An Afternoon at MaDame

September 5, 2018


I'm sitting with Wolfgang Müller, Ahmad Hamad and Anna Kristjánsdóttir at the bistro MaDame at Hallesches Tor. Anna is visiting from Iceland and she's making a stop in Berlin while on a tour through the former East. She shows me her pictures of birds. There is one bird with only one leg. "It wasn't hiding its other leg," Anna tells me, "I waited long enough to know." 

Anna shows me also a picture of a rescue helicopter. Once, she says, she threw the president of Iceland into the sea. It happened on an 11th of February, and 112 happens to be the emergency number of Iceland. So the emergency team was waiting with rescue helicopters when Anna threw the president in the water. Anna knows the sea very well. She used to be a fisherman. "Was it difficult to be a woman at sea?" I ask her. "No," she says.

Anna is not only famous in Iceland for throwing the president in the water. She was also the first transgender person in Iceland. Things have changed since then. Anna tells me that there are about 40 transgender people in Iceland.

"Omas gegen Rechts" (Grandmothers against the Right) are sitting next to us. The grandmothers are making buttons. Grandma Gertrude comes to our table. First she tries to convince Wolfgang to become a Grandfather against Right but Wolfgang doesn't really show much grandfather capacities. Then Gertrude gets her Ipad and shows us a slideshow. Anna herself has eleven grandchildren, she says proudly. 


Wasps are attacking our lemonades and beers on the table. Anna gets stung in the hand. The waiter of MaDame brings us an onion to rub on the swollen hand and half an hour later, when it's time to go, Anna's hand is de-swollen. All's well that ends well. 

I'm sitting with Wolfgang Müller, Ahmad Hamad and Anna Kristjánsdóttir at the bistro MaDame at Hallesches Tor. Anna is visiting from Iceland and she's making a stop in Berlin while on a tour through the former East. She shows me her pictures of birds. There is one bird with only one leg. "It wasn't hiding its other leg," Anna tells me, "I waited long enough to know."  Anna shows me also a picture of a rescue helico…

I'm sitting with Wolfgang Müller, Ahmad Hamad and Anna Kristjánsdóttir at the bistro MaDame at Hallesches Tor. Anna is visiting from Iceland and she's making a stop in Berlin while on a tour through the former East. She shows me her pictures of birds. There is one bird with only one leg. "It wasn't hiding its other leg," Anna tells me, "I waited long enough to know." 

Anna shows me also a picture of a rescue helicopter. Once, she says, she threw the president of Iceland into the sea. It happened on an 11th of February, and 112 happens to be the emergency number of Iceland. So the emergency team was waiting with rescue helicopters when Anna threw the president in the water. Anna knows the sea very well. She used to be a fisherman. "Was it difficult to be a woman at sea?" I ask her. "No," she says.

Anna is not only famous in Iceland for throwing the president in the water. She was also the first transgender person in Iceland. Things have changed since then. Anna tells me that there are about 40 transgender people in Iceland.

"Omas gegen Rechts" (Grandmothers against the Right) are sitting next to us. The grandmothers are making buttons. Grandma Gertrude comes to our table. First she tries to convince Wolfgang to become a Grandfather against Right but Wolfgang doesn't really show much grandfather capacities. Then Gertrude gets her Ipad and shows us a slideshow. Anna herself has eleven grandchildren, she says proudly. 


Wasps are attacking our lemonades and beers on the table. Anna gets stung in the hand. The waiter of MaDame brings us an onion to rub on the swollen hand and half an hour later, when it's time to go, Anna's hand is de-swollen. All's well that ends well. 

Berlin Biennale 2018

August 28, 2018



I finally made it to the 10th Berlin Biennale curated by Gabi Ngcobo and her curatorial team. I had such a busy summer that I even only made it once to a lake. I started the Berlin Biennale at the Akademie der Künste because somebody told me it was well curated. I like the title of the Biennale: "We Don't Need Another Hero," named after the 1985 Tina Turner song. So first thing I did was to focus my attention on the curatorial text. I got a bit annoyed there by the "artists and contributors who think and act beyond art" part - which art isn't about the "beyond-art"? I dislike when things sound revolutionary and they're just nonsense. But I rather liked how the wall text sounded manifesto like: No heroes, no saviours, no participation in "unyielding knowledge systems and historical narratives", but "different configurations of knowledge and power that enable contradictions and complications." 

