Neues Deutschland. Review by Hannah Finlator
New series by Francis Gomila.
Lichtenberg Studios, exhibiton Cafe
April 21 to June 9. 2017
As many artists entrenched in digital media flounder in response to abrupt political shifts regarding the distribution and value of information accessible to the public, Gomila turns his practice toward the painterly. Amidst the sudden rise of neofascist ideology across The West, the Gibraltar-born British artist living in Berlin, tenaciously blends artefacts from 1980s East Germany with a rough and fervent aesthetic stirring multi-layered implications.
Ever present in Gomila’s oeuvre is the scrutiny of the observable world. While Neues Deutschland works are based on found imagery, the series is an atypical development for an artist who, since his early works as a painter, has rarely delved into history or personal biography. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of these new works is the subtle emergence of these aspects.
Following the restoration of his studio in a former East German village, Gomila reclaimed newspaper pages from Neues Deutschland, (1946-1989), used by previous owners as insulation under the linoleum floor. Initially fascinated by the optics of communist ideology, Gomila writes:
1. Politburo conferences, trade union meetings, heroic workers with farm machinery, livestock breeders, art competition, and beauty pageants winners are all photographed in a poised fashion that belies the innocence, pride, and naive seriousness on their faces.
Citing the idiom, “swept under the carpet” with semi indifference, Gomila might have given half a heart to the lost innocence reflected in faces captured by the newspapers, but with the neutrality of experimentation, he then reprinted excerpts from the pages and smeared industrial bitumen onto the prints, which chemically altered them creating a highly toxic looking surface.
In one work Gomila added feathers to the bitumen layer. Reference to the ancient practice of public punishment via tarring and feathering is striking. If one isn’t simply distracted by the haunting anti-beauty beauty of the imagery, (rich in blackest blacks, figures barely discernible), one might begin to ask questions about the context and relevance alluding to this type of mob-law shaming, which was specifically intended to elicit public humiliation. However, first, the viewer must search beyond the cast of his own reflection eclipsing the portraits below.
Fast-forward to the Age of Information, Gomila’s ghostly lost-and-found reprints have been sentenced to both historical irrelevancy and artistic arbitration, resulting in works containing provocative irony: the artist recovers buried portraits to then (re)cover them, then further obscures the surviving imagery with eccentric surface manipulation creating a seductive yet eluding final effect.
The direct artistic intention is a little baffling. But, after some “reflection”, if in the current world context, ambiguity of source, clarity of truth, infiltration of nonsense infotainment- or absence of reality altogether- coming out of our media portals is at the forefront of our concerns, perhaps the viewer won’t look past the artist’s glaring pictorial black mirror.
Suspended between foundation and floorboards, is there another mirror, a possible biographical element to these works? Probably- after all, everyone who settles abroad faces cultural identity challenges existing between two worlds. They are also more likely to become especially sensitive to jingoistic language, language that historically precedes and facilitates far-right politics, such as the ones referenced within these works.
Thoughts are free and pass like shadows in the night.* Gomila, entering one of the more complex phases in his career, briefly turns away from the editing screen which has underpinned the last decades of his work, for a time of displacement, solitude, and reflection- blended, dark, and radically free.
*“Die Gedanken sind frei” 1780, German folk song.
Review by Hannah Finlator. Artist, art historian and author.