SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, Germany
16 Jun 2023 - 17 Jul 2023

Jean-Ulrick Désert, CONSPICUOUS INVISIBILITY. WORKS 1997–2023. Courtesy of SAVVY Contemporary

Jean-Ulrick Désert, CONSPICUOUS INVISIBILITY. WORKS 1997–2023. Courtesy of SAVVY Contemporary

Jean-Ulrick Désert is the inaugural recipient of Wi Di Mimba Wi :: The AKB & SAVVY Contemporary Commission Prize. Jean-Ulrick Désert’s body of work is impressive in its breadth and ingenuity. His decades-long work in Germany has made and shaped spaces for crucial questions and practices. We acknowledge his ongoing practice and body of work with this award and the show entitled CONSPICUOUS INVISIBILITY. WORKS 1997–2023.

This solo exhibition is one of the rare occasions that gather Jean-Ulrick Désert’s artistic and intellectual practice as it collides with his itineraries, biographies, and adventures in thought, feeling, and history. Charting a trajectory enlivened in diaspora and animated by the eros and pathos of race and ethnicity, the first monographic exhibition of Désert in Germany comprehends a structure of displacement, unvisibility, and shame in a selection of the artist’s creative output that he has produced since 1997. The show is abundantly delightful, confrontational, and almost shy – not all at once, but in a palpitating orchestration of storytelling and critique, humor and intelligence, or fabulation and investigation: as iridescent materials for making artistic positions visible. Désert calls it conspicuous invisibility.

CONSPICUOUS INVISIBILITY. WORKS 1997–2023 features The Archive/ a work in progress, a new interactive commission using augmented reality to access colonial artifacts from the West African collection of the Ethnologisches Museum in Dahlem. Criss-crossing the impulse for opacity and transparency, Désert gives form to a theory of permanence and the task of presencing contaminated objects among objects in today’s discursive industry – deliberating on the ethico-political impact of decolonization in museology, art and knowledge production, and culture at large. The Archive/ a work in progress annotates impressive commitments, such as restitution and abolition, through personal, incidental encounters with intoxicating experiences of gold, smiles, fetishes, stares, kinks, laughter, and other pleasures from recreation or even public entertainment. In all angles, without touch or pressure, the force in Désert’s archival exposure reassembles how colonial bodies could emerge from current constellations of judgment and analysis and invite scales of poetics and visuality.

Curated by Renan Laru-an together with Hubert Gromny and Mokia Laisin, the exhibition follows Désert in timelines that collapse the artist’s relationship with several vectors, overlapping passages: a beginning, the N-word, queer varieties, death/darkness. It is a sanctuary for the emotional, where viewers are immersed in an ecology of things and surfaces that Désert has drawn from his conceptions of the Black, archipelagic Caribbean. Expected taxonomies developed throughout modernity have been avoided to privilege relational configurations that bind the artist, the audience, and the artwork together. Works of art previously circulated in various art circuits find renewed vitality in juxtapositions and triangulations of their affective gravitas for the audience to be guided by an empathy in looking. Additional interventions from the holdings of SAVVY Contemporary’s growing library/documentation center and the ongoing Colonial Neighbors archive punctuate the exhibition space, to ease possible discomfort and to supplement viewers with related references. Every contact with aesthetic language, socio-historical condition, and moral content in the exhibition situates Desert’s concerns as contemporary public issues. For Désert who intuits the agency of ugly feelings, Conspicuous Invisibility chooses the indictment of dominant cultures through the tactic of imperceptible teases: to be the alluring, troubling, and flirtatious wink in difference.




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