'I can’t remember what I was actually doing there… I passed a newly renovated area [beside the Thames]… They were showing The Odyssey… I watched the play from the back, trying to record some bits of it. I think the material [I shot] is very boring…’
This strange and honest rambling text describes Leonie’s attempt to make something – an art work – from the experience of being in a foreign city; navigating by instinct; reacting to chance encounters.
‘… I thought I could hike along the Thames with The Odyssey in my mind and film [some] scenes which I could use as my symbolic interpretation of the story… this was a very stupid idea… On my walk I didn’t really experience any Odyssey-like scenes.’
In summer 2017 Leonie Nagel became the first international artist to take part in Kingsgate Workshops’ studio residency programme. The Sirens of St L: The meeting-point at Kingsgate Project Space is an exhibition of new works begun in London and developed in the intervening months between London and Berlin.
There are any number of 19th and 20th century clichés of metropolitan art making – Baudelaire’s flâneur; Debord’s dérive; Rauchenberg’s trash-collecting loops of the block. A bathetic echo of all of these remains in Leonie’s sallies out into the city, to explore and to bring back experiences, souvenirs and ready-mades. They are undertaken with the same Romantic spirit of possibility, but soon run into trouble.
An attempt to portray a public park by collecting abandoned litter is curtailed by the park wardens’ zealous cleanliness. An epic riverside walk peters out because of the artist’s sudden onset of tiredness and a growing desire for Kulfi ice cream. A plan to document a municipal rose garden is interrupted by the artist’s self-consciousness – not wanting her camera to draw the attention of a nearby group of arguing young men.
Perhaps these men choose to congregate here because of its privacy. The rose heads are all eyeless and the CCTV operator is more interested in the nearby high street. The artist’s camera then could be the least welcome eye in this particular corner of the park. The threat of ubiquitous visibility inspires the desire for invisibility, just as invisibility, it seems, longs for sight.
Pareidolia is a tendency to see 2 dots side-by-side and read them as eyes. In the film Bollards, pairs of dots found on street bollards have been appended (by who knows who) with inked noses and grinning mouths. The graffiti writer has acted in haste semi-consciousness of the eye-in-the-sky while (s)he crudely transforms mere metal bumps into watching faces.
Accompanying the film stands a large black piece of non-utilitarian furniture. The interior space of this block is invisible, while each tile on its skin is imprinted with scavenged detritus to depict dumb smiley faces.
The exhibition The Sirens of St L: The meeting-point is an unruly gathering of gurning and leering faces, casual gargoyles, coming together to return our gaze. Even though this reflected gaze is of course nothing more than a projection of our own desires.
Quixote’s repeated sallies out across La Mancha too led to misperceptions and to fantastic tragicomic encounters. In the meandering annotations of Daniel Spoerri’s Topography (referring to a bottle cap), Spoerri describes visiting Fontaine-de-Vaucluse because ‘… it was marked [on the map] with three stars… [but] in the summer it’s nothing at all, just a hole with a little water in it.’ These landscapes of Spain and France are enriched or transformed as much by what is not there as by what is. London is a city of hyper-visibility and it is also a city where an individual can easily disappear.
The pessimist is never disappointed and the paranoic is seldom wrong. What rocks then are Leonie’s sirens tempting unwitting viewers onto? A recent study by Norimichi Kitagawa of Tokyo's NTT Communication Science Laboratory suggested a correlation between pareidolia and neurosis - and London’s ever present CCTV does little to comfort the neurotic.
Production of the works in this exhibition was made possible with the generous help and support of Rochester Square
Leonie Nagel (b. 1992) lives and works in Berlin. She has just finished studying at HGB Leipzig under Peter Piller and studied as a guest under Josephine Pryde at Universität der Künste Berlin (2017). Recent exhibitions include; Letters and Numbers 3. off-season in St Leoni (solo), 8. Salon, Hamburg (2017), Suppose there´s right and wrong it´s probably right, W139, Amsterdam (2017), Rave, Ying Collosseum, West Germany, Berlin (2016), and Fine weather in St Leoni (solo), Galerie KUB, Leipzig (2015).