Ydessa Hendeles: Death to Pigs
Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna
By Christoph Chwatal
Showcasing her multiple roles as collector, curator, and artist, the first level of Hendeles’s exhibition gathers an ensemble of artist’s mannequins, automatons, and curved mirrors, which she connects to fairy tales, literary works, and historical accounts. Accessible via QR codes throughout the exhibition, Hendeles’s research carves out the colonial histories, racial stereotypes, and power structures that underlie these systems of knowledge.
Moving upstairs, there is a different pace at work. The darkened display and density of the downstairs gallery vanishes into a lucid space that features specifically manufactured objects such as the Aero-Car, an enlarged automated sculpture based on a wind-up toy originally produced in postwar Germany. Expanding to photographs, paintings, and a video installation, the presentation combines different bodies of work and singles out recurring motifs and symbols. This archival impulse that permeates Hendeles’s multifaceted work draws on an overwhelming density of references while allowing the visitor to focus on the materiality of the exhibits and “artifacts.”
Recurring objects in the presentation are both historical, hand-wrought and contemporary, polished, cast-aluminum keys that appear to either give access to locks or function to wind up mechanical systems, as in the Aero-Car. Or, in the fairytale of Bluebeard, a key unlocks a chamber that reveals a gruesome secret and, concomitantly, gives way to a pivot turn in terms of power-knowledge. Placed as clues, keys are positioned, for instance, in the head of a wooden mannequin, which stands in front of a seated, heterogeneous army of its kind. Yet the keys at times seem to not fit or appear misplaced. Comparably, Hendeles does not deliver a final set of hermeneutic keys but contributes to an extended catalogueof material (and immaterial) objects and incites a way of looking without delimiting the viewer’s participation.
For Hendeles, keys appear as ostensible means to access the objects’ historical dimensions and as an allegory of the artist’s meticulous research. And yet, perhaps they also evoke the question, “Who is able to let objects of material culture speak, and who is in charge of making sense of them?”