Clocks abound in the photographic, filmic and sculptural works of Bettina Pousttchi. The German-Iranian artist’s “World Time” series (2008-ongoing) comprises blown-up, black-and-white images that capture clocks on buildings in various time zones at exactly 1:55. At last year’s Art Basel, meanwhile, Pousttchi photographed the timepiece on the facade of the convention center’s Hall 2, then blew it up and hung it on the facade of Hall 1, which was subsequently knocked down to make room for a new Herzog & de Meuron fair building. Pousttchi’s various clocks underscore her interest in time and memory, in political, artistic and architectural histories—and in photography’s role in documenting and creating all of the above. So it was no surprise that this solo exhibition of mostly recent work was titled “World Time Clock,” and that it too was concerned with time’s myriad manifestations.
The show’s centerpiece was the entrancing, elliptical video Conversations in the Studio #3 (2010), a work that also synced different moments in time. In it, a filmed conversation between Pousttchi and Daniel Buren limning the differences between making art in institutions and making art “on the street” is projected onto various surfaces in the Warsaw atelier of the late Polish artist Edward Krasinski, who famously filled that now-preserved studio with photographs and mirrors that visually double the space. Thus, a bookshelf is only a photographic image of the bookshelf across the room; a wall is in fact a mirror. Adding to this hall-of-mirrors effect are Buren’s signature vertical stripes that streak across one of Krasinski’s studio windows. As the reliclike studio (walls trellised with cracks, shelves sagging with papers) becomes the very architectonics of the conversation—a conversation about the studio projected on the studio—the video’s true brilliance comes clear.
“Sculpture Project Echo” (2009) is a series of color photographs documenting Pousttchi’s site-specific outdoor installation Echo (2009/10), for which the artist covered the exterior of the Temporary Kunsthalle Berlin with a collage of archival images of the Palast der Republik. The modernist landmark served as the GDR’s parliament and was demolished in 2009. The photos of her own installation delineate the construction-site-dotted center of Berlin with a remove that mimes the documentary impulse to record history. Equally self-referencing was a witty pair of early videos, which married Structuralist film concerns to campy, noirish themes. Ocularis (1999) features a slow pull back from a drop of blood in a microscope. Double Empire (2000), meanwhile, seemingly offers the point of view of a freefall down the Empire State Building’s surface, though the camera actually moves upward, as becomes apparent when the night sky blossoms into view.
Opening and closing the show were two curious sculptural series crafted from twisted crowd-control barricades. Double Monuments for Flavin and Tatlin (2010) features four pieces made of white barriers in vertical spirals with fluorescent tubes at their center, cheekily referencing both Tatlin’s Constructivist ode to Bolshevism and Flavin’s Minimalist tubes. In Blackout (2007–10) the barricades are dark and lie horizontally across white plinths.
These sculptures conjure up an argument that Pousttchi made to Buren: in the white cube, art is the variable and the space is the constant, while in public space, art is the constant and the landscape becomes the variable. If their conflation of “public” materials and autonomous modernist sculpture was clear, the works themselves paled (despite their heft and alarming number) next to the deft and inspired films on view, which elucidated the artist’s concerns ever more nimbly.
Photo: Bettina Pousttchi: Conversations in the Studio #3, 2010, video, 191⁄2 minutes; at Kunsthalle Basel.