Complex 1 requires its viewers to play a game. It’s a game of exploration, observation, and cross-referencing; and it’s a familiar game in today’s art scene. However, that doesn’t make it any less important. It’s an exhibition giving us questions by constantly deferring itself away from a clear narrative or any closed circuit of cohesive meaning. With over 20 artworks of sculpture, drawing, prints, photography, painting, and sound occupying 6 gallery spaces located throughout Pump Project, there is more than enough to play with.
This type of portfolio diversity is common in certain aesthetic practices today, and interdisciplinary aesthetics like this often indicate a critical suspicion of whatever may be thought of as authoritative in the art world whether being the artist, the gallery, the curator, or even the viewer. Instead, by crossing out the singular medium as the primary mode of artistic production, Complex 1 participates in eroding the often pre-assumed hierarchies of the art world. This in turn makes the show welcoming even in it’s obscurity.
Standing in the main gallery are 6 large rectangular columns titled Upward Momentum. Playing a game of subjective bodily experience akin to the minimalist work of Donald Judd and Robert Morris, these white monoliths are built out of construction materials, and they crowd the space, dwarfing the viewer and forcing one to navigate around them. Interestingly enough however, their scale isn’t repeated anywhere else in the show. This makes them come across as a critical commentary on the gallery space itself being just a large white cube filled with other large white cubes.
The number 6 appears again in the Juke’s space and Studio E. Juke’s houses 6 circular charcoal drawings that are dramatically presented. Being suspended from wires and minimally lit from spotlights, they appear to float in the dark space. Their imagery falls somewhere between realism and fantasy as the well-rendered lobby of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain shows a possible future for the Complex series.
Frame of reference 1-6. These prints are of the inverse of the charcoal drawings, depicting their surrounding contexts—a point even further illustrated by the large circular blank space at each of their centers. Creating a sensation of macular degeneration, Schwaiger has taken a page from Derrida’s The Truth in Painting by making the framing context—or parerga—works of art in their own right. Further, as if to highlight the connection, there are several circular holes cut into the wall between Studio E and Juke’s. These permit the viewer to peek into either gallery from the other one. By opening spaces between the two bodies of work, these punctures complicate the division between them and visualize the fluidity present throughout Complex 1.
Context is key in Complex 1. Studio 123 is Schwaiger’s studio, and by opening that space up to the viewer, he nods toward the EAST and WEST studio tours. However, unlike the tours, the artist is not present. Instead, the viewer gets a kind of behind the scenes peek into his work space. But how truly authentic is this view? The studio is in impeccable order. The desk is clean, minus a sculpture, and the workbench is organized. Clearly prepared as part of the exhibition, the studio muddles the division between the workspace and the exhibition space. Sitting on top of a chest of drawers are a collection of sculptures that blend into the background. Not being offset by a white wall or a number pin, it’s hard to tell where the artworks end and the studio begin. But, confusion like this speaks to the larger disruption of boundaries this show is after. Where does the gallery exist? What is my role as a viewer? Is that a work of art in the show? What is that a photograph of? The questions keep coming, one after other.
The works on second floor are more haunting. Having similarities to Francisco Goya’s Saturn devouring his son, Self Portrait depicts a figure crouched on the ground, prying his mouth open. However, instead of manically consuming its creation, the sculpture forcibly ejects it in a moment of aggressive self-violence and exorcism. A light projects from its open mouth onto a suspended piece of round, etched glass. Adding to the uncanny nature of the work is its context. Like Juke’s, the gallery is dark. With the exception of a dim spotlight, the main lighting comes from the artwork itself. The similarities and differences between the two spaces are notable, and the visual metaphor of light as creation does not go unnoticed.
If that’s the act of creation, then the act of dying is visualized from the second floor balcony. From here, the viewer will see something they missed as they made their way through Upward Momentum. On the top of each of the 6 pillars are piles of fabricated human bones. Skulls, ribs, and femurs rest silently, and unnoticed by the viewers below. This juxtaposition between the viewers and the bones is arresting insofar as the work now takes on a more metaphoric meaning. Moving through the obstacles of life, we are often unaware of where that ultimate momentum is taking us. Now seen in their entirety, the pillars thrust upward. And while they carry remains of 6 figures heavenly, they remind us that death is always present even if it is unnoticed.
There are countless other cross-references at work in Complex 1, and what I have covered here is far from exhaustive. I would add that in general, with their reoccurring shapes, patterns, materials, quantities, and imagery, the works bait us to draw comparisons between them. Throughout the exhibition, these things—among others—turn up in both likely and unlikely ways, and they blend together, distorting any clear distinctions between the different bodies of work. Are the skulls you see in one place connected to the ones you see in others? Are the repeating circles more than just a visual motif? And why does the number 6 keep turning up like some numerical code that could be used to unlock the more subtle connections Complex 1 appears to possess? Designed for self-reference and to provoke thoughtful—if not abstract—connections, the show stands on a blurred heterogeneity that stages a loose series of associations.
But, this commonality is already assumed due to the context of the show. Being a one-person exhibition, we expect there to be a unifying theme throughout. Further, this agenda of correlational meaning making has its roots in relational aesthetics, a connection that is also apparent in the unapologetic stance taken regarding the artist’s role. Schwaiger appears far more interested in creating a sense of dialogue and collaboration between the artworks as well as the viewers than taking singular credit. This is commendable, and it situates Complex 1 in a more contemporary canon than other recent shows at Pump Project.
However, unlike more traditional relational aesthetics that seek to direct our focus onto the environment and away from the objects, Complex 1 uses the environment to direct our focus back onto the objects. The exhibition is about seeking out the art that is tucked away in the corners of the building. This inversion responds to the standard critique often directed at relational aesthetics regarding the need for the artwork at all. If the artist is just building lounges and cooking noodles, why does there need to be artwork? The ideas of community and collaboration exist just fine without it. However, by using various traditional art forms, Schwaiger demonstrates that the ideas behind relational aesthetics are not completely unique to it. Instead, he reminds us that community and collaboration are translatable across a wide variety objects and scenarios. With Complex 1, it’s not the space that creates the relations; it’s the artwork.
As a whole, Complex 1 forces you to engage it. It requires you to seek out meanings and play its game of exploration. It’s a show that doubles back on itself. Objects, images, and shapes reappear throughout giving everything the slightest sense of déjà vu. However, unlike déjà vu, this is not some trick of the eye. This is a metaphor for the growing human condition of questioning and loving the question. In his recent article in Artforum, Alexander Scrimgeour suggests that we are constantly playing this game and that our tools for it, such as Google, are designed to keep us at it indefinitely. We don’t look for answers anymore; we look for more questions. This type of deferred horizon can make for a compelling art show, when it’s done right.