Giraffe Superbrain

Milano, 9/06 – 10/09, 2011

Jerome Zodo Contemporary is pleased to present Giraffe Superbrain, the first solo show in Italy by the young artist Bertold Stallmach, who was born in Quithing, Lesotho (Southern Africa) in 1984, but emigrated to Switzerland and is now based in Zurich.
The winner of prizes and grants from institutions such as the Swiss Art Awards in Basel, the Advancement Award of the ZhdK, the Canton of Zurich, and the Ernst-Goehner Foundation of Zurich, Bertold Stallmach is returning to Milan just a little over a year after his participation in (ex)communicate, the group show that inaugurated the Jerome Zodo Contemporary gallery on January 21, 2010.

The inventiveness of this young Swiss artist has led him to dream up a complex aesthetic language and program, a multiform, elaborate fabric that is poetic, innocent, involute and unexpected. Departing from all pre-established, ordinary forms, his hybrid pieces—paintings, audiovisual pieces, installations, or more often, mechanical assemblages—work within a methodology aimed at recovering, and helping the viewer recover, awareness and pride about the artistic process.
For his new project in Milan, Bertold Stallmach addresses his audience directly. Giraffe Superbrain challenges the visitor’s perception and role, the works embodying the analytic system that the artist adopts to formulate his concept of how artwork should be enjoyed. The part played by the viewer in the mechanism of forming cultural knowledge is deconstructed and described in all its noetic and connective functions. The artist translates this intent into a complex exhibition, a path along which visitors are invited to encounter and directly interact with the works.

In Bertold Stallmach’s opinion, Art serves Art, and Art can be explained only through Art. How many forms does it take? As he sees it, two. There are two possible topographic qualities it can assume: “high” and elitist, aimed at the most fortunate, or “low” and popular, comprehensible to all, since it is linked to human instincts and emotions. High and low are the vectors of artistic power, but if it is true that the divine muse molds and cultivates the human spirit, what kind of culture is formed on the lower plains or the upper peaks? The exhibition, particularly the large installation placed on the long wall that runs through the gallery, is divided according to this classification into a higher section and a lower one. This explains the title Giraffe Superbrain and the presence of Riksha, a giraffe-shaped, pedalled vehicle that the visitor is asked to ride through the gallery to look at the works.

A camera placed on the animal’s nose and an onboard computer reveal the ideas and meanings hidden in the works. Riksha the giraffe is like one of us, a viewer—through experience and acquired knowledge, it deciphers and directs the meaning of a given artwork. In the area to the left of the gallery entrance is a wooden structure presenting Riksha’s basic biography, it is divided into nine black and white stripes, each of one is representing an episode of Rikshaman’s life, one for every place he lived. The work reconstructs the formation of an individual’s cognitive capacities, which are informed by both subjective experience and memory and by the memories and knowledge of others. At the center of this area, in front of the biographical reconstruction, is the sculptural piece titled Future of Rikshaman (2011, plexiglas, lamp, motor, vodka and newspaper, 100 x 60 x 110 cm), which presents a possible future projection of the character’s life, underscoring the quirks of its character.
Another method of classifying the phenomenon of art is according to the way that we enjoy it. Here the question is: why do we like Art? What does it inspire in us? Back on the long wall, Stallmach uses various forms of illustration, drawings, paintings on canvas, objects, stuffed animals, photographs and videos, to suggest five aesthetic categories.

1. INSPIRATION: I like it because when I look at it gives me good ideas.
2. SELF-DISCOVERY: I like it because it expresses something I’ve always felt, but never realized I did, and now I see my thoughts and feelings more clearly.
3. PURE FASCINATION: I like it and I don’t know why. Which makes it even better.
4. STRONG IMPACT: I like it because it’s changed my life.
5. I like it because when I look at a work of art it tells me something about the artist.
Concluding the exhibition is the series of Concept Drawings, placed on the dividing wall of the exhibition space. Like a storyboard, it shows the creative development process that led to the conception of Giraffe Superbrain.
To test and prove his thesis about how artwork should be enjoyed, the artist relies on the Concept-mistake-finder-station: a game that lets visitors identify and reconstruct the mistakes in the exhibition. Once again putting a certain pressure on his viewers, Bertold Stallmach invites them to directly participate in the exhibition, showing that the didactic experience is necessary to understand the artwork.

Bertold Stallmach (1984, Quithing, Lesotho) is primarily based in Switzerland. He graduated from the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) in 2008, after studying for one term at Future University in Hakodate, Japan in 2007, and has received awards such as the Migros Culture Percentage grant in 2008 for audiovisual post-production, an IKEA Foundation grant, and a Swiss Study Foundation scholarship. In 2010, he received project grants from the Canton of Zurich and the Ernst-Goehner Foundation. He has taken part in many artistic events in Switzerland: at the Swiss Art Awards in Basel (2009 and 2010); at the Dienstgebäude and Güterbahhof in Zurich (2008 – 2009); at the Go West – Festival der Künste, in Zurich (2006) and at Kunsthalle Zurich with the group show Bekanntmachungen – der Strich (2005). His first solo show was in 2010 at Susanna Kulli Galerie in Zurich; his group shows in 2010 included Catch of the year 2, Dienstgebäude (Zurich) and Kantonale Werkshau, F + F Schule fur Kunst (Zurich).