Tobias Zielony: Jenny Jenny, Berlinische Galerie

Tobias Zielony’s exhibition Jenny Jenny (2011 – 13) examines the consequences that the global recession has left on the USA, the most prolific and powerful country on the planet. With a deep rooted and seething undercurrent of treacherous social abandon, Jenny Jenny displays a large series of photographs in one of the Berlinische Galerie’s smaller rooms. The walls are a pristine white, and the lighting is impeccably clinical, which together creates a sterile environment that intensifies the deprivation and desperation.

The featured photos range in size and more often than not depict women involved in the sex industry. An element that reappears throughout the works is the subject’s hauntingly lost gaze, inferring that the exposure of their naked body before the camera is no different to a session with a client. The striking factor with this series is the use of colour and the effect the subject has on its surroundings: deep shades of red and looming shadows of black scar the walls with hesitation marks. There seems to be no hope for these figures, they are simply trapped in a fated cycle with no way out, and there is a contrast between their strife and their primal instinct to survive. Within an international art gallery surrounded by millions of euros worth of artwork, Jenny Jenny seems to sit uncomfortably – not because of a lack of awareness to its existence – but because of its conflict with its environment. Its realist depiction addresses the worthiness and merits of seemingly highbrow art.

On one side of the Berlinische Galerie’s main hall Trona (2008) extends in a long line, echoing the vast expanse that it captures. The work takes its name from the Californian mineral town, and explores the impact of the recession on the rise in the availability of drugs and methamphetamine production. Tucked in a distant corner a slide projector continuously loops text from a member of the community describing the downfall of the city. The images accompanying the text are riddled with a bored desperation. Children as young as 10 loiter amongst the ruins of ghost town smoking. The same hauntingly lost gaze seen in Jenny Jenny features on every captured face. However, here, an instinctive willingness to survive is shattered by a creeping sense of wondrous enjoyment. Trona has become a war-zone where the vices of a society have spawned a generation that know no other life; the destruction of social and cultural norms have reached a proverbial plateau on which new communities are now existing.

Tobias Zielony: Jenny Jenny, until 30 September, Berlinische Galerie, Alte Jakobstraße 124-128, 10969 Berlin, Germany.

William Davie

1. Tobias Zielony, Light Box, aus der Serie: Jenny Jenny, 2013, courtesy of the artist.