Paul Kolling addresses the shifting historical significations loaded onto energy infrastructure and its rhetorical treatment in the public imaginary in his first solo exhibition at 14a. In a series of Offset printing plates and a sculptural work spanning two stories of the gallery, he dramatizes the separation between energy producers and distributors, state and citizen, historically amplified by nuclear Cold War-era geopolitical tensions and the Chernobyl disaster – the potential transgressions by which the dynamic between could be inverted.
Contemporary discourses of energy politics intertwine with those of political activism of the 1980s through imagery sourced from the German autonomous-leftist magazine radikal, which was subsequently banned and dissolved for disseminating subversive information. The banning of the publication made evident how not only electrical power flows through these infrastructural layers, but also narrative signification – the electrical grid channels energy into citizens’ homes, but is also a vector of statecraft and ideology.
The demise of radikal was, in some ways, the end of its era: leftist organized anarchist sabotage waned with the rise of neoliberal ideology, which located private individuals, not state structures, as the locus of shifting public attitudes towards energy and its representational authority. Nearing the end of the 1980s, the anti-nuclear narrative was one of a number of developments that guided Germany’s foray into neoliberal green policies. By then, the public appetite for nuclear energy had waned as new regulation dismantled the ability to build its controversial infrastructure – and opinion was swayed by high-profile disasters – as the narrative shifted towards “cleaner” forms of renewable energy.
A massive, imposing electricity pole – reproduced at 1:1 scale based on plans and schematics from a major electricity grid operator – is rendered as the stage on which these tensions are materialized, itself a product of state and institutional collaboration. In parallel to the fragmentary reproduction of the infrastructure, a series of offset printing plates depicting an electricity tower in the process of toppling based on simulations based upon scientific collaborations with TU Berlin. Across these works, Kolling shows how visual language has been transformed into information, creating an ambiguous narrative between the emotional entanglement of the attackers and the abstract technical processing of data: de-construction reconstructed.
⁓ Christopher Dake-Outhet