Sophie Jung at Istituto Svizzero

Artists: Sophie Jung (in collaboration with Elena Radice)

Exhibition title: Unsetting

Curated by: Gioia Dal Molin

Venue: Instituto Svizzero, Milan, Italy

Date: October 2 – November 14, 2020

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Instituto Svizzero, Milan

“Unsetting”—is the title given by Sophie Jung to her first solo exhibition in Italy, which she developed together with the Milan-based artist Elena Radice. “Unsetting” is an invented term which recalls on the one hand the reverse of a setting, a scene or even a stage, and on the other it implies a ‘refusal to set’—a sun, but perhaps also a system, an era. Stepping into this somewhat unsettling, even disconcerting scenario and onto this stage we are greeted by a cornered, slightly misshapen, black half-sun that does not want to set, miraged by the shiny ground back into a whole.

“Unsetting” works as a unifying installation with objects, drawings, and sound. The individual components are connected and interwoven through Sophie Jung’s exploration of (feminist) linguistic theory, as well as through her fascination of polyphonic and non-linear display formats. The sculptures approach us as ambiguous figures. They sit somewhere between ready-mades in their true sense and assemblages of found, made and sought-after materials and objects—deprived of their original function, alienated or freed. We see, almost hear, upside down, oversized wine glasses, the skylight of a demolished bank building converted into a coin fountain come drowning through, a hanging elephant carrying additional trunks—a perverse merging of found costumes, a Christmas tree wearing a perfectly round ballet skirt (hidden in a second room), an antique-looking pulpit—all mirrored, all doubled. The drawings expand this un-world, while the sound work conceived by Elena Radice mocks, torments or momentarily worships the objects and figures, connecting and confusing them, filling the space with many half-uttered enunciations.

“Unsetting” is in essence nourished by a workshop which the two artists held ten days before the exhibition’s opening. Departing from theory-based questions about the dis/embodiment of language, about the mechanisms of power and exclusion inherent in it and about the revolutionary potential of a collective messing with it, Sophie Jung and Elena Radice, along with the participants of the workshop, created collective texts—among other things utilising the method of the ‘Cadavre Exquis’ developed in surrealism—which in their polyphony try to break the claim of representation of language and the individual voice. Some of the sculptures exhibited in the space were already present during the workshop and served as friction, reference objects or even instruments. The 17-minute sound work by Elena Radice is composed from “text sculptures”, as Sophie Jung calls her collective text improvisations, which were created in the workshop. Having recorded the workshop’s exercises and text-sculptures with 5 randomly movable microphones for which she built carts, Elena Radice made a point of not adding any elements, but working only from defamiliarized source material.

So now we find ourselves on this stage, walking between the objects on a rather uncertain ground, while the sound—at times loud and sometimes soft—resonates polyphonic in our ears. “Unsetting” invited divergent narrations; Sophie Jung is invested in a destabilisation of assumed readings of the world and undermines the supposed clarity of language, categorisations, narratives and designations. In doing so, she references—among many others—the Russian writer Viktor Šklovskij, who pleaded for an ‘estrangement’ of things in order to prolong the process of perception and to replace mere recognition with a ‘new seeing’. She also frequently references the French writer Hélène Cixous, who uses a post-structuralist approach to propagate a female writing, a “écriture feminine” that is not descriptive but generative, searching, unruly and non-linear. The objects, figures, and voices on the stage of “Unsetting” extends precisely this moment
of perception and challenges the dominant voice with a polyphonic whispering, talking, shouting.

The ecclesiastical lectern placed in the centre of the exhibition room is an exact miniature of the relative dimensions of the room, which are reminiscent of a church nave. It is an example of institutional, clear, exposed and unambiguous speech and at the same time aims to create a reference to the context: the headquarters of the Istituto Svizzero as the official Swiss cultural institution in Italy, in the immediate vicinity of the Swiss Consulate General in Milan and the branch of UBS. In other words, institutions that stand for a ruling value system, a ruling language regime that, despite repeated harsh criticism, does not want to set. And so the pig-shaped police mug—as a further indication of a regulating, ordering power—continues to stand, a little bit leaky, untouched on the podium.

As visitors we are called to reflect on our position in this arrangement. Where do I stand, who do I align myself with? Do I long to speak from the pulpit or join the polyphonic, whirling, unruly choir that surrounds me? Which voice can and will I embody? And which voice embodies me, even against my will? We find ourselves again in a brief moment of indecision, of disorientation, confronted with the question of solidarity versus obedience, authority versus the emergence in this reflecting space that seems to expand into infinity every now and then. A a security light brightly jumps on, the shadows reflected by the mirrored floor scurry across the wall. “Unsetting” allows us to pause for a moment in the process of rash recognition and classification, and so proposes a strategy for resistance, an ongoing challenge to the dominant order.

-Gioia Dal Molin, Autumn 2020

Unsetting, Sophie Jung, Installation view by night, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung Istituto Svizzero, Milan

Unsetting, Sophie Jung, Installation view by night, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung Istituto Svizzero, Milan

Unsetting, Sophie Jung, Installation view by night, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung Istituto Svizzero, Milan

Unsetting, Sophie Jung, Installation view by night, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung Istituto Svizzero, Milan

Unsetting, Sophie Jung, Installation view by night, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung Istituto Svizzero, Milan

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Unsetting, installation view by day, Sculptural Installation by Sophie Jung in collaboration with Elena Radice Surround sound composition by Elena Radice in collaboration with Sophie Jung

Just A Spoken Word (ideologicalstateapparatusususus), 2020

Just A Spoken Word (ideologicalstateapparatusususus), 2020

Unrise – The Trilogy (trans. Dry Faltigkeit), 2020

Thirst trap (trans. Taufbecken), 2020

Thirst trap (trans. Taufbecken), 2020

Thirst trap (trans. Taufbecken), 2020

Gen. de Famation (spouting Off. Fed. In Formation), 2020

Open / Hands up (The Scalping), 2020

Open / Hands up (The Scalping), 2020

The Raid i.o. The Stack (Arm y Fist). 2020

FTP (iron y out) Must aches up, 2020

FTP (iron y out) Must aches up, 2020

The Hang (ed.) Men tally is sever (ed.) all (corpsoreal: nails in the trunk, flies at the base) TRUNKS III, 2020

The Hang (ed.) Men tally is sever (ed.) all (corpsoreal: nails in the trunk, flies at the base) TRUNKS III, 2020

The Hang (ed.) Men tally is sever (ed.) all (corpsoreal: nails in the trunk, flies at the base) TRUNKS III, 2020

Institutional Font (congregational collection est. 1789), 2020

Institutional Font (congregational collection est. 1789), 2020

Institutional Font (congregational collection est. 1789), 2020

Yes and No (Drained Piper), 2020

The Drenched Salute (Two fingers up the rest below), 2020

The Vantage Point, 2020

Partners. Or Arbattoiry Barricade (xx net (x)), 2020

(The/De) Capt (ive/ain) TRUNKS I – Composed, 2020 and The Shadow Cabinet DRUNKS I – Decomposing, 2020

The Stack (nation tabled motion shelved), 2020

(The/De) Capt (ive/ain) TRUNKS I – Composed, 2020

The Shadow Cabinet DRUNKS I – Decomposing, 2020

The Last Leg (Comrades), 2020