August 5, 2017

UdK Rundgang or How To Take Fun Back Into Art

Vince Tillotson

I hang out for hours at the UdK Rundgang on a Sunday - was it two weeks ago? It was a surprise when the afternoon faded into the evening and I was still there. I didn’t even manage to see everything. I ran through the spaces trusting that my gut feeling would stop me if necessary. I also didn’t meet a lot of people. I chatted a bit with artist and curator Aykan Safoglu about the splendid fellowship that was awarded to him, a fellowship only given to persons under 35 (ugh). I’ve known Aykan for ages so I looked at him suspiciously, wondering: how is it possible for him to be that young?

So what did I do at UdK? I remember feeling quite happy and everybody else seemed to be quite happy too. There were bars here and there, spread throughout the school. Hito Steyerl’s class did karaoke instead of showing art works. There were collaborative pieces and if they weren’t collaborative they were put together in a collaborative mood. I was enjoying myself, seeing overall quality and if it wasn’t quality, the students were clearly having fun and it showed. It reminded me of Peter Schjedahl’s advice: “You move to a city. You hang out in bars. You form a gang. Turn it into a scene & turn that into a movement.” 

Karin Salathé's soap sculptures

I especially went to the UdK to see the class of Professor Wong, aka Ming Wong. My favourite room was the one with beautiful soap sculptures by Karin Salathé, poetic drawings by Vera Seng and a good video piece by Anna Lauenstein (Finally a work on the topic of refugees that is good! Yey! Political art is possible!). “But where are the performances?” I asked. “It’s about the performativity of working with the space and the art objects,” Salathé explained to me. Same happened in the next performance room: everything but performance. I asked again and this time performance student Lou Mou explained to me: “Did you see any photography in Beat Streuli’s Contemporary Photography class? No, the emphasis there is on the ‘contemporary’ of Contemporary Photography.” I was confused but I was liking it. 

Anna Lauenstein

The screening room of Ming Wong's class. Beautifully installed
Lou Mou explaining about performance art
in front of his work A la Recherche du Sable Perdu.

My favorite artist of the whole art route was Vince Tillotson. I’ve been following Vince for the past years and I was excited to see his last year art work. He’s been working with trashy materials before but now it has taken on a form.  I loved his foamy columns, silly sculptures I’d like to call them, standing next to the serious, real once at the entrance of UdK. Later Vince told me that things had been stolen from the sculptures but that didn’t matter. In a video Where The Whale Bones Aren't that Vince did in collaboration with Casey Detrow, the writings were inspired by Eileen Myles, Susan Sontag, Durga Chew-Bose. Awesomeness: finally students are no longer quoting Foucault and Baudrillard! I can’t say what the video was exactly about: it was about women and being sick. There was no message (oh thank god!), no statement (again, thanks!), but there was something - the little extra we call poetry.

Fun and poetry. Doesn’t this sound promising? Hell yeah. 

Vince Tillotson and Casey Detrow, Where the Whale Bones Aren't

July 23, 2017

Little Art Stories for Sunday Afternoon

I was thinking about posterity when I caught myself. I had picked the wrong word, not "posterity" but "prosperity." 

A customer at the bookstore wants to buy a Thomas Struth catalogue on sales for only 7 Euro. In German it's called "Ramsch" [junk]. The customer is suspicious: "I want to buy this book but why is it that cheap?"
There're three possible answers for the salesperson:
1. It's a bad artist.
2. I think it's still too expensive.
3. With each question it's 1 Euro more. 

"So glamorous!" I told the chief editor, in full admiration for his job at a prestigious art magazine. 
"Not glamorous, it's difficult," he said. 
True. Glamour should be easy. If it's not easy, one can't call it glamour.

"I'm exhausted," so M. at the bookstore. 
"What happened?" 
"I tried to motivate my children." 

