Pawel Althamer, The Secret of the Phaistos Disc (Installation View), all images courtesy Deste Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse of Hydra
On view at the Deste Foundation’s exhibition space, the Slaughterhouse of Hydra, is an experimental blend of contemporary sculpture and performance, as designed by Polish artist Pawel Althamer. The interactive project explores the nature of family relationships, and their role in making up the broader structural arrangements and familial relations that often drive global social interactions.
Althamer’s own family, particularly his children, play the protagonists in the piece, sitting in the space and allowing audience members to come and sit with them, converse or play. Audience members are encouraged to take part in the happening as well, using handmade puppets which Althamer created to represent his own family as well as people outside his family. People then improvise scenes or messages from their own imaginations. Similar to exercise often used in family counseling and therapy, Althamer here turns the situation open, allowing any visitor to participate and examine their own preconceived reactions to the situation, or to imagine new social alternatives.
Althamer was inspired by the Phaistos Disc, the earliest known example of typography dating from the Middle Bronze Age, 17th century BCE, as well as the Emerald Tablet, a text that sends the foundations of alchemic theory – a protoscience known to be the precursor to modern chemistry and medicine. Here, however, Althamer strips the alchemical of its mystic properties, and instead places the quite tangible social fabric at the center of his investigation. Through play and personal interaction, visitors are able to examine how social roles emerge, and how they may in fact be deconstructed.
Pawel Althamer was born in Warsaw in 1967, and he has been collaborating with the Nowolipie Group, an organization in Warsaw for adults with mental or physical disabilities, since the early 1990s. His large series of works entitled “The Venetians” was exhibited in the arsenale section of the 2013 Biennale d’arte di Venezia, Forget Fear was included in the 2012 Berlin Biennial, and Almech was presented in 2011 at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin. In 2004, Althamer won the Vincent Award, a Dutch prize named headed by the director of the Stedelijk Museum, awarded every two years to a European Artist. Althamer has also exhibited works at the Centre Pompidou, the New Museum for Contemporary Art, the Bonnefanten-museum in the Netherlands, and at documenta X in Kassel.
Continuing his impressive approach to social practice and relational art execution, Althamer’s work at Deste is an open format, one which allows active participation by the viewer, but may in fact also demand social interactions as well: patience, guidance or a more articulate expression of self, as a method of interacting with the young children present in the space.
The Secret of the Phaistos Disc will remain on view at Dest Fondation Project Space, Slaughterhouse of Hydra, through September 29, 2014.
Pawel Althamer, The Secret of the Phaistos Disc (Installation View)
Exhibition Page [Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art]