I expected to see this anarchy to be visible in what would follow in the exhibition but things got immediately very "nice" at Akademie der Künste, all quite agreeable. I have no lasting impression of it now, the day after. The only work that was in sync with the weight of the curatorial text was the one by Oscar Murillo. I also remember a huge screening of an annoying documentary/art video about refugees in Germany. For the rest, the art might have been good (except then for the nylon piece - ugh to nylons) but it didn't become clear why they were positioned in this Biennale or even next to each other. And there was no text of the curators to help the spectators along. I guess because a text would create the wrong kind of knowledge since language, as Marcel Duchamp said, is the biggest mistake of humankind. "Insipid," my friend A. texted me when I wrote him to complain about my viewing experience. I had to google the word: "lacking flavour." That nailed it down indeed. 

I made it over to the second part of the Biennale at KW, where I saw the best piece. Downstairs was a huge installation by Dineo Seshee Bopape, inviting her friend artists Jabu Arnell, Lacteal Workman, Robert Rhee along. I think you could call it immersive art and I liked it nevertheless: water dropping in buckets, ruins of brick, Nina Simone performing Feelings in 1976, the orange light.  It just worked. Suddenly there was also a curatorial text to the work and I liked what it said: "Bopape explores thinking through literature and sound." Next to this great piece was a video piece by Grada Kilomba, which I found terrible - just the way she filmed herself on a separate small screen, depicting herself as the storyteller of what is happening on the big screen, while sitting on stairs and acting as if she's reading to kids... I had to run out. 




I saw a few other pieces that were good but the thing is that in the end I still didn't get what the curators wanted to transmit. There is something lacking in this Biennale. I would almost call it "content" if that wouldn't sound so horrible. And although I'm a minimalist, this Biennale made me wish for a curatorial narrative that keeps the pieces together, that let's them communicate. I got so little from this show that I didn't feel the need any longer to make it all the way to ZKU, the Biennale's third location in Moabit. I doubted that the curators would give me more there. And I guess that was their aim - no narrative, etc. but it went out the wrong way: the Biennale might not confirm "configurations of knowledge or power," at least with its selection of artists, but it also didn't manage to create different ways of thinking "complex subjectivities." My friend and I already drank a coffee at AdK but we felt that we needed another source of energy so we went for a matcha latte at the Japanese shop next-door. 



I finally made it to the 10th Berlin Biennale curated by Gabi Ngcobo and her curatorial team. I had such a busy summer that I even only made it once to a lake. I started the Berlin Biennale at the Akademie der Künste because somebody told me it was well curated. I like the title of the Biennale: "We Don't Need Another Hero," named after the 1985 Tina Turner song. So first thing I did was to focus my attention on the curatorial text…


I finally made it to the 10th Berlin Biennale curated by Gabi Ngcobo and her curatorial team. I had such a busy summer that I even only made it once to a lake. I started the Berlin Biennale at the Akademie der Künste because somebody told me it was well curated. I like the title of the Biennale: "We Don't Need Another Hero," named after the 1985 Tina Turner song. So first thing I did was to focus my attention on the curatorial text. I got a bit annoyed there by the "artists and contributors who think and act beyond art" part - which art isn't about the "beyond-art"? I dislike when things sound revolutionary and they're just nonsense. But I rather liked how the wall text sounded manifesto like: No heroes, no saviours, no participation in "unyielding knowledge systems and historical narratives", but "different configurations of knowledge and power that enable contradictions and complications." 

I expected to see this anarchy to be visible in what would follow in the exhibition but things got immediately very "nice" at Akademie der Künste, all quite agreeable. I have no lasting impression of it now, the day after. The only work that was in sync with the weight of the curatorial text was the one by Oscar Murillo. I also remember a huge screening of an annoying documentary/art video about refugees in Germany. For the rest, the art might have been good (except then for the nylon piece - ugh to nylons) but it didn't become clear why they were positioned in this Biennale or even next to each other. And there was no text of the curators to help the spectators along. I guess because a text would create the wrong kind of knowledge since language, as Marcel Duchamp said, is the biggest mistake of humankind. "Insipid," my friend A. texted me when I wrote him to complain about my viewing experience. I had to google the word: "lacking flavour." That nailed it down indeed. 

