Tag Archives: memory

A bit of matter and a little bit more

Same location than the previous Monodramas, but different setting.

Two or three floors up in the ‘House of the Children’, that has been refurbished and standardised into European luxury standards, is the private collection of Axel Haubrok to be visited, again only on Saturday. The hallway, the elevator that offered a quick look into some marble nouveaux-riches interiors, the instant lightning system, the digital buttons on circular shape, everything was set up to wonder and somehow confuse between the facade of these Stalinist relics and the new interiors.

Haubrokshows less, as the actual show is called, is until this Saturday, the best installed exhibition space to be seen in all Berlin. Under a survey exhibition on less material/more concept, less shapes/more white, I situated myself two floors above Bureau Müller, again in a white and empty space, here slightly bigger and without a real window opening. Almost a perfect white cube.

It took me a while to actually recognize the work, and for once since months I wondered myself being interested in the information sheet the visitor can find, after listening to a singer, performing Tino Seghal’s This is propaganda, 2002. An acoustic moment that gave me a reference point within the exhibition space’s geography.

A series of slides, white chocolate on canvas, photographs, brass plates, a sheet of paper crumbled into the wall, a postcard, some clocks, a circle on the floor, a woman singing and some buttermilk. Nothing particular, nothing spectacular, but I enjoy the professionality of this ultra-contemporary art collection, without having to go to some other art metropoles, and without expecting too much from a financial shark such as Axel Haubrok.

Let just hope that this area won’t be called the new Mitte on the capital’s weekly magazine…

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Stan Douglas’ Monodramas


“I’m not Gary” : Stan Douglas, Monodramas (1991)

On the ground floor of what used to be the House of the Children on Strausberger Platz, a small office with a wide view on the Karl-Marx-Allee and its left-overs pedestrians has been used recently as viewing point for contemporary art. Opened on Saturday only, to allow former communication director of Skulpturprojekt, Documenta 11, the KW and of the coming Kwanju Biennale, to work in his homonyme Bureau Müller, the office is just white and empty. Indeed it reminds of some more glorious time on this alley, that marked not only the border between Mitte and Friedrichshain, but that rhymed with Soviet-Realist buildings from Stalinist style, opening though Karl-Marx-Allee, in other words the starting point of the newly conceived GDR.

For viewing Stan Douglas Monodramas, some 30 to 60 second video conceived in 1991 like advertisements, commercials or other entertaining soap operas and broadcasted 1992 on Canadian TV, I sat on M.Müller desk, that for the exception of the dark color, melted perfectly in the empty room. Soon I got annoyed by the office seat, being too small for actually sitting properly on it, or is it simply that I am not familiar with the ergonomy of such designs? The lamp was a bit dusty, and I was facing the street, so that every curious visitors of this warm Saturday afternoon could contemplate the office, and this small person on that huge desk, watching not only a black TV, but gazing through the window to the street, observing almost from a mirador the hazard of this avenue. The voyeurs to be merged.

On the desk, the only object of the entire tiny but empty office, stood a picture of M.’s wife and son – to be recognised for being sometimes on some Artforum tabloid pictures for her engagement in some Western Germany institutions. The attempt to recreate a familiar environment could not be totally achieved, as the emptiness of the room irritated me. But the akwardness of sitting on someone’s desk I knew, watching some art on the precious tv-format, wondering if he is really taller than I am, was a concept that seduced me. For sure it followed this art-voyeurism, coinciding then with Douglas’ position towards (medial) consumption, here the consumption also to be arty.

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Dinge nach Katastrophen

Q: Why are artworks things rather than mere products, objects, items, fetishes, and/or commodities?
A: Because of their ‘enigmaticalness’ – their partaking in the great secrets of the World of Things.

Three years ago, I visited a museum for some research. At that time the museum wasn’t running as such, but was simply a collection stored in the attic of another, bigger museum in Berlin. The collection existed under the dust of classic window displays – vitrines as the main process of museological being, with the dust also being part of the scenography – and contained an infinite amount of objects.

With the time I cannot tell which object was the original subject of my interest (a hat maybe?!). During that working period I realised that my ideal in that place was not the museum as such (the museum and the artist here weren’t a couple that were successfully collaborative, in my opinion) but to walk through the archive in an existential way, looking at the inventory, influenced for sure by my own archival-based art practice.

The museum eventually moved in its new location – the pretty trendy Oranienstrasse’s area in Kreuzberg – choosing the setting of a former factory building and existing on the floor above the most influential institution of 1980’s West-Berlin: that is the NGBK – a great mixture of democratic organisation (with non-ending plenum), and a touch of particular West-Berlin Feminism, all collated with socialist good-sense. The Museum der Dinge (Museum of the Thing) opened after a good three years of non-presence in the city’s museum panorama, even though many interventions had been organised in the meantime. Some physical attendances of the museum (during this three year period) were the picnic sessions on artificial turf, using the Werkbund original picnic’s sets, or the Wundertüten (Wonder Bags) you could buy for 2€ in three early 1950’s sandwiches dispensers. The Wundertüten recalled of course the cabinet of curiosities the museum itself tried to suggest, where things simply inhabited the same location, the work of art next to the stuffed animal or other disparate things.

