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German artist’s unique exhibition shows ‘Something Else is Possible’

Mar 23,2020
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German artist Tobias Rehberger’s solo exhibition, “Truths that would be maddening without love,” opened at Gallery Baton, central Seoul, on March 18. It is scheduled to run through May 13. [GALLERY BATON]
Artists often shift their perspectives as they create a new work, whether it’s simply tweaking an existing idea or stepping back to view it from a new angle or distance.

But for German artist Tobias Rehberger, he takes an all-of-the-above approach.

The moment you step into Rehberger’s latest solo exhibition, “Truths that would be maddening without love” at Gallery Baton, central Seoul, it begins. Visitors must open five doors (wearing a latex glove provided by the gallery to prevent the spread of the coronavirus) to reach the highlight of the exhibition at the end of the hall, but they’re not just there for kicks. On each door are graphics that read, “Something Else is Possible,” while the walls are covered with photographs of an object that’s zoomed in heavily, and a scenery shot that’s similarly zoomed out.

“To my experience there is always something that is not quite the way you think it is. So when something produces new ideas and knowledge, it almost automatically produces other questions and problems,” Rehberger explained in an email to the Korea JoongAng Daily. He was scheduled to meet with the Korean press last week but was forced to urgently return to Germany as European airports closed.

“It’s really a pity I could not stay,” he said. “The first thing I would have wanted to say to you is be open, be surprised and be happy about the fact that you might not understand everything at the first moment.”

The key to enjoying the exhibition is therefore to grasp the idea of transition - both rationally and emotionally. The title of the exhibition refers to just that: Truths refer to notions and reason, while love stands for emotion and sentiment. It’s a take on “the dialectic between something conceptual and emotional that one cannot exist without the other, or at least is meaningless without the other,” according to the artist.

After going through the five doors, visitors arrive in a small room filled with 3-D-printed objects that have little slots for cigarette butts on them. Rehberger created the objects from images he randomly found through the internet and then created the ashtray slots to give them the functional twist. How did he twist his perspective on ashtrays? He fast-forwards to 100 years in the future, when everyone will stop smoking - seeing the global trend in people’s concerns for health.

“When I was a child, there were ashtrays on every table of a restaurant, and every 4-year-old knew what it was,” he said. “Nowadays that’s not the case anymore, so the ashtray transfers from a functional common object to something quite special and a mainly abstract object. I find the process of that change of perspective very interesting.”

The exhibition ends with three installations collectively titled “I am trying to listen to what I say.” In the three parts - “Me,” “You” and “It” - Rehberger’s voice asks random questions to the audience, like “Are you afraid of the poor?” He urges people to answer to themselves.

Having won the Golden Lion award at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, Rehberger is often described as a “cross-disciplinary” artist who crosses boundaries between genres and borders. But he says it’s just his way of questioning himself through art.

“I am not really interested in ‘crossing boundaries,’ even if everybody would write that for the rest of all time,” he said. “What I am interested in is exploring and using ideas and strategies of all kinds of fields and seeing how that would function or work in the field of art. Most questions in the field of art haven’t even been asked yet.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]