June – July 2023
“Concepcion” sounds like an idea, sounds like – conceptual art. Yes, but no: Concepción is a city, it is located in Chile, it is not very big, but not too small either, it is the city to which this exhibition is dedicated. Ursula and Georg (Graw Böckler) had the opportunity to spend almost three months there, to escape the Berlin winter, to land in the Chilean summer, a successful move supported by a grant from the Berlin Senate. After landing, they discovered the city and the surroundings of the Bio-Bio region with a camera, smartphone and gimbal. The fortunate circumstance that they had been invited by Mario Gomez (DAAD coordinator), who not only organised a flat but also connected them with his social environment, contributed to quickly feeling at home. Just like “Mimi” – a well-known stray cat – who moved in with them after two weeks of getting to know each other. For taking photos, Graw Böckler visited a rundown boxing club in the suburbs. They were so warmly received that they joined the boxing club and trained there twice a week. The summer was dry and the forest began to burn, so extensively that the Chilean government declared a state of emergency. The wildfires came close, ashes rained down and the sky was darkened by clouds of smoke. News reports said that settlements and people were damaged not far from the city. But there was not only fire, but also water in Concepción. The nearby Pacific Ocean is cold, so cold that one would not like to swim in it. Access to the beach is repeatedly blocked by industrial plants (steel, petroleum, cellulose). The Bio-Bio region can be well compared to the Ruhr area. There, too, deindustrialisation has arrived. It was a starting point for the journey of Graw Böckler, who came into contact with the city for the first time during an online seminar on “Deindustrialisation and Art” with students from the University of Concepción.
In the streets of Concepción there are “ambulantes”, flying traders who offer everyday goods at low prices. There you can also find books with animal covers whose contents consist of Word Search Puzzles. The works “Vino de Chile” and “Estallido Social” by Graw Böckler are inspired by such “Sopa de Letras”. The 2019 “Estallido Social” protests and popular uprising, the subsequent change of government and a new constitution were recurring themes in conversations. The frustration in the aftermath of the failure of „the world’s most modern draft constitution” and the subsequent conservative backslash in Chile was somewhat reminiscent of Istanbul (another place Graw Böckler spent time) and the collective sadness in the wake of political hopelessness. If you immerse yourself in the Word Search Puzzle of the work “Estallido Social”, you can decipher words of the uprising: “Desigualidad” (social inequality) “Lacrimógeno” (tear gas), “Saqueos” (looting) or “Toque de queda” (curfew). The work “Vino de Chile”, in turn, features grape varieties of Chilean wines such as “Pais”, “Cinsault” or “Pinot Noir”. The apparent equal treatment of themes such as “wine” and “political uprising” is not meant to be a judgement. The point is that Graw Böckler repeatedly came into contact with both phenomena during their stay. Their own horizon of experience, “as far as their feet will carry them” and also in its obvious individual limitations is the “raison d’etre” for the works shown here.
On the other side of the Bio-Bio river, officially Mapuche territory, there are two lagoons, the “Laguna chica” with an outdoor swimming pool and the “Laguna grande” where swimming is prohibited. To enforce the obviously senseless bathing ban, a beautiful swimming pier in the lagoon was destroyed, recreated by Graw Böckler in the wooden pier sculpture entitled “Laguna grande”. The picturesque lightbox “Laguna chica” shows a woman taking a selfie in the outdoor pool while a forest fire darkens the sky to a reddish hue.
On extended walks through Concepción, Graw Böckler recorded passers-by almost at random. You could call this project “Scanning the city”, which was carried out with occasional disregard for the right to one’s own image. In post-production, the passers-by are given a plastic effect and are thus exaggerated into sculptural figures with a star quality. In their entirety, the “Paseantes” seem like the panopticon of an imaginary manga narrative.
For the exhibition “Concepcion”, Graw Böckler approach their subject in a variety of methods. The documentary photographs and video recordings are the material from which different formats are generated. Some of the photo prints are painted over. Be it a humanised heating system, a drone over a wetland, a spider growing out of the television or dog excrement at the police station. The visual commentary and new elements encourage interpretation.
The large-format works, photographed in analogue, are magical in their classical aesthetic. The summer light intensity – Concepción is located approximately at the same latitude as Naples, but in the southern hemisphere – is shown in dazzling double exposures.
Lota is a coastal town south of Concepción known for its coal mining industry. The singer of the band Simulacro and a tattoo artist friend went on a trip with Graw Böckler to a coal mine that was closed down in the 2010s. The edition “Compañía Carbonífera e Industrial de Lota” was created during this tour through the overgrown, destroyed, huge industrial site by the Pacific Ocean. It consists of a photo book with panoramic shots and a video recorded with a gimbal. The music by Jens-Uwe Beyer generates an atmospheric deep noise to complement this. It is another collaboration between Jens-Uwe Beyer and Graw Böckler, who already worked together on the “Unauthorized Commercials” (2005-10), various music videos and the flicker film “Residence 6” (2020).
At the finissage, the exhibition catalogue and the video work “Best of Concepción” will be presented, set to music by Jens-Uwe Beyer. Graw Böckler award the positions according to subjective criteria. In the process, the genre “best-of list” is turned upside down. This work forms the philosophical finale of an exhibition that declares a medium-sized industrial town in the south of Chile to be the navel of the world. A concept that also manifests in a sculpture that uses blue and yellow folding rulers to form the word that is the topic here: Concepcion.
Graw Böckler, June 2023