press release

Warped, fragmented and endlessly repeated. Responses to the urban experience have ranged from unbridled enthusiasm for these vibrant hubs of glittering prosperity to examinations of the psychological shadows of city living: alienation, anxiety, tension and fear. The current age of global cities is marked by new geographies and social relations moulded by advancing technologies and economic systems. How do contemporary artists respond to these conditions? Urban Reflections presents works by artists from across different generations and locations as they reflect literally and metaphorically on the theme of mirroring the city.

The development of industrialised modernity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought a fascination with new technologies, speed and progress. Population explosions resulted in new types of urban environments while advances in optics and chemistry gave birth to photography and film. Since then the lens and the city have been bound together in artists’ imaginations as they attempt to represent, comment upon and re-imagine their everyday environments through documentary, avant-garde experimental approaches, photomontage and film.

Urban Reflections presents five different artistic positions which reveal the range of contemporary responses to the city. Rather than focusing upon Modernist visions of tightly controlled planning grids and utopian architecture, the exhibition presents work which explores the human imprint upon and experience of the urban landscape. Drawing references from pop culture, urban studies, literature, and the documentary genre each artist seeks to explore a different facet of contemporary urban realities. A concern with the fragmentation of perception runs through the works: images are overlaid on top of one another, spaces and emotions are distorted. In these places there are no fixed horizon lines; boundaries between imagination and reality are blurred, everything reflects and nothing is truly transparent.

Artistic reflections on the city:

Sabine Hornig’s images of vacant storefronts in with the city reflect Berlin’s city landscape into interior spaces, troubling visual perception and exploring the shifting relationships between humans and the urban context. Subtle tricks of scale result in a blurring of the boundaries between photography, sculpture and architecture while the works themselves - positioned in an indeterminate zone between reality and image - are infused with a sense of the uncanny.

Dan Graham uses the processes of mirroring to examine different aspects of human interaction from corporate power structures and surveillance to consumerism and social relations. Here we present a recent slideshow of photographs which explore suburban New Jersey alongside a video work which documents his famous glass pavilion Two Way Mirror Cylinder Inside a Cube (1995). This installation transformed the roof of the Dia Centre for Contemporary Art in New York into a small-scale urban park. At once opaque and transparent the structure framed the viewer in relation to the broader context of the city while simultaneously focusing on what German sociologist Georg Simmel would have called a basic moment of the Großstädter (cosmopolitan). Through this work Graham reveals the participatory social character of urban perception.

The internal conditions of the city, its subjective fantasies and desires are explored through Fantoun, a unique work by Rhona Warwick where newly imagined narratives combine with anthropological data collections, plagiarised material and historical sources to describe multiple perceptions of a phantom city. Fantoun has been expanded from the pages of a book to start life again in the gallery and as website, augmented over time through a series of performances and events. Through this bricolage process, the artist evokes ‘a place comprised of mirrored shards, each one unique and pocketsize’.

In sharp contrast to this approach, South African photographer Santu Mofokeng’s Billboards series continues his fascination with landscape in relation to ownership, power and memory. Acutely aware of the documentary genre’s problematic relationship with truth, spectacle and authority, the artist carefully avoids conventionally evocative imagery of struggle and instead focuses his capturing images of everyday urban life. The Billboards series contextualizes advertising in the daily urban environment, referring to the boards’ historical role as a medium for communication between the rulers and residents of the townships: ‘Billboards can be used as reference points when plotting the history and development of the township. Billboards capture and encapsulate ideology, the social, economic and political climate at any given time’ (the artist).

Santu Mofokeng likens the spectacle of billboards flashing by from a moving vehicle to the pages in a flipbook. Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani’s Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway also refers to the speed of the city and the influence of pop culture upon our perceptions. Here, the car ride from Tarkowsky’s 1972 film Solaris is screened alongside a remake of the scene made by the artists in 2005. Echoing Hornig and Graham’s concern with framing, the film is recorded through the car windscreen which is cinematic both in proportions and scale. The ‘futuristic’ past is reflected into the present, while the artists play out the ongoing exchange between the virtual and the real in experiential perception.

