« Worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is a remaking. »
Ways of Worldmaking, Nelson Goodman
Alexandra’s Hopf new solo show The Night takes place in a rather unusual exhibition space: home, a residential flat located in Schöneberg, Berlin. Three works are displayed in the flat's corridor and living room and refer to the œuvre of sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti.
The first work Space time suits for Giacometti exhibited in the hallway consists of a replica of a text by Giacometti and a series of eight black and white photographs featuring him arm wide open in a minimal tailored overall. In pursuing her exploration of art history and its forgotten stories, Hopf has replaced Giacometti's original outfit by reconstructing them using her own paintings as fabric. The original overall, called Tuta, was designed by Italian Futurist Thayaht1 as a functional item accessible to all, yet it became a fad for the Florentine bourgeoisie. Through the alignment and the symmetrical reiteration, Giacometti’s figures end up forming a farandole. Even though the outfit cuts are similar and contribute to the obsessiveness of the repetition, their motives differ from one image to another. Once passed into sepia, they are reduced to thin white lines from which a sort of cosmic composition emerges. Reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, they call to mind a spider net.
The reproduction of Giacometti’s story The dream, the Sphinx, and the death of T. hangs further down the hallway and introduce the photographs. This text written in 1946 was originally published in the journal Labyrinthe. In the first part, Giacometti steers the reader into his own panic state by describing a frightening dream scene in which a spider dangles on top of his laying head. He wakes up before realizing another spider of different appearance is lurking around. The full original text interweaves imaginary scenes and recollections in a surrealistic way. It travels back and forth in time and space and blurs dream with reality.
In her version of Giacometti’s dream narrative, the artist has modified the ending in order to create a loop effect. The anecdote ends and restarts in the moment Giacometti believes he is waking up, suggesting a perpetual return to the dream and transforming this garish experience in a maddening vicious circle. Its atmosphere echoes the psychedelic-like motives of the overalls.
Further on, atop the living room’s door, hangs the neon piece Sphinx. The eponymous red neon inscription is framed above and beneath by two white arrows indicating opposite directions. In this work, Alexandra Hopf recreated the original neon sign of the Sphinx, a mythical brothel of Paris 30’s and 40’s, adding an antithetical opposing lower arrow. Known for its exotic decorum, the place used to gather many celebrities of the Parisian intellectual and artistic life. Giacometti was present the last night before the closing on October 6th 1946, which lead him to write The dream, the Sphinx, and the death of T..
On the opposite wall of the neon piece hangs the work The Night, after which the exhibition is titled. It consists of an unfolded poster depicting a replicate of the pedestal that was supposed to present Giacometti’s eponymous sculpture The Night (1947). Instead of the sculpture, a halo of light underlines the absence of the missing work. The poster stands as an omen for a fictive future exhibition, while alluding to the past by means of a spectral appearance.
In this new body of work, like in her precedent series, Alexandra Hopf investigates the œuvre of a key male figure of Art History. Through cleverly orchestrated operations, the Berlin artist bridges between historical sources and productions, and the present of her own practice. The perfect expression of this self-referential back-and-forth is embodied by the two arrows that enclose her piece Sphinx. Oriented respectively towards a possible future and the past, the symbols bring to mind the stylized representation of a Janus reduced to its essence. Moreover, the artist's care and commitment in the reconstruction process reinforce this temporal duality while blurring its clues and boundaries.
The intermershing of references as well as the correspondence of recurring elements add to this confusion in space and time and by doing so resonate the atmosphere of Giacometti’s dream. The works recover a fictional dimension that plays, like his text, on the uncertainties of memory and imagination, which both produce images "removed from the real." 2
Beyond its interest for individual memory and psychoanalysis, Alexandra Hopf’s work questions the construction of Art History. By revisiting the œuvre of renowned artists of the Surrealist, Constructivist or Minimalist avant-gardes, it underlines the prevalence of male figures in its narrative and investigates the creation of myths, as well as the discourses that tend to define the identity of an artist.
Basing her work upon a careful erudite research, the artist tracks down less know historical facts and objects like nuggets. She displays traces and « relics»3 of predecessors before making them vanish again at will. In her practice, the meticulous exploration of stories and History diverts to a loss of bearings, and thus offers the beholder a baffling experience within which the works never completely depart from their enigmatic aspect.
1 Thayaht was the pseudonym of the artist and designer Ernesto Michahelles (1893–1959). In 1920, he created the Tuta and published its pattern in the newspaper La Nazione so that it was accessible to a larger public.
2 “Voluntary memory (Proust repeats it ad nauseam) is of no value as an instrument of evocation, and provides an image as far removed from the real as the myth of our imagination or the caricature furnished by direct perception.” Proust, Samuel Beckett, John Calder, London, 1987
3 The term “relic” (“survivance” in French) refers to George Didi-Huberman’s book The Surviving Image: Aby Warburg and Tylorian Anthropology on Aby Warburg’s seminal work.