Maria Loboda’s Historical Constellations in Berlin
It is a dull and grey November afternoon, typical of weather in Berlin at this time of year, and Maria Loboda's exhibition, Woman observing the Alpha Persei Cluster, at Galerie Thomas Schulte (16 November 2019–11 January 2020) appears particularly striking in contrast to these dreary climactic conditions. Occupying the street-facing 'Corner Space' of the gallery, from a distance the exhibition appears like an eccentric bureau, furnished with a mix of medieval, modernist, and quasi-archaeological objects (it is the chair and desk, in particular, that give the room a bureaucratic mien). The entire scene is framed by a triptych of palatial windows, a notorious feature of the building for those who have visited before, and one of the gallery's characteristics Loboda deliberately incorporates into this site-specific installation.
Exhibition view: Maria Loboda, Woman observing the Alpha Persei Cluster, Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin (16 November 2019–11 January 2020). Courtesy the artist and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin. Photo: © Stefan Haehnel.
Inside, an airbrushed wall drawing, The interior, left alone, transforming itself (2019), acts as a framing device for the rest of the display, its proportions at once evoking interior and exterior space. Loboda makes use of the unique dimensions of the gallery by casting the drawing upward to emphasise the cavernous reaches of the room. Painted-on stonework and cascading vines further reinforce the antique atmosphere in an affectation of physical decay. Opposite, Some mysteries have no clues (2019) comprises two battered stainless steel cups adorning the facing pillars in an insinuation of lighting fixtures: influenced by a Bronze Age cup discovered in England in 2001, which was supposedly crushed by the weight of the soil in which it was buried, an archaeological artefact has been transformed into household object.
Archaeology and domesticity are once again drawn together in Loboda's newest work, The chair of Hetepheres, Mother of Khufu (2019), which stands in the centre of the room. With gnarled and twisted tree roots, the chair references the 19th-century 'Naturstuhl' (nature chair) by Karl Gräser, a founder of the Monte Verità colony in Switzerland, and a throne entombed in the funerary chamber of the Egyptian queen Hetepheres, whose mummy was mysteriously absent from the chamber when it was discovered in 1925 near the pyramid of Giza. A pair of matching gilded greaves lean casually against the chair, which has been pulled out slightly from a heavy double pedestal oak table, a corner of which is gripped by a pair of medieval armoured gloves, as though their user might return at any moment.
Strewn about the table is a mess of 1970s science fiction comic books—the Metal Hurlant series is particularly well represented. Some are visibly vintage originals, while others have been reprinted and bound with ripcords. A handful have fallen open, revealing inner pages, one of which depicts a gleaming cyborg woman holding a sheath of red cloth demurely against her breasts.
Though the objects on display are seemingly unconnected, these unusual arrangements are typical of Loboda's work. Through installation and sculpture, Loboda grapples with the codification of objects in society, particularly as they serve to reinforce orthodox historical narratives and conditions of social norms. Oscillating between the mundane and the fantastical, microcosms and macrocosms, Loboda collapses historical and phenomenological referents into what she calls a 'transhistorical environment', allowing meanings to become fluid or changeable according to the shifting perspectives of viewers.
The show's title, A Woman observing the Alpha Persei Cluster, fits into this logic. The anonymising function of typical newspaper captions comes to mind. As do astral constellations and the ancient hero Perseus, the nominal ancestor to the ancient stellar constellation of which the Alpha Persei is part, who beheaded the Gorgon Medusa, an enduring representation of female rage. Perhaps the anonymous woman in this show's title is not just a witness, but a figure looking on as histories continues to be written by victors. As this show suggests, some histories are worth revising.