Artist Biographies:

Sabine Hornig Living and working in Berlin, Hornig exhibits widely; recent exhibitions include Gebilde, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York 2006 (solo), The Second Room, Centro Cultural de Belem, Lisbon, 2005 (solo); Made in Germany, Kestner Gesellschaft Hannover, 2007 ( group); Beyond Delirious: Architecture in Selected Photographs from the Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection, Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection, Miami 2005 (group); Collección De Fotografía Contemporánea de Telefónica, Museo de Arte Contemporánea de Vigo, Spain, 2005 (group); and Projects 78, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2003 (solo); among others.

Dan Graham Born in Illinois in 1942, Dan Graham lives and works in New York City. His work has been exhibited widely, especially in Europe as for instance Documenta (5,6,7,9 and 11); Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (2001), Kunst-Werke Berlin, Berlin (1999), P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center / Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Long Island City, New York. Dan Graham has made major contributions through his writing and criticism. A retrospective of his work will be presented in Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2009.

Rhona Warwick Born in Halfway, Glasgow in 1972, Warwick gained a BA (Hons) in Environmental Art (2001) and a Masters in Research in Creative Practice (2007) from the Glasgow School of Art. Her work usually finds its form in bookworks, photographs, maquettes and collage. In her recent pocket-size bookwork ‘Fantoun’, Warwick documents a three month research trip living in Glasgow’s parallel city of Fantoun. Amongst her findings, she reveals the interconnections between Luxury Housing and Imaginary Underground Tunnels, Urban Animals and Anthropology, and Bakeries and Politics. Warwick currently works as a sculpture research assistant at The University of Glasgow.

Santu Mofokeng Born 1956 in Johannesburg, Santu Mofokeng’s early career was as a photojournalist, working for agencies including Afrapix. He has had numerous solo exhibitions internationally, including the South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2006), and the Memling Museum, Brussels (2003) . Group exhibitions include Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin (2007), Venice Bienniale (2007), and Documenta 12, Kassel (2002).

Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani live and work in Berlin and Sapporo. The large number of international solo and group exhibitions they have participated in include Gwangju Biennale (1995 / 2002 / 2008), Istanbul Biennale (2007), Sydney Biennial (2002), Manifesta 4, Frankfurt (2002), Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art, (1999), "Tokyo-Berlin" Mori Art Museum, Tokyo / Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2006). Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 1998, (solo), Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media, 2005, (solo), Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, 2007 (solo), Galerie Eigen+Art, Leipzig, 2008 (solo).

Curator Biographies:

Christine Nippe (1976) is a freelance curator and editor based in Berlin. She worked at the Queens Museum of Art/New York, as freelance editor at Hatje Cantz Verlag/Berlin and as Curatorial Research Assistant at the 5th berlin biennial for contemporary art. Currently she is working as Programme Coordinator at Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin. As a freelance curator she curated the shows PLACE MAKERS BERLIN at Curators Without Borders Berlin and the solo exhibition of Mark Sadler From Peshawar to Paris at the exhibition space of Christian Ehrentraut/Berlin.

At present she is finishing her PhD dissertation entitled Art and Cities. Artists in Berlin and New York: On the Symbolic Capital of Cities (Humboldt University Berlin). During her fieldwork she was affiliated as a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University/New York. In the course of her research she conducted in-depth interviews with contemporary artists from Berlin and New York as Nevin Aladag, Matthew Barney, Dan Graham, Tino Sehgal, Shazia Sikander, Walid Raad/Atlas Group and Anri Sala. She has published widely on contemporary art, urbanism, transnationalism and cultural networks.

Kirsten Lloyd (1978) is Artistic Programmer at Stills and a freelance curator, working for agencies including Emerged ( Based in Edinburgh, she has recently been exploring the potential of the art centre as a public space for dialogue and exchange. She is primarily interested in lens-based and site-responsive practices and is currently examining the intersection between contemporary art practices and the documentary genre.

Urban Reflections is presented with the support of Galerie Barbara Thumm (Sabine Hornig) and carlier | gebauer (Santu Mofokeng)

Urban Reflections
Kuratoren: Kirsten Lloyd, Christine Nippe

Künstler: Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani, Dan Graham, Sabine Hornig, Santu Mofokeng , Rhona Warwick