Kunstverein Dresden is pleased to present I Kept Getting These Dreams, a site-responsive two-person exhibition that examines ways to visualize unsafety in the surrounding environment (whether social, political or natural) and responds to the weaponization of psychological reactions amid social and political crises. Curated by Alessandro Facente, the exhibit brings together a large wall installation by New York-based artist Mira Dayal and a readymade sculpture and sound piece by São Paulo-based artist Beto Shwafaty, both site-specifically conceived in dialogue with each other and with the architecture of the venue.
Curator: Alessandro Facente
The exhibition is inspired by German artist Otto Dix, whose painting “The war,” 1929–32, is held by the Albertinum in Dresden. The artist made this triptych to counter the popular public perception of battle as heroic. In contrast to these propagandistic ideas, Dix offered a more realistic imaginary addressing the cruel truth of the warfare’s impact on people and society. In what might be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder following his years in the army during WWI, artist Otto Dix “kept getting these dreams” of war and its terrors, as he wrote in his memoirs.
We may not be in the midst of a war as we know it, but the political turmoil of the past few years has amplified xenophobia, suppression of human rights, social schisms, baseless conspiracies, and denials of climate change—all resulting in profound stress, escalating hate crimes, and polarization. Nurtured and condoned on the battleground of social media, this subtle war exploits human emotions, damages our understanding of factual reality, and fosters an hostile environment, whose macabre images of illness, hate, death, and disaster are the traumatizing visions that we’ll keep getting dreams of in the future.
Within this withering historical condition, Dayal’s and Shwafaty’s visionary aesthetics elicit conflicting or ambiguous emotions; while they remain unflinching responses to our societies’ divisive and misleading narratives, they reflect on empathy, perception, healing, and compassion.
For I Kept Getting These Dreams, Mira Dayal presents “Supplement,” 2021, a new work that materially and metaphorically explores the relations between the organic and the manmade, the architecture and the body, the infection and the treatment. The installation is made with bovine collagen peptides, which are marketed as a cure-all health supplement, especially for improving skin elasticity and bone strength. When mixed with salt and water, the powder takes on a yellowish color and syrupy texture. Applied to drywall, the solution dries into a solid surface with all-over puckers and cracks, resembling stained glass, aged oil paint, or wrinkled skin, slightly shiny and lustrous. Not knowing the origins of the substance, one might guess that it is from an organism, but it is unclear which organism, and on a large scale, it is clearly not from a single organism—it has been harvested. This confusion about the origins and properties of the material leads to a sense of uneasiness or disgust. Taking advantage of the material’s simultaneous allure and repulsiveness, the artist applies the solution to all three non-windowed walls of the gallery, up to eye level. This produces the perceptual effect of being submerged in and surrounded by the material, which has seeped into the space, as an infestation or bacterial outbreak. Metaphorically, this exercise becomes a way of “strengthening” the gallery, through the application of a scientifically unproven supplement, but when this residue is removed from the drywall, it will also remove the surface layer of the drywall. Thus, the work is a surface that calls attention to the larger volume of the space. It is both cleansing and damaging, both nourishing and parasitic.
Beto Shwafaty presents “Poison and value (a silent catastrophe)”, 2021, a new sculptural installation consisting of an electric-powered insect trap hanging from the gallery ceiling. Intervening in the original light component designed to purposely kill insects, the altered object turns into a safe luminescent source that emanates red and blue light, which, according to current UCL-led research, may heal poisoned bees. Along with this readymade sculpture, Shwafaty presents a sound piece that is audible throughout the gallery space, composed of diverse “environmental” sounds (the wind, the buzzing of bees, the patter of rain, the clap of a thunderstorm), which are occasionally interrupted by the voice of a narrator presenting to the audience information related to the (ab)use of pesticides in Brazil (numbers, predictions, warnings, official statements, gross profit, stock values, market balances).
Exploring notions of ecological fragility, Shwafaty specifically addresses the extensive Brazilian agricultural system and its alleged relation to the massive disappearance of bees. In line with his past research-based art projects, this new work also refers, indirectly, to the conservative ideologies and neo-colonial powers currently in charge in Brazil, whose obsolete reactionary agenda prioritizes outdated ultra-liberal practices. For example, more than 300 controversial chemical elements are currently permitted without proper control in the country’s agricultural system—a fact that that is allegedly leading to the massive intoxication of food and, in turn, the population. This new work also draws on Shwafaty’s experience of living in Germany from 2019 to 2020 by exploring the entangled relations between Brazil and European countries; chemical giants often see the artist’s home country as an open market for toxic pesticides that are banned in Europe.
Combined, the two works on view suggest that something unknown and repulsive is happening in the galley, a nightmarish scenario that appears within the space as an epiphany. Dayal’s bacterial mixture is invading the gallery’s walls, and Shwafaty’s device is installed as if aiming to cope with, or even heal from, the invasion. Together, the two installations create the sense of an unsafe environment, which visitors will navigate as if in a vivid daydream.
Mira Dayal is an artist, editor, writer, and curator based in New York. She is a co-organizer of the residency program rehearsal, co-curator of the collaborative artist publication prompt:, founding editor of the Journal of Art Criticism, and a regular contributor at Artforum. Her studio work often involves laborious play with language, material, and site, and has been shown at STNDRD, Gymnasium, Lubov, NURTUREart, NARS Foundation, Abrons Art Center, and other spaces. Her publications are collected by MoMA Library, Barnard College Library, and SVA Library; they are also available at Printed Matter, Ulises, Miriam, McNally Jackson, and other bookstores. She has participated in residencies and intensives at the Ox-Bow School of Art, Art in General, and A.I.R. Gallery.
Beto Shwafaty is a Brazilian artist whose practice entails installations, videos and sculptural objects where he often focuses on the way historical episodes may leave traces on culture and be echoed in objects, spaces and sociocultural structures, which by consequence produce publicly shared meanings and behaviours. In this sense, he has been interested in subjects linked to history, sociopolitics, architecture and design, assuming these as narrative elements and evidence that may inform us on diverse aspects linking the past to our present time. Beto holds a BA in visual arts from State University of Campinas (Campinas, Brasil), a MA in visual art and curatorial studies from Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (Milano, Italy) and was a guest student in Simon Starling’s class at the Staedeslchule (Frankfurt, Germany). Shwafaty’s work is represented by Luisa Strina Gallery, Sao Paulo and Galleria Prometeo, Milano.
Gefördert durch die Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen, die Stiftung Kunst und Musik für Dresden, die Stiftung Kunstfonds/Programm NEUSTART KULTUR sowie die Landeshauptstadt Dresden, Amt für Kultur und Denkmalschutz. Diese Maßnahme wird mitfinanziert durch Steuermittel auf der Grundlage des vom Sächsischen Landtag beschlossenen Haushaltes.