Alexander Kennedy, 'Opposites Attract' (The List, 18/10/2007)

Alexander Kennedy looks at the work of Raphael Danke, where broken wardrobes, ripped shopping bags and spliced photographs evoke angels and devils.

It’s hard not to use clichés when talking about good art, but it cannot be denied that the simplest ideas well executed often guarantee quality.

This notion is certainly true of the work of Raphael Danke at Sorcha Dallas, where a series of collages and sculptures by Berlin-based artists is currently on show. The work manages to simultaneously express a sense of the absurd alongside mystical and psychoanalytical insights into subjectivity. The subject is de-carnalised, leaving traces that signify the body Danke has spirited away. These are metaphysical works that hope to explain the fall of Man, placing the soul between two eternally reflecting mirrors – the nothingness that expands before and after incarnation. All of this conveyed in a few cut up photographs, Dior shopping bags and a series of deconstructed wardrobes.

The title of the show, Seventh Heaven, is truly apposite. As the last celestial court the soul passes through before becoming face to face with God, the seventh heaven is a place of eternal rest, where the self is extinguished and becomes one with the deity. Danke creates a parallel between this transformation and the empty core at the heart of the deconstructed subject in contemporary philosophy.

These heavenly spheres are presented here by a series of seven black cupboards, seven doorways into an empty beyond (‘Loggia of Mind’). Danke has removed the side and back panels of the coffin-like boxes, reducing the structures to their bare bones and keeping the metaphor as simple and pure as possible. The boxes frame absence, bringing to mind the Platonic theory of the chora, the vessel or space where deity is absent, yet they also evoke the weight of religious paraphernalia: confessionals, tabernacles and the frames around icons.

In the four photographs in the first gallery the artist has collaged images of the ballerina Margot Fonteyn to create compositions that are both ridiculous and touching. If ballet is a stylisation of humans’ attempt to defy gravity or escape the body, the grace of the ballet dancer can also become a dance macabre: the dying swan can luck like a grounded duck, flailing helplessly.

Danke emphasises the gravitational and spiritual forces at play on the body, calling each composition after a fallen angel (‘Focalor’, ‘Sonneillon’, ‘Nelchael’ and ‘Raum’), thus enforcing the play of opposites that can be found in the spliced and flipped photographic images.

Some of the works on display demonstrate Danke’s ongoing fascination with psychoanalysis. ‘The Door’ is comprised of a collection of Dior shopping bags, cut down the middle and separated so the word ‘Door’ is revealed in the gap. This simple intervention plays with the idea of parapraxis, where a slip of the tongue or a mistake reveals a deeper desire. But all that is revealed here is another opening, another gap where one’s desires can never be satisfied. Danke reminds us the uneasy relationship between spirituality and psychoanalysis, where the psyche and the soul cancel each other out leaving the brute body standing.