How do we construct reality? What role do individual and collective memories play in its formation? To what extent can reality and memory be rendered in imagery? These questions are central to Christian Haake’s artistic practice.
Christian Haake (born 1969 in Bremerhaven, lives in Bremen) constructs memories. Transforming his memories and mental images into precisely detailed objects and installations, Haake’s productions tap into our collective memory, shaping a new image of reality in the process. His concern lies not with the verisimilitude of his works, but with their divergence and the fracture which separates reality, perception and mental image. The rich poetic potential of his works is directed not towards the affirmation of memory, but towards its subtle destabilization. Haake’s work foregrounds the power of memory to generate reality, suggesting that memory, in all its inexactitude, might communicate a “more truthful” image of reality than reality itself is capable of producing. Working without recourse to such aids as photographs or detailed sketches, Haake’s art-making is open to and indeed flirts with the effects of divergence and slippage, resulting in images which are new yet intrinsically coherent.
While these constructions are grounded in memory, Christian Haake’s works are simultaneously distanced from reality by their minute size and are quite obviously not intended as direct representations. For his “White Elephant” exhibition at the GAK Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst Christian Haake has created a scale model of an abandoned 1960s-era store front. The model engages in a dialogue with the exhibition space, transforming it into an extension of the work. Haake’s abandoned store front is the site of a plethora of potentialities which shimmer below the surface. Visitors to the gallery will be able to enter this near life-size model, emerging as protagonists in an ever-unfolding situation that marks both a threshold and a transformation. The minimal disparity in its scale is almost imperceptible, and testifies to Haake’s skilful employment of the model as a means to distil and compress reality. And yet, as a model his work is a sketch of reality, revealing, in the words of Michel de Certeau, the “otherness of everyday life” (1). The detailed components of this abandoned space – its colour scheme, door handles and fractured glass – conspire to form an almost picture perfect simulation which compresses reality into its stark confines while circling a void. The accessibility of Haake’s shop marks it as a veritable threshold, a moment of transition in which the past forms a tangible presence and the diverse possibilities of the future already glimmer on the horizon.
The abandoned store at the heart of his exhibition is complemented by a collection of works which explore similar themes in a carefully choreographed web of allusions.
The first of these works – consisting of a frame and an ensemble of golden quadratic forms – is Blister. Created in 2010, this is the only work on display which was not created especially for the exhibition. This formality aside, Blister reflects the exhibition’s fascination with the relationship between memory and emptiness, and demonstrates Haake’s ability to draw out the power of objects not simply by recreating them from memory, but also by revealing the inherent power of found objects in all their banality. The glittering surface of Blister is reminiscent of miniature gold ingots and infuses its paper surroundings with its sublime aura, but the reality is decidedly more quotidian. Blister consists of nothing more than run-of-the-mill foodstuff packaging. Supermarket packing trays for salmon to be precise… A closer inspection reveals that the decorative lines marking the edges of the trays are merely scorch marks caused by the laser used to cut out the forms. Blister cunningly undermines all the expectations it so carefully nurtures, leaving us with nothing more than leftovers…
The precise order of Blister‘s quadratic frames is reflected in the framed work in the adjoining niche. A newspaper clipping is the centrepiece of this work; a picture apparently torn in passing from a newspaper, the text neatly folded away from sight to foreground the atmospheric photograph of a large, empty hall. The sober tone of the architecture makes it difficult to pin down its location or period. Nor is its purpose readily apparent; the building might once have been a warehouse, a bunker, or even a supermarket. But its neutral finish stands in stark contrast to the heavily atmospheric style of the image. The caption below the photograph has a poetic flourish that is far removed from the sober style of newspaper writing: “ein Auszug: weißer Hallenboden“. Suddenly everything seems to be charged with meaning. Unsurprisingly, the clipping is no mere chance finding, instead Haake has carefully composed the entire situation down to the most minute detail. The newspaper clipping is in fact a photograph of the original model for his work Weiße Halle (also showing at the exhibition) reproduced on newsprint. The floor depicted in the photograph is fashioned not from tiles; instead it has been carefully sculpted using packaging materials similar to those used in the creation of Blister. The caption was composed especially for the image, while the seemingly incidental folding of the paper was carefully orchestrated to negate the two-dimensional character of the paper and transform the clipping into an object. The large frame, which breaks with the banal form of the newspaper clipping, is the exact same size as an unfolded copy of the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung or FAZ. As for the accompanying text…
On entering Haake’s installation, visitors to the exhibition leave behind them the neutral lighting of the anterior exhibition space, to step into a space charged with atmospheric lighting effects. The film White Elephant will be projected onto the rear wall of the GAK throughout the exhibition and is already visible through the display window of Haake’s store front installation. The film follows a tracking shot through an abandoned shopping mall, as the camera meanders past row of row of empty shops along a seemingly endless walkway. White Elephant is a looping labyrinthine vision of infinite urban abandonment that eschews narrative. And yet, as with Haake’s other works, White Elephant is reality imagined rather than its unmediated portrayal. Indeed, for “White Elephant” he created a precisely detailed model of the situation and used it as the set for his film work. Created from memory, “White Elephant” is an allegorical vision of failed dreams. “White Elephant” – the title of both the exhibition and the film – refers to an item of value which the owner cannot dispose of, has no use for, and which costs more to maintain than its actual value. In South-East Asia white elephants were once a symbol of power and wealth whose high maintenance costs could make a beggar of even the wealthiest, while in Western Europe the term is now commonly used to refer to the abandoned ruins of failed investment projects – shopping malls in particular – which litter our landscapes.
In the adjoining side room Christian Haake’s wall piece Weiße Halle (white hall) offers yet another succinct vision of abandoned architecture as a time capsule and threshold. In this work, Christian Haake has etched his vision of the passage of time into the floor of a scale model of a warehouse: tiles of various shapes and sizes suggest a variety of uses in the past, while the occasional well-preserved specimen in the worn surface hints at the original layout of the space. Haake’s eye for detail and commitment to his vision lend the work a painterly quality. Here again he has sought to tease out and reveal the fracture which separates reality, perception, and collective and individual memory. The quadratic order of the flooring tiles links Weiße Halle with Haake’s piece Blister, located at the entrance to the exhibition space. And once again, foodstuff packaging has provided the raw material for this creation. There is a direct link between Weiße Halle and the newspaper clipping in the niche adjacent to the entrance: the photograph in the clipping depicts Weiße Halle at an early stage in its creation. In Haake’s work the start is integral to the ending and each component to its companions.
“White Elephant” is Christian Haake’s first institutional solo exhibition.
(1) Michel de Certeau, Kunst des Handelns, Merve Verlag, Berlin 1988.
Janneke de Vries
Christian Haake. White Elephant (exh. cat., ed. J. de Vries, GAK, 2011)
Christian Haake: 1 – 5 Untitled, 2016
Christian Haake, annual editions 2008
Fr 20.05.11, 8 pm
Thu 02.06.11, 7 pm
Thu 23.06.11, 7 pm
Stephan Berg, Christian Haake: The world as a Model
Thu 07.07.11, 7 pm
Ralf Bohn: Illusion – Reality – Simulation. Constructions of Scenic Narratives
Thu 21.07.11, 7 pm
Guided tour with Janneke de Vries
Sat 28.05.11, 6 pm –1 am
Long night of museums
Thu 15.09.11, 7 pm
Jim Jarmusch: Stranger than Paradise (1984)
The Senator for Culture, Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, Art Fund Foundation, Prize of the Friends of HFK University of the Arts 2009