I made it over to the second part of the Biennale at KW, where I saw the best piece. Downstairs was a huge installation by Dineo Seshee Bopape, inviting her friend artists Jabu Arnell, Lacteal Workman, Robert Rhee along. I think you could call it immersive art and I liked it nevertheless: water dropping in buckets, ruins of brick, Nina Simone performing Feelings in 1976, the orange light.  It just worked. Suddenly there was also a curatorial text to the work and I liked what it said: "Bopape explores thinking through literature and sound." Next to this great piece was a video piece by Grada Kilomba, which I found terrible - just the way she filmed herself on a separate small screen, depicting herself as the storyteller of what is happening on the big screen, while sitting on stairs and acting as if she's reading to kids... I had to run out. 




I saw a few other pieces that were good but the thing is that in the end I still didn't get what the curators wanted to transmit. There is something lacking in this Biennale. I would almost call it "content" if that wouldn't sound so horrible. And although I'm a minimalist, this Biennale made me wish for a curatorial narrative that keeps the pieces together, that let's them communicate. I got so little from this show that I didn't feel the need any longer to make it all the way to ZKU, the Biennale's third location in Moabit. I doubted that the curators would give me more there. And I guess that was their aim - no narrative, etc. but it went out the wrong way: the Biennale might not confirm "configurations of knowledge or power," at least with its selection of artists, but it also didn't manage to create different ways of thinking "complex subjectivities." My friend and I already drank a coffee at AdK but we felt that we needed another source of energy so we went for a matcha latte at the Japanese shop next-door. 



Little Thoughts in Art Now Available Online

August 22, 2018



My new book Little Thoughts in Art is now available for purchase online. You can find it on the TFGC Publishing website. On July 15, I presented the book after a bus tour from the city center to Marzahn in the Studio Marzahner Promenade of the artist Charlotte Dualé. 




So what is Little Thoughts in Art about? The book starts with a quote from Peril at End House by Agatha Christie: 
"I have been thinking." 
"An admirable exercise, my friend." 
I like to listen to Agatha Christie podcasts. There's a lot of wisdom to be found in it. For instance, when somebody tells you that "you're looking particularly alive today," you probably won't look so alive tomorrow. So, like good old Hastings, I gave the admirable exercise of thinking a try and it resulted in little thoughts in art. 

My last write-up wasn't so humble. It was subtitled An Art Philosophy for the 21st Century, which sounds quite megalomaniac. Since then I've gone more modest. Instead of century-spanning philosophies, I started writing short stories, flash stories, half thoughts - also known as literature's hand luggage. I must say I have a natural talent for short format writing. I even have a hard time writing long texts. For most writers, it's the opposite; they have to shorten their texts. For a freelancer writer, my disposition is actually rather unfortunate because I get paid by the character: so the more characters, the better I get paid. This makes that I'm often desperately looking for "Füllwörter" (expletives). Recently, I read a text by an author who had apparently the same problem and he solved it by reminding the reader of something he had said before: "Ich habe es eben angedeutet"; "wie ich bereits erwähnt habe." Anyway, I thought my "little thoughts" were quite humble until a colleague of mine asked me if the title was a reference to Walter Benjamin's Little History of Photography - a milestone in the history of photography writing. 

Little Thoughts in Art doesn't propose a history though but tells flash stories inspired by my guided tours at the Museum for Contemporary Art. My favourite Belgian artist, Marcel Broodthaers, was also a tour guide at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The Musée now likes to pride itself with Marcel Broodthaers. But when I met Broodthaers widow, Maria Gilissen,  she told me that the museum only had asked him when somebody else fell sick. I myself don't have that problem. On the contrary, I get asked twice or trice a week to give a guided tour. I even get asked to give tours for VIPs - mostly the wives of presidents. But it's the director of the museum who gets to do the fun celebrities from Hollywood, like Brad Pitt. It's actually much more interesting to meet people who are or were time witnesses of famous people instead of the famous people themselves. With time witnesses you really get to talk. Like Danielle Ghanassia, who met Andy Warhol in the eighties in the Limelight in New York. He looked much smaller than expected, she told me, and he didn't answer her questions but just recorded them. After a while she felt transparent. The ultimate Andy Warhol experience! 

