in memory of an art review gone astray.

A quotation from the late star of Soundcloud Rap, Li’l Peep, accompanies the press release for Haptic House, a group show at Horse and Pony Fine Arts curated by Penny Rafferty and positively chockablock with excellent works by emerging and legendary artists. While Soundcloud Rap and its Gucci Gang of stars isn’t particularly distinguished for its lyrical sophistication, the lines from Peep, wherein the word “lonely” appears eight times over six lines bespeaks the ways in which the mind perseverates over a given idea until it writes itself into one’s consciousness. What may look from the outside like mind-numbing repetition can look from the inside like a soothing mantra to quiet an uneasy spirit. It’s all in the arrangement, one might suggest. The notion of a haptic house, in which objects are arranged in order to elicit tactile responses, could describe any exhibition really, so what makes Rafferty’s intervention into the unique interior geography of Horse and Pony (a former butcher shop) so distinct? Penny, how haptic is your house? 

The answer is pretty haptic, actually.  As Casey Jane Ellison’s amusing art-comedy web series, Touching the Art, alludes to in its title, the desire to reach out and grab an artwork can be as frustrating and allusive as it is consuming, happily, or haptically, the art touches you in this exhibition, a case in point is the sculptural works of Monika Grabuschnigg whose “So it is a lover who bubble and who foams” (2017), a phantasmagoric construction of metal and ceramic adorned with mouths from which water spouts. The water pours out into a basin in which bubbles form soapy mountains which threaten at times to spill into the room. More than one viewer that I saw couldn’t resist the urge to put a hand in the water or the bubbles as they piled up. 

One could scarcely avoid touching the woks of Nuri Koerfer, whose papier-mâché, resin and styrofoam constructions served as often seats for the viewing of works by other artists as works in their own right. Thus, even the sedentary viewer feels the art from above and below. Koerfer’s works often reference animal shapes, e.g. dogs, crocodiles, sea mammals, and, therefore, they seem almost to have a ceremonial character, evoking altars as much as furniture. Form and function are happily joined in them though, as I spent more than my share of time seated on a Koerfer watching the supremely moving Kathy Acker (and Alan Sondheim) work known as “Blue Tapes” (1972) in which the artists, discuss the tensions, anxieties, and hopes of their relationship. The work oddly seemed to anticipate the rise of ASMR videos in its mixture of the comforting and the uncanny. Rather like the chorus of a pop song, one might suggest, and that would be fitting as my next experience was perching on a Koerfer watching Josefin Arnell’s “Champs” (2018) in which a group of young men and women perform dance routines on what appears to be a rooftop in Korea. The evocation of the aesthetics of K-Pop and its brutal machinery of entertainment foregrounded the wear and tear such forms of mass-audience entertainment wreak on their performers. Arnell’s performers appear to be having fun, but, as they are intermittently shown covered in (one hopes) fake blood, one cannot help making the association with Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Red Shoes” in which the pleasure and liberation of dancing eventually become the means by which the protagonist dies. Thus, the price paid by Li’l Peep, and another musician referenced in the press release, Ian Curtis, returned to the forefront of my thoughts. The recent suicides by K-Pop stars Kim Jong-Hyun and Seo Min-Woo couldn’t help but bring a greater level of poignance to Arnell’s work as well (not least in a month in which the designer, Kate Spade, and the food writer and broadcaster, Anthony Bourdain, were also reported to have taken their own lives). It is, indeed a lonely world, as the quotation from Peep’s “Cry Baby” observes, and sometimes the loneliest place of all is in front of a crowd. Such melancholy sentiments are perhaps at odds with the carnivalesque qualities of Rafferty’s riot of objects, but haptic dynamics cut multiple directions. Sometimes it’s easiest to cry into a funhouse mirror.  

Haptic House

Curated by Penny Rafferty, featuring Josefin Arnell, Nuri Koerfer, Monika Grabuschnigg, Kathy Acker and Alan Sondheim, Zuzanna Czebatul, Claude Eigan, Geovanna Gonzalez, Zofia Kersztes, Leckhaus, Dennis Loesch, Jake Kent, Florian Oellers, Isaac Penn, Przemek Pyszczek, Jack Schneider, Maximilian Schmoetzer, Jonas Schoeneberg, and Rafal Zajko

Horse and Pony Fine Arts

Altenbrakerstrasse 18

12053 Berlin