Considering its theatrical title, there’s surprisingly little conflict in “Domestic Drama.” Rather than focusing on interpersonal relationships, this large-scale thematic collective exhibition, currently on display at the Halle für Kunst Steiermark, explore how, at Quote exhibition literature, we interact with objects as “representatives” of [the] wishes and desires that shape our identities”. While the idea that we buy consumer products based on want rather than necessity has been around since the early 1960s – curator Cathrin Mayer quotes psychologist Ernest Dichter strategy of desire (1960) as an influence – the covid-19 pandemic and associated confinements have arguably only deepened our relationship with our possessions, making “Domestic Drama” a very contemporary endeavor despite its multi-generational focus.
Anthony Gormley’s Homepage (1984) sets the scene. Now nearly 40 years old, this life-size model lead sculpture of a man with his head stuck inside a doll sized the terracotta house carries a renewed urgency at a time when vast expanses of world population have been in solitary confinement for two years. Behind this, initially blocked from view by a circular wall installed by Bruno Zhu, who created site-specific display architecture for the exhibition, is a series of sculptures made from found objects that s span decades. Like with Gormley’s trapped man, each work speaks of proximity and distance. Get too close to Aram Bartholl Pan, tilt and zoom (2018), for example, and its three motorized CCTV cameras follow your movements until you are out of range. A ringing gray (2008) by Kaarel Kurisma, on the other hand, immediately recalls the bell systems traditionally used to summon servants from their distant quarters to stately homes.
Although ‘Domestic Drama’ was conceived before the start of the pandemic, the spectrum of COVID-19 nevertheless looms large. Olu Ogunnaike’s four-metre chart, Room by room (2021), should have been used host a dinner for all of the staff of the establishment, but social distancing restrictions in Austria meant this performative action – a recurring element in the artists practice – could not go forward. Instead, a few glass of wine stains on the wooden surface of the table reveal evidence of a much reduced gathering, reversing the intent of the installation portrait, according to the literature of the exhibition, of “sociability and conviviality”. Although isolation is an unintended theme in Ogunnaike’s work, it is more explicit in a neighboring 16 mm film by the Graz duo Nigel Gavus and İlkin Beste Çırak. Title It’s a day like this … (2021), this sometimes tedious (though entirely relatable) cinematic essay follows a woman who – much like the protagonist of Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2018 novel My year of rest and relaxation – has completely retreated into the domestic domain, choose to sleep all day or interact, albeit passively, with one’s belongings.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Choose not engaging with the outside world is, of course, a privilege very few can afford. With echoes of the 1975 documentary night cleaners via Berwick Street Movie Collective, Larry Achiampong’s The eviction (2019) remembers a period in the 1990s when the artist accompanied his mother in her nocturnal cleaning works in London’s financial district. Screened in one of the basements of the Halle für Kunst rooms, which can only be reached by crawling through another by Zhu architectural talks, Ayo Akingbade Dear Babylon (2019) likewise forms its focus on the normally invisible members of London’s working-class communities. Use a story center around a fictitious housing bill this would forcibly displace residents of the east London estate in which they currently live, from Akingbade pseudo-documentary highlights how, in many parts of world, the idea of the home as a sanctuary is only accessible to those who can afford to buy one.
“Domestic Drama” is on view at Halle für Kunst Steiermark, Austria, until February 20, 2022.
Main picture: Aram Bartholl, Pan, tilt and zoom, 2018 CCTV surveillance cameras, cables, variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist