Laura Schawelka at Garden / Los Angeles

Laura Schawelka / Useless Twin

December 9, 2016 – January 30, 2017 

1328 Kellam Ave
Los Angeles

The work
of Laura Schawelka speaks to photography as an impartial medium: ultimately the
camera does not care what is important and what is not. Under its
undiscriminating gaze, overlooked secondary objects are recorded with the same
detail and importance as the objects or subjects considered worthy of being
photographed. In Schawelka’s photographs and video, objects that denote bodies
and their functions are elevated to subjects. Useless Twin revels in
photography’s dualities, its unique ability to simultaneously reveal and
obscure, glorify and equalize, narrate and document.
In the
exhibition, a blown-up still of Schawelka’s hand partially submerged in green
screen colored liquid wallpapers the room, its larger-than-life scale dwarfing
the viewer. Overlapping the wallpaper are four Ikea-framed collages, each with
an enlarged base image of a bodybuilding liquid protein supplement (Muscle
Milk) poured over black glass. These images are then layered with smaller
images of sculptural representations of hands. Within the images, the artist’s
fragmented body and camera can be seen reflected in glass while photographing.
On another wall, a video of Muscle Milk flowing over an imitation-leather car
seat loops continuously. As the green liquid from the wallpaper (this time
digitally keyed-out) replaces the beige milk, a still image of a car dealership
Airdancer embracing a headless suited male mannequin materializes and
disappears in the ooze.
Many of
the images included in the collage are photographs of arm reliquaries within
the Guelph Treasure, a German collection of precious medieval objects that were
dispersed in the 1930’s and are now embroiled in a Nazi restitution case. The
reliquaries contain actual human remains believed to be sacred, encased in
gold, silver, and wooden sculptures of archetypal and idealized hands. Today,
housed in museum vitrines, their original function as religious objects is
lost. Instead, they operate as institutional fetishes – where they once existed
to prove the real existence of a saint or sacred person, they now trace and
index the history of that practice. In the photographs, Schawelka’s hands and
camera are reflected again in the glass of the vitrine or the relics
themselves, documenting the document.
Like the
museum glass separating the ancient reliquaries from their observers, here photography
functions as a temporal membrane separating past and present like a skin. Fetishes
are fetishized – man-made objects portraying bodies, once valued by religious
and later state institutions, are privileged anew by the light-capturing touch
of photography. In Useless Twin, the depicted object is abstracted and
disassociated from the object of depiction. Bodies become objects, objects
become subjects, and nothing escapes Schawelka’s dense web of interconnected
and layered images.
Schawelka (b. 1988, Germany) lives and works between Los Angeles and Berlin.