Friday, 9 December 2016, 24:00 | midnight

#80: Assaf Gruber

Assaf Gruber’s artistic practice, which encompasses and simultaneously deconstructs a variety of media, is both gestural and performative. It is a form of speech ­– a poetic manifestation of intimacy, the confession of a Beckettian author. Gruber’s simultaneously metaphorical and allegorical configurations in space are landscapes of thought, oscillating between anxiety and the unfulfilled desire to conquer the sculptural confines and decipher the unconscious grammar of human behaviour through a collection of “sculptural gestures”. By investigating interstitial and liminal areas, the artist sets out on a quest for identity, driven by the nostalgia for narratives of lost paradises and the unadulterated joys of childhood. Gruber’s masterfully orchestrated work relies on a dramaturgy which encompasses all aspects which are so crucial to his sensitivity – instability and balance, fragility and vulnerability, precariousness and disequilibrium. Its provocative stance may in turn be attributed to the fact that it is, ultimately, a portrait of a troublesome and disquieting “awkwardness”, which unexpectedly yet deliberately reveals itself as the artist’s favourite agent of transgression. – Adam Budak

Assaf Gruber presents:

Story of a Scared State, 2016, 27 min (world premiere!)
“It is not only Zionists… It is in your blood to take control!”. A Chinese art restorer fingers at a Polish museum director, who is begging him for a credit. ”We are no Jews”, she replies, “we just run the museum of their history.”

Assaf Gruber’s new theatrical performance, Story of a Scared State (2016) takes place in Wólka Kosowska, a center of wholesale trade the largest in Central and Eastern Europe that was founded by Chinese businessmen in the early 1990’s. The warehouses, located near Warsaw, serves as a symptomatic ground for the artist’s investigation into the exercise of power.

Representatives of the POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews need to negotiate an urgent shipment of a memorial of the famous Polish World War II resistance movement fighter Jan Karski* that was vandalised with the art production company Red Dawn – funnily named after the Hollywood 84 blockbuster about world war III.

From the sake of Art to dead national heroes (Polish, not Jews!) – Whatever it takes to argue against the same answer, that comes over and over again: “You pay, you get, you don’t pay, you don’t get.” In this awkward Brechtian battlefield, where the politically correct does not lie where we expect it, Gruber confronts us with politics in actu. Because politics occur out of place – as Jacques Rancière puts it, “when the boundary separating the political from the social or the public from the domestic is put into question”.

Binding, 2011, 6min
A father and his son find themselves alone, naked and lost in the Golf Course of Caesarea. They seek a way to ease the tension that seems to accompany their relation with the landscape.

The dichotomy between the awkward aesthetics of the contrived nature of the Golf Course and the latitude of the naked bodies creates a phantasmagoric tale about the relation between religious myths, modern culture and human desire to mark territories.

The Anonymity of the Night
Shifting boundaries are played with in the Anonymity for the Night (2015) series, through a constellation of uneasy recollection stories. We penetrate into the sensory organisation of a self – someone’s home, the objects that she admits in it and that reflect her status. For the programme of Videoart at Midnight, the two last parts of the series will be shown (the Guardroom and The Right): A Flemish young artist, and a troubled museum guard bring us along an intimate stream of memories. Meanwhile, like an uninvited guest, the camera inspects every nook and cranny, pressing each object with its interrogative gaze. Soon enough, our guest’s monologue reveals a lump. The story of an encounter splits the closed-up universe and pervades it altogether. An event takes shape – an annoyingly minuscule one. There is no warning, no dramatic consequence; only disruptive encounters that make one’s world tip over. “I enjoy dreaming about myself as a sculpture on which no limits are imposed” – for the retired guard, it was the discovery of Polish avant-garde sculptor, Katarzyna Kobro’s work. Kobro believed that sculpture was about closing off space. Yet, “we should beware of any further closing”, she writes, “as we might seal the shape, consequently severing it from the rest of the sculptural zone.” Gruber films seem to function are like Kobro’s sculptures. Through narratives of dissent, he opens vents in plastic space-time continuums that disrupt their inward order.

The Guardroom, 2015, 10min
Femka is a young artist who used to work as a nurse in a plastic surgery clinic. She gave up her medicine studies in order to be an artist. She tells about her first visit to the old Masters Gallery of Dresden paying particular attention to a striking conversation she had with an old security guard in the Caravaggisti room.

The Right, 2015, 12 min
A 73-year-old security guard from the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden writes a letter to the director of the Muzeum Sztuki of Łódź, requesting to volunteer as a security guard there.

The fourth in a series of short films entitled “The Anonymity of the Night”, The Right is a fictional story framed by historical sentiments. The ostensible reason for the security guard’s wish for a transfer – apart from her personal history as a Polish-German refugee in the 1940s – is the Łódź museum’s collection of avant-garde pieces by the “a.r.” group (“revolutionary artists”, “real avant-garde”) from the 1930s, one of the most renowned leftist Polish avant-garde groups of the interwar period, which she values much more highly than the old masters in the Caravaggisti room in Dresden, where she is currently placed.

Assaf Gruber (b. 1980 in Jerusalem) lives and works in Berlin. He studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-art, Paris and at the Higher Institute for Fine Arts (HISK), Ghent, Belgium.