December 21, 2012

Hurray! The Siegessäule Bridges The Gap Between Man/Woman And Gay/Straight




For some reason it is easier to write about things that upset one. The anger makes the blood run faster. The writers block dissolves into thin air. A shortcut between brain and hands produces a stream of words that effortlessly fill the blank computer screen. Uhu, I do wish to write only about the many good things that I encounter in the beautiful world of art. That way I could send out positive vibrations and play a part in making the world a better place. Especially in this pre-Christmas time, with sandalwood yogi tea and sugar sweet Stollen on my writing desk, it must be possible to do so. Oh well, at least the thought crossed my mind and it is now definitely high on my list of resolutions for the year 2013. For now, the closing of 2012, allow me to spit my frustration about the November and December-issues of the Siegessäule, a magazine about Queer Berlin.

Let me first tell you that I have a hard time concentrating on newspapers and magazines. I admire people who, in the morning at the breakfast table, can read the newspaper from beginning to end. Even speed reading, scanning the page diagonally, does not work for me. I just loose interest very easily. That's why I only read two articles in the November and December-issues of Siegessäule. As such I'm not in a position to generalize about its overall tendency. Yet I expect this magazine about queer culture to be crosscultural, critical, reflective about discrimination in society, and to promote a thinking out of the box. I also have to admit that I had a secondary motive reading the Siegessäule. It failed to publish a piece about Gunter Trube – a Berlin artist whose work is now exhibited at the show Gesture Sign Art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture that I curated together with Wolfgang Müller in Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien (check it out! still on show till January 13, 2013). Trube, who died at a young age in 2008, played as a performer a key role for deaf culture not only in Germany but worldwide. He was the founder of the “Verkehrten Gehörlosen” (Queer deaf) in Berlin. In 1996 he conceptualized and created together with photographer Barbara Stauss an AIDS-brochure in DGS (German Sign Language). It seems evident to me that this multifaceted figure should interest Siegessäule in such a way that his picture fills its front page. Apparently not, so I wondered: what does interest Siegesäule? How does one hit its headlines and get a double spread?

In the November issue I checked out the article “Trans* american Ride". It relates the story of “Dutch artist Risk Hazekamp who traveled the American South – disguised as a man”. The picture shows a woman with a fluffy beard – so far the disguise part of the art project. The artistic concept to dress up as a man to travel the South of the United States makes kind of sense in its nonsense: one might interpret it as a protest against the tendency of many male artists to dress up as a woman in a desire to obtain more liberty – I don't know how many performances I have seen with male artists walking around in woman clothes and glitter on the face, yet with a glimpse of the naked male torso underneath (look, we are men and we dress up like a woman, how exhilarating!). Yet Risk Hazekamp's art project goes wrong in the very first sentences of its travel report. The art project is inspired by the “(white) American writer John Howard Griffin, who in his book Black Like Me (1959) reports of his travels as a supposedly “Black” person (with the help of medication and make-up).” I guess the Siegessäule must have totally missed out on the discussion about Blackfacing in January when the Berlin Schlossparktheater staged Herb Gardners Ich bin nicht Rappaport casting a white actor who made himself up as black. Or maybe the redaction supports the idea that it is brave trying to really feel how it is like to be the “other”. Easily done though: one can go for dinner in a totally darkened restaurant to feel how it is like to be blind, empathize and really experience it, and then, pfew, leave the restaurant whenever one wants to.

So to know what it is to be a man, grow a beard and travel through the South. No need to mention that the trip of Hazekamp through the deep South did not lead up to anything. Nobody bothered Risk Hazekamp: did they ignore her? – oh, these damn Southern people. Sleeping one night in the cold in the back of her truck might have been the nearest to adventure that Risk Hazekamp got. Finally she arrived at the Gay-pride in New Orleans and was asked: “What are you?” A very dramatic moment of revelation for Risk Hazekamp: “It was the first time in all these weeks traveling in drag that someone addressed me as trans*.... It felt like someone finally saw me. As if I were a ghost before and suddenly her voice turned me human again. ´”

No despair! More harmony in the December-issue of the Siegessäule. In the article “Der kleine Unterschied” (The Small Difference) the new book “Vertragt euch!” (Get Along!) by Martin Reichert is reviewed. Martin Reichert writes on gay politics and lifestyle issues for the leftist newspaper TAZ. His new book is about heterosexuality written from a gay perspective. At first sight a good idea – turn around the hierarchies and study heterosexuality as an interesting phenomenon that needs more in depth analysis. But no such luck. Reichert is on a “peace mission”, so he says. Based on interviews with straight men and women about love and sex Reichert discovers a history full of misunderstandings. The war between women and men? Not so dramatic as one might think: “Especially men have evolved amazingly during the past years.” Another revelation: straight people have more sex than one imagines. So quite comparable to the exciting sex life of gay people, I assume. And gay and straight have a lot more in common! For example: on sunday afternoon both gay and straight singles have a challenging time looking at all these happy couples walking by...
For a critical analysis of Martin Reichert's writing, have a look at this great genderwiki-page: http://www.genderwiki.de/index.php/Queere_Rassifizierungspolitiken_-_Beispielanalyse_taz







October 29, 2012

Zeitlos. Art Criticism or How To Chase A New Pig Through The Village



Café Zeitlos
Timelessness once used to be a compliment. It no longer is. Recently I sent a writing sample to an art magazine. It got rejected. The chief editor explained to me that my art criticism is “timeless”. The art magazine focuses on “actuality” he said while asking me to send in some new proposals that meet this need. I checked out the magazine to see what he was exactly talking about. An article about a museum exhibition on Brazilian art ended with the statement that it made one wants to travel to Brazil. Should the writing about art be like a kind of tourism brochure, laying out the latest hot spots? A few days later the chief editor wrote me again: Unintentionally he had deleted my response with new proposals, could I send it once more? I was a little baffled because I had not given actuality a real thought yet, let alone write proposals about it. Only one of these beautiful German idioms had popped up in my head : “jeden Tag eine neue Sau durch das Dorf jagen.” (“to chase a new pig through the village every other day”).

