Rie Nagai, Night (52°30'03.8"N, 13°26'42.9"E, c.2X20), 2020, acrylic on paper. Courtesy the artist.
In Japan, “Kuuki wo yomu,” which loosely translates as “reading the air,” refers to the custom of adapting one’s behavior according to the mood of any given situation. Bound up in ideas of social conformity, this concept is central to the work of the Rie Nagai, whose emotionally charged indoor landscape paintings explore the cultural imperative, dominant in Japanese culture, to prioritize the needs of a group over one’s personal interests.
For her exhibition at KB, Nagai has created an entirely new body of work based on her experiences of living and working in Berlin. As the starting point for this project, the artist visited a number of well-known nightclubs, including Berghain, Tresor, Watergate, and Sisyphos, which she sees as cultural symbols of the German capital as well as spaces of intense social pressure. Working from memory, Nagai then translated her observations onto paper in a series of paintings collectively titled Night followed by the geographical coordinates of the individual locations. Using color to express feelings of repression and suppression, Nagai’s distinctive palette stems from her avoidance of warm shades like vermillion, which has positive connotations in many cultures, in favor of cooler tones like magenta, pink, and violet to engender feelings of tension in her audience. In the wake of the disruption to Berlin nightlife wreaked by Covid-19, the series has taken on unexpected new meanings, with the empty spaces in Nagai’s paintings coming to stand for an experience that is no longer possible. As the artist puts it, “With clubs closed, the situation inside them is as obscure as Schrödinger’s cat. It’s a fantastic fantasy, but I sometimes imagine it’s possible to hear music blaring by itself in an empty nightclub.”
Photo: David Brandt