Thursday, July 8, 2010

Prinzip Zufall at Kunstagenten, Berlin

While I was in Berlin, I really got a kick out of Romeo Grünfelder’s exhibition “Prinzip Zufall” (or, “The Principle of Chance”) at the gallery Kunstagenten. I had never heard of Grünfelder before. He has an interesting bio. While he works in mixed media today, he has a strong background in film and Classical Music. The former took him all over the world, from Hamburg, to Bangalore, and to the Pacific Palisades as a visiting fellow at Villa Aurora.

The exhibition is full of art-experiments, an unusual form which I really enjoy. Each of them deal with principles randomness and chance. One of the most successful is “Untitled Experiment,” composed of two photographs, a logbook, a pen, and jars of melted snow, which documents attempts to telepathically influence the path of falling snowflakes. The smaller of two photos shows an area divided into two fields cleared of snow. In and of itself, it is an absurd and beautiful image. As snow fell, Grünfelder would try to mentally direct the flakes into the left field. The snow was methodically collected, stored, and measured in labeled jars, the results recorded by hand in the logbook. Evidence from the experiment is accompanied by a huge, glossy C-Print that captures a space-like image of snow the nanosecond before it hits the asphalt. It is evident that the snow is randomly distributed across the photograph.

In another playful series, Grünfelder telepathically communicates the contents of a found image to his mother. Both the image and her description are brought together within a frame. Some of the text is predictably inaccurate, but others are so similar that you doubt the honesty of the experiment. Such doubt is the most serious challenge to the success of the works in Prinzip Zufall. However, it does bring to light that audiences are uncomfortably vulnerable to artists.

“Eisenbahnexperiment” is perhaps the most disturbing work in the show. In it, a model train runs along two tracks, an inner and outer circle, joined at one junction point. A random number generator determines whether the train will take the inner or outer track. If it ends up on the outer track, it passes through a photoelectric barrier that forcefully reverses the direction of the train, damaging its motor. Once it reaches the switch again it is set aright on the inner circle. The most interesting aspect of the work is the data projected on the wall. Each time the train takes the inner or outer track, this is plotted on a graph in real-time. It becomes clear that the train takes the less-harmful inner track more often than not. Despite the switch being controlled by the random number generator, an improbable causal connection is implied between the train’s tendencies for self-preservation and the route it takes.

As a former researcher in the philosophy of film and media, a crucial point for Grünfelder is that all this relates back to art. In any artistic endeavor, chance plays a role. If an artist cannot justify some of his or her decisions, does this affect the way we view the art? All in all, while it was playful and absurd “Prinzip Zufall” is both a conceptual and an aesthetic success.

Prinzip Zufall is on view June 10 through July 17, 2010 at Kunstagenten Gallery.
Linienstrasse 155
D - 10115 Berlin