Apart from my education in history I blame the café in the street for my inclination towards the timeless. Café Zeitlos is at the corner of Waldemarstraße and Manteuffelstraße. I've been watching that mysterious door while drinking my daily coffee in D'Espresso at the opposite corner, pondering about where this bizarre entrance leads to. As the case may be, I'm probably under its spell. Also my occasional job as a tour guide in the museum might have something to do with it. Not that museums imperatively exhibit timeless art, far from. Most museums safely and cautiously bet on what happens to be on “the list”. It's rare that an artist gets discovered by an institution of contemporary art. Yet inevitably there is art that proves to be lasting and makes it, mostly a few decades after its making, into the museum canon. I happen to give a museum tour addressing the difficult question “what is art?”. I'm in favor of interaction but for this particular tour I prefer a monologue, avoiding being irritated by unnecessary exclamations and variations on the question by the visitor. To make my point I lead the listeners to my personal highlights of the museum. Since I like a positive approach I avoid answering the tough question by pointing out its negative. So throughout these guide tours I came up with a few guidelines on how to define “good art”.

“Good art” is, in my opinion, not so much a subjective issue, depending on the onlooker. There are a few characteristics that define good art. 1) Good art might at first sight look simple, yet is in essence multilayered. Actually, I'm a fan of “simple” ideas. 2) Good art makes one reminiscence for at least one hour. I would love to give one-hour guide tours focussing just on one art piece. 3) Good art opens up a space of negotiation. It does not give definite answers nor does it repeat hierarchies or reveals what one already knows. 4) Good art displays self-reflexivity, irony, and humor. 5) Good art avoids a thinking that revels in “either ... or” categorizations. And of course, last but not least, number 6) Timelessness is intrinsically part of what defines good art. Good art might have been made decades ago, yet it does not loose its critical acumen for the present. As a consequence, art criticism is about laying bare the contemporary significance of an art work, but it tries also to point out how it reaches beyond that actuality.

How to make it on “the list” is a very different discussion, as well as which strategies art criticism can use to get the ball rolling. Fame can reach one in unexpected ways. The most exhilarating is maybe to hover for an instant in its presence and to seize the occasion. My friend, the painter Ali Mongo got eternalized in a juxtaposition with Steve Jobs in the San Francisco Chronicle and in that coincidental confrontation he made a very good point: 

Steve Jobs and Ali Mongo in the San Francisco Chronicle


October 1, 2012

Let's Talk Food. "Hungry City" at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien

  • Berliner Cupcake




Where did I get the idea that riding the subway is no fun? I took the subway two days in a row, feeling too lazy for my usual bike ride. Both times exciting things happened. The first time the lady next to me had a poodle on her lap who without warning decided it was time for a pee. The owner took it in stride and laughed it off. The second time I sat down next to a lady with a platter of freshly baked cupcakes on her lap. They looked and smelled so yummy I could not take my eyes off. I ended up buying one of these what must have been a Berliner cupcake because it had a gummy bear on top of it. My neighbor was on her way to the museum island to sell her cupcakes to the art lovers. The money is for an initiative called “cupcakes for literacy”, providing children with learning resources. The Let's Talk Cupcakes!-project, so I checked online, also organizes language lessons – promoted as the tastiest way to learn English. Even corporate team building can be a piece of cake with cupcakes (www.letstalkcupcakes.com).





Sugarhigh I arrived back in my neighborhood Kreuzberg. I actually happen to live in a hood where many people are convinced that with food one can make the world a better place. Food, for example, can surely revive deserted places and tighten the community. Around the corner of my place, in the Eisenbahnstraße, there is Markthalle IX. Built in 1891, the market hall's downfall started in 1997 when ALDI moved in. Merchants could not cope and had to leave. ALDI is still there but in 2009 the neighborhood's residents started an initiative: Markthalle Neun (http://www.markthalle9.de/konzept.html). As a result there is now a market on Fridays and Saturdays with local merchants selling pies, juices, flowers, regional vegetables and meat. The cooking is glocal: veggie burgers, spanish tapas, Berliner Blutwurst. The tables are covered with ecological food and the neighborhood gathers around. During the rest of the week you can still hit Markthalle IX for a five euro dinner at noon. Or you can have a coffee at the central booth, which has been there since 1989, surviving the market hall's harshest times and apparently enduring stoically its recent upgrading. 


Booth at Markthalle IX since 1989



At the other end of my street food meets art: Hungry City, curated by Anna Kersten in cooperation with Stéphane Bauer at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, features art that deals with the significance of food in culture. The nexus of food and art has a long history, food being the perfect object for still live paintings or the ideal material, preferably in decomposed condition, to move the boundaries between art and life. No such thing in Hungry City: Environmental Art, Rural Art and Guerilla Gardening are at the fore. You can follow the food chain of your morning yoghurt personally tracked down by Jekaterina Anzupowa during a worldwide trip. The artist collective Fallen Fruit maps the places where the urbanite can do harvest picking for free in the city. Kultivator shows you how to build a worm tower for your urban compost. A story is told about the breeding of potatoes in the GDR (Åsa Sonjasdotter), farmers in Poland go into great detail about their self-made machinery (ŧukasz Skąpski), and personal tales bring together Croatian and Hungarian milk production (Kristina Leko). You can see happy pigs being fed with acorns (Isa Winkler), a 1982 wheat field in front of the former World Trade Center in New York (Agnes Denes), and a 1970s San Francisco farm project under a highway crossroad (Bonnie Ora Sherk).


Insa Winkler, Das Eichelschwein, 2006. Standbild aus dem Video. © die Künstlerin


Hungry City's accompanying program makes you experience food from a different angle. An evening dinner, for example, was served by Dinner Exchange Berlin, using the leftovers of the city's supermarkets and gastronomy. I happened to wander through the exhibition spaces while dinner was being prepared, its smell rising up. Believe it or not, it was right after my cupcake experience. Needless to say, all my senses were blown. I went home where my roommate Asier Solana was doing some home-cooking – his aim of the week being to cook a different meal every day, leaving out spaghetti. The empanada, Spanish style, was so divine. That's when the music set in: “You have to get a tongue for the taste, it's the kind of food you don't waste / food for your mind and your belly, not when you're in front of the tele / the kind of food that keeps you strong, keeps you balanced all day long / you got to feed up your foundation – information.”





September 14, 2012

Good News: documenta 13

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Photo: Eduardo Knapp



Humor and art are often seen as contradictory in Germany. The artist works in all seriousness metaphorically and metaphysically in-depth. Yet even the redeemer and shaman Joseph Beuys sung funny songs like Sonne statt Reagan. No surprise that Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev's call for the emancipation of dogs and strawberries confused the press. Was the chief curator of documenta 13 making a a joke or was she serious? Also in the exhibition itself Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev makes curatorial statements that are not without ambiguity. In Fridericianum, the key venue of documenta, the intellectual focal point called the brain is installed: in this small space at the core of the Fridericianum a fine selection of art pieces and historical objects establishes a tight web of associations, of which the threads are spun further throughout the various venues of the documenta. Inscribed on the glass wall of the brain is Lawrence Weiner's THE MIDDLE OF THE MIDDLE OF THE MIDDLE OF – a thought breaker throwing documenta's centerpiece slightly off balance.

This self-deprecating twist of the curator and her team is also palpable upon entering the Fridericianum. To leave space vacant at such a crowded event, at the very entrance of its main venue Fridericianum, is quite a curatorial statement. The emptiness has been described by many critics as a critique on packed art fairs or as an inquiry on perception. In the empty wings on ground floor level the visitor can experience an ephemeral sensation: alternating a summer breeze blowing gently across the face, a strong wind pushing on your back, or a draft making you look for shelter. This wind, created by fans, is an artwork of Ryan Gender, titled I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorize. In a display case a letter by the artist Kai Althoff is on show. In the five page long letter the artist explains the reasons for his withdrawal from documenta 13: the pressure to produce, an overloaded schedule, a tight time frame, and his inability to work like that. By showing the letter, one of the main parameters of exhibition-making is made clear: the dialogue between artist and curator. Most of the work on display at the documenta is made on commission. This means that there is only so much the curator has in control whereas the artist has to make a piece that fits the framework of the exhibition. By showing the letter boundaries are made apparent.

To shake up own boundaries: in that context it is worthwhile to have a look at the agents, which Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev engaged to join her curatorial team: surrounding oneself with persons with ideas, like, for example, Chus Martínes, instead of opting for the safety of a non-threatening mediocracy is remarkable. Astonishing is also that documenta 13 gives the impression that equality has finally become a “normality”. With ease artists of both sexes are represented to a same extent – female artists, a wild guess, might even dominate at documenta 13. The wind that warps the smooth exhibition space at the entrance, makes the visitor also aware of his/her own body and its positioning. Art is not a free-floating space, where one can find liberation. Art, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev writes in her opening text to documenta, „is an exercise in ambivalence.“ One could say that, like Alexander Kluge, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has an interest for the gaps in our cosmic systems, the cocoons we live in.“ This interest for the cracks in history brings about many fascinating stories – a great story does not necessarily make great art, or sometimes it is rather the story an art piece goes through that makes it better. Yet at some points it does, and the good news is: it does so occasionally at documenta 13.

August 30, 2012

Keep It Moving. Rüdiger Preisler, Joseph Beuys, and Dirk Wauters

Görlitzer Park


I kind of took a break this August, at least from staring at a computer screen. Unfortunately, I did not use the free time to have plenty of exciting adventures in exciting places that I could now write about. It was a summer so comfortably monotonous, alternating between ice-creams and cappuccinos, that in the end it brought out the unknown in the familiar. Walking with a friend one night a sculpture in the park caught our attention. Görlitzer Park has always been one of my favorite parks in Berlin. Not so much to chill and lay down on the grass, therefore it is either too dry or too littered with cigarette butts. It is the strange landscape of the park that fascinates me. In the middle of Görlitzer Park there is an enormous pit. I always thought it was the result of World War II bombing. But the only battle that took place in this natural arena were the snow ball battles between the adjoining neighborhoods Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. The park was set up in the early 1990s and the ruins in the middle of the arena are the remainders of a former railway tunnel. It is quite exhilarating to drive your bike down the pit. Yet the most fitting recreation I ever saw in the pit was in 2007 when I was living across the park: on daily basis a few people under the influence and clearly without working obligations, played the luxury game of golf in the pit. Indeed, if one gives it a thought, golf takes up way too much leisure time than a business man can really afford.


Rüdiger Preisler, Schreitender Mensch

Görlitzer Park's pit has an out-of-space quality. This is especially due to the intriguing sculpture that hovers at its entrance. It is made out of steel. The huge poles curiously waver into one direction and make a zigzag on the top. Staring at the structure rising up against the night sky my friend and I imagined an undecipherable cosmic connection or a reference to an astrological constellation. Later I found out that we were not so wrong in our guessing. The sculpture does have a universal message. It was made by the German artist Rüdiger Preisler and is titled Schreitender Mensch (Striding Man). These steel poles are thus the longs legs of a person striding forward. Art historically Alberto Giacometti's sculpture L'Homme qui marche may come to mind, depicting a lone man in mid stride with his arms hanging at his side. L'Homme qui marche is seen as the incarnation of 20th century solitary man striding ahead in a godless universe. Rüdiger Preisler's version just shows these long legs in a balanced stride, The torso is left out, and thus also the head with its rational thinking. For Joseph Beuys the torso was an image for mankind, waiting for its completion, its transformation. Rüdiger Preisler's focus on the legs gives another dimension – no hopeful message here of future transformation, but the existential issue of mankind's walking on earth, yet to what purpose? As B.B. King put it: “Better not look down, if you want to keep on flying. Put the hammer down, keep it full speed ahead. Better not look back, or you might just wind up crying. You can keep it moving, if you don't look down.”