The thread throughout the book is not so much my life as a tour guide but rather my experiences in the bookstore of the Museum of Contemporary Art. I have to wait a lot before or in between guided tours so I hang out a lot at the bookstore. The bookstore is like the backstage of the art world. It's the place where artists come to check out if their catalogues are doing well or where visitors of the museum come to vent their opinion about the exhibitions. Sometimes I pick up some wisdoms of the bookstore salespersons. For instance, once there was an exhibition of Martin Kippenberger. The visitors of the bookstore got very upset when they heard there wasn't a accompanying catalogue. They didn't believe it: "Du kannst mir ja alles erzählen!" (You can tell me whatever!) The bookstore salespersons told me that in such cases two answers are possible. One, you tell the customer that the computer broke down just when the curator wanted to send off the script. Customers love catastrophe stories. Or second, you tell the customer that there was no money for the catalogue. Customers have the utmost understanding for the money argument. 

If you're not an online person, you can also buy Little Thoughts in Art at the bookstore. Which one? At the Museum's bookstore, of course: Walther König in Hamburger Bahnhof, where it finds itself in good company:






My new book  Little Thoughts in Art is now available for purchase online . You can find it on the TFGC Publishing website . On July 15, I presented the book after a bus tour from the city center to Marzahn in the Studio Marzahner Promenade of the artist Charlotte Dualé.  So what is Little Thoughts in Art about? The book starts with a quote from Peril at End House by Agatha Christie:  "I have been thinking."  "An admirable exercise, my f…


My new book Little Thoughts in Art is now available for purchase online. You can find it on the TFGC Publishing website. On July 15, I presented the book after a bus tour from the city center to Marzahn in the Studio Marzahner Promenade of the artist Charlotte Dualé. 




So what is Little Thoughts in Art about? The book starts with a quote from Peril at End House by Agatha Christie: 
"I have been thinking." 
"An admirable exercise, my friend." 
I like to listen to Agatha Christie podcasts. There's a lot of wisdom to be found in it. For instance, when somebody tells you that "you're looking particularly alive today," you probably won't look so alive tomorrow. So, like good old Hastings, I gave the admirable exercise of thinking a try and it resulted in little thoughts in art. 

My last write-up wasn't so humble. It was subtitled An Art Philosophy for the 21st Century, which sounds quite megalomaniac. Since then I've gone more modest. Instead of century-spanning philosophies, I started writing short stories, flash stories, half thoughts - also known as literature's hand luggage. I must say I have a natural talent for short format writing. I even have a hard time writing long texts. For most writers, it's the opposite; they have to shorten their texts. For a freelancer writer, my disposition is actually rather unfortunate because I get paid by the character: so the more characters, the better I get paid. This makes that I'm often desperately looking for "Füllwörter" (expletives). Recently, I read a text by an author who had apparently the same problem and he solved it by reminding the reader of something he had said before: "Ich habe es eben angedeutet"; "wie ich bereits erwähnt habe." Anyway, I thought my "little thoughts" were quite humble until a colleague of mine asked me if the title was a reference to Walter Benjamin's Little History of Photography - a milestone in the history of photography writing. 

Little Thoughts in Art doesn't propose a history though but tells flash stories inspired by my guided tours at the Museum for Contemporary Art. My favourite Belgian artist, Marcel Broodthaers, was also a tour guide at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The Musée now likes to pride itself with Marcel Broodthaers. But when I met Broodthaers widow, Maria Gilissen,  she told me that the museum only had asked him when somebody else fell sick. I myself don't have that problem. On the contrary, I get asked twice or trice a week to give a guided tour. I even get asked to give tours for VIPs - mostly the wives of presidents. But it's the director of the museum who gets to do the fun celebrities from Hollywood, like Brad Pitt. It's actually much more interesting to meet people who are or were time witnesses of famous people instead of the famous people themselves. With time witnesses you really get to talk. Like Danielle Ghanassia, who met Andy Warhol in the eighties in the Limelight in New York. He looked much smaller than expected, she told me, and he didn't answer her questions but just recorded them. After a while she felt transparent. The ultimate Andy Warhol experience! 

