A visitor entering the installation Built on Promises (2010), a joint effort by the German architect Matthias Ballestrem and the young Russian-born artist Anton Burdakov, might have thought the exhibition at Program, a nonprofit space for art and architecture collaborations, was in the midst of being de-installed. The invitation card prepared one for an elegant room divided by sections of walls with curved shapes cut into them. Instead, the viewer was confronted with a mess.
Sheets of reused whitewashed plasterboard and MDF, cut or torn into various shapes, leaned awkwardly against the gallery walls and lay across the floor. Many revealed screw holes and cracked paint. The floor was strewn with sawdust, wood shavings, bits of masking tape and the like.
Pinned almost casually to the walls and to some of the plasterboard sheets were matte black-and-white photo- graphs in different sizes, depicting scenes akin to those on the invitation card. The most impressive print was in three parts and hung like a curtain between two pillars; the artful lighting of the interior in the photo offered a beautiful play of light and shadow across the configuration of wall partitions. The viewer gradually realized that all the images were of the gallery space itself (or, where masking tape and cardboard were clearly visible in the photos, a scale model of it).
In fact, the installations captured in the photographs had been built, documented and then dismantled, and the documentation finally displayed in the remains. In a satisfying contrast, the pre-exhibition arrangement verged on the over-calculated, while the space the viewer stood in, with a ladder left standing in one corner and the storeroom door left open, had a rough-and-ready character.
The theme at the core of the show was this gap-between the documented past and the unruly present. The exhibition evoked works by Gordon Matta-Clark and Urs Fischer, but Ballestrem and Burdakov are more concerned with memory and imagination. Just as a disassembled object asks to be put back together, the disorderly gallery begged to be turned back into the pristine architectural construction—a task that could be completed only in the viewer’s mind.
Photo: View of Matthias Ballestrem & Anton Burdakov’s installation Built on Promises, 2010; at Program.