February 28, 2015

What Is Good Art? Rule Nr. 2

Dear reader, everyone can be an artist. It's still the question, are you making good art or bad art? Here it is: rule nr. 2. Push cc for the subtitles! 

February 24, 2015

(Art) Object of The Week: Toilet Paper with Ghetto Blaster

You know how embarrassing it is to walk around in the city with a bag of toilet paper in your hand. It’s too big to fit into the shopping bag, so there you are, carrying it around, visible to everyone, and it’s ruining your looks because it shows you’re human after all. Today I met a man with a bag of toilet paper on the subway (I know: the subway! even more embarrassing than the street). But he was holding it in his arms for everybody to see and seemed quite comfortable with the situation. Why? Well his toilet paper was wrapped like a ghetto blaster! How cool is that! We started a conversation and the man told me it really feels different to carry it around. So there he was sitting with his ghetto blaster in front of me, and I had been shopping too, but unfortunately it was in LPG (a German organic store). I have friends who refuse to shop in LPG because it is too uncool and all the people shopping there are ugly, so they say (without ever having been there, totally prejudiced friends of mine). It’s true enough that LPG has no aesthetics, unless you count the goat wool socks as aesthetics. So the man with the ghetto blaster grinned at my paper LPG bag and said that LPG definitely lacked the irony. Luckily the scrunchies in my hair saved me, because, like the ghetto blaster, it's so 1990s to wear scrunchies, and so the man and I were still in sync. I ended up asking him where he bought this cool toiletpaper. DM, he told me. Ah, what a liar! Of course, first thing I did when exiting the U-Bahn was head over to DM but there was only toilet paper with flowers. Then I went to check out the second option, which is Rossmann (in Germany you have the choice between DM and Rossmann, Rossmann and DM). And there it was in all its glory - even before I entered the shop. The toilet paper was on sale: for only 2,75 Euros you can buy irony, aesthetics, the 1990s, and something practical to top it off. 

February 20, 2015

What Is Good Art? Rule Nr. 1

Hi! This is my first VLOG! Home-made. If you want to see the subtitles, you can push the CC button.

February 15, 2015

Art (Object) Of The Week: The Choir Cantalindo

Elisa Lago addressing the audience

Today we - the Choir Cantalindo, conducted by my friend Elisa Lago - had our first live performance with a repertoire of five songs. Quite exciting for 11am on a Sunday morning. We were all a little nervous in the backroom, tuning our voices and wearing the same color green to show we’re a team. There were a lot of children in the audience, which is the toughest crowd, because kids can tell when you’re posing. The trick is to have a choirmaster that keeps not only the choir but also its recipients under control. So Elisa Lago’s hand circled in a gesture that gathered sky and earth and off we went. And that’s what I would like to reminisce about for a second. There’s something special about music teachers, isn’t there. It’s different with art teachers, for music seems to have an easier access to the soul. Because I still cherish my memories about my piano teacher Dominique, who in the 1990s decorated her clothes with smiley face brooches and was always searching for stubby pencils to underline the f’s and p’s on the music sheets. And when I think of my guitar teacher Gunther, he’s eternally singing Cat Steven’s Father and Son in our local music school. So today, while singing soprano in tune with the neighboring alto, I was struck by this splendid idea of how to save the art world from working alone and feeling lonely. We can’t go back to the happenings of the 1960s, but what about the choir?! - it’s a medium rather unexplored by artists (except in Iceland, where Magnús Pálsson founded in 2003 the Icelandic Sound Poetry Choir) and it has such a collaborative potential. I’m just saying...  there was applause (art world, there was applause!) and we had waffles to celebrate (waffles, art world, waffles!).   

February 13, 2015

Magnús Pálsson, Eileen Myles, and The Importance of Being Iceland

Magnús Pálsson, Chess Palindrome, 1972

I’m under the influence. On the wall in my room hangs a riddle by the Icelandic artist Magnús Pálsson that requires careful thinking - it’s a chess palindrome written on eight toes of two feet that can be read backwards and forwards. It is in Icelandic and says: 8 H Á TÁM backwards MÁT Á H 8. Translated: 8 H´s ON TOES backwards CHECKMATE ON H 8. But it's not just the riddle. I started googling Magnús Pálsson’s name and came upon those kinds of sentences that make you stop dead in your tracks. Like: “The less material there is in art, the more noble it becomes, and once it has long since ceased to be visible except as a memory of art, that’s when it is best…” Or: “Artists are doing the impossible all the time, creating things of great value without having any resources. I can say that I have created valuable things, maybe, for no money at all. I think that's the genius of the artist.” And: "When the feeling of friendship between people disappears from art, something is lost.” 

