Donald Barthelme’s short story The Balloon (1960) describes the short yet marvelous life of a gigantic balloon that one day took over Manhattan’s cluttered sky. Its presence triggered many different forms of engagement amongst the city’s habitants: some reacted as if the balloon has always been part of the environment, as if it’d finally taken its rightful place on a shiny throne on top of the clouds. Others used higher buildings to do everything in their power to jump on top of it, even throwing messages at it, hoping that they might one day receive an answer. Greyson Revoir’s exhibition ‘Callus and the Crane’ at Neuer Essener Kunstverein conducts itself in a similar manner to that striking lonesome balloon.
Built out of a wooden structure covered in wet cement, Callus (all works 2019) sits alone in the corner of the exhibition space and mumbles to himself. His back is turned away and he doesn’t seem too thrilled whenever visitors drop by and try to engage with him. He likes to take his time before opening up to someone and telling them about the extraordinary life he had. After a couple of introductory niceties, an abundance of stories jumps out of his mouth; tales or oral histories that went extinct from a world long ago.
Callus is a speaking grey landscape, presented in the centre of the exhibition space. His form derives from a Tell, an artificial mound created by the accumulated remains of people living on the same site throughout successive periods of history. The principle of succession between the individual stratigraphic layers that make up a Tell is a key concept of modern scientific methodology in the fields of geology and archaeology. Following the trail of layers, researchers are able to trace the outlines of specific contexts representing moments in space and time and sometimes even manage to pinpoint the exact moment when an object from past civilizations was created and subsequently returned to the earth. Callus’s stories, however, recall different incidences and slowly start to reveal themselves. He gets more and more talkative as he allows his visitors to wonder around him, step on his sides and even climb on top of his big rough belly.
The introduction of Callus’s antagonist is short and simple. The narrator’s voice from the speakers explains that the Crane must have flown almost a thousand miles, since his wings looked distressed and mudded. Perhaps it wasn’t even his intention to fly all that way across the sea just to sit on top of Callus. Maybe it was the wind under his wings that carried him that way and he just so happened to land on top of that particular rock. As time went by, Callus and the Crane started talking to each other; about the sky, suns, moons, sweat and saliva, about the creation of religion, the evolution of logic and the curious act of heterosexual conduct.
Stepping away from the grey landscape of Callus, one stumbles across a wall-like structure composed of wooden frames adorned by thin white fabric. The walls are almost transparent and allow the stories to spread across the room. There, a single painting is placed on top of the wall and depicts a group of orgy scenes. A unity, a choreographed and heteronymous whole, where the human body is tangled and its borders are veiled. The Crane used to drop by sometimes to have a closer look at that wondrous body mass tethered to the power of polyphony. Callus is now yelling, and the wooden framed structure across the room vibrates to the tone of his voice, allowing the sound to become visible, even if it’s just for a brief moment.
The gentle fight instigated here stems from a long linage of relational thinking, according to which a series of stimuli is activated through interaction. Climbing on Callus’s belly and counting the stars, his people once spilled all over the floor; getting up close and personal with purple sexual hysteria, scratching one’s hand on the cement that covers him, pressing hard against his roughed up skin, getting marks and cuts all over, looking closely in expectation to finally see something; listening patiently with the dread of missing a beat creates a fragmented sensory experience. The performed meaning feels transposed to a network, one that fosters an intentive environment-based logic.
Barthelme’s balloon was finally removed using trucks to transport the depleted fabric to West Virginia where it can be safely stored for possible future use. Callus’ story came to an end as the Crane flew away in search of another chatty adventure. The possibility of them meeting again is not unlikely. “Perhaps when we are angry with one another,” shouted one of the purple people hanging on the wall. Callus went back to his corner and started whispering again.
Grayson Revoir – Callus and the Crane
30 November 2019 – 16 February 2020
Neuer Essener Kunstverein