August 14, 2013

About Deja Vu, Originality and Being First. "Wir sind hier nicht zum Spass", Julia Voss and Hedy Lamarr

Thanks to Patrick for borrowing me this book: Jochen Foerster & Anthony Loder, Hedy Darling. Hollywood-Ikone. Technik-Pionierin. Gefallener Stern. Das filmreife Leben der Hedy Lamarr erzaehlt von ihrem Sohn,  2012

Sometimes one thinks one is doing something of his/her own, then to discover it has been done before or somebody is doing exactly the same thing at the same moment. Synchronies, Zeitgeist and those kind of phenomenons.  I had a moment of deja-vu last week when walking through the exhibition Wir sind hier nicht zum Spass curated by Paul Paulun in cooperation with Stéphane Bauer in Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien. I was so surprised I couldn’t focus on the art on display. The display reminded me of the exhibition Gesture Sign Art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture that I myself curated there last year together with Wolfgang Müller. To me, it was as if was walking through its double - the same atmosphere, the same constellations. I’ve never thought that exhibition set-ups could be repeated with totally different art, and “work”. Because it did work: it’s a good exhibition (although I did not see the art pieces, ha! It worked visually at least.. but I might have been biased). 

To be the first - that was the topic of an art review by Julia Voss about the artist Hilma Af Klint. Julia Voss is an art critic for the FAZ. I read two of her reviews - the first one made me think she is great, the second one made me think the opposite. No problem, I’m now waiting to read the third one to balance that out. Some philosophical dialectic thinking underlies this expectation of mine - no doubt of a male philosopher, his name is on the tip of my tongue... bummer... No wonder Julia Voss is out to rewrite history, more specific, in her case, art history, so dominated by men that we can’t even think outside that box. Voss is definitely right in her wanting to set things “straight”. Therefore I really liked her article about Georg Baselitz and her critique on his calculated ways of dealing with the art market. Yet in her article “Die Thronstürmerin” (The Crown Striker) about the Swedish artist Hilma Af Klint, Vos aims to write the woman painter into the history of mankind. Not by pointing out the quality of the artist’s work, but by a very mainstream art market strategy - indeed the same art market she was criticizing in the Baselitz article. Hilma Af Klint, so claims Julia Vos, was the first abstract art painter, starting her abstract work in the year 1906. 

Julia Voss ends her victorious article with an heroic sentence: “Noch 2008 wurde Kandisnky in München, New York und Paris in einer riesigen Schau als Erfinder der Abstraktion gepriesen. Es dürfte die letzte grosse Feier aus diesem Anlass für ihn gewesen sein.” ("In 2008 Kandisky was still celebrated in an enormous exhibition as the founder/inventor of abstraction. It could have been his last one.") Héhé, take that one Kandinsky! Revenge is sweet! I always get stomach ace when I read in exhibition texts that the artist in question is “the first one to” ...  - it goes in the same category as “... is one of the most significant artists of the ... century”. Especially in the case of abstract art it seems to make no sense to claim to be the first. This art market strategy is on top of it such a male discourse that I wonder why Julia Voss even bothers to take it over for her own (or okay Hilma af Klint, but is she really doing this female artist a favor?) purposes now. A male discourse like in: discovering America, being the first man on the moon, and other male colonial endeavours.
"Secret Communication System" by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil

So on the one hand I have this kind of repulsion for these claims to be the first (although I kind of did it too in the first paragraph of this writing, uhu), on the other hand I totally think there is a woman who deserves to be acknowledged as an inventor of new things. Her name is Hedy Lamarr. Sounds unfamiliar to you? Well, she made it possible that we are using cellphones, WLAN, Bluetooth, ect. nowadays. Hedy Lamarr used to be a famous film star, celebrated “as the most beautiful girl in the world”, in the same range as Marilyn Monroe, but now she is totally forgotten. Lamarr was intellectual, interested in politics, and she created together with the composer George Antheil during the Second World War the “frequency-hopping spread spectrum” invention. This system for frequency hopping was intended to make radio-guided torpedos harder for enemies to detect. Andy Warhol made a film about Hedy Lamarr in 1968, The 14 Year Old Girl, also known as Hedy or The Shoplifter. Hedy Lamarr was also an artist and I would love to see what she created. I do know the poem she wrote as a “pardon me” for her son and it’s pretty awesome:

Don’t get a tan
Your skin’s too fair
You’re a brunette
Don’t bleach your hair
You’re getting too thin
You must gain weight
It’s because you never ate
You can’t wear bluejeans all the time
You are a star and you must shine
After listening to this for many years
I stopped ------
I like myself the way I am
If you do not, well,
I don’t give a damn

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