Sari Carel / Modernism’s Skies
Modernism, according to Sari Carel, is a magnificent spectacle in decline. She looks at the panoramic view of modernity – the bustling streets of the big city – as if she was observing a huge archaeological mound, blown to pieces by some explosion that has scattered its contents everywhere, like meteorite rain. It could have been a dark and melodramatic apocalyptic spectacle, but Sari Carel’s apocalypse is painted pink and turquoise, and, as in Pompeii, unfolds against the elegant and vibrant landscape of the European metropolis.
Sari Carel looks at the modernist ethos from both ends: on one side – abstract geometric painting and its derivatives in the field of painting and design (the De Stijl movement, Constructivism, the Bauhaus and their products) and on the other side – the displays of primitivism and the passion for African and Oceanic sculpture. Modernism was revealed as an internal paradox, containing two opposing tendencies: the idea of progress and civic society on the one hand, and romantic concepts of “archaism” and “wildness” on the other. The term “primitivism”, as Robert Goldwater noted as early as 1938, represented the ethnocentric point of view and the West’s fascination with tribal sculpture, rather than the history and characteristics of this art in itself. While she refers to this cultural colonialism, Carel also traces the intertwining of art and craft, vegetation and industry, nature and design.
Carel operates within the field of the found image, selecting photographs from old books and magazines from the 1950s and 1960s. Most of these are taken from black and white albums, which preserve both the modernist aesthetic itself, with all its details and flavors, and its visual conventions. She uses these raw materials to create collages on paper and for a video piece, both featuring a mix of sculpture, painting, design and photography, with sculptures floating in the space, designer furniture alternately appearing and disappearing, modern design classics of glassware and housewares hovering inside the frame, and all flowing together in the river of time and consciousness, accompanying a high-speed journey through the streets of Berlin (Endemic, video, 9:20 mins). Against the black-and-white cityscape, Carel flies colorful images like balloons – typical products of the modern city lifestyle.
The term “endemic”, which Carel uses for the piece’s title, is taken from the field of botany and zoology, and refers to the specific genre of urban, stylized and optimistic ‘inflorescence’ which is unique to the specific lifestyle of the modern city. The playful element in Carel’s work is further intensified by the video’s soundtrack, which also comprises an “audio collage” recorded in reality, creating a mosaic of rings, urban hum and mechanic bells. The objects and the sounds offer a kind of happy ‘emergence’, a daydream that comes and goes. In this hybrid of painting and photography, which includes interventions with gouache or acrylic, the streets are the videoed streets of Berlin, and the sky is a painted Bauhaus-sky; the buildings are Dutch apartment projects, with their small vegetable gardens planted by the residents, and the sky – a bedazzled Mondrian sky, lit by the setting sun.