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More than okay

In her exhibition Okay at Galerie Helga Maria Bischoff, American Joanne Grüne-Yanoff takes meaning-saturated animal-derived materials and constructs a playful series of beautiful objects around them.

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Bits and pieces of the natural world have been embedded in our culture and psyches for millennia – and they’re woven into our emotional language through countless idioms: to tread on eggshells, to feather one’s nest, butterflies in your stomach…

In Okay, Joanne Grüne-Yanoff’s exhibition at Galerie Helga Maria Bischoff, the American artist takes these meaning-saturated animal-derived materials and constructs a playful series of beautiful objects around them. The eye candy begins with a piece at the entrance: a pair of earphones enveloped by a flock of small white birds. One imagines one’s head smothered by a cloud of birdsong, an emotionally effervescent fusion of ancient nature with modern gadgetry.

Further in, a cloud of stuck-together white eggshells hangs from the wall creating a cellular blob of bird-birth refuse. There’s a sense that the headphone birds flew out of the round holes carefully cut in each of the shells.

The most delicate piece is “WingsPinsSpine” – a kind of hanging mobile constructed from fragments of butterfly wings and strands of moss embedded in butterfly-shaped acrylic forms – all connected to echo a section of human spine, and held together by pins. The obsessive lepidopterist Nabokov comes to mind – Lolita was written on an extended butterfly-collecting trip.

Birds, eggs and butterfly wings reappear in photographic collages out of which peer blurred human faces. In a video work titled “Featherbox” a mini-monitor sits in a collar of feathers. On the left side of the video is a pair of delicate, translucent hand-made “ShellWingSlippers” (which are themselves exhibited in the back room of the gallery) poised over a pile of eggshells. On the right, the artist declares: “That’s okay!” in an infinite loop. The absurd repetition, the massive “fake” smile on her face suggest that, well, it’s not okay, that an act of self-deception is occurring and reoccurring. 

In “Butterfly Box”, we find a written clue. The small wooden box contains a translucent butterfly shape inlaid with what appears to be the ribs of a tiny mammal. We find the fragment of a girl’s disturbing childhood memory typed on cloth above the specimen – labelled “Memory Survival Kit 2”.

Okay is an odd, perplexing tale of beauty, fragility, memory and nature.  More prosaically, it is uplifting to see that the Kollwitzkiez is not all gentrification gloom and doom: far between the many lifestyle stores and touristy cafés, one might even happen to find good art. The fact that Helga Maria Bischoff attracted Yanoff to Berlin following her show at the Liljevalchs Museum in Stockholm (where Yanoff lives) to put up a solo exhibition dedicated to the American artist is proof of that.

Okay, Through November 26 | Gallerie Helga Maria Bischoff, Kollwitzstr. 74, Prenzlauer Berg, www.hmbischoff.com