The woman is nerving! She wants to be nervy. Kaari Upson, 47 years old, at home in Los Angeles, grew up in the 200, 000 soul city of San Bernardino in southern California. The first McDonalds business was opened here in 1958. Otherwise there is little to report about this San Bernardino, except that there is a Twin Peaks nearby behind the mountains, and it is also the place where the directress of the Basler Kunsthalle, Elena Filipovic, was born, like Upson in 1972. They never met there.
Now, in the comprehensive solo exhibition Go Back The Way You Came, she presents her artist colleague for the first time in Switzerland with brand new works. It fits in well that the artist, who is hardly known in Germany either, will simultaneously be given a retrospective exhibition, Door, Open, Shut, at the Hannoveraner Kunstverein with works from the past ten years. Previously, she had attracted attention with two works in the main exhibition of the 58th Venice Biennale: in the central pavilion of the Giardini with the monumental vertical-format Gesso-grounded graphite-ink drawing, View From the Interiorized; You Are the Pervert (2016-2019). After her training at the California Institute of the Arts in 2007, she became known for such proclamations of war, a manic psycho-mapping that hardly offers the eye a hold between proliferating figurations and writing signals. She effortlessly transfers such soul cartographies into the three-dimensional. Her fragmented witch-wood-house- stage, There Is No Such Thing As Outside (2017-2019), easily sucked the audience into the abysses of US American middle-class society.
The exhibitions in Hanover and Basel therefore complement each other ideally. While visitors to Hanover pass through a representative cross-section of Upson’s multimedia universe from work to work, they are immersed on the Rhine in a current snapshot of her work, which centers around her ambivalent mother-daughter relationship. The anarchic spirit of the artist unfolds fully here, a subversive round dance of closeness and distance, of identity and self-empowerment. The opening is already a tough one: with the first of five exhibition rooms, visitors enter a forest of pink to flesh-coloured trunks hanging from the ceiling, Mother’s Legs (2018-2019). The twenty-six urethane sculptures move with every draft of air, and if you take a closer look, they show not only bark beetle cavities and traces of processing, but at their bend, the enlarged cast of human knees. Harmless, insignificant, trivial? No, because the intrusive anthropomorphism sensitively irritates the seriality and grace of the work. An explanatory narrative is not provided by the title „Mother’s Legs“, nor by the explanation that the knees are casts of the artist’s and her mother’s leg joints. Thus the magic forest gives not a single thing away, except for the instructions on how to move in it and how to read it and the following parcours.
You can’t see that in Basel. Not even Larry. Here the research is entirely focused on the existential transformations and rejections with regard to being thrown, on the relationship to the mother. A series of six different nuances of painted wooden heads superimposes the artist’s faces with those of her mother, her friend, their mother and grandmother into a ghostly genealogy, O. Snag (2018-2019). Video works such as A Place for a Snake (2019) continue the uncanny charades of the identity pact as masquerades until the visitors in the last room are confronted with Fireplace II (2019) or Bathtub (2017-2019), set pieces of objects replicated from their parents‘ house in cast resin. Toys or disaster wreckages? For the visitor, it is an intellectual pleasure to reassemble them in thought and thus to enter their own underworlds. Chapeau!
The Article will be published in German in Kunstforum International, vol. 264, End of October 2019.