The first thing that strikes you upon entering this multi-faceted show by David Renggli (b. 1974 in Zurich) at Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen is one of Renggli’s signature reverse glass paintings in black and white titled I Love You (b/w), 2013. Contrary to the usual colorfulness of the abstract color strokes, the hues in this painting have been reduced to grayscale while the massive wood frame glistens in a soft pastel pink.
Hanging next to the monochrome painting is a seven-foot flute made out of wood cryptically titled Compositions, 2013. The larger than life flute is suspended from the ceiling with its mouthpiece hovering inches above the entry’s floor. Upon closer inspection the air holes of the flute are placed anarchically all around its slender form.
A stark contrast to the orderliness of the first vista greets the viewer as you move into the Kunsthalle’s second and largest room. Eight neon sculptures in an otherwise dark space create a wonderful atmosphere of intensely colored light. Focusing on one of the tree-like sculptures, they are assemblages of words and geometric forms. Each one following the same rules yet differing in color and form: words like “ABER” (German: “but”) and “SORRY” are read top to bottom, split into two columns, while various geometric forms unite the word-fragments. For example the word “LIB/IDO” is backed by a tilted triangle whereas the word “NU/DE” is backed by a “hash-tag” like symbol skewed, in perspective. It remains unclear as to how the geometric figures correspond to the connected words. One might argue that the alleged meaninglessness leaves us with one choice only: reading the words as simple sounds and the utter fascination with this most basic realization about communication. Something quite wonderful actually, something seemingly so simple yet profoundly human. (I would speculate that the Show’s title Scaramouche was chosen out of similar reasoning. It is simply such a fun word to say.)
Wandering around the room inspecting the various iterations of the neon sculptures, you discover another sculpture, Daybed Nr.1, 2013, which is almost hidden away in one corner of the space. The piece consists of a smooth concrete slab on a metal sub-frame with a rather large, almost rectangular, natural stone mounted on one end. It is reminiscent of a chaise lounge. The sculpture/bench has specifically designed holes in the concrete where swiss currency and a gemstone slice are embedded. Interacting with the bench is quite a tactile experience as probing fingers glide over the glassy sliced gem, the smooth concrete, or the rough surface of the large stone.
Moving on to the next, small and elongated room, one happens upon a softly lit rectangular metal frame supporting a book with a rather large wine bottle centered on top. This work is titled Yes Maybe, You’re Right But Let Me Think About It, 2013. The bottle is filled with what looks like wine. There are wine-corks, flies, and cigarette butts suspended in the liquid. Like a mad genie in a bottle, the sound of crazed laughter escapes from the open bottleneck. The barely audible sound forces the viewer to assume a specific posture, made to bend their posture almost in half in order to listen to the recording.
This is typical of David Renggli’s sculptural work, as seen in the last room of the exhibition where there are two more benches with a more complex arrangement of natural stones glued to the concrete slab, leaving the human frame only few choices in how to arrange itself comfortably. The artwork thus functions as a ruse to see human bodies assume certain positions.
As you turn the corner from the palate cleansing toned-down room with the bottle you behold a truly monumental reverse glass painting I Love You Nr.3, 2012 composed mostly in reds. This is the only work that wasn’t specifically produced or revisited for this show. To the left there are two more benches parallel to each other suggesting a sort of communicative space, furthered by two robotic flutes amateurishly playing a barely recognizable duet-rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.”
While the painting is purely impressive the technical feat of the flutes independently playing music almost seems endearing and funny, almost cute when they miss a note or when the robotic fingers struggle to keep up with the tempo of the music. This mixture of well considered surface finish along with subtle content references and wit, drawing the viewer in and almost forcing them to interact, physically and mentally.
by Sebastian Schaub