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The Place Beyond One's Prime Gili Tal on Timothy Davies at Sandy Brown, Berlin

94-tal-1 Timothy Davies, "Burnt Before Sunset", 2014

If Speculative Realism is about exploring the Great Outdoors, [1] then Timothy Davies’s show last February was all about battening down the hatches for a night in. Along the back wall of Sandy Brown hung a pair of burgundy curtains covered in sewn-on plastic wine glasses. They set a parlor-like scene at the gallery whose components worked within a deceptively Spartan economy of things found, sought, and modified: An oversize DVD-cum-coffee table stood beside a mock iron chair whose back had been elaborated with a welded-on coat rack. A lifesize DVD player across the room was listed as found by the artist and conveniently came with its plug already severed. In a top corner, an uplighter resembled a bird’s nest, while on the opposite wall were two photographs bound by a sticker of a black heart. The curtains forge a link to Dali’s “Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket” (1936) and by way of Davies’s own brand of budget Surrealism, the show takes on that movement’s maxims on unprecedented conjugations as foil for a greater proliferation of chance encounters, or one’s capacity for faith in them.

A heavier choice than, say, an Italian white [2] , Spätburgunder is a mostly Germanic red wine. Its literal English translation, Late Burgundy, names the curtains, whose faded appearance dispels any ambitions to robustness that the color might yet denote. For these at least, things might be too late already, not that an association with red wine was ever particularly edgy [3] . As go-to ingredients for a night in, wine and a bad film establish a sense of time passing, or of holing up, no drama. This is somewhat tragic in light of the giant DVD, which was emblazoned with the cover of “Before Sunset” – a tromp l’œil effect completed with a convincingly frayed-at-the-edges Video World rental sticker. Richard Linklater’s 2004 film picks up on his prequel “Before Sunrise” (1995), which opened with boy meeting girl on a train. The pair’s interests pricked by one another’s reading material in the first film, this otherwise innocuous starting point spurred a trilogy’s worth of running into the unknown on the back of contingent occurrences. A deft description of this loaded first moment formed Davies’s press release and subtly brought to bear this idea of fresh starts as well as the transformative potential for which unforeseen events are often venerated. But this furtive joint referencing of the films also constructed a time frame for the show. The films were shot nearly ten years apart. In the first, the protagonists are still in their twenties. Viewers watching contemporaneously would have aged with them, and this large DVD hailing the end of the day places emphasis on the older camp. Against the clamor surrounding Berlin, whether it be for its nightlife, its tech startups or for its art scene, it was quietly surprising, surreal even, to find a show here dwelling not only on the prospect of aging, or of moving past one’s prime, but on all the missed connections.

Davies’s show holds up a series of loose ends to the film’s adventurist rhetoric. A black- and-white photograph was derived from a heart pattern on the floor of the hall beside the gallery. A closer look at the photograph reveals that a crack runs through the hearts, which is wistful on also glimpsing a pram wheel that just made the photo’s crop. On the gallery windowsill, the DVD player’s dangling cable rests futilely beside the base of a candlestick whose high street Baroque design tails away with a similar ­lethargy. Cajoled into proximity, this pair of strays only almost matches. Their trying-but-not-very-hard proximity discreetly diffuses the machismo of, say, Surrealism’s more gung-ho antagonist impulses. Davies plays with degrees of directing, which lends a feel of a drag-and-drop command to the distribution of works around the room. The resulting whole feels somewhat abrasive, which perhaps sheds light on Davies’s opinion of matchmaking. Chance encounters between objects become a lens through which to consider chance encounters between people. Or vice versa. Or how not very chance they are, at all. This all seems pertinent in the age of the filter bubble, but perhaps it is not so far from the parameters that were seemingly invisible to figures such as Breton when they advocated the supposed outrageousness of a sewing machine meeting an umbrella. [4] A photograph of a blindfolded middle-age man tasting wine puns on the blind date to leak the show’s subject position, or a version thereof. About to take the plunge, it admits that as an idea radical contingency is still a draw, not least when thought via the dating industry and its capitalizing on the promise of conversion from risky unknown to remunerative match. But even if such promises were genuine, their being seen out, as Linklater’s protagonists show, requires proper abandonment of them. Where does this leave someone whose profile, judging by the curtains listed as only “borrowed”, plus the rented DVD, amounts to something more noncommittal?

The show’s palette is mostly pallid or worn. Color is introduced only with the DVD table, which being “ripped”, is all harsh tones. Titled “Burnt After Sunset”, it suggests that after years spent chasing, this room’s absent inhabitant might have learned caution after having his or her fingers burnt. But what transpires is that perhaps some experience is not to be disavowed? Davies collects happened-upon motifs and reins them into a subjective network of intertextuality that might be inward-looking (the objects’ outmodedness [5] somewhat acknowledging this) but also has the knock-on effect of activating each thing’s potential for calling up a rich set of references. This could be a touch anthropocentric [6] , but with good reason. Rather than a simple retreat to constantly checking one’s implication levels, Davies’s attentiveness to how (he sees) objects relate says more in the way of a sense of protecting something. Life’s less exciting commodities are gathered to produce artworks in a process reminiscent of a cultivation of evidence. And it is evidence that, taken together, quietly heeds the drive to destabilize the present via speculation on the always new. This is not a lament. The wine-glass curtains signal that moment of big reveal; but there is nothing behind them. Yet with glasses falling over themselves they seem giddy at their own prospect. In the context of Davies’s generally lower-key scale, this moment approaches excess. And it is one that makes the more wantonly ontological mode of the DVD table, for example, appear a little strident, though still entertaining, in an escapist kind of way.

Timothy Davies, “Spätburgunder”, Sandy Brown, Berlin, February 27–March 22, 2014.


[1]Steven Shaviro, “Speculative Realism – A Primer”, in: Texte zur Kunst, 93, March 2014, pp. 40–50, here: p. 50.
[2]Bernadette Corporation’s 2007 novel “Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte” (Sternberg Press) sets a more ironic, frivolous tone in contrast.
[3]The German term bürgerlich could also be noted, which stemming from the word Bürger (citizen), has middle-class bourgeois associations.
[4]“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.” Comte de Lautréaumont a.k.a. Isidore Lucien Ducasse (1846–1870).
[5]See Benjamin’s remarks on Breton in his 1929 “Surrealism” essay discussing the “revolutionary energies that appear in the ‘outmoded’,” in: Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms and Autobiographical Writings, ed. by Peter Demetz, New York, 1986, p. 181.
[6]Or, as also discussed in March’s Texte zur Kunst (op. cit.), see Meillassoux’s use of the term “correlationism” regarding the kind of Post-Kantian philosophy in which objects cannot be thought independently of subjects, and vice-versa: After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, transl. by R. Brassier, London 2009.