“The onion has many skins. A multitude of skins. Peeled, it renews itself; chopped, it brings tears; only during peeling does it speak the truth.” Günter Grass

Neue Alte Brücke is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in Germany by the English-born artist Dave Carbone. Titled In the Onion Cellar, this exhibition comprises new sculpture and wall-based works.

Carbone makes sculpture, painting and performance that transform found materials into precarious physical, emotional and conceptual conundrums. His fragile and labour-intensive constructions appear to reveal a tragic humour that, at times, exposes the artist’s own weaknesses and deficiencies.

This was seen in Carbone’s prosaically titled 2006 performance, Open Lecture. Here, Carbone delivered a simple artist’s talk on and around his general practice, which was closely followed by a question and answer session. Each audience member was given a question that had been previously prepared by a close friend of the artist. After the agreement that he would answer each question as honestly as possible, Carbone gave uncomfortably truthful responses to questions such as: “Would you sleep with a 12 year old?” and: “Do pain and humiliation excite you?”

Another recurring theme in Carbone’s practice is the drum, which he often uses as an underlying metaphor for life; as heartbeat, provider of rhythm or marker of time. Carbone’s interest in the drum is its ability to simultaneously hold the acts of creativity, destruction and resurrection. Skin protects the body to keep it alive and, when it is removed, the body dies. We create a drum by stretching the skin. Then by beating the drum, we resurrect an imitation of the heartbeat to celebrate life and death.

This exhibition borrows its title from a chapter in Günter Grass’s acclaimed 1959 novel The Tin Drum. It tells the life of Oskar Matzerath, who writes his autobiography from memory shortly after the end of the Second World War. At the age of three, he receives a tin drum for his birthday and, having observed the adult world, decides to will himself not to grow up. He retains the stature of a child for the rest of his life and the tin drum is his most treasured possession.

Set in postwar Germany, the Onion Cellar of Grass’s novel is an exclusive club frequented by businessmen, doctors, lawyers, artists and government officials. Its pared-down interior has neither bar nor menu. Instead, its owner, Ferdinand Schmuh, appears with onions, chopping board and a knife for each guest. On his ceremonial cue, guests would begin to peel and cut into the onions and shed involuntary tears. These floods of bottled-up emotions are later accompanied by confessions, revelations and self-accusations. The Onion Cellar appeared to function as a satirical device for Grass – a way of criticising the clammed-up world of postwar Germany, lacking the words, or conscience, to come to terms with its past.

In the Onion Cellar comprises four new sculptures, each constructed from secondhand drumkits, bastardised to form totemic structures. Standing above each group of drums is a water vessel complete with skeletal pipe work. When the vessels are filled and the valves opened, each drum begins to softly beat, finding an irregular rhythm dictated by chance, disorder, weight and flow.

Titled Tier, Drip Drum, Rooted by Time and Cymbals of Communication the sculptures will be simultaneously played/performed by Carbone on the opening night. Through the act of filling each vessel and releasing each valve, Carbone’s presence in the exhibition can be seen in parallel to that of Ferdinand Schmuh – and in turn the gallery is equated to an exclusive club – a pseudo-ceremonial environment that is, at least symbolically, afforded the potential to produce emotion, even honesty.

Dave Carbone lives and works in Frankfurt am Main. His work has been included in many UK and international exhibitions. At 7pm on Wednesday 12th March Dave Carbone will give a lecture on his work at the Frankfurter Kunstverein. Entry to this event is free.


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