König Galerie: Manuel Rossner 'Surprisingly This Rather Works' (App)

In a mad rush to keep audiences engaged with content and ongoing projects, we are seeing artists, galleries and, indeed, gallerists doing all kinds of quirky and slapdash things during this time of quarantine. There have been countless jokes and bits from art meme pages about Zoom private view events, which truly sound awful, along with a great deal of self-indulgent Instagram Live stories, often boasting one idea as a starting point before descending into babbling nothingness. The word "essential" is thrown around a lot in terms of what we should be breaking quarantine for, but apparently it hasn't reached the art world yet; instead, we're being treated to things that are fun, for pleasure, while buying and footfall are of considerably less importance. Isn't this what art is really for? I would argue for quality over quantity but, hey, we all have some time on our hands so let's explore.

Manuel Rossner, Surprisingly This Rather Works, Exhibition view, König Galerie, 2020

König Galerie have three physical spaces across the world, in Berlin, London and Tokyo. 'Surprisingly This Rather Works' is a spatial intervention of its German space through a downloadable app, and certainly does a good job of showing the vicinity off, with its potential as an industrial setting or a 'white cube'-style blank canvas. I use the word "potential" but in reality König is Berlin's top art gallery, so what I really mean is that it is showing the flexibility of the space, even as it moves into the virtual realm.

Now back to the app, which itself sits somewhere between artwork, exhibition showcase and game, and honestly, as I will explore, doesn't fit comfortably in any of the three. There is a significant Jeff Koons influence to the works within the app, namely the two 'sculptures' visible in the first image above. 'Surprisingly Yellow' and 'Surprisingly Green' are digital objects plus an algorithm, and pleasingly are able to be kicked and moved by the user as our figure walks around the space. This level of interaction, albeit destructive, is a nice way of pulling us back in from the elephant-in-the-room distance between ourselves as "user" (as opposed to "viewer"), and the concept of the project. Still, it is difficult to know how we are supposed to navigate the app in terms of our thoughts: are we immersed in an artwork? Are we using the little white blobby figure to view the works? I assume it is not the latter as the figure itself is cute and silly to an almost distracting degree, and the fact that we are able to physically dismiss and dismantle the works by kicking them.

Manuel Rossner, Surprisingly This Rather Works, Exhibition view (Climbing the Ascensiator), 2020, Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie

So, with the three functions of Look, Walk and Jump, the navigation of the space is fairly straight forward, as it would be in ordinary time and ordinary space. However, there is an additional element which makes the app truly immersive, and leans further towards being more like a game; memories of failing miserably at Mario Kart came flooding back as I frantically used the Jump tool to help my little white blob guy climb the levitating rocky steps. It brings another angle to the whole experience (quite literally once the user has climbed all the way up), which further blurs the lines of game and art. By the time we are enjoying getting our character to the top of the steps, we certainly care less about whether this is supposed to be a game or an art viewing experience. Having said that, there is amusingly little to do once you climb the steps, except enjoy the view of the works from above, like a featureless cartoon overlord.

The app, which can be downloaded through the App Store under 'König Galerie', is incredibly self-aware, which takes off any pressure to feel any particular way about the art, or indeed the app itself. Its title alone confirms this, especially as it is also spelt out as one of the 'light' works on the wall. There are many online alternatives to art fairs, exhibitions and other art world activities, so König releasing an app that plays with all these models is refreshing and will certainly get other institutions thinking about how best to engage existing and new audiences.

Manuel Rossner, Surprisingly This Rather Works, Exhibition view (Outside), König Galerie, 2020

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