July 13th, 2006


Very shelfish

It's funny that, as a man who's spent the last week or so mainly thinking about, buying, assembling and erecting shelves -- and writing my next Wired column about "the curse of storage" -- I've also been seeing shelves on my recreational trips out into Berlin. The other day I took the U8 line up to Mitte and saw an exhibition at Ben Kaufmann Gallery (Brunnenstr. 10). There are actually two shows up; most of the gallery space is devoted to sculptures by Martin Wohrl. But when I visited, all the attention was going to Join the dots... to see where spiders live in haunted house!, a "curated bookshelf" put together by Eglantine Masson.

Eglantine basically invited her friends -- many of them musicians well-known on the Berlin scene -- to contribute small artworks to the bookshelf. The result is intriguing; rather than making it ignorable, the small-scale intimacy of the installation makes it absorbing and charming. There's a certain in-groupy, in-jokey feel to it, of course -- one piece is simply a scrap of paper on which is printed the sentence "Oh beautiful art curator, who will fall in love with you today as you wait for your baggage at the carousel at Narita international airport?" But perhaps we should think of it as "relational aesthetics meets the Ikea flatpack".

I don't know where this shelves-as-art meme started. With Liam Gillick? With Hirst's drug-shelves, or Michael Craig-Martin's "On The Shelf"? Or, going back further, with Marcel Duchamp's Green Box (1934)?

Wherever it began, shelves are hot. They're popping up all over the place. In Tokyo, for instance, an exhibition by Ayao Nakamura called "But, Because" has just closed at Gallery Room No. 1 / Room No. 2. Ayao is a photographer, but this show was set up as an installation, with potted plants placed in nooks around the gallery and a bookshelf installed in a prominent position. Prints, rocks, jewelry and "miscellaneous goods" were set out on the shelves, and Ayao even describes, on his website, how to assemble the shelves from the wooden parts. (Google translated version here.)

Art students aren't immune to the meme either; one of the more interesting pieces I saw in the London art school degree shows this year was a shelf installation (containing leaflets arranged by colour) by a Japanese student at Central St Martins. I didn't catch her name, but here's her installation:

Anyway, must get back to my own shelf-building... sorry, "art-making".