July, August, September
St Apernstrasse 13, Cologne 14 August – 24 September
A year and half back, I was prepared to switch cities: from Milan to Berlin. I’d been living in the latter but was forced to return to Italy by the announcement that the airports would close, due to the increasing spread of an illness that, admittedly, I had only followed distractedly on news aggregators. I thought I’d be back in Germany in no time.
Instead, it wasn’t until last winter that I’d had enough of the endless alternating lockdowns and reopenings and took to the road: no flyover banner pronouncing ‘The End’ was ever going to appear in the sky. By then, we had grown accustomed to the undoing of finite units, rigid demarcations, predictable tomorrows, weekends, and were entering a new, slippery and boggy ‘now’. The French philosopher Henri Bergson distinguished between time, the standard convention measured by clocks, and durée – the perceived ‘inner time’ that lengthens or shortens according to subjective feeling. The demarcation lines between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ were becoming blurry, and the pace of my relocating was my personal way of reasserting them.
July, August, September – a nomadic exhibition project by curators Carla Donauer and Martin Germann, organised by the nomadic artistic initiative Hospitality – touches on this collectively felt disjuncture between, or mixing up of, these two Bergsonian times, and the melding of oine and online much debated in an art sector deprived of fairs and fake smiles. The presentation embraced logistic delays, and works were added according to dierent ‘deadlines’. Thanks to its maintaining seemingly disparate microgestures in a self-contained and cohesive system, it is among the best exhibitions to address the times we’re in. Even if it doesn’t flaunt it. The exhibition takes its name from American art dealer, curator and conceptual art theorist Seth Siegelaub’s 1969 project, in which he invited 11 artists to realise a work of art in dierent parts of Europe and North America during the self-same three summer months of that year. The timeframe was not meant as a constricting container. Among others: Carl Andre presented a work also included in a partially overlapping exhibition in The Hague; Joseph Kosuth invited viewers to see his works in the personal residence of dealer Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf; Daniel Buren’s work travelled to various Parisian locations that were announced time-by-time in periodical publications for the duration of the show; and Lawrence Weiner threw a ball at Niagara Falls.
The 2021 exhibition – held in a space in central Cologne during the interregnum between what was a tailoring store and what is about to become a handicraft shop – shares with its forerunner the idea of an arbitrary time period as a loose frame, a device to draw attention to apparently marginal and unrelated activities. Patricia L. Boyd, in Ceiling Analysis (2021), reproduces from memory, as a drawing, a frottage on tracing paper she had made of the ceiling in her psychoanalyst’s oce in New York. The work was done twice (Fedex lost the first iteration in Paris), so it is perhaps a memory of a memory that absorbed, by extension, conscious and unconscious tales and ruminations from the artist’s life into an ornamental form. Some artists have focused on the location’s repurposing as a possibility for mimetic intervention: Shimabuku has partially covered one of the street windows with newspapers from that summer (July, August, September 1969, 2021); Ko Sin Tung asked the curators to drill a hole every day at predetermined points along the wall (Minor Touch, 2021); David Horvitz sent a piece of his Los Angeles garden to be grown wherever possible on the pavement in front of the exhibition space (Untitled, 2021).
Obligations and obstacles seem to be another obliquely prominent theme: Phung-tien Phan speaks of social reproduction by presenting sculptures of a modernist-style playhouse and an altar made of waste materials (both Untitled, 2021); Michael E. Smith’s cryptically enchanting security-camera video of the empty interior of an unspecified public institution emits extremely high frequencies audible only to animals and very young humans; Phyllida Barlow’s documentation of her destroyed Nightworks series (1982–83) – which arrived during the last week of the show, just like a sculpture by Sarah Ortmeyer, Monster (2021) – recounts the dicult balance the artist had to find between motherhood and artistic work.
The durational aspect of Siegelaub’s exhibition manifests itself in the most direct and referential form in Yuki Okumura’s work 11 Locations And 11 Intersections in Cologne from the 5th to the 7th of July 2021 (2021), which created a miniaturised imitation of the map of the works belonging to the 1969 exhibition. In Yuji Agematsu’s ‘calendar’ , 02.01.13– 02.28.13 (2013), a showcase of compositions of objects found during long daily walks is sealed in the cellophane of cigarette packets. If the reader will forgive me for returning to an exhausted theme, July, August, September captures the ephemeral spirit of the moment – the bizarre passing of time, rethinking what’s good, living with incomprehensible impediments, the return of interest in things considered minor – without the proclamations or didacticism imposed by the dogma of thematic exhibitions. It’s not ‘about’ something but rather encapsulates the paradigm shift we are experiencing with a grace and curatorial acumen that I have not found for a long time. But, then again, it’s hard to say how long.