The advice not to look down reminds me of my visit to my parental home in the Belgian country at the beginning of this summer. My father took me along visiting an artist in our village Kapellen. Dirk Wauters' farm house is on the other side of the cemetery. Such an outlook must do something to a person, I guess. Birth and death are like the front- and backside of life, Beuys said - a positive tension he wanted to bring back to our industrial society that desperately tries to ignore the latter. Yet for Dirk Wauters death not only keeps him awake while looking out of the front window, it also took over the backyard where he installed a Cimetière Imaginaire. Living between two cemeteries, a real and an imaginary one, the flow of life is condensed in the artist's studio, which spreads out through the whole house. Here Dirk Wauters registers the passing of time in a meticulous way: every day the artist makes a photograph, a drawing, some notes, and a composition. With death luring on both sides the resulting art pieces don't really get out of the house. Anyhow, they are not made with the purpose to be shown in exhibitions. One might feel the temptation to tell Dirk Wauters “to go out and get a life”, yet his daily endeavor is actually all about being utmost alive: it entails the courage to look down in the mud and fall over and over again.

Dirk Wauters' steel sculptures in the barn 

The art made in the studio does find its way to the backyard. Based on his daily work in the studio Dirk Wauters makes sculptures out of steel, especially in the form of sarcophagi. These sculptures are also used as sound installations, played upon by the artist. Like in Rüdiger Preisler's Schreitender Mensch the rusting steel is part of the work. The sarcophagi are kept simple, without inscriptions or decorations. The curves of the body are integrated in the pieces, or a small cut is made, like a lookout , allowing the person inside to see outside, yet without opening the lid. Put together in the garden the sarcophagi are part of an imaginary cemetery. Why imagining a cemetery with sarcophagi? Maybe Dirk Wauters is trying to finish rather than being interrupted by death on the real cemetery. That brings us back to the striding man on earth, where there are things to be done and games to be won. A last advice, now from Dr. Seuss: “Always be dexterous and deft, and never mix up your right foot with your left.” 

Sound sculpture by Dirk Wauters

July 29, 2012

The Right To Be Lazy. John Knight and Siegfried Kracauer


John Knight, The Right To Be Lazy, Berlin, since 2009.




The first thing I do upon arriving in Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum of Contemporary Art in Berlin, is to check out my favorite piece of art (for more current news on this piece, click here and even more current click here). It is in the courtyard and it changes all the time. It goes unnoticed by most visitors because, at first sight, it is very common. The installation of the piece took place in 2009. I was present when the Californian artist John Knight had a simple request for the gardener: the grass in the rondel had to be left untouched from that moment on. The piece is then also titled The Right To Be Lazy. It is inspired by a 1883 manifesto by Paul Lafargue. Lafargue, who was the son in law of Karl Marx, wrote his manifesto as a protest against the dominating working ethics, including Marx'. Only in laziness, so he argued, ideas can come and culture can exist. Therefore Lafargue pleaded for the 3-hour working day: also the worker has a right for his/her own culture.

In Berlin John Knight's The Right To Be Lazy has found its perfect setting. In the city there are still many of these in-between-places that are not invested in. Yet Hamburger Bahnhof's environment shows that things are changing rapidly. The no-man's-land around it has turned into a happening place with a high-rise building and a new station that features in futuristic crime thrillers such as Tom Tykwers The International. In the 1920s Martin Heidegger taught at the Humboldt University in Berlin about boredom as a philosophical issue. The train station was according to him the place par excellence for getting bored. In the new Hauptbahnhof such boredom is hard to imagine. Waiting rooms are non-existent, benches are rare. Instead there is time to consume. The Berlin cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer wrote about this culture of distraction in the upcoming metropolis of the 1920s. Nobody as boring, Kracauer stated in his 1927 essay Langeweile, than those who are never bored. During the day one goes to work – business - and at night one is kept in the state of busy-ness in the cinema. The kind of boredom that originates out of this culture of distraction was addressed by Andy Warhol in his Do-It-Yourself paintings, also on show in Hamburger Bahnhof. No talent is needed for this “painting by numbers”, own ideas are not necessary. The result is predictable, yet there is a feeling of satisfaction upon finishing it.

what is the name of this yellow flower?

I can reminiscent for hours on John Knight's The Right To Be Lazy, expanding on topics such as the beauty of the German word Langeweile, immigration debates about the economical value of a person, Valeska Gert's proto-performance Pause, Marcel Duchamp's reluctance towards the art market, the pressure to perform. Yet, The Right To Be Lazy can also be admired for its pure aesthetics. Each season brings a new beauty to it. Yesterday I met another admirer standing at The Right To Be Lazy: Mark from Hamburger Bahnhof Walther König bookstore. The Right To Be Lazy is an ideal place to practice the art of observation. I mostly check in vain if the Californian flower seeds that I threw in last spring are showing up. Yet Mark has a better eye. He pointed out an Asian plant and called it a pioneer species: pioneer species are the first to colonize previously disrupted ecosystems. Mark elaborated about biodiversity in the city, the mono-culture of the countryside, singing birds and their new urban melodies.

