December 12, 2017

My Latest Reading Experiences, from St George Bookshop to WhatsApp

I'm at Saint George English Bookshop and see a book about Russian avant-garde in fiction. P. tells me he's reading a new book about Eastern Europe. "It's really good but also super specific," he says. 

I buy Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency. When I come home, A. tells me it was used in an episode of Mad Men, in which Don is in a bar and sees somebody reading the book. “Is it good?” Don asks. “I don't think you'd like it,” replies the man. But at episode's end Don is reading “Mayakovsky” and in voiceover it's quoted: “Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern."

I also buy Renata Adler's Speedboat, published in 1971, about a journalist who thinks "tepid" and "arguable" several times a day. It starts with a quote from Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies: "'What war?' said the prime minister sharply. 'No one has said anything to me about a war. I really think I should have been told....' And presently, like a circling typhoon, the sounds of battle began to return."

I get a present for A. at St George. P. calls it a "stocking stuffer." It's a book with recipes from American expats in 1920s Paris. Josephine Baker's one is called Naked Lunch. 

I'm bored on the subway so I'm reading what my neighbour is writing on WhatsApp. First it's about a burglary that apparently happened to his friend. He gives an example of his ex who had a burglar who was hiding in the hallway. He then continues: "WhatsApp schreibt. Es gibt einen neuen Update." 

December 6, 2017

Diary of my HIAP Residency in Helsinki, November 2017

First snowman of the year!

Day 1

“I had the best Russian food in Helsinki,” a friend from Belgium writes me in an email. I’m wondering if it’s inappropriate to say so about a country that has been under siege by Russia for so long. 

Day 2 

At Forum Box Gallery I see a video by Nina Lassila asking the question: “Did Van Gogh get laid because of his paintings?” That Van Gogh had a sexual life never really occurred to me. The legend of his cut ear somehow dominates all of his other body parts.

The sun setting at 3pm in Helsinki.

Day 3 

On the mirror of the women’s bathroom at the Helsinki Art Museum is written “You don’t know how beautiful you are.” I wondered if this is gendered so I sneak into the men’s bathroom to check out the mirror but it carries the same sentence. I feel like the gender police. 

At the bathroom of the HAM

Day 4 

Gallery hopping is between 5 and 7pm on Thursdays in Helsinki. We play the game which art work we would pick to take home. I choose a dirty kitchen towel painting at the Exhibition Laboratory Gallery, which consist of a dirty kitchen towel stretched over a canvas. My colleague picks a painting at Hippolyte Gallery, which has light smears on it as if somebody tried in vain to remove some smudges. Both of us prefer something dirty to something clean. 

Day 5 

“If I put myself physically in nature, could I become more natural?” the landscape artist asks. 
“If you put a human being in a landscape, it takes over the view, even when the figure is small,” the other landscape artist says.

Day 6 

Two elderly women photograph their food before they eat it. One of them also writes an accompanying text on what seems to be social media. The other one waits patiently. Luckily it’s a salad, which is cold anyway.  

Day 7 

On my morning walk by the river I take a picture of a big boat. The boat carries the name Eira, which means “snow.” I send the picture to my sister who says it looks desolate. In defense of Helsinki, I argue that when they’re two persons in a picture (both also looking at the boat) and the third behind the camera, you can call it populated.

Day 8,

My neighbor, the artist Hitomi Usui and I go grocery shopping together. We’re hesitating between the small S market or the big K market. “It’s too big,” we agree while entering S. 

Day 9

The studio of Sasha Huber is located upstairs of a kindergarten. When she looks out of the window, she sees a retirement home. We’re both abound 40 years old so that we find ourselves literarily standing in between.

Day 10

Lunch buffets are very popular in Helsinki. My boyfriend says I have no “buffet control.” I want to taste everything and heap it all on one plate because going back twice would be embarrassing. I still manage to overeat. 

Day 11

I’m hoping for the ultimate Nordic experience, which is snow. That’s why I bought wool underwear. But they tell me it’s unlikely it will snow. November is just dark and depressing. 

Preparing for snow

Day 12

“Are you in the program?” I’m asked several times at the video night of Phd students of Helsinki’s Aalto University. After a while it starts sounding like an institute of psychiatry. 

Day 13

four hours of 
dreary grey 
from Pori 
to Helsinki
until the mind
blanks out

Day 14

“When my eyes are open, it’s more about me,” the artist explains why she keeps her eyes closed in the video.

Day 15

In Finland there’s no real forest, I am told. Trees are constantly being cut and planted anew. 

Self-baked Finnish rye bread 

Day 16

Am I sitting here too close? a woman asks me, hesitating to take a seat at the next table. Maybe I look like a person who needs a lot of personal space.

Day 17

An Unknown ID calls me from Germany. “I don’t think we know each other,” I say. “We do,” he says, “You gave me your number at the fish shop in Neukölln,” I’m trying hard to remember if I was ever so desperate to give a stranger my number in a fish shop. 

Day 18

I invented a new word: “bavardy.” It’s a mixture of the French verb “bavarder” and an English-speaking person who talks a lot. 

Day 19

In Helsinki I drink kahvi. 

