Michaël Borremans Taking Turns
written by peter duhon in new york
Belgium artist, Michaël Borreman's 'Taking Turns,' currently at David Zwirner's gallery in Chelsea, discreetly jettisons conventionally enacted societal codes of identity and challenges social constructs by presenting psychologically paralyzed subjects in a variety of sparse, empty settings.
Solely occupying the first room in the exhibition, is an enormous, 15 feet in height, 35mm film projector showing a loop of 'The Storm.' In this film, three men, black, all wearing white/ivory suits, sit in an empty room that betrays a resemblance to a prison cell. A ghastly holding cell, empty with the exception of the sitting men, who are mysterious, drone like in appearance, and death like in behavior. Where have these men been? Where are they headed? Even the most implicit, gestural suggestion of an answer is withheld from the viewer, instead, there are three black men, dressed in white, sitting in chairs, lacking the apparent desire or strength to even gaze at the each other. After watching for several seconds, the lack of individuality among these men becomes horrifyingly apparent, a Kristevan lost subject without a desire for an object, despite the tailored, bespoke suits, and the ensuing result is a suspension of certainty for the viewer since the engaged beholder of the film suddenly questions oneself that as they watch, they are perhaps participating in the subjugation of the subjected. The subject without an "I", void of desire and stripped of ego, whom in effect, are a signifier of a group that is subjected but the question disturbingly remains for this film: subjected by whom and for what?
Michaël Borreman doesn't fall into the trap of providing bland, cliche answers but demystifies a construct with his own construct, a construct that demands attentive engagement and he doesn't disappoint. A construct that intrinsically denies pictorial screaming or speaking to gain the attention of the viewer.
The second gallery of the exhibition includes paintings and videos by Michaël Borremans. One of which is a video titled 'Taking Turns,' bearing the same name as the exhibition. The obvious linkage to surrealism in this work is a witty stroke by Michaël Borremans that allows a discourse of intertexuality among recent sources such as the early 20th century avant-garde practices and even the turn of the century Ford factory worker but also initiates a conversation and comparison within his own show. This particular video is topologically oppositional to the projection film in the other room which was discussed earlier. Instead of the austere black male subjects wearing ivory suits, quietly suffering without any movement, without the dignity of recognizing self and the situational Other, the subjects in this video are female, white, wearing black suits, dead-pannedly interacting with each other by literally turning or being turned by the other that eventually ends in a rather clever trompe-l'oeil that offers a unsuspected climax that perversely discomforts the assumed realities of the viewer regarding the video.
Interestingly enough, by excluding even the slightest hint of orality in the work presented in this exhibition, Mr. Borremans brilliantly creates suspense through a tempered monologic quality that uncanningly exists through a freezing of temporality and displacement of space.
The dominant centrifugal quality of the show is achieved by defamiliarizing (the Russian ostraneniye) established conventions and codes of identity, which situates the work in a mysterious plane between the unconscious and language where subject and beholder alike surrender control.
All of the paintings and the three videos in this exhibition occupy a spatiality where anticipation and suspense are masterfully juxtaposed within a frame, a frame that posits serious questions concerning social practices and processes by ingeniously examining the subject without, and the ritualized subject. An artist and a exhibition not to miss.