Art Basel Miami Beach 8–10 December 2023
Signs of Life
Moravian Gallery, Brno
21 September 2023 – 31 March 2024
Tanya Leighton, Berlin
4 November – 16 December 2023
UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing
27 January – 28 April 2024
A leap into the Void
GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo
2 February – 28 May 2023
The land describes itself
Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, Missouri
8 March – 4 August 2024
Award: 2023 Baloise Art Prize
Overflow, Afterglow: New Work in Chromatic Figuration
The Jewish Museum, New York
17 May – 15 September 2024
The moon stamps her image
Tanya Leighton, Los Angeles
Tanya Leighton, Los Angeles
Beyond the Page: South Asian Miniature Painting and Britain, 1600 to Now
MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
7 October 2023 – 28 January 2024
Tanya Leighton, Berlin
Solo exhibition (curated by Alberto Salvadori)
Fondazione ICA Milano
Tanya Leighton, Berlin
6 July – 17 August 2024
Publication: The Man Who Envied Women
Kirsty Bell, Elisabeth Lebovici, Bart van der Heide, Nana Adusei-Poku et al., published by Bierke
Audain Gallery, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver
17 October – 14 December 2024
Kunsthal Thy, Denmark
Tanya Leighton, established in 2008, is dedicated to developing a cross-disciplinary, trans-generational gallery programme with off-site projects, in collaboration with artists, filmmakers, critics, art historians, and curators. Its international exhibition programme reflects a variety of opinions and practices as well as Leighton’s associations with American and British experimental cinema, artist’s film and video, performance, minimal and conceptual art.
Director: Tanya Leighton
Associate Director, LA: Andrew McNeely
Associate Director, Berlin: Melanie García
Director of Special Projects: Alana Parpal
Operations Director: Adina Laub
Gallery Manager: Zheng Zhang
Gallery Assistant: Paula Vogels
Finance Manager: Shuai Wang
Head Technician: Dominic Samsworth
Tanya Leighton Berlin
Kurfürstenstraße 156 & 24/25
Berlin 10785 DE
Tanya Leighton Los Angeles
4654 W Washington Blvd
LA 90016 CA
Open Tuesday – Saturday
11–6pm and by appointment
Open Wednesday – Saturday
11–5pm and by appointment
28 May – 29 August 2021, Museion, Bolzano
In the winter of 1963, the influential conceptual artist Stanley Brouwn (Surinam, 1935 – Amsterdam, 2017) placed sheets of white drawing paper (24.5×32 cm) on the pavements of Amsterdam’s city centre. After twenty-four hours, Brouwn returned to the site and collected the sheets that now registered the traces of numerous pedestrians. His aim to capture intangible elements in our daily lives, such as time and memory, led the artist to portray fleeting moments in a day in the form of the traces we leave behind. The resulting work, entitled ‘View of a City in 24 Hours’ (1963), is a captivating document of anonymous people going, as he called it, “from a to b.”
In the past, the blank page has been repeatedly identified by artists and writers as the main source of their anxiety and imagined inadequacy. When charged with the expectations of communication, the empty page means everything and nothing at the same time. Words and letters can partly overcome the anxiety when they trace the author’s intention, like footsteps in the snow. Words are a way for the reader to move on and become one with a larger geography of thought and experience. However, as ‘View of a City in 24 Hours’ (1963) affirms, words (like footsteps) can never offer a comprehensive picture of this geography when it comes to identification and time. This led French structuralist writers of the late 1960s, such as the journalist/thinker Maurice Blanchot, to focus more on the empty spaces between the words instead of on the words themselves. From this perspective, any form of comprehension should be suspended at all cost, whether it concerns Aristotelian unity or Hegelian totality. Meaningful literature had to be built out of fragments, vignettes, segments, documents, or chapters that might be read in isolation and/or as part of the greater whole. The fleeting moments in between the fragments, when the dots had to be connected, were prioritized and became the main force behind meaning, evoking active integration with the “here and now” of the reading experience.
It comes as no surprise that both Brouwn and Blanchot had a fundamental impact on Jimmy Robert’s artistic practice. ‘Mirror Language’ features the first European survey and the Italian debut of this Guadeloupe-born French artist (b. 1974), highlighting an artistic practice that is firmly placed on the disciplinary intersection between literature, poetry, and visual art. His artworks enable dialogue between imagery and text, text and movement, performance and object-hood that can be both experienced in isolation as well as part of a larger syntax. The exhibition brings together writing, collage, photography, sculpture, and performance, produced by Robert over the last twenty years. What comes across is that the individual artworks depict a momentary transition in which an existing experience or narrative is captured and passed on: “from a to b.”
