Isa Melsheimer’s der unerfreuliche Zustand der Textur (the predicament of texture) at the KINDL Centre of Contemporary Art
By guest writer Sarah Magill
In these unusual times, in which mask-wearing and distancing have become the norm, I sometimes have the feeling that life itself has turned into an art exhibition. Or perhaps my culture-starved mind is just projecting itself onto my environment.
Either way, last weekend I was delighted to be able to break my art-fast with a trip to the Berlin KINDL Centre of Contemporary Art in Neukölln, to see the latest exhibition of Berlin-based artist Isa Melsheimer.
For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting the KINDL gallery, it’s worth a trip just to see the building itself. As the name may suggest to Berliners, it’s a converted brewery, but it has been rendered into an impressive industrial monument which is now home to artistic and cultural events. And with whitewashed interiors and plenty of hand sanitizer at the reception, it certainly didn’t feel like there were viruses hiding anywhere in the building.
I followed the impressive exterior staircase of concrete and glass right to the top, where I opened the door to the world of Isa Melsheimer’s der unerfreuliche Zustand der Textur (the predicament of texture).
Upon entering the exhibition, one walks straight into a multi-tiered drape entitled Slothrop, where an image of the artist emerging from a morass wearing a bejewelled and charred, pink, knitted hat floats in the centre. The hat itself is waiting around the corner, displayed on a pedestal and amusingly entitled Facekini. Melsheimer’s work is significantly influenced by science fiction, popular culture and the works of feminist scientist Donna Haraway who anticipates the need for new relationships between humans, machines, animals and plants. Slothrop certainly gave me the feeling of entering such a world.
Just beyond the curtain lies the most striking element of this exhibition – a 300kg ceramic whale heart. The piece transports us to the tiny North American Island of Fogo, where the artist took up residency on a scholarship in 2017. On the gallery’s website, Melsheimer explains how she became enchanted by these animals when she saw one leap from the ocean from her studio window on the island. Her fascination led her to discover that coincidentally, in 2014, the heart of a whale from Newfoundland had been sent to a world-renowned taxidermy company in Brandenburg to be plastinated.
Melsheimer recreated the heart in three replicas and, if you peer into their interiors, you will see the supporting structures which were used to make the ceramic casts. The artist decided to leave the scaffolding inside the whale hearts to create an impression of internal architecture, thus incorporating her art’s prevailing theme: the interplay between architecture and urban landscapes and human and animal life.
Her experience on Fogo Island is also documented in the work Curtain (The Year of the Whale), a piece of fabric which hung over her studio window overlooking the ocean during her time on the island. She used the fabric as a type of diary, sewing the lines of the waves she saw at different times on different days and capturing the animal and plant life of the island in intricate embroideries.
One can even see living fragments of Fogo Island, in the Wardscher Kasten (Fogo Island) – glass boxes containing fern and moss grown from seeds collected by Melsheimer during her residency. These installations are just two in a series of the artist’s work with such boxes, which were originally developed in the 1800s to display exotic plants captured from the British colonies.
There are thirty-two individual pieces on display at this exhibition, from ceramics, needlework, work with reinforced concrete to exquisitely coloured paintings. I was astounded by the sheer breadth of Melsheimer’s skill with different media, even before I turned a corner and discovered what, for me, was the piece de resistance: the video artwork, Wasserballet für Marl.
In this short film, six unisex dancers clothed in swimming attire, designed and created by Melsheimer, perform a graceful ballet in the water basin in front of the thoroughly brutalist town hall in the west German city of Marl.
It was bizarrely beautiful and made me laugh out loud, particularly as the dancers descended the steps in animal heads in Thriller-like movements.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an “art fan”, if you go to see Melsheimer’s exhibition at the KINDL, I guarantee you too will marvel at the range of her skill and definitely leave with a smile on your face (even if it is underneath a mask).
Kindl – Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst
Am Sudhaus 3, 12053 Berlin