With Commercials, Mosques & Ceramics, Kunsthaus Baselland presents the first institutional solo exhibition of the German artist Manuel Graf in Switzerland.
Graf graduated from the Art Academy in Düsseldorf under Magdalena Jetelova and Rita McBride. His work has been shown in solo presentations at the Kunstverein Hamburg, Etablissement d’en face in Brussels, at the Kunstverein Göttingen and at the Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach. Likewise, Graf’s work was shown in numerous group exhibitions, including ICA London, MOCA Taipei and the Kunstverein of the Rhineland and Westphalia in Düsseldorf. Manuel Graf was already seen at Kunsthaus Baselland in the exhibition Golden Agers & Silver Surfers.
His solo show at the gallery spaces of the Kunsthaus Baselland is accessible through two entrances: a staircase leading to the room in which the latest film let music play?, 2012, is shown in an installation setting. The other staircase leads to the billboard-like video installation commercials for Jan Albers, 2013, and a presentation from neolithic memory stick, 2012—13.
Manuel Graf’s work consists primarily of film projects, which are usually presented in the form of installations, but is also supplemented by object arrangements and assemblages. As regards content, he is interested in the great questions of human existence, such as the development of mankind, or the origin of art, architecture and craft, and last but not least, he questions how we live as human beings, what entices us and convinces us visually.
One of these fundamental questions is picked up by the latest film let music play? Therein Manuel Graf examines room categories and spatial dynamics in architecture. In the style of documentary instructional films, in the first part of the film, the different spatial dynamics between a longitudinal building, a concentric central building, an all-side, infinitely continual portico and a Persian four Iwan mosque are explained. Using illustrations and animated ground plan and elevation views, we learn that our line of sight in the buildings is either focused forward, towards the centre, in an infinite grid or, in the most open variant, in the four cardinal directions. In the second part, the film renders the contents of the previously shown in video clip style with music, thus applying an advertising strategic perspective, which enables the viewer to compare the first version of the mediation with the second. The apparently objectifying presentation in the instructional film style and the lively, musically supercharged version, are in opposition to each other in their effect on the viewer and secretly ask everyone which version he favours and at the same time, why he prefers it. The third part of the film regards itself as an appendix and in the style of footnotes gives references on thematic technical literature. Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris is cited just as Hans Belting’s Florence and Baghdad, the specialist in Islamic architecture Ulya Vogt-Göknir has her say alongside the famous architect of postmodernism Robert Venturi and the architecture professor Martin Speidel. As recipients, we obtain further literature and the initial samples of complex subject matter.
In the latest film commercials for Jan Albers, produced particularly for the exhibition, Manuel Graf created a promotional film for his fellow artist Jan Albers’ works. Graf thereby animates the selected artworks and describes their production process in a promotionally affirmative manner. ‘Glossy’ surfaces, detailed camera angles and animation techniques play with our viewing habits and tempt us to ‘want to possess’ what we’ve seen. Graf is aware of the ‘oddity’ of being the author of a promotional film for a fellow artist and with this film also poses the question of success in the making of art. For, while his fellow artist was widely received by the art market, the situation is different for Manuel Graf. His work has a tense relationship with the market, which certainly has to do with both the choice of the medium as well as the choice of discerning topics.
If his films find it rather hard to assert themselves on the art market, possibly the ceramics bearing the title neolithic memory sticks may have a chance. Manuel Graf presents us with a number of these ceramics, arranged on USM Haller glass showcases. Just as he, in his films, moves through the history of the times, the architecture, etc., the ceramics too are interspersed with references to different periods and styles. Compared to the sophisticated themes of the films, the ceramics touch upon an understanding of the craft. They moreover take all these references with a touch of humour and pass it on to us recipients. The question is, by what are we enticed of — by the complexity or by the surface? By both? Graf challenges our habits of reception and makes sure that the art can be viewed always from a new angle.
Text by Sabine Schaschl