Nina Beier was born in 1975 in Denmark. They graduated from the Royal College of Art, London, and live and work in Berlin. They have held solo exhibitions at the Kunstverein Hamburg; David Roberts Art Foundation, London; Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp; Kunsthaus Glarus; and Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Group exhibitions include the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Power Station, Shanghai; 13th Biennale de Lyon and the 20th Biennale of Sydney.
‘Signhood is a way of being in relation, not a way of being in itself. Anything is a sign – not as itself, but in some relation to another,’ reads the Wikipedia entry on the semiotic theory of Charles Sanders Peirce, who in 1886 observed that logical operations were carried out by cooperative action between three interlocutors: a sign, its object, and its interpretant. This threefold articulation is the subject matter of Nina Beier’s long-term research into display and its fraught relation between sign and its image.
Known for negotiating social and political questions of exchange and oftentimes transferring information from objects to representations and back again in a curveball statement, Beier creates images that evade their referents to become another upon return. This process, akin to Pierce’s adopted term ‘semiosis’ defines the relative drive between the three actors and the impossibility of its resolution into actions between pairs. (1) Beier works with what they term ‘confused objects,’ such as a wig of human hair that is simultaneously both an image of hair and biological hair. As the artist noted in interview, ‘The thing with wigs, of course, is that they’re frozen in one hairstyle and they’ll never grow. They really have that thing of being a still image, somehow, but the fact that it’s real hair at the same time is such a confusing thing, because it means that the wig is what it depicts. It really sits in both camps.’ (2) In this threefold, the interlocutor is trapped in the encounter with the arbitrariness of the sign – between the human hair wig and its indexical image – confounded physical object and its value.
As modern liberal economics abstracted value from its representation, images are continuously exchanged, circulated and consumed, vulnerable to further commodification into another form of exchange value. In Automobile (2017) two remote control Range Rover vehicles containing human hair roam the exhibition gallery at an anxious speed, in flux between miniature luxury vehicle with an intelligent design and an erratically controlled, poorly programmed, toy car. The viewer’s intentions, projected here at face value, such as the image of hair blowing through an open window, are troubled by the remote labour of the gallery assistants who drive the miniature cars. In Manual Therapy (2016) robotic massage chairs, precious and noble metals from electronic waste, dental industry and various currencies are extracted from their prosthetic relationship with the human body and restaged as orgiastic icons of value production.
Addressing both commodity exchange and semiosis, Beier’s hybrid and unstable sculptures withhold the three fundamental semiotic operations named by Pierce –iconicity, symbolism and indexicality – refusing mere abstraction of the sign and embracing instead the materiality of the gesture.
1 Charles S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce, Volume 2: Selected Philosophical Writings (1893–1913), (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 411.
2 Hilary Reid, “Mixing Metaphors”, Interview Magazine, published 17 April 2015, accessed 3 April 2018, https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/nina-beier-metro-pictures