Taking Root at KIT Düsseldorf

In a world full of conflicting interests and beliefs, how do artists root themselves? Where do they find their sense of direction? These questions underlie the exhibition Taking Root. The assumption is that the eleven artists presented here did find some roots. They have developed a clear and insistent focus in their practice, and that is what gives their work depth.

For a tree, life without roots is not possible. It needs a stronghold, right underneath, in order to grow and stay firm, to endure storm and thunder, and to maintain resilience. One can assume that similarly, human beings find some “nutrition” in the places where they grow up. Yet, those places are not the only ones where developing roots happens. Artists can pick their roots, collect them on their way through life, or search for them in places where they are not yet familiar. After all, humans are mobile beings. And for humans, roots are not just a matter of physical circumstances; they can reside in thoughts, memories, beliefs, and traditions.

Taking Root brings together the work of eleven artists. Some of these artists grew up close to nature; for others, the city has been their natural environment. Some of them are young artists, who in recent years have started their own studio practices. Others have been working for decades already, and have had more options to develop their roots. Together, the participants span two generations of contemporary artists. Most of them come from Europe, yet in terms of landscape and cultural climate, their backgrounds are diverse. One is from the USA, which is itself a country with roots in Europe. 

In times when God is declared dead, or has been hijacked by terrorists, when political leaders can be liars and fakes, the question is where to find understanding and beliefs, and additionally, where to find the confidence and context from which to act? The answer goes inside, into the imagination and reflection of the artists. And it leads into the traditions that have shaped them. These eleven artists have been selected for this show not necessarily because their work is about roots, or depicting it as a theme, but rather because their work has roots. The artists have been able to ground themselves in the present, and find a sense of direction through anchor points in nature, religion, art, or culture. They have developed an interest that brings their work into focus.

The artists in Taking Root do not usually find their artistic incentives in the daily news or in politics. Their knowledge is more indirect, coming from stones, stock photos, walks, landscapes, icons, paintings, plants, children – from all possible sources. There are many situations and observations that guide them. They do not preach or illustrate a particular belief. They make their work as artists, through searching and delving and developing their own discipline – that is enough of a statement. You can sense in their work that they know something.

Even though art is not necessarily sacred territory, it offers stretches of land where a different world is possible – not corrupted, and not adrift. It can offer an environment where you actually want to spend time, a place that is nurturing for the mind, body, and soul. The Kunst im Tunnel offers a good shelter, with solid walls, to create some distance to the physical and digital traffic around, to the hustle of city life, to the problems of our times. The generous tunnel space filled with the works of eleven contemporary artists allows a time out – and offers itself as a place to reconnect and take root.

KIT, Mannesmannufer 1, Düsseldorf, exhibition runs through 26 January 2020 and is open Tue-Sun 11 – 18 h

Maria Capelo in Lisbon

The publication ‘The Things of the World are Rock’ brings together recent drawings and paintings of Lisbon based artist Maria Capelo. They were shown in the Pavilhão Branco in Lisbon in 2019. The title of the exhibition s borrowed from words by Cesare Pavese. The artist shares with Pavese a deep interest in landscape, and in the traces of life that can be observed in nature, and the sense of time it evokes.

I visited Capelo’s exhibition in Lisbon and wrote in response the essay ‘Rock Solid Vivid’ which was published in the catalog, along with texts by Tobi Maier and João Pinharanda. The book is published by the Galerias Municipais in Lisbon.

“All the drawings bring our attention to the surface of things, and show structure, strong contrast. They are refined, we see the thinnest of lines and folds, like in a hand palm. What the works share is a transformational unpredictability and suggestiveness. The depicted motifs seem to be willing to become something else. A tree is a bone. A branch is a leg. A bush is a vulva. Stepping into the work, causes a chain of associations. “My work has always that approach, of observing, contemplating and reorganizing what you can see.” Capelo remarked. So she makes landscapes – but she also makes something else.” (from the essay ‘Rock Solid Vivid’)