and fiction, subtraction and addition, her works destabilise divisions. Buch’s work reveals the rules we adhere to as constructed, and thus written in sand rather than stone. If meaning is a construct, a zero can turn into a one can turn into a two.
at Kunsthalle Bremerhaven
until 31 July 2016
Video interview about video the work in Merano here.