Featuring paintings, photographs, videos and sculptures by a selection of artists from the gallery’s programme, Between the Pages invokes the idea of the bookmark. This group of works points to the act of creating ‘aide-mémoires’ as a deeply human need to render the ephemeral concrete – a site to which the subject can always return. The selected works re-call quotidian moments or vast epochs that contemplate life’s transitory and fragile nature. Whether embodied by newsprint articles, archival photographs, mementos or meticulous charts, these works serve as invitations to newly orient ourselves in time. Between the Pages thus meditates on the potentials of an “active relationship to time, one where it becomes a boundless field of possibility”.
In these new works, Rees uses the technique of marbling often associated with craft, hobbyist art and artisanal bookmaking. Due to the aleatory nature of marbling as a technique itself, the visual outcome of the works is both highly individuated and arbitrary. Within art history, aleatory art, or art that embraces automaticity and chance, is part of an artistic strategy to counter the crisis of Modernism, whereby contingent rules of production are imposed in order to create a structured system of possibilities within which to work. Since the 1950s, what became known as contemporary art can be understood as Modernism’s crises playing out in ever-new ways, a form of constant re-staging without resolution.
“We need art now more than ever” is a phrase that was repeated in various forms during the pandemic. The assumption appeared to be that art should function primarily as a form of social catharsis rather than as a form of social critique. The seemingly innocent phrase reveals an important truth content as to the function of autonomous art within contemporary capitalist economies. And the role art plays in society is a consistent point of reflection for Rees’ work.
In the past, the artist has incorporated language and visual communication techniques from advertising agencies that actively appropriate aspects of the “culture industry” in order to promote seaweed as a future food. In other projects, Rees has purposely employed the decorative appeal of abstract painting in combination with specific class signifiers to play with differing forms of social and artistic hierarchies.
What these new works allude to is a replaying of an already much-replayed issue, namely the relevance and function of autonomous art today. Art that appears affirmative of culture at large may be socially “useful”but critically void. What Rees’ works speak to is the inherent claustrophobia of working within a so-called doom loop, whereby the desire to momentarily negate the “wrong state of things” within the world appears resolved within the visually harmonious glow of art. These new works by Rees are directly inspired against the desire within the phrase “We need art now more than ever” to return to art’s lost naivety, a sentiment that in Rees’ view serves to condemn art to a conciliatory function.
Dan Rees (born in 1982 in Swansea, United Kingdom) lives and works in Berlin. Rees studied at the Staatliche Hochschule fur Bildende Künste – Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main until 2009 and graduated from Camberwell College of Arts, London in 2004.
Recent exhibitions include ‘The Beauty of Early Life’ at ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe and ‘OMNIBUS’ at Kinderhook & Caracas, Berlin both in 2022; ‘World Art Trends 1982’ at Nuno Centeno, Porto in 2021; ‘Attachment’ at T293, Rome in 2018, and ‘Road Back To Relevance’, Nomas Foundation, Romein in 2016. His work is included in the public collections of Tang Museum, Skidmore College, New York; National Museum Wales, and the Henry Art Gallery Collection, Seattle.
Rees will have a solo exhibition at Tanya Leighton, Berlin in March 2023.