The thread throughout the book is not so much my life as a tour guide but rather my experiences in the bookstore of the Museum of Contemporary Art. I have to wait a lot before or in between guided tours so I hang out a lot at the bookstore. The bookstore is like the backstage of the art world. It's the place where artists come to check out if their catalogues are doing well or where visitors of the museum come to vent their opinion about the exhibitions. Sometimes I pick up some wisdoms of the bookstore salespersons. For instance, once there was an exhibition of Martin Kippenberger. The visitors of the bookstore got very upset when they heard there wasn't a accompanying catalogue. They didn't believe it: "Du kannst mir ja alles erzählen!" (You can tell me whatever!) The bookstore salespersons told me that in such cases two answers are possible. One, you tell the customer that the computer broke down just when the curator wanted to send off the script. Customers love catastrophe stories. Or second, you tell the customer that there was no money for the catalogue. Customers have the utmost understanding for the money argument. 

If you're not an online person, you can also buy Little Thoughts in Art at the bookstore. Which one? At the Museum's bookstore, of course: Walther König in Hamburger Bahnhof, where it finds itself in good company:






Flash Portrait of Chi Chen

August 12, 2018




This week I met Chi Chen in real life. Before I'd met her only online on the Node platform. Chi is a curator and writer in Beijing and New York. Since 2016, she's been working on a big project called Collecting Anxiety, which is about collecting recordings of people talking about their fears and anxieties. In Berlin, Chi and I have been brainstorming about a collaboration in writing.  I like Chi's mindset: it has humour and fresh opinions. Just to give you a few examples:

- Art and Drugs
When I was complaining about immersive art and its quest for impact, Chi said it was a bit as if the artists want to mimic the effects of drugs, giving the spectators an all encompassing experience. "Like mushrooms," she laughed. 

- Minimalism
Chi told me she'd been to the flea market in Prenzlauerberg. I don't go to the flea market anymore, I tell her. I want to keep things minimal at home. "Ah," she nodded understandingly, "you mean like Muji style? In China, it's known as the brand of 'unsexy arousal'." 

- Internships 
We're talking about women in the arts who start their own businesses and employ others. How cool is that, we both think, as long, of course, you don't exploit your employees.  In New York we call that "slave interns," Chi informed me. 

Chi and I brainstorming





This week I met Chi Chen in real life. Before I'd met her only online on the Node platform. Chi is a curator and writer in Beijing and New York. Since 2016, she's been working on a big project called Collecting Anxiety, which is about collecting recordings of people talking about their fears and anxieties. In Berlin, Chi and I have been brainstorming about a collaboration in writing.  I like Chi's mindset: it has humour and fresh opi…



This week I met Chi Chen in real life. Before I'd met her only online on the Node platform. Chi is a curator and writer in Beijing and New York. Since 2016, she's been working on a big project called Collecting Anxiety, which is about collecting recordings of people talking about their fears and anxieties. In Berlin, Chi and I have been brainstorming about a collaboration in writing.  I like Chi's mindset: it has humour and fresh opinions. Just to give you a few examples:

- Art and Drugs
When I was complaining about immersive art and its quest for impact, Chi said it was a bit as if the artists want to mimic the effects of drugs, giving the spectators an all encompassing experience. "Like mushrooms," she laughed. 

- Minimalism
Chi told me she'd been to the flea market in Prenzlauerberg. I don't go to the flea market anymore, I tell her. I want to keep things minimal at home. "Ah," she nodded understandingly, "you mean like Muji style? In China, it's known as the brand of 'unsexy arousal'." 

- Internships 
We're talking about women in the arts who start their own businesses and employ others. How cool is that, we both think, as long, of course, you don't exploit your employees.  In New York we call that "slave interns," Chi informed me. 

Chi and I brainstorming