Pioneer species

By the way: today is a great day for The Right To Be Lazy. Sunday is an institution and, according to Kracauer, one should take the opportunity “to rouse oneself into boredom.” Here is his suggestion (the rainy wetter of today will make this easier):

On a sunny afternoon when everyone is outside, one would do best to hang about in the train station or, better yet, stay at home, draw the curtains, and surrender oneself to one's boredom on the sofa. Shrouded in tristezza, one flirts with ideas that even become quite respectable in the process, and one considers various projects that, for no reason, pretend to be serious. Eventually one becomes content to do nothing than be with oneself, without knowing what one actually should be doing – sympathetically touched by the mere glass grasshopper on the tabletop that cannot jump because it is made of glass and by the silliness of a little cactus plan that thinks nothing of its own whimsicality. Frivolous, like these decorative creations, one harbors only an inner restlessness without a goal, a longing that is pushed inside, and a weariness with that which exists without really being.

If, however, one has the patience, the sort of patience specific to legitimate boredom, then one experiences a kind of bliss that is almost unearthly. A landscape appears in which colorful peacocks strut about and images of people suffused with soul come into view. And look - your own soul is likewise swelling, and in ecstasy you name what you have always lacked: the great passion. Were this passion – which shimmers like a comet – to descend, were it to envelop you, the others, and the world – oh, then boredom would come to an end, and everything that exists would be ...

Yet people remain distant images, and the great passion fizzles out on the horizon. And in the boredom that refuses to abate, one hatches bagatelles that are as boring as this one.


July 16, 2012

Good Moves / Bad Words. Justin F. Kennedy, Ali Mongo and Kate Hers


Kate Hers' "deutschsprachliche Projekt", 2012


In Berlin I used to participate in a great hip hop course taught by Justin F. Kennedy. Justin always reminds me of my one-year stay in San Francisco - a year of pure sun, light, and happiness. His dance is invested by this positive vibe. Now living and dancing in Berlin, he returned to SF for a residency in 2011. In the Uferhallen of Wedding I went to see the result: Flitter, Flutter, Glitter, Gutter (or any combination of the four). Modern dance has a way of confronting you with your greatest agonies. Not so in Justin's SF dance piece. It made me laugh and it was as if the spectators' smiling faces were intrinsically part of his choreography. Also in the hip hop course we learnt plenty of good moves, which I still use to tackle daily life in Berlin. There is the “drop bounce bounce” movement, bouncing off a negative comment like a basketball. Brushing the dirt off the shoulder exactly three times à la Michael Jackson works too.

Only recently I discovered that happy moves are not necessarily only triggered bodily but also by using words. It was while re-reading Andy Warhol's Philosophy book that I became aware of this – his favorite word being “so what”:

“My mother didn't love me.” So what.
“My husband won't ball me.” So what.
“I'm a success but I'm still alone.” So what.

The Mongolian, originally SF and now Berlin-based painter Ali Mongo has a similar way of ending tough topics: “Why not?” Ali Mongo goes through life with an ease that is remarkable. Traveling around the world he encounters trouble regularly. Yet, when the trouble is not too big (in which case a change of name will do. I once used to call Ali Mongo Sammy.), a “why not?” suffices. In my search for a German equivalent Sebastian Jehl of the Walter König book shop in Hamburger Bahnhof came up with a proposal: “Was soll's.”

Ali Mongo in his studio in Berlin

It seems, however, that a lot of people moving to Berlin are anticipating a harsh culture. Therefore they are eager to master a “bad” vocabulary to face the situation. The Singapore artist Ming Wong prepared for his move by doubling Petra von Kant in her terrible breakdown in Fassbinder's Die bittere Tränen von Petra von Kant: “Ich bin im Arsch ... ”. On June 29 I attended the screening and presentation of the work of Kate Hers in Art Laboratory Berlin. Kate Hers is the brain behind the amazing website estherka.com which brings together the latest updates about jobs and residencies for artists and useful information on, for instance, how to apply for an artist visa in Germany. Born in South-Korea and raised in the United States the issue of transmigration is key to Kate Hers' artistic work. Living now in Berlin she started this year an interactive language project called “Das deutschsprachliche Projekt” (germanproject.estherka.com). Mostly in collaboration with the person who offers her a peculiar German expression or word Kate Hers makes “teaching” podcasts, which are published on her blog. Swear words fill the main part of the project. Through repetition the viewer is taught the correct pronunciation because, of course, you want to get these things right.

The statistics have not been made yet, but Kate Hers told me that she noticed a few particularities. Plenty of variations came up to insult a woman as “old hag”: Kackbratze, Schabracke, Schreckschraube, alte Schrapnelle. Swear words for an elderly man are harder to find. Plenty of words also for “idiot”: Dulli, Trottel, Halbdackel, Kloppi, Vollpfosten, Schwachmat, Arschgeiger, Dumpfbacke, Hornochse, Saftsack. Whereas in the United States swear words using genitals are much more common (asshole is the most famous one), in Germany it is apparently a bigger insult to affront somebody's intelligence. Indeed, one would go so far as to fake a PhD just to avoid the offenses. Kate Hers' “deutschsprachliche Projekt” is not exactly a happy words projects. Yet by tracking those bad words and tackling them in a humorous way she opens up a space where they lose their weight and power. Additionally, it might bring you in a good mood to be able to recognize an insult while also proposing your offender a few alternatives. Recognizing an insult is not so easily done when you are new in Berlin. Berliners have a way of saying the most harmless words, such as “bread”, in an, at first hearing, angry tone. An Icelandic friend of mine learnt it the hard way at his local bakery. After a while he finally barked back. Since then the bad vibe has vanished into thin air.

See for Justin F. Kennedy's dance piece: http://vimeo.com/36000917
and Kate Hers projects: http//:estherka.com; http://thegermanprojectpart2.wordpress.com/http://usartberlin.org

July 5, 2012

Short and Sharp. Andy Warhol, Dieter Roth, Valeska Gert and Colleen Becker


Valeska Gert's advertisment in Aller Lüste Anfang. Das 7. Buch der Werbung, 1971


Yesterday I met my friend Elias on the street, who was waiting for his pizza to get ready. He was a little tired but satisfied. During a few intensive weeks he had been working on the advertising of a chocolate bar, which had brought him enough money to last for a while. Sweet. I offered him my own creative writing in case he needed a one-liner of some sort. Something about soccer was coming up, he said. I refused, of course, I could not imagine having to think about soccer for a minute. Still, advertising has its attractions. I never watch it on TV and I'm not, at least consciously, looking at it on the internet. But I do love Mad Men, the American TV-series about a 1950s New York advertisement agency. Since those uptight 1950s, advertising might have become more broad-minded (although, also that is to be doubted). Yet without the daytime whiskey, cigarettes and secretaries, the fun must be gone.

