In Renée Green’s recent exhibition at Nagel Draxler, a row of twenty-eight small fabric banners hung across two walls facing the gallery’s storefront windows, displaying a mix of bold and dissonant colors—hot reds and yellows broken up by cooler blues, greens, and gray. The banners, uniformly rectangular, were printed with poetic textual fragments, the ideas seeming to jump from one piece of fabric to the next, due in part to several examples whose phrasing ended with a conjunction: a sign reading, AFTER THE RUMBA AND, for instance, was followed by one stating, AFTER THE LIGHTS AND. This sense of a flowing thought, however, was perpetually disrupted, whether through the syncopated cadence of the text, the jarring incongruity of the colors, the doorway between the two walls, or the occasional intrusion of banners bearing single columns of consecutive years in the otherwise linguistic sequence.
Combining aspects of continuity and rupture, the installation served as a relatively immediate illustration of what Green—borrowing a term from literary theorist Mary Louise Pratt—has called the “contact zone,” referring to the encounter staged in her practice between disparate people, cultures, and events. In the contact zone, discrete genealogies become entwined. Green drew the various works in the show, which was titled “Placing,” from a number of her recent site-specific efforts. The collation of previous site-specific projects in yet another place is a hallmark of Green’s practice and speaks to her engagement with site as (in her words) “a network of operations,” in which her exhibition history itself, as Miwon Kwon has pointed out, becomes a kind of site.
Green, who is based in New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts, has produced installations, videos, and critical and experimental writing for the past three decades. The bodies of work on view here covered several areas of her recent interest, though the exhibition’s key historical eminence was Viennese modernist architect R.M. Schindler (1887–1953), in whose former Los Angeles home, which now houses the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, she had a show in 2015. She originally produced the banner installation for that show, and the columns of years printed on some of the pieces, it turns out, count down from 2015 to the year of Schindler’s birth. Another component of the Schindler House project that was included at Nagel Draxler is a set of prints, housed in vitrines, that reproduces a fragmented version of Schindler’s influential 1912 manifesto calling for an architecture dealing “with ‘space’ as its raw material and with the articulated room as its product”—an idea that informs the poetics of Green’s installation-environments.
Among the other works on view were two significant videos unrelated to Schindler. One of them, Walking in NYL (2016), follows from Green’s long-standing interest in Lisbon and the broader Portuguese sphere of influence. The other, Climates and Paradoxes (2005), considers the centenary of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity via an excavation of the history of a high-rise apartment building in Berlin that Green once lived in and that occupies the former site of the pacifist organization Bund Neues Vaterland, of which, the video’s associative narration informs us, Einstein was the twenty-ninth member.
“Placing” as a whole—with its inward-facing video monitors and street-facing banners—staged competing spaces of isolation and sociality, privacy and publicness, recalling the “contact zones” with which the work itself is preoccupied. The banners offered a pronounced visual and textual front to the video works, which were generally more formally subtle and interior in nature. One banner in particular, bearing a single-word column alternating between the terms BEGIN and AGAIN, seemed to provide a memorable encapsulation of Green’s imaginatively iterative approach to historical consciousness.