Review of Gabriel Kuri, Afterthought is Never Binary at Sadie Coles HQ, 23 June – 26 August 2017
62 Kingly Street W1, London, UK 

Upon entering the exhibition space, I am greeted by a surgical aura, almost reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey’s bedroom scene. Stern, polygonal, shiny metal bodies are scattered on the X and Y axis of the bright, wide room, and a Cartesian coordinate system seems to be replacing the contingent quality of ordinary human spaces. Upon a closer look, the visitor is surrounded by ghosts and replicas of everyday objects. Among the clean lines of brushed steel and pristine colour fields, traces of consumable products emerge as reassuring, familiar companions. Repetition recurs throughout Afterthought is Never Binary, and systemization, classification and quantification function as systems of reference as well as formal patterns. Seemingly arbitrary masses of cement interact with blown-up reproductions of pricing cards, making space for an inquisitive tension between code, function and substance.

On the wall behind me, opaque black panels carry bas reliefs depicting orderly formations of black beans – as quiet troops, they gradually reform as undisciplined amounts. Five steel cubes align as a loose sequence over the length of the gallery space. Enigmatic container or high-end kitchen counter, each steel solid accommodates a number of common items, without differentiating between what is real and what is mere imitation. Twelve identical salad leaves are stacked together and set to stand, unnaturally suspended, on one of the blocks. Other cubes host a variety of commodities in their built-in cylindrical cavities: a cluster of individually packaged plastic straws, Euro banknotes organized by their exchange value, reproductions of eggs. The contrast between the sculptural, Minimalist quality of the steel cube and the standardized, expendable units seems to question our own capacity to create and recognize monetary worth, and to determine formal value. On the opposite side of the room a pair of authoritarian steel tables are installed, at opposing corners, facing each other perpendicularly. Placed on the airport-security-control-like supports, a sense of fragility permeates a number of innocuous, mundane items. A silicone bra, a couple of identical, softly sculpted, polished wood blocks and two stacked bread rolls are positioned in a single line on one of the tables. Their meaning seems ambiguously null until the moment they are subjected to a lucid analysis, as if they just stood there, waiting to be judged.

Afterthought is Never Binary is an investigation on the consequences of the replacement of information and knowledge by unreadable signs. Throughout the exhibition, protocols are recognizable as the infrastructure backing our understanding of socioeconomic dynamics. Behind the steel tables hangs a series of four coloured felt pieces. They resemble big punch cards – but there are no holes for information to be read. Instead, unintelligible patterns of black mussel shells are filed spontaneously as an abstract, unknown numerical progression. Shells used to be a medium of exchange, as they were both commodity and currency. However, being neither real value nor an actual commodity, money today could be understood as purely formal. Not unlike a language, it relies on the relationship with an ‘other’ in order to survive, and depends on the continuous negotiation with an outer context. Similarly, data is another language in the world that allows its users to state and create facts, to produce and manage content while occupying an apparently physical minimum, as the very act of thinking and speaking of digital information still involves a great measure of abstraction.

Gabriel Kuri teases the viewer by proposing a challenge to regulations and policies regarding what is material in the world. As he stated in 2016, he tries to understand the material work not just as matter, but as a context that informs it and brands it, as well as the language that makes it circulate. In Afterthought is Never Binary the open dispute over the balance between reality, abstraction, rationality and improvisation becomes a way of communicating with the audience. As each situation in Kuri’s proposition involves a response and a transaction, the viewer is inevitably entangled in a transformative negotiation of meaning. Confronting the artwork means accepting the challenge to question our own evaluation of experiences. We have a chance to rethink the connection between two very human tendencies: the allencompassing desire to quantify and the fortuitousness of everyday life.

Gabriel Kuri, Afterthought is Never Binary, installation views, Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography by the author.