July 16, 2017

Conzano Diary by Wolfgang Müller and An Paenhuysen

In May, Wolfgang Müller and I spent a marvelous three weeks in Conzano, Italy. Renata Summo - O'Connell, director of Artegiro Contemporary Art, had invited us for a residency as part of the Cocoaa Project.  We were writing on our book about The Science of Misunderstanding and during the breaks we watched birds. Here is the diary of our observations. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cin Cin Conzano!*

When An told me that we were invited for a residency in Italy, I was excited. I asked her: “Where in Italy?” She answered: “In the north, in a small city in Piedmont.” When she pronounced the name I understood “Cinzano.” Later I found out that it is “Conzano.” Misunderstandings always produce surprises!

* In Germany there is the advertisement slogan “Cin Cin Cinzano” for an alcoholic drink.

We’re sitting in the dining room, 12:30 pm, eating delicious bread with olive oil, cheese, and tomatoes. Looking through the open window I suddenly see a special bird. Wolfgang recognizes the bird, it’s a rare one, he says. It’s a hoopoe. He once saw the bird spreading its wings on top of a colony of ants. This way the ants attack the bird with their poisonous fluids and the wings are cleaned from parasites.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The poppies are already blooming in Italy. They do so in the month of May. The name “poppies” comes from “popping up,” so Renata tells us while driving the car to the nearby town Casale Monferato. “How simple!” she laughs. In German language poppies are called “Mohn”, in Latin it’s “papaver.” In Dutch we call them “klaprosen” because their flower leafs have the color of red roses and they fold together with the slightest breeze. Once I ate a “Mohnkuchen” made out of poppy seeds that Wolfgang baked with a recipe of his mother. It was delicious and heavy.

Today I’ve heard the call of a cuckoo. What do the inhabitants of Conzano think about this bird? I mean, the people here seem to be very kind and friendly to their children. They love their children. Do they know that this bird just puts his egg into a nest of another bird? And do they know that the young cuckoo kicks all his new brothers and sisters out of the nest? What do they think about this bird?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The cuckoo and the pigeon are in contest for the most monotonous bird song: “cookoo cookoo” or “grou grou groug, grou grou groug”. Because of the last syllabus which stretches out the sound, the pigeon could be the winner in variety. 

Time can go merciless over art and reveal it for what it is. This is the case with Anselm Kiefer, so I told Wolfgang. In the museum in Berlin where I give guided tours, his paintings look more and more “mothy.” They age badly and make you think of badly aired cabinets in which moths live. Wolfgang told me that in the newspaper he read an interview with Sylvester Stallone who had an Anselm Kiefer hanging on the wall when suddenly a piece of hay fell down from it on the floor. “What did you do?” so the journalist asked Stallone. “Stick it back on,” he said. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today we were sitting like a modern version of Bouvard and Pécuchet on our terrace that stretches like a platform over the street when a woman came up the hill wearing a blue jacket and carrying a red bag. We had the impression that we were performing a theatre play on an elevated stage. 

LG (Liebe Grüße), so Wolfgang and I agree, is one of the ugliest abbreviations in German. It’s the very opposite of what it means (loving greetings). 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

House animals: in the early morning a lizard climbed over the wall on our territory but before we could give it a name, it already disappeared. 

In the afternoon we explored the border of Conzano with our bikes. We had to go downhill to find the sign. Then we discovered it’s easy to get out of Conzano but it’s much harder to get back in. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

At the local Ristorante Vineria del Pozzo, the owner Guerrino tells us that he saw our theatre program on the terrace. He waved at us but we were so involved in thoughts that we didn’t notice our spectator. 

Emanuele, the mayor of Conzano, is driving me to Alessandria today. There I will pick up my friend Dirk at the station and we will rent a car for the weekend. Such a surprise when Dirk is not there. He sends a message that the airplane changed its direction during the flight and was landing somewhere else. But he will make it on time with the train. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Germany everybody knows Mon Chéri and thinks that the Piedmont cherry comes from Piedmont. Our guest Dirk tells us that the Piedmont cherry is a fake. It was an advertising trick of the Italian company Ferrero. Instead you can find truffles in Piedmont and eat truffle cheese. 

