L/B, Flash #2, 2009, Installation with 59 barber poles, Mixed media, 230 x 640 x 930 cm, Barber pole size each 230 x 40 x 26 cm, Reproduction: Visualisation of the installation "Flash #2" at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne, Beijing.

Lang and Baumann's Environmental Connections, Within and Without

L/B, Hotel Everland, 2007, mobile one room hotel, mixed media, 12 x 4.5 x 4.5 m, Hotel Everland, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France.

L/B, Flash #2, 2009, Installation with 59 barber poles, Mixed media, 230 x 640 x 930 cm, Barber pole size each 230 x 40 x 26 cm, Reproduction: Visualisation of the installation "Flash #2" at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne, Beijing.

"Comfort #5" 2007, PE foil, tubes, ventilator, 665 x 480 x 680 cm, The Memory of this Moment from the Distance of Years, Oskar Schindler's former factory, Krakow, Poland.

L/B, " 2007, PVC-foil, tubes, ventilator, 4 tubes of 50 m each, 3 tubes of 60 m each, Diam. 95 cm, Comfort #4, Villa du Parc, Annemasse, France.

L/B, Flash #2, 2009, Installation with 59 barber poles, Mixed media, 230 x 640 x 930 cm, Barber pole size each 230 x 40 x 26 cm, Reproduction: Visualisation of the installation "Flash #2" at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne, Beijing.

L/B, Diving Platform, 2007, Steel, fiberglass, lacquer, diving board, 4 x 1.8 x 13 m, "Môtiers 2007" Art en plein Air, Môtiers, Switzerland.

 

Galerie Urs Meile
Number 104
caochangdi cun
cui gezhuang xiang
Chaoyang district
+86 10 643 333 93
Beijing
Sabina Lang
and Daniel Baumann
I’m Real

May 9-July 12, 2009

By DAVID SPALDING

The collaborative work of Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann (L/B) unites the symbolic and the spectacular in a practice that has been defying genre for nearly 20 years. Together they have created installations, environments, public interventions, paintings, games and even a mobile hotel room, often using visual languages that are often reminiscent of Op and Pop-inspired design. In their previous works, brightly-colored patterns run across the walls, floors and windows of art centers, community centers and galleries and even cover a stretch of rural roadway. Elsewhere, giant, inflatable plastic tubes span the windows of a building’s facade, becoming a twisted (but highly regular) latticework of impossible passageways. Shiny, decorative “modules” and light fixtures made of molded plastic are arranged into patterns that bring a set of visual variables into harmony. Throughout L/B’s universe, there is an emphasis on creating new connections between and within existing spaces and sets, and a desire to activate otherwise aesthetically neglected zones of connection (hallways, stairwells, etc.). Visually stimulating, the work highlights the act of seeing while inviting viewers to forge their own pathways toward interpretation.

For I’m Real, Lang/Baumann’s solo exhibition at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing, the result of their three-month residency at the gallery, the artists have combined two elements to create a site-sensitive response to the city of Beijing and the gallery space. Entering the exhibition, one’s eyes are immediately directed downward, toward Beautiful Carpet #1, which covers the gallery in zigzagging bands of color that include lemon yellow, Barbie pink and midnight blue, amplifying the existing architecture’s angularity. The carpet’s pattern suggests a fractured, crisscrossing network of galvanic pathways that visitors can use to navigate the space, trying one and then another as they move about the installation. Walking on the artwork, one is suddenly surrounded by it; rather than studying wall-hung artworks from a measured distance, we have no choice but to move into and through an immersive visual experience that ignites the senses.

Afterward, we pass through a dim corridor to reach Flash #2, an installation comprised of 59 custom-made barber poles arranged in a circular configuration of swirling green and silver bands that curls opens on one end to admit visitors into its vertiginous center. Spinning in unison and lit from within, the poles, which are 230 cm high, form a curving wall that nearly encloses viewers; once in its epicenter, the familiar symbol of the barber’s pole becomes dizzying and hypnotic, an optical experience that begins to impact the body’s equilibrium.

On the one hand, the installation that recalls the work of Op artists like Bridget Riley, and Duchamp’s works from the 1920s, termed “Precision Optics,” which put patterned sculptures into motion in order to create optical illusions. Such works, including Flash #2, foster not only a sense of illusion; with dual perception comes an awareness of the fragility of the mechanics of vision itself. Rather than eroding our confidence, Flash #2, with its disorienting embrace, reminds us of how various experiences and meanings can exist simultaneously, without canceling each other out.

The barber pole's macabre history dates back to the 18th Century, when, after performing surgical procedures that included bloodletting, barbers would wash their bloodied bandages and hang them on poles outside their shops to dry, leaving the long strips of fabric to twist in spiral patterns that became the pole's defining characteristic.

When L/B traveled to Beijing to conceive of the new works on view in I’m Real, it seems that they were drawn to the familiar – the patterns of the barber’s poles in China rhyme nicely with L/B’s artistic vocabulary of bright, flat colors often put into dynamic, curving and geometric formations. In the city of Beijing, the effect of barber poles is greatly intensified: they are often grouped two or three at a single storefront, lighting up dark alleys and adding extra color to busy intersections, especially near residential areas, where salons are grouped three or four in a row. But the poles do not just announce a place for a haircut; at night, girls in short skirts and heavy makeup call outside to passersby, “Massage? Massage, sir?” In fact, the barber poles connote that prostitutes’ services are available. The contradiction between this overtly visible sign and its covert meaning was not lost on L/B, who observe:

The Beijing-style seemed easy, fun and somehow "Italian": very colorful, eccentric and blinking seem to be very popular. The barber poles we noticed everywhere. Of course, soon we found out about the double meaning of them and this even seemed more absurd: to have a secret code for something illegal and it's this blinking large sign you could not ignore. Why wouldn't they make it a bit more discrete (we as typical Swiss asked ourselves)?

The polyvalence of the symbols employed by L/B attests to an interest in the “local,” in as much as certain pieces of the landscape of Beijing resonate with their pre-existing sensibilities.

Like many of their previous works, L/B’s latest exhibition at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing simultaneously dazzles the retina and opens a liminal space for the contemplation of vision itself. At the same time, it allows us to test the interpretive filters that form the screens of visuality as we engage with different associations offered up by the work, sex and death among them. As a result, our sense of spectatorship is amplified for a time that extends beyond the gallery.

L/B, Flash #2, 2009, Installation with 59 barber poles, Mixed media, 230 x 640 x 930 cm, Barber pole size each 230 x 40 x 26 cm, Reproduction: Visualisation of the installation "Flash #2" at Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne, Beijing.

L/B, Comfort #6, 2008, Polyester-foil, ventilator, Variable dimensions, c. 14 x 36 x 5 m, "La noche en blanco" Fundacion Telefonica, Madrid, Spain.