By May Lim
In a vast room of white, silhouettes of pure black pose against a multitude of converging lines. One, cut with a narrow but sensuously curved torso flaring out into thick planes of shards, appears frozen with a frame of arms as if in a perpetual en haut posture of dance. The other, not unlike a chess piece, stands stoic, stern and hollow-faced, playing audience to the other. Their bodies, so precisely cut, are strikingly unnatural and verge on the grotesque. Soft forms and sharp shapes alternate, abruptly and aggressively straightening out into space. Like shadows straight out of a cubist drawing, these monolithic creatures appear strangely graphic in a world of form and reality.
Behind them, a black line takes a walk on white walls. Ropes, twined, draped and stretched taut, draw the elaborate space of an imagined beyond, pushing past the physicality of the gallery. Perceived dimensions seem to recede into a more infinite expanse. In cutting the white and dividing it, the ropes create a larger space within the same walls that restrict them.
Julian Göthe’s works incurs an inexplicable undercurrent of caution that could possibly mount into a ridiculous sense of paranoia; we almost expect these static sculptures to twitch, move or react to us. Yet even as they remain motionless and impersonal, there is an otherworldly intrigue to Göthe’s creations that convinces us that we might catch a glimpse of life if we were to only squint hard enough.
Arabesque and at once arresting, Göthe’s works are as beautiful as they are like prima donnas ostentatiously demanding attention from the viewer. The presence imbued in these sculptural forms is undeniable. Their towering size intimidates and the precision of form serves to visually tempt, and looking becomes an act of indulgence. But these glaringly dramatic forms seem to posses a greater appetite than to merely beguile.
Göthe’s Various Works revolves largely around the deliberate and unabashed juxtaposition of polarities. He does this with a surprising ease that is difficult to reconcile. In an animated walkthrough supplementing the installation, heavy architectural forms rest impossibly on soft floating clouds while baroque framed doorways stand on the rigid geometry of square tiles alternating in black and white. For one, it would seem as if he has already achieved the Holy Grail of the artistic ideal, straddling antiquity and modernity effortlessly. Between ornament and function, attraction and repulsion, object and entity–these polarities do not flow into one another gracefully, but rather, brutally alternate between one another like an exquisite corpse of contrast and contradiction.
Ironically though, even as Göthe’s works speak about polarities, the same could be said about the numerous reactions garnered from his exhibition in the Singapore Biennale 2011. While I was one of those who stood in the gallery visibly awed by Göthe’s work and examining his works with the utmost reverence, there were others whose responses left me confused and slightly enraged. Apart from the predictably indifferent and the mildly interested, there were two middle-aged women whose behavior drove me to a state of consternation.
Engaged in their own conversation, these women paid little attention to the black sculptures that loomed above them. They had walked into the gallery like they would to a shopping mall, and it was as if the act of looking at the work had become an offhand gesture. They then proceeded to whip out their compact cameras, posing next to the sculptures and taking snapshots like tourists seeing the Merlion for the first time.
This situation was so singularly strange that I was caught off guard. I was unsure as to how to react because the value and respect that I sought to give Göthe’s work suddenly seemed irrelevant and laughable. For one, these women were hardly perturbed by the bizarreness of Göthe’s sculptures that I felt was unmistakably present. They seemed delighted to say the least, at the opportunity of a good weekend photograph standing next to these unidentifiable but pretty-looking objects. Had they completely missed the point the work, or was I merely reacting like how any academic prude would? Is there such thing as an ‘inappropriate’ way to react to an artwork?
To those who appreciate or belong to the art world, the art gallery has always been a space imbued with a certain sense of sanctity. While there are those who stand by this belief and their unspoken rules, there are others who scoff at or are ignorant to them. If there was one thing that the ‘Open House’ has revealed, it would be the rift between the differing types of audience it attracts.
This is probably more evident in the case of Göthe’s works, which evidently carry an ambiguous and amorphous aesthetic that can be read as both theatrical and threatening. This opens up the possibility of the work being appreciated differently, be it solemn and academic or breezy and touristic. In combining what is vastly dissimilar, the differing elements of Göthe’s works are in turn emphasized and amplified.
The same can probably be said about how biennales, in attempting to widen its accessibility, only brings to attention the foolishness of that ideal. And while I express my dismay at these two women’s lack of respect towards a piece of work I genuinely favor, I cannot deny the fact that the ‘Open House’ has in a way, achieved its aim in getting anyone and everyone to appreciate art, at least in the case of Göthe’s work.