Kunstverein München exhibits opens an exhibition of works by Andrea Büttner
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Kunstverein München exhibits opens an exhibition of works by Andrea Büttner
Minerva, 2011. Video, sound, 5:40 min, Loop; Courtesy the artist; Hollybush Gardens, London; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Tschudi, Zuoz. © Andrea BŁttner / VG Bild- Kunst, Bonn 2019.

MUNICH.- Andrea BŁttner’s new double-channel video leads with the question: what is so terrible about craft? Depending on the intonation and disposition of the reader, the assumption of BŁttner’s title is that either craft is already terrible (in fact, ‘so terrible’), or that the title is actually a rhetorical question that seeks to vindicate craft from its supposed terror. But in both cases, the relationship between craft and terribleness is established before the video even begins.

BŁttner’s practice has long been preoccupied with the culturally intertwined histories of aesthetics and quality. Her glass painting, woodcuts, and unfired clay sculptures have been described as both borrowing and critiquing the humble, the unfashionable, and the traditional aspects of craft methods. Her videos meanwhile grapple with craft’s historical associations with spiritualism. BŁttner, however, is sceptical of craft’s modesty. Indeed, What is so terrible about craft? / Die Produkte der menschlichen Hand seeks to expose the thin veneer of politeness and acceptability that craft mobilizes as a front for its materialist capacities.

Craft is a political issue. From reactionary political movements’ swing towards the regional or ‘the local’ as a solution to societal discontent (namely, the Arts and Crafts movement’s attempt to reform the social and economic lives of people in opposition to industrial and modern capitalism), to the post-WW2 deployment of craft as a collective experience that might heal the trauma of war, craft and its histories are inseparable from the construction of national identities. To critique craft, is thus also to critique nationalism.

Following the two-part title, the video presents parallel documentation of two German interiors. Following the opening question, What is so terrible about craft?, on the lefthand screen is a church; and after the alternative title, Die Produkte der menschlichen Hand, which serves as a counterpart and an acerbic answer to the latter question, is a high-end department store replete with its luxury wares. Both viewpoints track numerous objects in respective places, finding equivalences, patterns and interchangeable human interactions between spiritual site and commercial hub. Witty juxtapositions gradually build up to devastating algorithmic comparisons. But these two spaces are bound together not simply by dint of residing in the same city of Cologne.

They are also united by the video’s lone voice: a nun who’s spiritual and occupational labor was, until recently, divided between both of these environments. The nun describes her calling, employment, and desires. And although the camera captures a group of nuns at prayer, the narrator nonetheless maintains a shadowy presence throughout. Another figure is also captured at the edges of this video; the specter of Karl Marx hangs not simply in the German title – a direct quotation from the philosopher – but also the way in which it is a substitute name for the department store itself: Manufactum.

The traditions of craft have been infused with models of life and ways of being. What is so terrible about craft? / Die Produkte der menschlichen Hand begins with one question while asking another: who do these models serve, and to what end? – Mason Leaver-Yap

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