Today is bird day. On our bird excursion in the nature reserve near Albano Vercellese we spotted a swamp chicken, herons, cormorants and an Ibis Sacro. The Ibis Sacro has black and white feathers and a bent beak. In ancient Egypt it was a holy bird depicted as the guard of the dead. It was mummified and buried in the graves. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

At the restaurant I doubted that the rose on the table was real. But when I touched it I found out it was a real rose. So we took a picture with me holding the rose and subtitled it: “A real rose is a real rose is a real rose.”

We drove by rows of lime trees. When you make tea of lime blossoms, it tastes as if there’s already honey in it. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

While driving through the beautiful Italian villages we think of Rodin, who said that more beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing. In Germany they tend to exaggerate in renovation so that historical half-timbered constructions have the looks of Disneyland. 

In Germany they say “gehe doch zum Kuckuck!”, which means: “Get lost!” This morning while having breakfast and upon opening the window the cuckoo sounded very near to our house but we didn’t take it personally. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The cuckoo is very international and seems to integrate easily. In every country the cuckoo sings differently:

France: coucou
Italy: cucú
Russia: Kukuschka
Greece: koukoula
English: cuckoo
Polish: kukulka
Hungary: kakukk 
Latin: cuculus
German: kuckuck
Dutch: koekoek

Today a rat ran along the garden wall. We named her spontaneously Elvira. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The mayor Emmanuel was in the villa today. We heard his voice and we were wondering if he was selling the house with us included. We’re pioneers in gentrification. 

We were talking at the restaurant when Guerrino stepped in to give us an Italian language crash course. Not “ja, ja, ja” he gestured with emphasis, but “si, si, si”!

Thursday May 11, 2017

Today is our Charles Baudelaire day. Our sight is limited by the fog. In the morning we couldn’t even see the next town. “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume,” wrote Baudelaire. (Dreams and fairy tales are children of the fog.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

We admire the panorama in the park and smell the surprising scent of the invisible brooms that ascends from the orchard below. 

Bird of the day: a redstart balancing on the garden wall.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

When Wolfgang looked in front of him, he noticed the geranium flowers sitting next to each other in pots on the balcony. Because he’s been reading Gertrude Stein, he said: “A geranium is a geranium is a geranium.”

In the local grocery store we meet a woman who lives in Conzano but is originally from Peru. She recommends us the fresh tortellini. With a bit of olive oil, cheese and 2 minutes of cooking they are delicious, she says.

Sunday May 14, 2017

The Day of Saving Animals: 
A big fly was buzzing around our desk. I took a big glass, put it over the fly and slid a paper in between the glass opening and the window. I carried the glass with the big fly inside to the open window where I set it free. Only half an our later something similar happened with a swallow who flew inside the room and panicked. She sat herself on the white lamp and then fluttered in between the curtain and the window glass. I threw a scarf on the swallow and grasped the bird carefully then to release it through the open window. 

We observe a starling in the back garden. He sings convincingly. Suddenly a grey female starling flies towards him. He tries to copulate. She twists herself free and he leaves, frustrated, the tree. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Harmony is an allusion. We hear screaming outside. Then we see a Siamese cat pursuing another cat around the church. Three cuckoos crash together in the sky then to flog off in three directions. Also the starling sitting on the antenna of the kangaroo house has trouble with its confreres. Only the swallows seem to be in harmony. They’re happily flying around the church tower. And the flies who gather in our apartment don’t seem to have enemies either, only allies. 

An starts to communicate with the birds.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We noticed today how there’re two kind of art critics: one type can be compared to the cuckoo and the other one with the starling. The starling takes in all the suggestions coming from the outside and transforms them into an own interpretation. The cuckoo stays true to itself, is incorruptible and doesn’t change its opinion. Art critics move in between both poles. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

krrr krrr krrrrrr
is the bird in the backgarden
coo coo 
sings on the side
grou grou grouu
is everywhere around
skweet skweet 
is in the front
around the church tower
and in the middle 
there is we
who make no sound 
at all 

July 14, 2017

Starting a Day at the Art Bookstore

S. sits on the elevated platform of the museum's art bookstore and turns on his computer to start the day. He opens his email account and shouts out: "So viel Spam hatten wir noch nie!" [We've never had that much spam!] 