Another reason for my interest is that a few of my favorite artists have worked in/on advertising. Of course, the first one that pops to mind is Andy Warhol. The profile of my blog reveals that I'm a die-hard fan who caries a bag with on it straps the famous quotes “I've never met a person I could not call a beauty” and “In the future everybody will have 15 minutes of fame”. It is amazing how Warhol can entertain and be extremely funny, and at the same time be so acute and accurate. Saying that, I'm stealing the promotion pun on my edition of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) (such a great subtitle!). It's by Truman Capote: “Acute. Accurate. Mr. Warhol's usual amazing candor. A constant entertainment and enlightment.” It does happen rarely that the combination of humor and critical analysis occurs in art - especially in German art seriousness seems to be equalled with in-depth analysis. The quality of Andy Warhol's art and writing is that with an essentially simple image or with just a few words, written always in a playful way, he is able to express the most radical critique. Most people need an overload of paint or a whole book and even then they have a hard time getting the message across.

Dieter Roth, Advertisments / Inserate, 1971-1972.


Also Dieter Roth was fascinated by advertising – at least by the advertising pages in the newspaper which he called “ein grosser Schrotthaufen” (“a huge heap of junk”). In 1971 he decided to advertise 220 of his own invention - short sentences that made no sense, signed as “DR”. He only made it to 130. The newspaper refused to publish any more, having received too many angry reactions from its readers. Recently I learnt that another favorite artist of mine participated in advertising. Wolfgang Müller showed me his newly acquired book, also of 1971, entitled Aller Lüste Anfang. Das 7. Buch der Werbung (Emeriten-Press). In this mockery on advertising the Berlin dancer and performer Valeska Gert is presented with the sentence: “Jeder Käufer von zwei Sargen enthält als Zugabe einen Kindersarg.” (“Each buyer of two coffins gets as a bonus one children coffin for free.”) Valeska Gert had a way of leaving people speechless. Her work still does, as I noticed a few weeks ago when I showed her performance in the W.G. Pabst 1929 film Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl) to an acquaintance / art collector . I have not heard from my acquaintance since. No doubt, if Valeska Gert had stayed in New York in 1945 instead of returning to Berlin, she would have worked together with Andy Warhol. She herself thought so. This fall Karl Lagerfeld is republishing one of her four autobiographies: The Beggarbar of New York (the first one Mein Weg (My Way) was republished in Wolfgang Müller's Valeska Gert: Ästhetik der Präsenzen).

Valeska Gert's one-liner advertisement reminds me of the shortest story I ever read. It's by Ernest Hemmingway: “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”. I heard about it from Colleen Becker, who is a flash fiction writer herself. Flash stories are five hundred to one thousand words short and as such the narrative depends mainly upon the reader's imagination. Also Valeska Gert had a flashy dance style: she danced the jump only in its offset, leaving it up to the audience to fill in the rest. In 2009 Colleen Becker participated in a Shortness conference that was organized by Tate Modern "tackling topics ranging from aphorisms, text msgs and short attention spans to nanophilology, sampling, ephemeral relationships, punch lines, short narratives and other short-lived entities and phenomena (insects and fashion)". On the occasion Colleen Becker read one of her flash fiction stories titled “B&I”. The short piece was also published in the anthology Tales of the DeCongested. Here it is:


B&I

When I lived in Chicago I shared a house with five other people: four Scorpios and a Pisces, all artists. Our place was spacious, but we spent most of our time in separate bedrooms to avoid conflict. When we needed to communicate, we would do so via ESP, sending each other psychic messages to "please get your crap out of the living room" or "please stop eating my food". When that didn't work, really bad things would happen. Like maybe you would walk into the bathroom to find all of the silverware in the toilet.

I rarely saw or spoke to my flatmates, with the sole exception of B. The two of us were very social. After work, B and I often sat together on the front porch swing; I made up fake blues songs while he played the guitar until one of our flatmates would psychically tell us to "please shut the hell up". One day B took apart the television and connected it to our stereo. Instead of looking at the boring stuff that's generally on TV, we watched the colored lines that are usually hidden inside of your television move around to the music. We did this for hours at a time.

B and I eventually moved into our own place. We lived on the third floor, which meant that when we sat on our back porch, we had a great view of all of the crime in our neighborhood. As we watched the crime, B told me stories about the Rosicrucians and bear constellations that were actually really scary.

Later, this stripper from New Orleans named Poppy moved in with us, and although the number of kitchen fires increased dramatically after she became our flatmate, B was still
psyched that she was around. I moved shortly thereafter, but I left her my mattress 'cause it seemed like she needed extras. I later learned that B had been sleeping with her in secret the entire time.

