HOUSE Berlin revives a historic 19th century Wilhelmine building exhibition

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HOUSE Berlin revives a historic 19th century Wilhelmine building exhibition
Jeff Cowen, ORP 19, 40 X 30 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, Mixed Media, 2017, Edition of 1.

BERLIN.- Following a critically acclaimed inaugural exhibition Very friendly in 2023, Berlin-based art space HOUSE presents its second exhibition with the American artist Jeff Cowen following the theme of a ‘séance’. The show will be on view from April 12 through June 2024, set in HOUSE’s historic venue, an unrenovated Wilhelmine building complex from the 19th century, with a former 40-meter-long shooting range as the main exhibition space. Understood as a metaphorical artistic dialogue between the artist and the past, Séance will feature fourteen works placed on custom-made steel monoliths appearing as monumental sculptures, surrounded by additional artists’ pieces as a reference to Cowen’s works, including Hans Bellmer, Joseph Beuys, Anna & Bernhard Blume, Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore, Germaine Dulac, Rudolf Koppit, Albert Leo Peil, Sigmar Polke & Christof Kohlhöfer, Margaret Raspé, (a.o.) and anonymous artists.

In the realm of contemporary photography, Cowen’s work stands as a mystic medium, bridging the visible with the invisible, and the present with the echoes of the past. His work, deeply ingrained in the history of photography, transcends the traditional boundaries of the medium, exploring the ethereal aspects of time, memory, and spiritual resonance. Transcendence in Cowen’s work is evident in his ability to transform ordinary subjects into profound, almost otherworldly, experiences. His photographs are not mere representations, they are invitations to a deeper realm of existence. Through a meticulous process of manipulation and layering in his laboratory, Cowen coaxes out the invisible aspects of his subjects – their aura, their spirit, their essence.

Photography and Spiritualism, or occult, have an intertwined history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Spiritualist movement, séances, and interest in the supernatural coincided with the rise of photography. Even some of the surrealistic practices – that contained an influencing openness for alternative or ‘magical realities’, are routed in Spiritualism. The surrealists Breton and Apollinaire were often given credit for automatic writing, but in fact, the parent movement of this technique was Spiritualism.

The exhibition Séance at HOUSE will follow the transformative character of this cultural ritual in the idea of moving or flying objects – the main works by Cowen are taken away from the wall and placed centrally to occupy the middle of the former shooting range as monumental sculptures. Emanating an immersive concept of a séance ritual, the show will include a soundscape by Gustave Rudman augmenting the atmosphere, as an ode to the history of the HOUSE and an interplay to the works on display.

The artist explains: ‘My process is to give myself over in a trance-like manner in my darkroom where the forces of the unconscious can take me over and allow me to communicate with the unfathomable and irrational. A non-verbal, non-conceptualised expression of the unrevealed is the result.’

Derived from the old French word ‘seoir’ (to sit), for a ‘session or gathering’, a ‘séance’ implies the existence and presence of ‘the many’. Following this narrative, a selection of further artworks that function as ‘inspiration’ for Jeff Cowen’s photographic-painterly practice, constitute a ‘frame of reference’, exemplarily visualizing a ‘hidden dimension’ or the conscious and unconscious sources that provide inner guidance for his practice.

As the exhibition engages with the venue's archival memory, HOUSE’s Artistic Co-Director Juliet Kothe explains: ‘HOUSE, as a holistic concept of showcasing art in a dialogue to its surroundings, examines the symbolic meaning of buildings, stories deriving from historic houses and the change of its meaning over time, rather than becoming a rationalist examination of architecture. It's an empathetic approach towards the history of a building, while the housed exhibitions are concerned with the auratic quality of a place.

Jeff Cowen grew up in New York City and graduated in Oriental Studies from New York University and Waseda University Tokyo. In the 1990’s he studied academic drawing and painting at the Art Students League and the New York Studio School. Cowen’s interest in poetry, aesthetics, and the non-visible world eventually led him to explore the conceptual, experimental terrain of black-and-white film photography. His work explores the evolutionary potential of the photographic medium and has particularly been interested in mating the power of painting with the power of photography. Jeff Cowen’s works are included in numerous public and private collections. In 2019, the private collection MAP from Bremen acquired a substantial body of Cowen’s work from the previous 10 years. His works have been shown in Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, Germany; DZ Bank Art Collection Frankfurt, Germany; Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, Germany; Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Russia; among others. In 2021, Jeff Cowen was awarded the Pollock Krasner Grant for Fine Art Still Photography for his Provence project. In 2024, Cowen will show Provence Works at the Huis Marseille Museum for Photography and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in a co-operative exhibition.

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