Under the title ‘Der Kampf der Dinge (The Conflict of Things)’, the opening exhibition in the new space chose (mainly due to a lack of budget: a small percentage of lottery money being the only financial support) a simplified systematical museum display with the objects simply put next to each other in massive windowed shelves. Some artifacts still wore labels from the earlier inventory, but the randomness of the display was not superficially ornamented by any apparent classification. It was just like my first visit to the Museum der Dinge, as it was, still under the cupola of the Martin Gropius Bau Museum; that is, with the exception of the light, the dust. Here in the new location it still looked like a depot, or like some antiquity market from my childhood. It actually detuned from the original curatorial challenges that the institute’s main curator Renate Flagmeier had eloquently and creatively managed to establish as an etiquette of the Museum’s quality. Unlike before, I couldn’t find any sublimation in looking at the objects, even as a collector myself.

Several characteristics were embedded in the exhibition; and my resentment also switched easily from one to the other: auction house, archive, laboratory, cemetery, folk history museum, collection, memorial, a local (bar), gallery of lost souls, etc. Nevertheless many of the total collection’s artifacts were not present in the actual exhibition. For example, in the collection group ‘Things after Catastrophe (Dinge nach Katastrophen)’, several typewriters deflagrated by bombing during WWII, majestically moving from a daily-life object to a relic in its most religious sense, as being prescribed now with an aura. The museal typewriters were not shown in the exhibition but remained for me as simple mystic memory frames.

In these narrows alleys land-marked by shelves, between which I moved incredibly fast, again and again, the exhibited objects, devoid of the usual museal aura, required instead the subjective alternative on my part, to define them with some tangible quality, to reflect some thingness.

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Icelandic Love Corporation at Ard Bia Berlin

The Tent Lady's Hospitality
The Tent Lady’s Hospitality, video still, 2008, Icelandic Love Corporation

It is said Heinrich Boll’s love-letter to the west coast of Ireland, Irisches Tagebuch (1957), brought innumerable numbers of Germans to the region in the latter part of the last century to “play truant from Europe”. Different, but commonly pervasive myths about the particularities of place, draw innumerable artists and cultural practitioners from all over the world here to Berlin. One of the new arrivals is Ard Bia Berlin, a sister-enterprise of Ard Bia gallery in Galway, from the same region of Ireland that Boll once wrote so lovingly of, albeit now a radically different place in all meaningful regards.

Ard Bia Berlin offers a studio residency which has attracted a large interest from Irish artists wishing to practice in the city for a short length of time. In addition the space hosts a gallery exhibition programme, currently showing the work of the Icelandic Love Corporation, who are momentarily also resident in the studio apartment. The show is entitled The Tent Lady’s Hospitality, and is structured into two parts. In one gallery room, an installation; the other hosts a single video work representing a staged performance. The Icelandic Love Corporation’s practice has a strong performative dimension, and Arb Bia Berlin’s co-ordinator (Rosie Lynch) informs me that for the opening weekend they performed in the first gallery space. I won’t attempt to write of their performance background, largely because I am frequently non-plussed by performance in general – or more correctly, fairly ignorant of both the history of the form, and personal experience of good examples – but also because I am more interested in the fact that I missed that aspect of the exhibition.

For the installation simultaneously contains aspects of the tableau, the mise-en-scene, and qualities of the relic. There is a here-ness in the considered materiality of the objects that inhabit the space: inflatable balloon-chairs reminiscent of 70’s Spacehoppers, a mirrored medicine cabinet that seems to hold both a dress (or tent?) repair-kit and a disposable camera, a bizarre crocheted pair of leggings on the wall. A silver tea set and serving tray is positioned in the centre of the room under a fabric canopy, whose gaudy red and white striped patterning is repeated on all the walls. There is a distinct creepiness in the (literally) rose-tinted perfection in the space, and its allusion to old children’s film and television. In fact, something about it reminds me distinctly of the 1968 film Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, and I look over my shoulder half-expecting the Child-Catcher to come though the door. I remember how my own childhood fear of the film arose not just from this isolated character, but also the entire creepy, colour-co-ordinated, and garish claustrophobia of the fictive Vulgaria.

On closer inspection, the silver tray of the tea set reveals the inscriptions of an Ouija board.

My co-presence with the objects is temporally disrupted by a sense of the to-be-ness and the there-ness within the installation. There arises, via the theatrical composition of the space, a notion of being in a place awaiting activity: a kind of empty anticipation. Simultaneously there is a sense I am witnessing the aftermath of something: an action, a performance. I remember a critique of Roman Signer was that his sculptures were merely relics of his far more potent actions. I don’t see this dynamic as a devaluing mechanism. I think there is richness in the dissonance between objects being both contemporaneous and residue. But there is certainly a tangled but forceful feeling here, and it is synthesised from my sense of having missed a thing (an event), the relentless ubiquity in the stylisation of experience, and the childhood references strongly present.

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