Tales of the DeCongested is published by
Apis Books
Flat 9, 50 Roman Road
Bethnal Green
London E2 0LT
ISBN 0-9552538-3-7 / 978-0-9552538-3-6
Contents © the individual Authors, 2008



June 25, 2012

How Dare You! A Review on Yoko Ono's TO THE LIGHT Show in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung


Reading the Sueddeutsche Zeitung



As you know I am the proud owner of a Yoko Ono art piece. Reading the German newspaper this morning, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, I got upset by a critique on Yoko Ono's newest show in the Serpetine Gallery in London. Yet not only because I own a piece by her. I found this article by Alexander Menden to be a typical example of the way our society reacts on famous women artists. The subtitle already announced it: “Yoko Ono wird viel gehasst. Wie gut ist ihre Kunst?” (“Yoko Ono is hated a lot. How good is her art?”) Alexander Menden referred to Yoko Ono's so-called involvement in the breaking-up of the Beatles and then he himself extended freely this so-called “hate” towards Yoko Ono to her present-day art, a mixture of what Menden calls “hippie” art and “egocentrism”. Already Yoko Ono's action with John Lennon in bed was, in the opinion of the author, a piece of “Nabelschau” (“navel-gazing”). The picture of one her pieces that features John Lennon seems to argue that this woman Yoko Ono is just using her belated husband for her own ambitious endeavors. Well well, wouldn't that be a nice refreshing change after all these women hidden behind famous men? 

The typical scenario: Women who have “made it” and have a clear sense of self (because without it they would not have made it in this male dominated art world) are punished while male artists are allowed to be as selfish and narcissistic as possible – the more Ego they are, actually, the better they sell. “Hate” is also a word that does not exist in the vocabulary on male artists. A woman artist thinks about peace and a better world and it is immediately considered to be “kitsh” and “hippie”. Male artists can be mystic as hell, exhibiting reindeers at christmas time, and the art world reacts in full admiration. In short, the art world is not free of hierarchies, far from, nor is the way we still perceive art by female artists.

Naomi Wolf has written a great article in The Guardian on another very much “hated” woman: Madonna. In the following I will quote extensively out of this article titled Madonna acts just like a serious male artist would – and people hate her for it. Wolf's arguments about the lack of permission for female artists to be big, to make big gestures and even big mistakes, can also be used in my opinion for Yoko Ono's reception in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Is Madonna a self-absorbed megalomaniac with a touch of the arriviste? Probably; but so are dozens of equally brilliant male artists in other mediums, whose imperfect but worthwhile new efforts are treated with hushed awe (see the reverence accorded the solemn and often tedious Tom Ford film, A Single Man).”

An important point that Naomi Wolf makes, is that Madonna refuses to get into the mode of "don't hate me for my success, don't hate me for my power" and the press hates her for it: 

She doesn't pretend to the press that she thinks she is not talented, or suggest that she happened to make high-level art for decades unconsciously, or by accident, or in her sleep. She doesn't parade her vulnerabilities; she does not play the victim. She is not continually letting us in to the details of some battle with bulimia or weight problems or health problems or drug abuse, or the way her heart always seems to get broken (fill in likeable talented/wealthy/successful actress, musician, etc here). Nor does she complain about how hard it is to juggle work and family, or let us into photo shoots where we see the banal and recognizable rituals of grocery shopping or ferrying kids, so that we can know reassuringly that she is JUST LIKE US (fill in likeable female politician/news anchor here).”

The online discussion that followed Naomi Wolf's article got very tensed. In the discussion Wolf makes another great point about the difference between “dislike” and “contempt”: “People may not like what a male artist does with this sort of thing (the own sexuality) people tend not to say HOW DARE YOU.....distaste and contempt are quite different and contempt I would argue is more caustic -- also the real issue is not how does Madonna feel about being criticized; it is: what messages do creative or ambitious women get about what they can 'get away with'?


http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/06/madonna-hating-we-superbowl

June 6, 2012

Who is Marion? An interview with Wolfgang Müller






As you might have noticed in my blog, I've spend these last weeks in Iceland with Wolfgang Müller. Wolfgang Müller, Berlin artist and author, visited Iceland for the first time in 1989 on invitation of the Icelandic artist Magnus Pálsson. Since then he has been back to Iceland on a regular basis, writing many books about Iceland such as Blue Tit, Neues von der Elfenfront – Die Wahrheit über Island, Die Elfe im Schlafsack, and released the CDs Island Hörspiele and Ich habe sie geseh'n ... Elfen, Zwerge und Feen.
Now our journey in Reykjavik is coming to an end and I did this short video interview with him in German. Here is the English translation:

AP: In your Blue Tit book about Iceland there is an image of the German artist and performer Gunter Trube, showing four sign language gestures for “Angst”.

WM: Those are four gestures in DGS (German Sign Language) for the word “Angst”. It shows that all languages have plenty of possibilities and not just one word to express something. Many hearing people believe that DGS has only one word way to express “Angst”, but just as in other languages there is a wide spectrum of “fear”, “dread”, etc. ... various differentiations.

AP: How is that in the Icelandic language?

WM: Also in the Icelandic language there are multiple meanings and many of those are untranslatable. I found that interesting when I made the audio play Thrymskviđa (Thrym Song). It is a travesty story with the god Thor and Loki. Many of these ambiguities emerge and are essentially not translatable into German.

AP: These old Icelandic Edda are also popular in Germany.

WM: The Edda were of course used by the Nazis in such a way that their humor totally vanished. This medieval poetry was read and transmitted in such a constrained, one-sided manner: all the fun was gone. I thought that was a shame. It is beautiful to show people the multiple meanings.

AP: How did you work with this multiplicity?

WM: When the god Thor decides to travel together with Loki to Jötunheima both disguised as women – it is the first drag queen story in medival germanic literature! – Loki says: “Both of us ride then to Jötunheima.”1 The Icelandic “both of us” can express three different sexes: “tvö” is male/female, “tveir” male and “tvær” female. The joke is when Loki says “both of us” and transfers it to a mixed group. That is not without ambiguity! At this point Icelanders can laugh. But in German it is simplified as “we” - neuter.

AP: Do such language games also happen in Icelandic contemporary literature?

WM: There are similar things. Lately somebody told me about crime stories by the writer Arnaldur Indridason. There is a reappearing figure named Marion, a name that can be male or female. The whole of Iceland discussed if Marion is a man or a woman.2 In her translation into German the translator Coletta Bürling just changed it into a man. Especially in Germany there is a tendency toward simplification.

AP: You yourself doubled an institute as an art concept: the Goethe Institute.

