Submission
Paul Spendier

Seasonal Depression

Paul Spendier's first solo exhibition in Vienna opened on 19.01.2022 at tart.vienna. It was accompanied by a text by Sophie Publig. Photography: Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman / Flavio Palasciano


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Paul Spendier, "Seasonal Depression", Installation View, 2022, tart.vienna
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Paul Spendier, "Downtime (2020)", 2021, stainless steel, cotton garment, 76 x 65 x 137 cm
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Paul Spendier, "Downtime (1987)", 2021, stainless steel, cotton garment, 70 x 65 x 131 cm
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Paul Spendier, "Sleeping Plane (black, red and green striped)", 2021, acrylic resin casting, varnished, Ø 37 cm
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Paul Spendier, "Sleeping Plane (red and yellow striped)", 2021, acrylic resin casting, varnished, Ø 37 cm
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Paul Spendier, "Sleeping Plane (orange and blue spotted)", 2021, acrylic resin casting, varnished, Ø 37 cm
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Paul Spendier, "Sleeping Plane (orange marked)", 2021, acrylic resin casting, varnished, Ø 37 cm
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Paul Spendier, "Cherry Tree", 2021, Cherry tree, magnets, threads, stainless steel, variable dimensions
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Paul Spendier, "Cherry Tree" (detail shot), 2021, Cherry tree, magnets, threads, stainless steel, variable dimensions
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Paul Spendier, "untitled drawing", 2022, pencil on paper, wood framed, 34 x 26 x 1.8 cm

Paul Spendier: Seasonal Depression

At first glance, the space suggests a picturesque holiday image that evokes our collective desire for wellness. But on closer inspection, the sterility of the landscape, manifesting itself in steel, branchwood, and plastic, resembles a rather dystopian imitation thereof—what is authentic about this natural environment anyway? Seasonal Depression unfolds, dismantles, and reconnects our ironclad notions of the binary oppositions natural-artificial, individual-collective, and real-authentic.

The discourse around our current era, the Anthropocene, addresses the irreversible intervention of humans in their environment that has been fuelled by capitalism and colonialism. However, the notion of a pristine nature has always been fallacious: “The evolution of our “selves” is already polluted by histories of encounter; we are mixed up with others before we even begin any new collaboration”, writes Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing in The Mushroom at the End of the World. The cherry tree placed in the centre of the space loses its ability to change, which humans take over from now on. Thanks to magnets and screw caps, it is dead easy to take the tree apart using the building-block concept, just to put it back together again according to individual preferences. Here, nature is completely subjected to the visions of the rational homo oeconomicus who wants to conquer and dominate it, while at the same time does not want to recognise himself as part of it. The cherry tree rests on a pedestal made of stainless steel, which uproots it from its surroundings and turns it into an aestheticized reminder of the illusion of unruly nature. When trying to capture a piece of nature in a certain moment, any possibility of symbiotic collaboration is denied, which ultimately results in the subjugation of the environment.

The motif of playful intervention is also reflected in the colourful sculptures scattered on the ground. Model aeroplanes painted in the corporate identity of major airline companies take on the circular form of the ouroboros; the snake that bites its own tail. In the holistic form of the ouroboros, opposites are united as everything is encased in it. The sculptures thus become hybrids of machine and animal in the bright camouflage of consumerism, endlessly incorporating the inseparable connection between industry, the environment, and responsibility.

Two shiny stainless steel deck chairs of high quality complement the scenery. They radiate the kind of wealth and exclusivity that one hopes to gain from their possession. The chairs’ armrests follow the conjunctures and depressions of the economic crises of 1981 and 2008, two events that carried the greed for profit to extremes and further exacerbated social discrepancies. While the misery of the many degenerates into a variable on the graph, the profit of the individual converts into a desirable piece of design furniture. In Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Mark Fisher analyses how ”[c]apitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable” culminating in the apparent lack of alternatives to “capitalist realism”. In the place of collective utopia, there is now only enough space for the lush excess of the individual, who indulges in luxury on the shoulders of the community. Seasonal Depression critiques extractivist practices through playful irony and highlights the possibilities of artistic intervention within that system.

Sophie Publig