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Search ………………………………..for the Spirit

21/03/09 – 30/06/09


General Idea, Image Bank, Company Painting, Eileen Gray, Johanna Natalie Wintsch, Luis Jacob, Yael David and Luca Frei. Curated by Grant Watson in collaboration with Luis Jacob, Pádraic E Moore and Fern Bayer.


In the exhibition ‘Search for the Spirit’ documents of various kinds arranged in a single display, attempt to describe and capture unusual phenomena. The documents themselves have something in common, they are on the whole serial and reductive, often adapting pre given formats and techniques to produce a system of representation. The subject matter that they present is in each case ‘out of the ordinary’ and includes bodily manipulation and transcendence, pure abstraction, style, glamour, magic, and the dissolution of the self into nature, colour and light. In these works, the gap between a ‘proto mystical’ content and the often mechanical, mode of serial production, sets up an interesting tension between form and content. While the overall tone is one of earnestness, parody and speculation, each work in the exhibition (from different time frames and diverse cultural contexts) describes a search for the spirit undertaken within the ambiguity and problematic of everyday life.  


The title ‘Search for the Spirit’ comes from an exhibition by the Canadian artist group General Idea which took place at the Galerie Gaetan in Geneva in 1976, and featured thirty six ‘show cards’ in a serial format of image, text and rubber stamp on identical mounts. These cards set out a topology of ideas and functioned as the conceptual frame for General Idea’s output during the 1970s. The cards develop the motif of the ‘General Idea Beauty Pageants’ and explore the group’s interest in glamour as a powerful physic force, able to move people to do unusual things. Here the search for the spirit, is the search for a winner (a Miss General Idea) but it is also a search for the spirit of art, because in the group’s lexicon, Miss General Idea is used as a metaphor for art, and its alchemical power to transform.


Starting with the show cards by General Idea, the exhibition fans out into a range of other material principally of an archival nature. This includes works from the Canadian artist group Image Bank (represented in the show with their epiphinal ‘Light On’ video and ‘Colour Bar Research’) who through the 1970s, worked in tandem and sometimes in collaboration with General Idea. Company Paintings of Sadhus performing feats of endurance, commissioned by the British from Indian artists, catalogue a British fascination with the sub continent  in a hybrid language that mixes European technical drawing with traces of indigenous painting. A set of gouaches and architectural plans, by Eileen Gray produced mostly in Paris during the 1920s, translate the austere vocabulary of high modernism, reminiscent of Supremacist painting, into elegant interiors, carpets and screens, and communicate a vision of sophisticated cosmopolitan living. Stitched works by psychiatric patient Johanna Natalie Wintsch from the Prinzhorn Collection, spell out the names of the doctors in her clinic and suggest a symbolic language influenced by her connection to the Theosophical movement. Bringing the exhibition up to date, two contemporary artists explore themes complimentary to the archival material in the show. Luis Jacob has reproduced a suite of paintings by Mark Rothko, using the keys of a typewriter to simulate the qualities of light and shade, depth of field and emotional intensity associated with this artist, and Yael Davids presents photographic documentation of circus skills and magic workshops undertaken with prisoners in Mechelen during the run up to the exhibition. All of  the works in the exhibition will be displayed using an interconnected structure, designed by the artist Luca Frei to reflect the distinctive architecture of the space (a theatre hall in an early 20th Century Catholic boys school) and bring the works together so that the exhibition reads as a coherent whole.


‘Search for the Sprit’ is a chapter of a larger exhibition entitled ‘All that is solid melts into air’ programmed by the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (MuHKA) as part the City Visions Festival (Mechelen) organised by MMMechelen.