Johann Arens: Apple and Pear

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Johann Arens: Apple and Pear
Photography: Johann Arens
Installation detail Johann Arens, 'Apple and Pear' at ASC Gallery, 2012

It takes a couple of minutes for your eyes to adjust to Johann Arens's installation, 'Apple and Pear' – to take in its incongruities and disruptions. Just a typical open-plan office space, after all, full of desks, storage units, computer equipment, health and safety signage – what could be more normal, more unprepossessing? Except that everything is so aesthetically poised, so fetishistically arranged – from the stringent, perfectly balanced colour scheme, to the rectilinear configuration of workstations – it's more like a stage set than a working office.

None of the equipment is turned on or even plugged in. Strangest of all are the various abstract objects and patterns: semi-cylinders that jut from walls; a leaning stack of rectangles; glass disks and oblongs held aloft by tripod-clamps – purposeless, arty-looking shapes that seem like an empty parody of bureaucratic functionality. Or perhaps the point is that bureaucratic activity itself is, indeed, somehow dysfunctional.

The accompanying handout talks about notions of transition, about superimpositions and cross-dissolves in film – where different scenes briefly meld together. The idea is to evoke the building's transformation from its earlier incarnation as corporate environment (the south London HQ of British Telecom) to present-day gallery and studios (in an adjacent room, you can peer through into the real, functioning offices of the ASC organisation).

Yet, actually, the comparison never seems that straightforward. A host of other, cryptic narratives, little artistic asides, are inserted throughout the installation: a single white glove left on a desk; a heart Tippex-ed on to the plastic back of a chair; a coffee mug that appears like a permanent fixture, coiled about with trailing electrical wires. The sense is of past actions timelessly preserved, of ghostly stasis – of the inherent, interminable artifice of all such cultural spaces, no matter how many times they become superficially reconfigured or transformed.

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