WM: Yes, Coletta Bürling used also to be the director of the Goethe Institute in Iceland. I doubled the Goethe Institute only after it was closed down. I made an art concept out of it - I need to emphasize that, a “private Goethe Institute.” That went well for a long time, but after three years I was charged,and then I had to watch out. I received a cease and desist declaration. The art concept got so mixed up with the perception of reality that people believed that I really was the leader of the Goethe Institute and not a performance artist. I had to rename it as the Walther von Goethe Institute, the gay grandson of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

AP: Did you notice anything particular during this stay in Iceland?

WM: So many things happened, I could write books about it. I have to control myself a bit. It is of course extremely inspiring and one has to watch out that one doesn't examine everything on the surface. I need some time, to let it set in, to see how I'm going to proceed.

AP: Thank you.

WM: You are welcome!

1“Við skulum aka tvö / í Jötunheima.”
2See for more information about this figure Marion: http://internationalnoir.blogspot.com/2008/09/arnaldur-indridason-arctic-chill-from.html

June 5, 2012

Peace & Love. Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower at Viđey, Iceland


Yoko Ono, Imagine Peace Tower, 2007



I am the proud owner of a Yoko Ono art piece. I acquired the piece at the Venice Biennale 2009 where Yoko Ono was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. At the Biennale opening weekend she did a surprise performance in which she tried to smash an amazingly invincible and yet very ordinary-looking chair. Also the piece that is in my possession, was the result of destruction. Indeed, it is literally a “piece.” When most of the audience had already left the venue, Yoko Ono suddenly remembered something. She opened a bag with pieces of what had been a huge clay vase and gave them to those who were still there. In 10 years these pieces will be brought back together and made into a whole again. So I treasure this piece of clay, wrapping it up carefully when moving, following Yoko Ono closely on facebook to keep up to date, and waiting patiently for 2019. I like time-based art, and it is good to have perspectives in life.

Today I took the ferry to Viđey to see Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower. Viđey is an island near the city center of Reykjavik. With the ferry it takes only two minutes to get there. The small island was deserted by its last inhabitants in 1947. Yet it has a vivid cultural history. On the island you can find the Viđey House, the first stone building in Iceland, constructed in 1752-5. Archeological research has provided evidence of settlement as early as the 10th century. In 1225 a monastery was founded on Viđey as a center of culture and education. Culture revived at the end of the 18th century when Ólafur Stephensen, the first Icelander to serve as a Governor, moved to the island. Nowadays once more people visit Viđey to experience culture. Not only Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower is to be seen. In 1990 the American minimalist artist Richard Serra installed Áfangar (Stages). The art work comprises nine pairs of columns out of the volcanic stone basalt, placed at the same elevation in the periphery of the western part of the island.

For me, it was the second time that I came to see art on a desolated island. The first time was at the Setouchi International Art Festival in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. This festival aims to bring back vitality to the islands, showing art with respect to the environment, culture, history and lifestyles. Besides the breathtaking viewing experiences of art in the most beautiful natural settings, there are, nevertheless, also the moments of stress, wandering alone in the hills, wondering if one got off track and when did the last ferry leave again?

Richard Serra, Áfangar, 1990

Viđey is too small to lose track. People go to Viđey for various reasons: horse riding, taking a walk, looking for birds and their eggs in the breeding period. The old Viđey House has a nice café terrace. Regarding coffee Islanders follow the American way and do even better: the refill is served together with your first cup of coffee in a huge pot. That way you are allowed to stay for hours, admiring the Reykjavik horizon across the water while sipping your drink. Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower is on a 5 minutes walk from the café. It's located at the water and equally directed towards Reykjavik. The Tower is inspired by a 1965 conceptual art work of Yoko Ono, entitled Light House: “The light house is a phantom house that is built by sheer light. You set up prisms at a certain time of day, under a certain evening light which goes through the prisms, the light house appears in the middle of the field like an image, except that, with this image, you can actually go inside if you want to. The light house may not emerge every day, just as the sun doesn't shine every day.” The Imagine Peace Tower, inaugurated in 2007, is constructed in the form of a wishing well, on which the words “Imagine Peace” are inscribed in 24 languages. The Tower does not intend to be a Tower of Babel. The wishing well is kept rather modest and surrounded by native Icelandic stones in reddish ochre, light grey and bluish grey. The tall and strong tower of light only emerges out of the well at certain times of the year. When the tower is lit, individual lights join to form a single beam from October 9 (John Lennon's birthday, to whom the Tower was dedicated) to December 8 (the day of his death). It is also lit from the winter solstice to New Year's Day and during the first week of spring.


Coffee with refill at Videy House

When taking the ferry to Viđey no music was played on the boat. On the way back, however, they turned on John Lennon's songs Imagine and Woman. I thought that was a great decision. The exciting anticipation of approaching Viđey did not need musical support. Yet returning to Reykjavik with the eyes tired of the Nordic light, the body caffeinated by the overdosis at Viđey House, the John Lennon songs – both soft and strong, invigorating and tranquilizing – came right on time to restore the balance. I also noticed that the boat crew was young of age. Handling the electronic paying device were two kids, not even teenagers it seemed to me, who did, however, an excellent job and spoke English well. During the summer months Iceland rejuvenates. While adults leave their jobs for a long vacation – which they need, since Icelanders work extremely long hours – young people take over. Back in Reykjavik on my way home I biked past the Höfđi-House where in 1986 the famous summit took place. It was the summit meeting during which Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost agreed on the elimination of all nuclear weapons, on this island where the American and Eurasian plates separate. Borders and enemies started to shift in 1986. Did neo-capitalism start in Iceland? Wolfgang Müller pops the question in an upcoming interview with activist and member of parliament Brigitta Jónsdóttir in Junge Welt.


You can send your wishes to Imagine Peace Tower on imaginepeacetower.com

Höfdi House in Reykjavik