One of the curatorial strategies of the MAZ consists of exhibitions organized in pairs. At first, the idea was to work with a single theme from two different perspectives, with the processes kept separate, in order to ensure the individuality and underline the diversity of the two voices. Over time, the focus began to change and the exercise was made more complex by introducing variables such as the personal relationship of the two artists involved. Although Beyond Behind by Alicja Kwade and Gregor Hildebrandt is not an exhibition of collaborations by the two artists, it is clear that, since they live together as a couple, there are mutual influences that have emerged from the experience of sharing their daily lives and artistic interests over many years.
In their work there are similarities and intersections, as well as something that is not immediately noticed, but which begins to be understood as the works of each of the two artists are more closely observed and assimilated. In the course of the exhibition a dialogue is created between the two groups of works: allusive hints, followed by responses, creating a silent choreography that multiplies meanings and possibilities. The conversations between the objects are accompanied by a constant exploration of the nature of reality, perception, and time. There is also a confirmation of the existence of immaterial elements in the conformation and materiality of things, elements such as music, words, dreams, and ideas. In the individual bodies of work of both Kwade and Hildebrandt —and in the dialogue established between them— there is an unsettling and persistent doubling of our perceptions, a challenge to the senses and to the logic of Cartesian reasoning. It is only when we put our rationality on hold —when surprise, followed by doubt, forces us to observe without distraction, and our attention is wholly focused—that we manage truly to inhabit, if only for a few moments, the present.
Certain works in particular allude directly to a relationship between the two artists, such as Candle Column (Alicja & Gregor), 2018, by Alicja Kwade. These columns belong to a series of portraits that the artist began years ago, starting with her own self-portrait. Each one takes the age of a certain person (in this case Gregor) and relates it to his or her height. A number of candles corresponding to the years of the person’s age are then lighted, one after another, to form a column, until they reach the person’s height. In Alicja’s own case, this meant 39 candles (163.5 cm), and in Gregor’s, 44 candles (193 cm). The candles are then used as a mold to cast the final column in bronze.
The Selbstportrait mit Diabola (Self-portrait with Diabola) by Gregor Hildebrandt is a photograph of the artist taken by Kwade when they were in Martinique together in 2012. The photo was taken impromptu in a moment of shared relaxation and only afterwards immortalized in granite. Even as the work conveys a sense of permanence, the image plays with the idea of the impossibility of holding back time, which leaves us with nothing but memories. In both Candle Column and the Selbstportrait we confront a moment of past time materialized in the present through mineral components and metal alloys, with specific dimensions and weights. The self-portrait photograph with Diabola, a pet dog, was used for the invitation, in the form of a flexible disc, to an exhibition of the artist’s work the following year in Berlin. The project was accompanied, as almost always in Hildebrandt’s work, by a soundtrack. In this case, a song entitled “Like One With Certainty” speaks of a city built of jade and of sleep disturbed by fleeting dreams. Later come the words: “sleep is time that belongs to you.” It is true: time really belongs to us only in dreams. It is when we are dreaming that time is ours, to move, to advance, to reverse at whim, with even the possibility of combining parallel times. Alicja’s and Gregor’s works may be a substitute for the world of dreams, a place where things happen at the whim of the dreamer, of one who creates or takes part in art.
Produced specifically for the exhibition, Berlin Skies, 2023, is the only actual collaboration between the two artists. Set up in the main courtyard of the MAZ, the large-format print —twelve meters long and six meters high— shows a grey sky of jumbled clouds just along the horizon of our field of vision. Resting on the ground beside this skyline is a characteristic element in Hildebrandt’s work, an enormous bronze chess pawn, Hirte (The Shepherd), 2.1 meters high. Two pieces by Kwade share the space with the pawn: a pair of white marble pieces entitled Jo’s Snow. These are also in some way a reflection of the clouds and render the scene still more uncanny, framed by two white walls and crowned by the actual sky. The viewers enter into a sort of De Chirico world, enjoying the good fortune to belong to an alternate universe and finding themselves at the epicenter of a doubling of reality.
* The song is based on the poem “Wie Einem Der Gewissheit Hat,” by Alexander Losse, set to music by Stephan Eicher and sung by Gregor Hildebrandt.
Viviana Kuri Haddad