For instance, the life of an artwork can begin with a found portrait—sourced from art history books, historical photographs, family albums, or periodicals—to which the artist adds a piece of pleated paper or tape that shifts the images into the third dimension. Robert speaks about these source images as pictures of people who are “performing” or are aware of being seen. Treating these images as live subjects, Robert obstructs their sensory faculties; eyes, nose, and mouth are often covered or torn away, rendering the subject blind or mute. This coins an evolutionary process through which the artist continues to reproduce and re-appropriate these same images on consecutive occasions, creating a trace of artifice and added layers. A collage is scanned, enhanced, and reprinted, whereby it may even continue to transform into an autonomous sculpture, a prop in a performance, or into abstract gestures embodied by the artist himself.
At the heart of this fragmented expansion lies the question of authorship itself. Stanley Brouwn was known for eradicating the artist subject all together, making him Conceptual Art’s biggest enigma. Blanchot was more interested in what the author didn’t mention and less in the words written on the page. Robert distinctively highlights the vulnerability of the artist subject by raising the question to what extent a muted voice can leave an imprint. Not only are the materials he uses experienced as humble and disposable—paper, adhesive tape, and plywood—the works on show in ‘Mirror Language’ are, in theory, unfinished. They are placeholders of broader reflections on legacy, a value that continues to be racialized and gendered today. This is why one single work can never capture its complete meaning in isolation because when a voice is muted, other forms of transmission come into play that might be transient in nature but still guarantee a trace. Hence, an artwork by Robert initiates a temporary moment in which knowledge is embodied and passed on through learning, teaching, translation, and mirroring.
Throughout the exhibition, the works are organized and selected around large sheets of paper that split up the open layout of the exhibition space with makeshift walls. The artworks are installed on top of and around the sheets, like the footprints on the paper Stanley Brouwn left on that Amsterdam pavement. Some works are even printed directly onto the paper, an echo of their own originality. Texts that were originally written in English or French are translated for a German- and Italian-speaking audience and added to the original texts as an appendix. One might say that, with this installation, the artist enables yet another layer of reproduction and embodiment to propose a new temporal footprint.
Like many others in the art world, Jimmy Robert never met Stanley Brouwn in person. A letter he sent to the artist in 2013 remained unanswered. Nevertheless, this same letter —ending with the words: “May this text be an indication of the space between you and me”— became the starting point for a set of works by Robert under the title Many Shades of Brouwn, which can be seen as an elicited response. ‘Mirror Language’ features the installation ‘Untitled (Brouwn)’, which consists of a wooden table adapted to a 140×100 cm scan of the handwritten letter. Part of the letter is obscured by fragments of an original art work.
‘Mirror Language’ also features references to historic performance artists such as Yvonne Rainer (San Francisco, 1934), Bas Jan Ader (Winschoten, 1942 – the Atlantic Ocean, 1975), and Bruce Nauman (Fort Wayne, 1941). Over the last few years, their legacy has been at the centre of critical discourse, both within art and dance worlds. As many of the performances in the early 1960s were exclusively reliant on the body of the artist, discussions arise on how these works will be experienced in the future. Of course, for Bas Jan Ader, loss was at the heart of his practice already. The fact that he himself disappeared prematurely on the open sea, never to return, has contributed to the wide-ranging imagery of his work. Bruce Nauman, on the other hand, found a solution by writing an instruction manual (produced between 1969 and 1975). These instructions stem from the artist’s engagement with traditional sculptural processes of casting and mold-making, and focus the reader’s attention on her / his own corporeality.
With ‘Cadavre Exquis (after Bruce Nauman)’ (2010), Jimmy Robert transformed Nauman’s instructions by applying an interactive game with same name. In the game Cadavre Exquis, originally invented by the Surrealists, players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. The end result is a fragmented poem that invites future readers to connect the dots of something intentionally incoherent. Here, following Blanchot’s writing, the empty spaces between the sentences have become so large that “a to b” seems to be a world within itself.
Consequently, Jimmy Robert folded Nauman’s pragmatic instructions in such a way that part of them are obscured and others stand out; creating a poem in the style of Mallarmé in which large sections are visually erased. Robert made the instructions his own, while also allowing room for further interpretation: in Jimmy Robert’s work, legacy is not defined by language or singular messages, but is always transformative and defined by practice.
–Bart van der Heide