MG16, Cologne
12 – 26 November 2022


An environment that is changing ever faster due to construction and progressive destruction raises questions about the state of nature and our relationship to it.

Does increasing alienation boost the need to romanticise yesterday? Not only trends such as the idealisation of country life and the new enthusiasm for hiking are read as signs of a return to the past.

However, the gaze seems to be less melancholically entrenched in the past and more forward-looking, accepting change and rediscovering neo-romantic aspects such as light, clouds, weather and their effect on landscape, nature and the individual himself. The concept of paradise in the here and now.

Is it a realistic concept of paradise that takes into account the development of forests, landscapes and also the seemingly irreversible destruction of evolved ecosystems? Forests that are acutely endangered by increasingly long periods of drought could be revitalized and preserved by reforestation with less water-consuming tree species. Man finds himself again in his favorite role – that of the destroyer, or expressed somewhat more optimistically, that of the creator. This tension, as ambivalent as it seems, produces reactions: political, social and artistic reactions. Quiet to powerful statements, an examination of the ‘status quo’ of the state of nature. Attentively observed developments culminate in hope or also in the ‘worst case’ scenario, in the assumption of a ‘paradise lost’.

PARADISIAC shows a subjectively selected range of these reactions with nine international positions.

Ulu Braun, German short film prize winner, already awaits us in the staircase with his dystopian video collage «Westcoast»; a surreal sequence of images of disturbing landscape interventions that seems to be filmed in a single tracking shot.

From here, the exhibition space finally opens up to a floating, volatile work by Valencian sculptor and installation artist Inma Femenia. Femenia’s «Free Fall» is a chimera between the lightness and sublime beauty of the light-absorbing and, as it were, radiant colour gradients of a rainbow. At the same time, Femenia’s use of color printing on PVC not only goes hand in hand with the digitalization of our world and nature – rather, it is also able to demonstrate its vulnerability from an environmental point of view. Thus “Free Fall” represents more than a light flooded, abstracted ‘landscape’ – it is a nucleus of both worlds, the digital and the real, that implies everything.

Helena Münch’s large abstraction to the right of «Free Fall» makes one think of a lake landscape, a floodplain, the Amazonas delta – the associations could not be more diverse. Münch ‘paints’ with bleach. Her works are all landscapes that penetrate into the dreamy, into the subconscious and thus perhaps come closest to the above-mentioned romantic aspects of landscape.

Irati Inoriza’s sculptures, executed in different shades of green, are quite different – are they hermaphrodites, organisms between plant and animal? They successfully elude any classification. For Inoriza, they are born from the sea and connect the unknown with the inexplicable. They are nature 2.0 – created with materials from 3D printers or traditionally in ceramics – the transformation of her version of landscape and life has already begun inexorably.

Mevlana Lipp turns to another page of the same book: Lipp’s ‘paintings’, created with wood, velvet and spray paint, seem to contain a subtle mystery. The liveliness of his interpretation of nature seems visionary. His landscapes harbor diverse organisms rather than pure plants. His creatures are as ornamental as they are clearly structured, appearing disturbing and at the same time beguilingly beautiful – the seductive version of a modern concept of paradise.

The dark, abysmal side of the paradisiacal promise in landscape depictions in the exhibition are scenes in the paintings of Dennis Kauzner, who contributes a classical painterly position to the show. Here, too, one could speak of a lost paradise – the dark color palette associates an underlying threat – the question remains whether this really emanates from nature or rather from man who transforms it.

In contrast to Kauzner’s gloomy prophecies, the young Mexican Fabian Ramirez transforms his abstract paintings into colorful visual worlds as a sign of his attachment to the primordiality of his own experience of nature. His paintings, which he has recently started to paint on wood as well, resemble landscapes that inexorably spread out before the eye in the wake of light and its energy.

On the window side of the show, Cristiana Cott Negoescu’s installation ‘Causal Nexus’ brutally demonstrates the consequence of the ongoing destruction of our living space and the deformation of entire landscapes. A grinding machine provides the appropriate sound for this gruelling destruction. It is physically painful to witness the process of ablation. Both acoustically and visually – the gaze can hardly be averted – realities are created here by proxy. Cott Negoescu consistently relies on strong images in her work – her installations and performances have an intense physical presence and are not exclusively here about the change in our living environment.

Moritz Riesenbeck, like Cott Negoescu one of this year’s outstanding graduates of the Düsseldorf Art Academy, takes a stance that sets himself apart from the other positions in the show. His cinematic actor does not seem to be looking for answers or solutions to the pressing questions. His landscape is barren, parched, no hint of romance, let alone paradise. His protagonist, or rather he himself, walks through this desert like a driven man. There is only perseverance, but no escape – a gloomy vision or a pointer to the strength to endure everything and thus still have a future?

Future, past, romanticisation, transfiguration, and nature kitsch/clichés: a second video collage by Ulu Braun concludes the subjective survey of PARADISIAC: Ulu Braun is a master of confusion and uncertainty. In «Forst», his multiple award-winning film about several groups of people searching their way through an imaginary forest, he leads the viewer into traps laid everywhere and skilfully questions our relationship to nature, which in his case ultimately ends up in an artificial “nature experience park”.

What irony and demystification of the romantic image of nature and yet perhaps a unifying element of all the works in the show: whether Braun, Cott Negoescu, Femenia, Inoriza, Kauzner, Lipp, Münch, Ramirez or Riesenbeck – nothing is as it seems.

Markus Kersting