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reviews thomas ravens
Thomas ravens:
im Jahr der Giraffe
BarBar a Wien, Berlin
16 novemBer – 23 January
Im Jahr der Giraffe, 2007,
Thomas Ravens’s current exhibition, comprising a large number of mostly new watercolours alongside a couple
gouache on paper, 30 x 42 cm.
Courtesy Barbara Wien, Berlin from 2005 and a smattering of his drawings, takes as its point of departure the idea that landscape – at least as
far as the term and the genre is commonly understood – can be read not as mere backdrop to human activity or
even its absence, but rather as a complex structure which serves both to elucidate and explore modes of symbolic
representation, social interaction and the historical. Whether or not you’re familiar with the visual language of the
self-consciously avant-garde 1960s architectural group Archigram, with Peter Friedl’s Documenta giraffe or with
Cosima von Bonin’s isomorphic octopi (all of which make recurrent appearances here), the result is an absorbing
foray into a (semi-)fictional society, in which urban functionalism rubs shoulders with the utterly incongruous.
Ravens’s world, or worlds, appear to teeter above manmade abysses, as in Ordinary Day (all works 2007),
rise up above and over salt desert plains (in Three Ages 3/I) or squat, luminescent, on islands circumvented by
artificial reefs at the shore of a vast oceans (Three Ages 3/II), beneath cloud-spotted crystalline or pitch-black
skies. Im Jahr der Giraffe – which shares its title with this, Ravens’s second show at Barbara Wien – depicts two
twisting monolithic skyscrapers snaking out above an apparently deserted plaza, while the gold-crowned tower
visible on the river’s opposite bank could come from all or any one of Moscow, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) or
Babylon. Each work appears as both a precedent and a coda to the last.
To call these works either utopian or dystopian would be to elide the sense of evolutionary indeterminacy
which pervades the show. Ravens succeeds in generating an atmosphere as much defined by possibility as it is by
its heterogeneous anxieties, an impression which is only heightened by the sense that we are observing a state of
affairs, a series of barely defined ‘events’ or a nonplace, in which the crowd depicted occupy a position somewhere
between actors and passive observers, waiting for who knows what. As Ravens puts it, the something in question
could be ‘an art event or rally, Herbert Grönemeyer concert or a religious service’. The physical stratification of the
built environment plays an important role in each work’s construction, whether as an aggregate of discrete social
practices or as a function of successively defunct systems, now aggregated beneath the city’s surface like so much
sedimentary bedrock.
Ideas, found and invented materials, the contrast between the sheer energy of the work and the stillness
of the paper, come together to create images at once immediate and surreptitious in their gradual unfolding.
Arranged, as the artist himself puts it, around ‘plot particles’, we are invited to eavesdrop, if not quite to comprehend,
Ravens’s singular yet familiar narrative – the seductive and alienating archaeology of a future past. Luke Heighton
165 arTreview
march_REVIEWS.indd 165 5/2/08 13:59:40
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