Marking his third solo exhibition with Peres Projects, and his first in Berlin, amidst the bustling Berlin Gallery Weekend, ‘ExHypnosis’ showcases an intriguing ensemble of 11 illuminous works on oil (all 2023) by Ohio-born and New-York-based artist Dylan Solomon Kraus. On a drizzly afternoon in Berlin, the gallery, which boasts a 500-square-meter space with inviting large pane windows, lures passer-by in off the street with vibrant, celestial paintings that contrast sharply with the colossal modernist structures that line the Karl-Marx-Allee.
Upon entering, we encounter Exhypnosis, a work whose title reflects the overarching credo of the exhibition. For Kraus, this multifaceted terminology critically engages with two interlocking sets of ideas: ‘Hypnos’, the god who represents the personification of sleep in Greek Mythology and ‘hypnosis’, referring to the half-conscious trance state used in psychotherapy. The title of the exhibition, ‘ExHypnosis’, then, refers to a break from this suspended unawareness, urging us to wake from our every-day slumber to catch a glimpse of a re-enchanted natural world.
Caught up as we are in the repetition of our alienated techno-capitalist reality, much like lumbering, automated zombies, Kraus’ works are a call to mindfulness, to renegotiate our universal understanding of and alarming disconnect with the all-encompassing natural world (wildlife, water, animals and the cosmos). This is apparent in Exhypnosis, which depicts a luminous blue boat, modest in size, setting sail into a vast midnight-blue ocean which melts, mirror-like, into a sky of drifting clouds. Beneath the shimmering, soft-spoken moon towards the top-right-hand corner of the canvas, the celestial image of an indeterminate civilisation emerges from within the clouds. In fantastical splendour, we witness a dissolving of boundaries between man, civilisation, nature, and the cosmos.
Turning to the works on display, we are reminded of Bruno Latour’s prescient theory of ‘Facing Gaia’. In Latour’s theory, the Greek goddess of all-encompassing mother earth, Gaia, is called into question. Latour stresses a need for a ‘redistribution of agency’ by denouncing an anthropocentric hierarchy of power and imploring humanity to ‘face Gaia’: Once we accept our limitations in controlling the natural world, we must learn to re-distribute power amongst nature, which, for Latour, includes all living or animated entities as well as the cosmos. Latour recalls that all living or animated things in the world are “interlinked, folded, and entangled in each other [meaning] that the issue of freedom and dependence is equally valid for humans as it is for the partners of the natural world.” As such, ‘Facing Gaia’ implores us to take responsibility and to question power dynamics within our current feedback loop, in which all living entities affect one another and, rather than merely residing in an environment, continuously fashion it.
The reciprocal feedback loop between all living matter, in which all entities absorb the consequential output of one another, is further explored in the series Times of Day. Here, a set of three abstract works composed in alternating shades of vibrant blues and hints of luminous greens act as a triptych. We are confronted with a resplendent cosmos; different times of day are depicted using layered and repetitive geometric signs and symbols reminiscent of planets, moons, and stars – signature motifs within Kraus’ practice. A further piece of the series Times of Day (For Blinky), paired with Hymns to the Night, Novalisstrasse (The Shining) depicts scattered planets amidst a midnight-blue cosmos. The depiction of the planets in the work as rhythmic, cyclical formations, suggests a movement and becoming through space and time. Moreover, the occasional suspension of planets borne aloft by interlaced strings calls to mind models of the solar system. The strings also raise questions of fate, such as who or what controls our complex universe: We are reminded of a puppeteer mastering the preordained movements of the cosmos.
The Pandora’s Box series critically engages with the consequences of humanity’s collective decisions, in particular how history shapes and informs the present as well as the future. In these works, power dynamics, the interconnectivity of all life, as well as questions of fate, are at stake once again. The two paintings refer to the myth of pandora’s box, another reference to Greek Mythology. Interlocked Tetris-like forms pour forth from their enclosure. Kraus reiterates that the motif speaks of the “times…Pieces [geometric forms that] relate to the unknown, consequences of innovation and decisions that were made a long time ago [that] are unfolding now.”
Works including Hymns to the Night, Novalisstrasse (The Shining), Sparrow, and The Neophyte (Blue Rider) similarly stress an interconnected relationship between humans, nature, and the animal kingdom. Set against the dark of night, Kraus depicts an illuminated butterfly, sparrows, or a melancholic rider on a horse leaving behind a civilisation, as he journeys into the unknown under a starry, shimmering night sky. The Neophyte (Blue Rider) was inspired by one of Kraus’ dreams, in which a horse came to his aid as he struggled to stay afloat in a vast ocean. Like Kraus’ other work, the representation of this curious dream shines light onto a possible future in which we renegotiate ourselves in relation to all things living as we ‘face Gaia’ as interdependent beings.
The interconnectedness of the natural world and its depiction in Kraus’ work also extends to the manner in which Kraus conceptualises and executes his paintings. By negotiating each canvas in unison throughout the composition, Kraus’ works inform one another and, as with the equal parts of the natural world, come together to form a universal whole.