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reviews jonathan allen
JonAthAn Allen:
KAlAnAG
DaviD Risley GalleRy, lonDon
23 novem beR – 6 januaRy
The artist Jonathan Allen is a member of the Magic Circle and,
perhaps more importantly, a passionate researcher on the history
and application of magic. This valuable insider knowledge on the
practise of deception sets Allen apart from many artists who claim
to be examining the merging of ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’, and in his project
KALANAG he produces a brave, elegant and layered installation
about the twentieth-century magician Helmut Schreiber.
Kalanag was Schreiber’s stage name, and it was only when
his unseemly association with the Nazi Party came to light towards
the end of his career that the respect garnered for his magical
accomplishments was replaced with indignation from peers and
public. His association with the Third Reich ran deep, well beyond
any notional apology for a latter-day court jester performing under
duress for an unpredictable master; instead Kalanag appears to
have achieved the chilling status of embedded ideologue intimately
connected to the leading figures of Hitler’s Germany, including the
Führer himself. As well as regular performances for party members,
Kalanag was president of the rampantly anti-Semitic German Magic Circle and was also responsible for
KALANAG (detail), 2007,
plinth, mounted photographs.
producing more than a hundred propaganda films as the chief of the Bavaria Filmkunst in Munich. This is a Photo: Dave morgan. Courtesy
whole lot more upsetting than finding out that your favourite ballerina supports the BNP.
the artist and David Risley
Gallery, london
On entering Allen’s installation we are first confronted by a spot-it vitrine containing a jug sitting atop
an old travelling case that bares the moniker ‘Kalanag’ in a severe angular stencilled font. One’s first sense is to
assume that these objects are reconstructions imagined by the artist, but no: these are the actual objects used
by Schreiber, acquired by Allen at auction. On the other side of the same wall sits a selection of photographs
of Schreiber as Kalanag that have been rephotographed by Allen from original documentary sources; we see
him performing for, among others, Hitler and Göring, and we see the jug being used as a stage prop. The
conceptual rigour of the work is completed by the knowledge that Allen used water from Kalanag’s jug to
develop his photographs – transforming images that feel familiarly museological into objects that begin to
perform for themselves.
These subtly disturbing elements and knowledge of the subject’s provenance combine to create a
single work imbued with a dark intensity and aura. To a degree, Allen is playing games with systems of faith
and is intent on testing our willingness as viewers to believe in the significance of an object’s received memory.
The process of rephotographing and the almost ritualistic production of the images suggest an engagement in
a form of viral mythmaking that extends beyond the gallery walls and into the realm of imagined performance;
which, like the magician, cleverly satisfies our need to know ‘how it’s done’ without giving too much away.
Alasdair Hopwood
153 Artreview
march_REVIEWS.indd 153 5/2/08 13:47:15
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