A few moments later, in the backroom of the store, S. is stacking a new book that came in that morning. He puts it on piles of the same height and calls it art with the title "Andre." I ask him what it means. He turns around and gives me a wonderful sentence of German art speak: "Das überlasse ich den Interpretationsspielraum des Betrachters." [I leave that to the spectator's imagination.] 

July 11, 2017

How to start a Schönen Tag

At the bakery this morning the man next to me was having his inner conversation out loud:

Freundlich, mir einen schönen Tag zu wünschen... [gießt Milch im Kaffee]

Der fängt dann gleich an. [rührt im Kaffee]

OK. So... [nimmt Kaffee und schreitet aus] 

How friendly, to wish me a beautiful day... [pours milk in his coffee]

It will start right now. [stirs his coffee]

OK. So... [takes his coffee and leaves] 

And just for fun, some coffee poems and picture haiku's I have written in that same bakery

Soft escalation: 

drinking so so coffee
in a too large coffee 
cup as if trying to 
convince me there's
more to content
but then 
there's not

coffee with lipstick
awaiting the break of day
with anticipation
to leave more marks on things 
but especially on you

July 8, 2017

How to Make Content

"There has to be content to art," the artist told me. "How do you make content?" I asked. "By adding words," the artist replied. 

July 7, 2017

Friday Afternoon Poetry with Farzaneh Safavi

My friend Farzaneh Safavi is visiting from San Francisco. We like to write poetry together so we did this Friday afternoon. "Nothing" is inspired by Andy Warhol, "Na so was" by Berlin artist Wolfgang Müller.

by Farzaneh Safavi

"for nothing this wide universe I call
save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all."

Nothing are the arguments and penetrations of sadness
in the forest of my heart
the gnashes, the overthrown and crumbled towers 
the weeping willows wallowing in their bend
reaching toward their mirroring reflections in glimmering waters.

Nothing is this face
these trembling hands gesticulating goodbyes,
the last looks behind the glass
the eyes that remain 
still searching for that glance.

Nothing is this waiting,
anticipating the embrace that is yet to be realised,
the releasing of this breath 
to breathe a sigh and
to hold you in the widening spaces of my breast. 

Nothingness it shall be 
until life gives birth to thee,
my dear and then it will all be worth
the thunder, the rain, the quiet, the stillness,
and we fill the spaces in-between.

by An Paenhuysen

Nothing really matters
is a line of a song
that pops up for no reason 
when your world is going numb

It's a concept of the Buddha
that says nothing much
if you are high
but can save you from destruction
if you're falling down the sky

Making nothing or doing something
is the same piece of cake
although more wrong is done 
by people doing some 
than by people doing none 

Na so was
by Farzaneh Safavi

The birds were chirping
While the rain began to pour
na so was !

The calendar said it was summer,
But the rain never ceased to fall
na so was !

The hot cup of tea that burned my lips
Has turned cold
na so was !

We sat in the park to write poetry
Thunder began to roar
na so was !

She planted a seed to make her wish come true
And a year later, a flower bloomed
na so was !

I flew thousands of miles crossing many a land and sea
But my feet never touched the earth
na so was !

The wind slammed and opened the window
Waking me from a lovely summer slumber
na so was !

We sat and talked so much
That the day grew old
na so was !

