The Grey Triangle, an exhibition by Karl Holmqvist

Artvehicle 23/Review

6th September 2007 — 4th October 2007

Hollybush Gardens is surprisingly, deceptively small. As Wilkinson unveil their monolithic House of Usher on Vyner Street, it is heartening to walk down the road and climb a couple of flights to this studious, studio-like, faintly municipal gallery space. Karl Holmqvist's first solo exhibition in London consists of three major new works, and two prints; exhibited with simple, allied clarity. The partial working aesthetic of the space lends itself perfectly to the pieces on show – there is a distinctly relational aspect to the works' appeal for dialogue, as continuing and unfinished. Holmqvist's practice is crowded with subjectivities – the artist; the audience; the works themselves – and its' expression is necessarily choral in discipline and unsigned thematic models.

The first piece in the exhibition is a video entitled House Music. Four minutes of rapidly changing black and white photos appear in symmetrical, geometric formations upon the screen, and are accompanied by stark German techno. The images are of a civic architecture common in East Berlin – 'Plattenbauten' (literally, 'slab-buildings') – the preferred means of public-housing in the former German Democratic Republic, due to their cheap and speedy assemblage. The 'Plattenbauten' photos in the video are mirrored, rotated and splintered, emphasising their numbing ubiquity, but equally testifying to a humanitarian essence completely divorced from the buildings' original utilitarian purpose: they are a backdrop for cultural and social innovation. The form of the music video, the techno soundtrack and the titular 'house music', conduct dialogues with a lineage of peculiarly German musical movements, from 'kosmische musik', Kraftwerk and the 'Berlin school', to electro, heavy metal and minimal techno. They engage with an urban, industrialised and uniform aesthetic.

Pattern and repetition provide the compositional framework for much of Holmqvist's work, often in the form of civic design and purpose juxtaposed with inevitable entropy by prolonged misuse and intervention. Monochrome is Holmqvist's preferred palette, evoking a primal base for patterning: binary division. However, this emphatic economy of subtlety perversely serves to highlight the joyous diversity behind the stylistics.

The two, framed prints in the exhibition are graphical variations on mandalas: a traditional Dharmic symbol that represents the cosmos in its entirety. The absurdity of such a simple signifier of an eternally inexpressible concept is further compounded by Holmqvist's minimal expression. Holmqvist's semiotic perversion is a denial of denotative meaning. The context, instead, informs the stylistics of any one piece, generating an aesthetic impression rather than meaning.

The sculpture Queenie – a steel pyramid of a diamond pattern resembling the Mitsubishi logo – contains within it the contradictory connotations of industry and mysticism; progress and regression; humanity and mechanisation. Geometric shapes delineate the aesthetic perfection of industry and control, yet also the divinity of the mandala. These aspirational extremes, 'us and them', the mainstream and the underground, provide the most marked conceptual binary within the exhibition, but it's the very real coalescence and coexistence of these factions that interests Holmqvist. It's where black and white merge into a vast array of greys; where civic, pre-fab housing becomes the soundboard for techno music; where the industrialised urban environment is re-cogitated according to the stories of its inhabitants.

A bike laden with carrier bags and other detritus is propped against the wall beneath the windows of the gallery. The bags – all monochrome – bulge with non-descript materials. Media for the creation of art, perhaps. Outside one can see industrial warehouses, council estates, garages and pound-shops. The suggested narrative conjured by the bike – that of the artist zigzagging the city and returning to her studio in the heart of the industrial east – provides us with a distinctly autobiographical image of interloper and observer, confusing the hierarchies and polarities of the state and the individual through the shading of innumerate other positions.


Hollybush Gardens
Unit 2, Bj House
10-14 Hollybush Gardens
London E2 9QP

Thursday-Sunday, 12pm-6pm

The Grey Triangle, an exhibition by Karl Holmqvist —