Site Gallery

“You need things to hold onto but you also need things to let go of….”

Taken from Something to Hold Onto – a nine-minute video documenting a live performance, this quote offers a glimpse into the wandering thought patterns of Jeremiah Day’s world. Recently showcasing work in his exhibition Of All Possible Things at Site gallery, the American artist was one of five commissioned to make new work by If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, in collaboration with European arts institutions.

Though the press release for the exhibition clearly states that Day’s work is based on Berlin’s cold war heritage, you might be forgiven for taking your time in forging the link. The pictures tacked to the walls depict unidentifiable empty spaces in Berlin and are annotated by a scribbling hand. Day’s work is experimental, performative and feels, for the most part, as though it is still happening around you. Much of the work the artist has chosen to display is unframed, unpolished and somewhat unkempt, as though still awaiting completion – all of this contributes to the understated feel, which resonates throughout the exhibition.

Autonomy is a performance by Day, which took place in Berlin and was filmed by Mario Asef. The projected video follows the artist as he makes his way between a gallery and a political centre on his hands, knees, stomach, feet and back. Crawling about like an oversized child grappling for the first time with a newly grown set of limbs, he occupies ground level territory and hints at a metaphorical ‘ground zero’. This ‘no-place’ found on the pavement extends beyond German heritage and into a broader understanding of world history through our lost or changing architecture.

Day confronts any left over history by attempting to prize it quite literally from the ground. Rolling around between cars and people he narrates a stream-of-consciousness, reflecting on topics of absence and autonomy. “What is required to establish distance?” asks the subtitled mumbling that can be read across the screen. Humming and lolling about, the artist flops into the doorway of a gallery, slumping between the inside room and the outside world. It’s a moment of flippancy, a comedic act of humility, and a general push towards physically occupying a thought. It’s also quite funny.

At one point a dog enters the scene. On the same physical level as Day (who is crawling down the path) the dog engages his opponent in a confrontational barking contest. The dog wins, and Day is forced to momentarily fall back onto his haunches, observing the new performance to which he himself has become subject. A conversation takes place between man and beast, and all that might have been said about the historicity of this site is suddenly swept into a new language: in a moment of unpredicted interruption, the dog reminds us that territory is occupied in the present tense.

Seeking to highlight the cursory nature of our memory, Day quotes fragments of stories and news incidents to the gathering crowds, forging new narratives from isolated excerpts of existing tales. Building thoughts in the streets where structures once stood, he plays with Berlin’s non-descript open spaces, which take the place of previous control towers and check-points, by bouncing ideas across spatial “dead zones” and allowing them to dissipate.

There’s no real beginning or end to this work, but then there’s no real beginning or end to the history it draws from. Movement is a means of excavating the unknown and repositioning the familiar. In Autonomy, Day recites an account of an author who “cut the end off stories”, paying homage to this by drifting in and out of anecdotes with no real sense of resolution. In order to call a stop to the performance he simply gets up off the ground and returns to the dizzying heights of a normal standing position, leaving the pieces of his work to settle on the pavement around him.

The rest of the exhibition displays a fragmented account of urban transformation through photographs and slides. But more intriguing, perhaps, is the peripheral narrative that takes place around them. Stapled to the press release is a copy of a letter written in April 2011 from Jeremiah Day to Lidl corporation, the discount supermarket based in Germany. At the former checkpoint at Bornholmerstrasse, Lidl had begun to construct a new store. The site on which they were building was also home to a handful of trees referred to by the Berlin Senate as “Spontaneous Vegetation in the Emptiness of the Former Death Strip” – in other words, trees which had grown where the wall once was. Day felt compelled to write to Lidl, asking if they might consider preserving the few trees which remained in the space, and describing them as “a manifestation of the experience of potential and possibility that came into existence with the shift of political structures in Berlin”.

The images on display throughout Site gallery show the cleared location upon which Lidl began work, along with a series of steps belonging to a former used car lot. Debris of the past is commonplace in Berlin, a city which houses some of the worlds most compelling history, and Day draws on the relics of this past, presenting them as monuments to the unresolved present in which they find themselves. Engaged with the site through physical intervention and documentary photography, the artist presents his findings as someone who is yet to determine their place in the world. Confessing that the letter he wrote to Lidl was sent much later than he had planned, Day reveals the uncertainty that comes with confronting change and reminds us that waiting very soon turns to passing. The questions made apparent in this work challenges us to consider what we need to preserve, and what we can simply be allowed to remember.