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.