The stage is set. A drum kit and speaker stack, constructed from wire, await their band at the Museum of St. Albans. This is work from Thomas Raschke, who along with photographer Tobias Hofsäss, are exhibiting as part of the University of Hertfordshire’s exhibition Great IDEA, the second leg of its tour from Galerie der Stadt Backnang in late 2014. The two German artists now both live in Sweden and both are interested in the notion of transparency, both in their work and also in their living arrangements. Sweden is known for its transparency, as the artists discussed at their private view, and rather uniquely one can have access to the most detailed of private information about their neighbour; where they work, what they earn, who they are married to. This of course, does not mean it is any easier to integrate with Swedish society as it would be for an individual moving to any new culture and the exhibition is also about a sense of dislocation and, in some way, an outsider trying to understand and acclimatise.
Hofsäss focusses on daily Swedish life and leisure activities in his negative prints. A woman shopping, tea dances attended by the elderly, a man ice-fishing or someone sitting on a bench outside an urban cultural centre. The images appear as X-Rays of the environment, the figures ghostly and the buildings rendered as unreal dreamscapes or memories. Several of Hofsäss and Raschke’s works are directly in conversation with each other, a Hofsäss image of ice-hockey accompanied by Raschke’s wire boots for example, a girl playing by a lake and the flower garland traditionally worn by children at this time or the juxtaposition of Hofsäss’ tea-dance shot paired with the drum kit and sound system mentioned previously.
Raschke has also chosen to render some classic IKEA designs in wire, a lamp, a jug and other household and clothing items. These designs are apparently taken from ikeahackers.net which, pleasingly, when I tried to visit turned up a 508 Error told me their ‘resource limit is reached’. I could see all the works, both Hofsäss and Raschke’s, for sale in IKEA, endlessly replicable furniture and décor for the office and home. And this is an issue.
This exhibition is not one of my favourites from the Hertfordshire institution. Although both bodies of work shown here are certainly accomplished, they seem a little sterile and lack a certain depth. Casual or accidental museum visitors will, however, find the subject matter unchallenging yet technically impressive and students have a variety of techniques to be experimenting with. I almost wish I had seen this show as a much younger artist, perhaps at A-Level or Foundation, Raschke’s armatures would have definitely had me running for the gardening wire. I am longing though for some more energy and a splash of colour, green cactus’ and blue mushrooms (head to Rashke’s website), in what is a very black and white exhibition.
Great IDEA runs at The University of Hertfordshire Galleries until March 22.
You can watch a video of the artists installing their exhibition here