Na so was
by An Paenhuysen

Na so was
is an exclamation
that German language uses
for avoiding an exclamation point

A surprise without
being overwhelmed 
by the surprise

A regret that distinguishes itself
from being regrettable

A slight hovering 
in between sentences

A little break 
between the feeling
and that what it's about  

June 28, 2017

Cultural History of Me


Leaving marks on things

Morning 2

New things, new problems

Men and money

Cultural History of Deutsche Verwaltung

Deutsche Verwaltung is something special. The meetings take hours because there are so many rules that chaos comes about and they also require a certain language that is hard to master if German is not your mother tongue. Die Deutsche Verwaltung is probably the reason why I'm unfit to work at an institution in Germany because I wouldn't know how to write these letters to the Verwaltung. But I could send picture haiku's? 

June 26, 2017

At HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts: Wanna Have Fun?

Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell, Object 67, 2017

This weekend I managed to go to that one art project space in Neukölln that wasn't part of the 48 Stunden festival: HPFA or HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts. Not participating in festivals does make me feel special.

HPFA used to be a butcher's shop and before that it was a place for preparing döner meat. The meat history shows in the two different kind of tiles on the walls of HPFA. "What about the space's karma?" I asked Michael and Carrick. "We have a lot of sage burning," they nodded. 

Carrick Bell, Pretend your thoughts are like plants (2), 2017

Since six years HPFA is run by artists Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell and Carrick Bell. They told me they were born in the eighties. I was born in 1978 but I totally identify with the eighties, especially since my new hair cut à la Cyndi Lauper, which involves hairspray to tease and trash the hair up so that it's messy and wild.

Michael likes dirty colours. His favourite color is purple since it's an artificial one. To make his sculptures he uses household shapes like for instance the sink as a mould combined with bedroom armature and construction grids. Michael is a real kid of the eighties because he likes splatter and spray. I got happy looking at his sculptures because it shows that somebody is having fun. And who's still having fun in the arts these days? 

Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell, Object 66, 2017

In his video series Pretend your thoughts are like plants Carrick puts film excerpts in slow motion, layers them and peels them back away while also manipulating the sound. He did so for instance with a scene of a Michelangelo Antonioni film showing disaffected kids in the desert. In If you feel it let it happen Carrick plays around with Bruce Conner's nuclear test film from 1974 combining it with some Britney Spears shots. Again, I got happy. Isn't the aesthetisation of politics a wonderful relief in a time that everyone is so hard trying for the politicisation of aesthetics? 

Carrick Bell, If you feel it let it happen, 2017

June 13, 2017

Guttural Responses at documenta 14

Comfort is nice. The pleasures of a well designed map, a well designed program, and well designed art labels are largely invisible until they lack.

documenta 14 didn't feel like the result of team work. It felt as if the various curators had been marking their territory, like dogs peeing at every corner. 

Expanding and getting bigger is of course what every company wants. But what if documenta had decided to shrink and then would have been able to pay every collaborator? Oh!  

It didn't work when Artur Zmijewski tried to bring the Occupy Movement in the art space for the Berlin Biennial. It also doesn't work the other way around: by letting artists take over the work of politicians. 

This is really nice to sing, you can do so everywhere while hands in the air. Artist Jennifer Danos invented it and then started singing along: Money Men Money Money Men Men Money Men Money Men Money Money Men Men Money Money MEN MONEY MONEY MEN MONEY MEN MONEY MONEY MEN MEN Money Men Men Money Men Men Money Money (this continues)

Question mark face when seeing that the Berlin artist Olaf Holzapfel has a whole floor of the Palais to himself with work made out of hay, inspired by Chile. 

The ground floor of the Neue Galerie was curated as a kind of Cabinet de Curiosity with many women artists and as a culmination point the art work by a transgender artist with no arms. Can I bet that a white male heterosexual curator was at work here, expanding his freedom? 

Depressed when I saw postmodern dancers crawling on the floor at the Neue Neue Galerie. How can we keep the Anne Imhof phenomenon contained to Venice? 

Otobong Nkanga sold towers of soap made out of charcoal for 20 Euros a piece at no less than 4 locations. Such an overdose that I can't see her work anymore for at least the next 5 years. 

The Fridericianum smelled like moths in a closet and had an all over Anselm Kiefer gloom.  

