Stefano Faoro and Michaela Schweighofer
at foundation, Vienna
October 17 – December 16, 2020
Poetry is not just something sweet — and when we say an exhibition or an artwork is ‘poetic’ we definitely do not mean to draw attention to an outpouring of emotion or lyrical I’s feelings. At most, the term is helpful to situate what we see away from the mainstream, spectacular or easy to signify. The word saying so much in context because it says so little on its own, not unlike other denominations such as ‘cinematic’, ‘dramatic’ or ‘gothic’ that seems to have come back in vogue right now. Using another adjective altogether and taking its cue from a certain type of mystery writing, Stefano Faoro’s and Michaela Schweighofer’s Half-lit World labels itself after this shady subgenre of the ‘hard-boiled’ 1 detective story, an additional graffitied Sneaky Kids in a framed sign hanging outside, above the entrance of their duo show at foundation, as a subtitle of its own.
Which half-light, what kind of sneakiness the announcements communicate, as clues to Schweighofer’s and Faoro’s two-headed work of fiction, might be the first questions this exhibition asks. Once you have passed the sign and walked into the foundation —an artist run space whose name plays with the Kunstverein’s nonprofit nature on the one hand and that of a stabilizing structure on the other— onto Schweighofer’s slightly raised floor, as high as the last step down, nearly entirely filling the first of the two room show. Like a platform or plateau, but with a huge circular opening toward the center of the dark laminated plywood, so that both the support she has installed and the one under it are always competing for first stage. Darkness. The room and the hole in the middle are faintly illuminated by three lamp pieces made for the exhibition out silk scarves and glass Ikea vases and, collected, drilled through, cut up and repurposed, suspended from the ceiling like colorful lilies growing upside down, not towards the sun, but a light onto themselves.
To the right of where you enter, in a twisted version of the others, a fourth lampshade work seems to have taken to the floor (an angel fallen), with a battery-charged torch inside it pointing out the Dior scarf it used to be — fading the brand as we speak. But of course, the lightbulbs are dying too.
The other room’s fluorescents are dimmed, here too all the windows are covered, a sudden reminder you are in fact not in a basement but only halfway under the ground. There is no other source of light except for the three small screens on each one of the walls, emitting faint lowres images as if the colors have been pulled out of them: a car attempting to drive through a tunnel of snow, headlights and windshield wipers on max, an infrared camera parsing an air duct, surveillance shots inside a ventilation shaft, and a burning, hardly moving candle — to the tune of overlapping soundtracks, submerged, then resurfacing almost loudly and alive, of awkwardly regurgitating stomach noises uploaded by YouTube users, a music box, children chattering from afar… Three parts of a video, but also a video in three parts, each with out-of-scale cut-outs pasted onto the wall next to them — of the ‘sneaky kids’ — of all colours and races, all with only Pampers and shoes with swooshes on, the appellation and their images taken from a vintage black and white Nike advertisement, as if from another time and universe. These boys and girls of yore, who would now be about the same age as the artist(s) exhibiting, turn into sketchy silhouettes when the short, looped videos restart, looking at nothing in particular, not really at the screens, not even each other. A disconnect that puts back the sneaky in their name, and precisely what is so haunting about them.
For all that is apparently so different about the two spaces: where against the sombre film noir of Stefano Faoro’s pieces, the veiled light of Michaela Schweighofer’s lily lamps is almost technicolor, but the small, isolated baby figures in the one room and the enormous erratic shadows the lilies cast in the other, nonetheless, seem to project an equally strange, other existence. Unexpectedly filled with hope, for a world where half-lit does not have to mean half-dark but also a turn to the opposite, away from fictionally organized crime (as in the novel genre referred to) and, these days, fake news, conspiracy theories or climate change denialisms.
A portrait of the artists as sneaky kids: the tension between two distinctive phantasies of the underbelly, meeting in a hole eerily bigger than the sum of its parts. That the works in these double rooms could have been two exhibitions and that there is a large element of could-and-would to pairing the artists2, doesn't mean they are not two moths attracted to the same flame: this process of trusting themselves and each other, knowing that they could have burnt their fingers, that the exhibition coaxes out of them. Like his films that go nowhere but do not give up looking, Faoro’s rephotographed words and figures that edit out the original poster’s background, function as the inverse of Schweighofer’s opened platform, with seemingly nothing under it but another empty floor. (A brick surface with the old manufacturer’s LS baked into them, greeting the reader like a wishing well.) 3 The silk lamps do not only highlight themselves but point to the fact that looking into the light directly you will not see anything — a blind spot on the ground. Branded by the cetacean corporations whose names and logos pop up everywhere and have become almost a part of ourselves, the found footage these artists work from takes the form of cultural self-analysis. And if cutting and splitting, splicing and sewing together again are forms of directing, this show and its hyphenated title seem to direct us to learn from looking back.
At best when the two artists’ works look at each other in this way, from their distance, but together apart, when you walk from the one room to the other and back again, a little elevated, it is not about the obvious differences, what could have been, or the drama that didn’t happen: when you see that the exhibition is not a murder mystery unsolved but sort of an unrequited love, a very well-missed chance.
Photos by Sophie Pölzl and Flavio Palasciano.
hard-boiled, ‘of, relating to, or being a detective story featuring a tough unsentimental protagonist and a matter-of-fact attitude towards violence’, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hard-boiled ↩
A proposal to collaborate by foundation member Jennifer Gelardo. ↩