With her exhibition 'COMPESHITSTEM the new deal,' Phoebe Washburn is presenting the largest and most complex installation which she has ever been able to realize during her career. The installation was conceived specifically for the kestnergesellschaft
and its spaces. It confirms the site-specific, process- and system-oriented approach of the artist. Washburn generally transfers into her work strategies of sustainability and autarchy in artistic processes. Already in the title, her orientation reveals itself to be playful and associative. COMPESHITSTEM sounds like a mixture of 'competition' and 'system.'
On two stories of the kestnergesellschaft, she occupies Halls II and III, which she has ostensibly transformed into a production workshop and a laboratory. Among the dominant components are a 'laboratory' in Hall II, where the production processes are carried out in separate sections, and the so-called 'arena' in Hall III, with a length of 21 meters, a width of 9.7 meters, and an impressive height of 5.4 meters. Both spaces are to be linked with electrical cables and water pipes at the back stairway.
Water and electricity are more than the energetic raw materials with which the artist maintains in motion the production process. They represent the secret and invisible energies which normally flow through a work of art and which connect one part of the exhibition with the other. Associations with Joseph Beuys' honey pump do not arise simply by chance. Ultimately Washburn is concerned, just as was Beuys, with the power of art to reinterpret objects of everyday life and to bring into view energies and processes.
In concrete terms, new products-respective works of art-are made out of secondhand T-shirts. These hybrids between work of art and everyday object can at certain times be purchased by the visitors. This gives rise to an exchange of money and products, of currencies which are both immaterial and material, symbolical and concrete.
Important principles in her work arise out of her interest in the artistic penetrating and rendering visible of systems. Among these is the attempt to establish what may vaguely be designated as the autarchy of these systems or of art itself. Thus the water which is used in the 'laboratory' in Hall II for cleaning the used Tshirts is pumped through tubes and aquariums and, by means of filter systems built specifically for this purpose, is cleaned in order to be used again. In this way the work of art functions almost entirely without the addition of new raw materials.
On the conceptual level, Washburn has recently introduced the competition between two systems into her work as a new inherent logic alongside the aspect of production and consumption: The title of the exhibition, Compeshitstem, which is a combination of 'competition' and 'system,' already anticipates this development. Baseball as a typical kind of American competitive sport, one which is overlaid in many ways with myths and stories from popular culture, finds an aesthetic correspondence in the exhibition on several levels.
The gigantic 'arena' in Hall III is ultimately a recycling product made out of discarded wood. Washburn utilizes this strategy of recycling, however, more for pragmatic than for ideological reasons. Criticism of consumption and an appeal to ecologically conscious activity play at best some role in the theoretical postprocessing.
Her works are accordingly much closer to Arte Povera than to an artistic activism. Nonetheless, sustainability as an artistic metaphor and auto-poetical strategies as a driving force are integral parts of her work.