Showing solo in a dark space separated from everything else might have been the only way for the art work to survive. Lucky Ben Russell. 

June 5, 2017

Talking to Professionals

The Design Strategist

You say to be relevant
one needs to know the truth 
By not acknowledging the truth
one stops being relevant 

The Artist Liaison

Collectors are dying out in the USA
at the age of eighty
their kids don't want the art 
the museums don't want to store it

New collectors are on the rise in South-East Asia
where they're young
like twenty-two

The Busdriver

the departing words
of the last customer
are hanging in the air
at the bakery

tschüsss the bus driver
yells on his break drinking coffee
sitting next to me, 

I laugh he laughs we laugh
for unanswered goodbyes
we know
bring schlechte Laune
and a daily doses of melancholy 

June 1, 2017

Guest blogger Claudio Cravero: ‘Viva Arte Viva’ at the Venice Biennial

Is ‘Live, Art Alive’ the summer craze of the 57th Venice Biennial? Does it mostly reflect an artist’s or a curator’s standpoint? Without a strong curatorial statement, guest writer Claudio Cravero questions what kind of narrative is still to be written to tell the pulse of today’s art.

French curator Christine Macel stated that ‘Viva Arte Viva’ would like to put art at the very core of her main exhibition at the Giardini and the Arsenale. After both Enwezor’s Biennial (‘All The World’s Futures’, 2015) and Gioni’s edition (‘Encyclopedic Palace’, 2013), Christine Macel’s desire was clearly to lighten the experience we can have when visiting an exhibition of such a weight. Hence, the curator claims that art in her exhibition is on display simply for what it is. Sculptures, installations, paintings, open labs, participatory projects, and so forth, are told be directly showcased through the artists’ voice. Although ‘Viva Arte Viva’ is visibly structured as if it were a novel with its prologue and its ensuing chapters, the works of art pretend to lay bare the living process behind their creation without a precise curatorial narrative. The result? Quite tedious, honestly, as well as is the overall display. There is a handful of not-to-be-missed artwork we could easily bring home. But, which international art exhibition hasn’t anything memorable too? Among them, Younes Rahmoun and Hassan Sharif, whose works were already exhibited in lesser-known Biennials (Marrakesh and Sharjah, respectively). Also, it is noteworthy the rediscovery of more established and recently revamped artists like the Pakistani Rasheed Araeen and the Italian Maria Lai. However, what ultimately draws attention to everyone’s eyes in the exhibition ends up being a lovelorn artwork chosen to fill the corridor of an art fair venue whatsoever.

But where is the tension that shakes the status quo of today’s art? It seems that the perturbing play of forces at play we seek in an artwork only resonates in the sort of lab-cum-studio that artists bring forth in person within the main exhibition. For example, Olafur Eliason invites both students and migrants to build lamps that are worth 250 Euro each, and once they are sold the money is going to be given to some international Ong. In the Giardini, but out of the exhibition ‘Viva Arte Viva’, the American Mark Bradford also works with local prisoners to sustain the sale of their products made thanks to the Italian rehabilitant labor plans. Throughout Venice’s streets (calle), also the Tunisian Pavilion, which is back to the Biennial after a long 60-year absence, presents a project that focuses on migration and freedom of movement by releasing a ‘travel document’.
Eventually, the ongoing art venue includes the newborn NSK State Pavilion, the Diaspora Pavilion, and the Research Pavilion. Regardless of their importance as an attempt to redefine the territories of the art system by pushing the boundaries of the concept of statehood through socially engaged art projects, they brought their statement on purpose in the glitzy Venice, and not elsewhere. This fact is a sign that the 122-year old Biennial still represents the topical place-to-be to rethinking the transformation of art and its being alive. Or its survival.

Maria Lai, Tying to the Mountain, 1981, b-w photographic series
Pavilion of Artists and Books (Wallpaper by Edi Rama)
in 'Viva Arte Viva' at the 57th Venice Biennale, 2017
Crowd queuing at the entrance of the Biennial, May 2017