Berlin gallerist Semjon Semjon (yes that is his legal first and last name) of Semjon Contemporary Art is an artist on sabbatical who now runs a gallery with an impressive program showcasing the talents of a diverse range of artists whose mediums include photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, prints and installation. I met him at his space in Mitte along with currently featured Berlin based artist Ute Essig to talk about his program as well as Ute’s current solo exhibition titled Bubble and Squeak that is up for a few more days until December 6 (hurry and go see this along with her stitching works!)
Bubble and Squeak, with a working title called Intrusion, is an installation of hundreds of ceramic spheres of varying sizes that have been poured, sanded, fired and glazed individually by hand composed on three walls of the main space of the store front gallery. The whiteness and what initially seems like plastic bubbles covering the equally white walls is almost blinding upon entering. After adjusting to the light, and after closer inspection of the individual bubbles, the evidence of dust specks and other minor imperfections on a glazed surface become clear and the realization these objects are hand made is definitely a welcome surprise. Holding the bubble was like holding an egg; precious, delicate and vulnerable. I enjoyed the intimacy of the ‘thingness’ of the individual bubble and the sensual beauty it evoked, however I wonder what the installation could have felt like with the floors painted glossy white as well to further this idea of intrusion and squeaking.
This installation is abstract and a departure from her more representational works of ceramic logs, porcelain disks, crocheted rope and stitched words on paper (see accompanying images). These previous works were iterations of an intuitive response to Ute’s environment at the time. Like a keen observer biking around Berlin, Ute was inspired by the small moments that she felt defined her sense of Berlin. Graffiti laden cars with the word “Mein” (Mine) on them, the omnipresent cobblestone throughout the sidewalks of Berlin, and even the word “Like” and the thumbs up symbol from Facebook made it into her diverse ouevre. The title of her first solo show at Semjon was appropriately called Stadtgespräche/City Talks.
What remains consistent in the development of Ute’s work is the imperative to create a community of objects rather than just one. For Ute, it is not about making a singular monolithic object in space, but the process of repetition — making over and over again that same thing that is the essence of her art. She craves the labor and enjoys the rigor in producing a multitude of these forms at a scale that is tangible and comfortable within the space of her two hands. In the end, the compositions of these objects are defined by the space they occupy and can be modified depending on the space or person arranging them.
One of my favorite pieces of Ute’s was her text based stitching works on paper such as “Like”. Ute explained to me that she pierces all the holes separately before sewing and then places the punctured paper on a light box where she then sews the thread through each hole by hand. The stitch is seamless as if it has been machine sewed, but the ends remain hanging loose and free blurring the precision of her handiwork. Semjon states about this work: “The inherent contradiction between handmade paper as a luxury item to be preserved, and the ephemeral sprayed messages on the other, is endorsed by a further contrast of craftsmanship”.
Bubble and Squeak includes her largest stitching work yet. This work is hung in Semjon’s adjacent gallery where he exhibits one work of every artist he represents. It is in this smaller room where he began and ran from 2000 – 2011, what Semjon called his Kiosk shop and where a number of artists created interventions. These interventions are what led to the birth of his current commercial gallery. The Kiosk now exists virtually or as he said is “in sleep mode”.
Speaking with Semjon and Ute, it is clear there exists a close-knit rapport between them that is grounded in mutual respect and admiration. It is not simply a relationship between gallerist and artist, but more profoundly, from one artist to another. This is what makes Semjon’s program unique. He is passionate about the work and the artists who make them. He is an advocate for their success as working professional artists and although he laments the challenges of realizing this goal in a city like Berlin that is continually undergoing development and redefinition on so many levels, he is committed to working for his artists as long as he can in a way that is welcoming to all who encounter his vision. And it is an impressive vision to be experienced. Ute Essig’s Bubble and Squeak is up for a few more days, so go see it while you can.
Semjon Contemporary is located at Schröderstraße 1, Berlin 10115.
www.semjoncontemporary.com +49 30 784 12 91
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 1 – 7 p.m.