Staub (Störung) is German-born, LA-based painter Maren Karlson’s second solo exhibition at Soft Opening. In it, she eschews the subjects and visual language of her past work, turning the futuristic machinery she once painted into a collection of ancient-looking relics, revealing the vulnerability of a perfect-looking system to disruptive forces.
The paintings in the front room of Soft Opening, London, don’t look new. Some leaned against the wall, one hidden in the nook of a metal pillar, they might have been there, slowly oxidising, for years. Their surfaces are painted over and scratched into. A distorted network of metallic cogs, levers, pulleys, and wires slips in and out of view but they are mostly taken up by putrid beige emptiness. I imagine running my finger across the surface of one of these paintings and finding that it has deposited a dusty residue of the same colour.
The paintings that I know Maren Karlson for don’t look like this. The work in her last solo exhibition at the gallery, almost exactly two years ago, looked fresh out of their packaging, symmetrical and coherent. Those paintings featured the same sort of hardware, but this time rendered in a single layer and arranged into systems that made some sense; there was no moment to wonder just what they — the nodes, the hubcaps, the sockets — were there for. They felt natural.
When things chug along smoothly, there’s no moment to ask what they are or why they exist  — it’s as if they are invisible. It’s when they grind to a halt, worn-out and rusty, that such questions start to occur. Unlike in Karlson’s earlier work, the painted hardware displayed here makes itself painfully visible, like a body does when it’s injured or unwell.
These paintings are based on closely-cropped fragments taken from photographs of an East German rubber and plastic factory from the 1970s and 80s. Störung is a German word that means something like disturbance or violation, which is just what the original images suffered at Karlson’s hand. The machinery was still operational when the original photographs were taken, but abstracted here from a wider system, it seems ancient and unusable. 
In the exhibition’s text is another story of disturbance. This same German factory pumped water from a nearby river, later returning it warmer than before. Another nearby factory did the same thing. Together, they heated the water to the point where it was no longer useful to them — disturbing it until it disturbed them back. Karlson says that she understands the water’s act of defiance as an insurgence.
Karlson shows us how fragile a system can be, how a single disturbance is enough to turn a functioning production line into a collection of heavy, corpselike objects. 
Kombinat VEB Chemische Werke Buna, the factory that we see glimpses of in this exhibition, is a low-stakes example; if its smooth running had any impact on our own lives, it is probably negligible or invisible. But many of the most important things to us — families, households, societies, bodies — are also systems of sorts, all subject to fatal interruptions. Pull out a screw or two, and you might find that the whole thing falls apart.