The cycle seemed complete when I acquired Eileen Myles’ The Importance of Being Iceland. Like the riddle, Eileen Myles talks about chess and she says that women in Iceland play as much chess as men do. Chess, it was explained to her, is inherently Icelandic, meaning “the Icelandic style of silent understatement”: “One approaches a lot in this country with trepidatious awe (all the ashes, the loneliness, the intensity) only to realize the Icelandic approach is also quietly witty - what is that word - ? Glettio. A slow sort of humor that’s elegant and pathetic and reliant like language and time and landscape - we hope.” Still, this didn't solve the enigma hanging on my wall. So I decided to rely on higher forces and go online for a free tarot card that promised to reveal something about my current life situation. The card I chose depicted a man hanging upside-down by one foot. The accompanying text advised me to look at something and try to find out if I can also look at it from another angle, like the opposite one. “Don’t act,” it said, “but keep quiet, so you can gain insight.” 

Magnús Pállson, Flæðarmál (the beach), 1976. With permission of the artist.

When I met Magnús Pálsson in Iceland last year, he told me that once, he made a cast of the sun, or so I think he told me, because thinking about it now, it seems too impossible to be true. Magnús Pálsson tends to do the unimaginable. Early on in his career he seems to have realized that the artist must stop trying to shape things. Basically, it wasn't the sculpture he was interested in, but its mold. So he started to give form to spaces in between and around things by using plaster. He picked those sorts of spaces that you don’t have a (mental) image of. “If you cry, and you cry into the mold, that is the shape of your sorrow”, the artist said in an interview of the European Live Art Archive. His work Suspense was made by pouring plaster into the pages of an open crime novel. And at the Venice Biennale of 1980 he made time solid by making a cast of the space between the three tires of a helicopter and the tarmac, seconds before it touched down. 

After a while Magnús Pálsson even stopped shaping the spaces in between. He turned to sound and action. Here I have another great quote for you: “The artist saw how absurd it was that a person made of marble was perceived as a sculpture but a person of flesh and blood wasn’t. And maintained: I am a sculpture. When I move I am a mobile sculpture, when I make a sound I am a sound sculpture.” At the Reykjavik Art Museum I saw a few of Pálsson's performance videos. In one of them the artist is lying horizontal and the camera focuses on that awkward part of the body, the Adam’s apple, its silhouette emphasized while the artist is talking. “Everyone in some fashion lives in their throat,” Eileen Myles writes, “Their connection to the room.” Another video shows Pálsson with his face positioned next to a woman’s breast, reciting a text that starts with: “When I come home I’m terrified by the walls of my room. The art on them intensifies my sense of menace.” And that's when Eileen Myles finally answers in The Importance of Being Iceland: “The stuff on my wall [...], it’s no longer art - even if it is. It’s a stuttering attempt to illustrate a thought that can never be seen.”  

February 5, 2015

Art Object Of The Week: Picasso's Diet

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, 1954

Do you know that Pablo Picasso was on a strict diet? I know, it seems like a very un-Picasso thing to do. But artists' dishes are a good topic - I heard all about it at Kate Brehme’s Coffee Curating and Cultural Management Club last week and I love eating the cake made by artists April Gertler and Adrian Schiesser on their monthly Sonntag event. Back in the days, Picasso frequented Gertrude Stein’s art salon in Paris. Alice B. Toklas, Stein's partner, was an adventurous cook on such occasions. And Gertrude Stein's table arrangements could be pretty wicked too. One time she placed every painter opposite their own picture hanging on the wall. Nobody except Matisse noticed but the overall result was very satisfying: “They were so happy so happy that we had to send out twice for more bread, when you know France you will know that that means that they were happy, because they cannot eat and drink without bread and we had to send out twice for bread so they were happy.” Toklas liked to amuse Picasso with experimental designs, like a fish decorated with hard-boiled eggs (the whites and the yolks apart), truffles and finely chopped fines herbes. Picasso exclaimed its beauty but remarked: “Should it not rather have been made in honour of Matisse than of me.” So what was Picasso’s diet all about? Spinach was one of the things that was highly recommended by his doctor. Toklas made a spinache soufflé and not knowing what sauce Picasso’s diet permitted she surrounded it with equal divisions of Hollandaise sauce, cream sauce, and tomato sauce: “It was my hope that the tri-coloured sauces would make the spinache soufflé look less nourishing. Cruel enigma, said Picasso, when the soufflé was served to him.” 

