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House Berlin Revives A Historic 19th Century Wilhelmine Building With Artist Jeff Cowen’s Exhibition Séance

Cowen's photographs will be presented as monumental sculptures, engaging with the venue's archival memory and in dialogue with works by artists such as Hans Bellmer, Joseph Beuys, Anna and Bernhard Blume, Claude Cahun, Sigmar Polke, and others.


On View: April 12 – June 2024

Jeff Cowen, ORP 19, 40 X 30 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, Mixed Media, 2017. Digitalized by Farbanalyse, Cologne.
Jeff Cowen, ORP 19, 40 X 30 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, Mixed Media, 2017. Digitalized by Farbanalyse, Cologne.

Following a critically acclaimed inaugural exhibition Very friendly in 2023, Berlin-based art space HOUSE presents its second exhibition with the American artist Jeff Cowen following the theme of a séance. The show will be on view from April 12 through June 2024, set in HOUSE’s historic venue, an unrenovated Wilhelmine building complex from the 19th century, with a former 40-meter-long shooting range as the main exhibition space. Understood as a metaphorical artistic dialogue between the artist and the past, Séance will feature fourteen works placed on custom-made steel monoliths appearing as monumental sculptures, surrounded by additional artists’ pieces as a reference to Cowen’s works, including Hans Bellmer, Joseph Beuys, Anna und Bernhard Blume, Claude Cahun, Germaine Dulac, Albert Leo Peil, Sigmar Polke, Margaret Raspé, (a.o.) and anonymous artists.


In the realm of contemporary photography, Cowen’s work stands as a mystic medium, bridging the visible with the invisible, and the present with the echoes of the past. His work, deeply ingrained in the history of photography, transcends the traditional boundaries of the medium, exploring the ethereal aspects of time, memory, and spiritual resonance. Transcendence in Cowen’s work is evident in his ability to transform ordinary subjects into profound, almost otherworldly, experiences. His photographs are not mere representations, they are invitations to a deeper realm of existence. Through a meticulous process of manipulation and layering in his laboratory, Cowen coaxes out the invisible aspects of his subjects – their aura, their spirit, their essence.


Left. Jeff Cowen, ORP 3, 127 x 175 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, Mixed Media, 2018. Right. Jeff Cowen, Untitled Sun World 11, 127 x 175 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, 2018. Both digitalized by Farbanalyse, Cologne.
Left. Jeff Cowen, ORP 3, 127 x 175 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, Mixed Media, 2018. Right. Jeff Cowen, Untitled Sun World 11, 127 x 175 cm, Silver Gelatin Print, 2018. Both digitalized by Farbanalyse, Cologne.

Photography and Spiritualism, or occult, have an intertwined history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Spiritualist movement, séances, and interest in the supernatural coincided with the rise of photography. Even some of the surrealistic practices – that contained an influencing openness for alternative or ‘magical realities’, are routed in Spiritualism. The surrealists Breton and Apollinaire were often given credit for automatic writing, but in fact, the parent movement of this technique was Spiritualism.


The exhibition Séance at HOUSE will follow the transformative character of this cultural ritual in the idea of moving or flying objects – the main works by Cowen are taken away from the wall and placed centrally to occupy the former shooting range as monumental sculptures. Emanating an immersive concept of a séance ritual, the show will include a soundscape by Gustave Rudman augmenting the atmosphere, as an ode to the history of the HOUSE and an interplay to the works on display.


The artist explains: ‘My process is to give myself over in a trance-like manner in my darkroom where the forces of the unconscious can take me over and allow me to communicate with the unfathomable and irrational. A non-verbal, non-conceptualised expression of the unrevealed is the result.’


Derived from the old French word ‘seoir’ (to sit), for a ‘session or gathering’, a ‘séance’ implies the existence and presence of ‘the many’. Following this narrative, a selection of further artworks that function as ‘inspiration’ for Jeff Cowen’s photographic-painterly practice, constitute a ‘frame of reference’, exemplarily visualizing a ‘hidden dimension’ or the conscious and unconscious sources that provide inner guidance for his practice.


As the exhibition engages with the venue's archival memory, HOUSE’s Artistic Co-Director Juliet Kothe explains: ‘HOUSE, as a holistic concept of showcasing art in a dialogue to its surroundings, examines the symbolic meaning of buildings, stories deriving from historic houses and the change of its meaning over time, rather than becoming a rationalist examination of architecture. It's an empathetic approach towards the history of a building, while the housed exhibitions are concerned with the auratic quality of a place.


Interior View of HOUSE, Berlin. ©Noshe
Interior View of HOUSE, Berlin. ©Noshe

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