Gertrude Stein's salon

February 2, 2015

Fancy Bizarre Brute: Cookie Mueller, Tabea Blumenschein, and the New German Design

This weekend I was too busy to think of going to the Transmediale at HKW. None of my art buddies ever mentioned going there. I guess that the Transmediale must be over with or I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd? No heartache though. I went to the Radical Philosophy conference at HKW a week before and it was so radically unradical that I just don’t want to go near HKW for a while. So I went to a part of the city that I hit only once a year: the area around the yellow cake called Schloss Charlottenburg. This was the last weekend to see the exhibition Fancy Bizarre Brute. New German Design at the Bröhan Museum. Its title says it all: the 1980s in Germany were freaky and weird, and full of purposefully bad taste. Whereas the rest of Germany has moved on since then, Berlin is stuck. Bad taste is its brand, and it consists of everything you can find on the flea market. It’s a lost case to organize a fashion week here: the Berlin context makes every attempt for high-end fashion look wrong.

During the little detour on my way to Bröhan Museum, I got really excited at the Walther König bookstore in Hamburger Bahnhof, acquiring a book on Cookie Mueller. Cookie Mueller was a performer, actress, fashion designer, health critic, and art critic in New York in the 1970s and 80s. Her art critique was upbeat, also known as “downtown writing” or “plastic writing”. She published books with crazy titles such as A Pool Painted Black, Garden of Ashes, Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls, and How to Get Rid of Pimples. In 1981 Cookie made a trip to West-Berlin and it turned out to be a legendary one. She had a welcoming crowd waiting in the airport upon arrival: “Dobermans in S&M gear  and aging uniformed Hitler youth cracking their knuckles like butchers snapping baby chicken wings gathered around us while visions of gas chambers danced in our heads.” Cookie Mueller had reason to sweat because her bra was stuffed with a drugstore. At the end of her trip a huge phone bill at the hotel made her crawl out of her hotel window and practically climb over the Berlin Wall: “I threw the bag over the side. That took a few tries, and when I finally got it over I didn’t hear it hit the ground on the other side for a very long time. That wasn’t great. Once I was on top of the wall, where would I be?” 

KAVALIER/Cavalier. A drawing by Tabea Blumenschein for the 2nd issue of Boingo Osmopol, the fanzine in the first LP of Die Tödliche Doris, 1982

In Berlin Cookie Mueller befriended underground actress and artist Tabea Blumenschein, who was part of the post-punk band Die Tödliche Doris. Cookie and Tabea were look-a-likes and hit it off. Cookie Mueller died of AIDS in 1989. Tabea Blumenschein moved in the 1990s to a GDR Plattenbau in Marzahn in the outskirts of Berlin. A few months ago I read an interview with her in the Tagesspiegel and Blumenschein still has this punk attitude (similar to band member Wolfgang Müller). She told the Tagesspiegel that nowadays her hang-outs are the tank station and the shopping mall. She visited the club Berghain once, and thought it was backwards that women were not allowed to enter the dark rooms. She also ignores Marzahn’s garden paradise: “I don’t feel old enough to take a walking stick and tell myself, now I’m gonna go for a walk in the garden.” Soit, when I finally arrived at the Bröhan Museum, I found myself, unbelievable but true, pitying poor Anselm Kiefer who, in the 1980s, was making in all earnest dramatic paintings of forests with the great German intellectuals burning in it, while, at the same time, the New German Design was giving the Heimat the finger. I’ll let the picture speak for itself:  

Wurst burning on the fire in Andreas Brandolini's German Living Room, designed for Documenta 8, 1987. In the background a painting from the series Die Gesamtheit allen Lebens und alles darüber Hinausgehende by Die Tödliche Doris