Day 20

It’s a new moon today, so I write a poem:

or the fool starry-eyed
when the moon
is tickling
the sky
to dance

Day 21

“You have to invite yourself to people’s private sauna,” she says. Like: “I come to your sauna tonight,” she gives as an example. I’m debating if this is the moment I’m inviting myself to her sauna. 

Day 22

“What’s your waiting number? the ticket sales person at the train station asks. We look around us but nobody else is waiting. “Next time you have to get a waiting number,” she says while giving us a train ticket to the airport. 

Day 23

I have the Long Drink with gin. It was invented in 1952 for the Olympic Games. 

Day 24

In the subway it says that 3/4 of the Finnish population is allergic to scents. The add asks passengers to watch their use of fragrances. 

Day 25
Thursday night is gallery hopping night. After finishing we’re surprised it’s only 8pm and we feel already like going to bed. Gil says that is normal since it has already been dark for five hours. 

Day 26

Just like the weather, coffee is always a good topic to talk about. I ask my neighbor what the sign says that promotes kahvi. “If you bring your own cup,” she tells me, “it’s only 1,50 euros.” "Morning coffee is a big thing in Finland," she adds.

Day 27

Hitomi goes out tot the natural parks to photograph nature. On her Instagram she describes the color as “deep green.”

Day 28

Kone is a company that makes escalators worldwide. It also funds art. Everyone doing something edgy in Finland is funded by Kone and if they’re not yet funded by it, they’re hoping to be funded by it.

Day 29

In Finnish, there’s no word for please, Australian curator Katie Lenanton tells me. You only have to say what is essential. If your order coffee, it’s “coffee” and not “coffee please.”

Day 30 

Artist Isaac Wong shows me Baudelaire’s poem “L’homme et la mer.” If you hear it, it could also be “l’homme haȋt la mer,” he says, or “l’homme est la mer.” 

November 27, 2017

The Laughter of Naomi Klein

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Naomi Klein on BBC4 radio. She was great, and she had a beautiful laugh that she laughed a lot. After a while the interviewer asked her what she did for fun in life. The interviewer rephrased, and said she had expected Naomi Klein to be serious (probably also angry). “That makes me sad,” Naomi Klein answered. Today, meeting for morning coffee, Isabel Hölzl, the director of the Goethe Institute in Helsinki, told me something similar happened at the Baltic Circle festival, in the panel The Time of Autonomy. Maryan Abdulkarim, a Finnish activist and freelance journalist, asked the audience to imagine her without the gender, the skin color and the hijab - basically, like a white man - otherwise they’d expect her to be serious and angry. Laughter and fun as a privilege of the while male when talking about things that matter. 

By the way, this is a beautiful song Klein chose to play on the radio:

November 25, 2017

Sex d'Ameublement: 桃色/ the color of peaches by Hiroshi McDonald Mori

In Helsinki I drink kahvi. It’s the cheapest drink, only 2 euros with a refill included. I once had a refill, trying to make the most out of my 2 euros. My heart trembled on my way home. Finnish coffee is strong. 

At the HIAP we have coffee morning on Thursdays. The Kaapeli residents take the ferry at 9:20 to Suomenlinna to join the others on the island. You have to be quick for the yoghurt with red berries because it’s the first thing that goes. 

My studio has no coffee table. Not that coffee tables in their modern fashion have much to do with coffee. In the 60s they became en vogue because they were low enough not to obstruct the view on the TV.  Nowadays people with laptops prefer a chaise to put on their feet. 

Hiroshi McDonald Mori's’s coffee table might not be one. The lava stone could refer to Japan where low tables are common for tea ceremonies. Yet the heavy glass top on the other hand might be a reference to the Noguchi coffee table which was invented in 1947 by the Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi.

Hiroshi lists Stromboli lava stone and Lasa marble as his materials for the sculpture. I remember him telling me so when I saw the work for the first time during the Berlin Art Fair. Since seeing it there, it has been in the back of mind. Coffee tables are an interesting phenomenon in the history of furniture, but Hiroshi’s one has an additional vibe. 

I know that Hiroshi has done a tea ceremony talk at the Jan van Eyck Academie. He sent me the text, which consisted of fragments of The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, written in 1906, footnoted with excerpts from Semiotext(e) issue Polysexuality, published in 1981. When sex and zen meet. 

There’s only one artist particularly known for working with the form of the coffee table, and that’s Allen Jones. Fibreglass models of semi-naked women support the glass top. “Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?” The Guardian still asked in 2014, some 45 years after its making.

Hiroshi’s work is titled 桃色 / the color of peaches. Peaches are a voluptuous tasty fruit, often used as a food metaphor for the vulva. On the web I find out that peaches is a code word for a quick sexual release with no strings attached. 

The legs of Hiroshi’s sculpture are in the color of peaches. They’re pipes and combined with the hot lava and the cold marble sexual chemistry comes about. 

How does something as petit-bourgeois as a coffee table lead to sex? Satie wrote furniture music (musique d’ameublement). What about a sex d’ameublement

*  The artist told me that the color of peaches is a literal translation of the Chinese pictograms, Peaches and Color, which is used in Japanese language to say, Pink.

November 24, 2017

Art Students in Helsinki

Photo by fellow HIAP resident artists Gil & Moti

Gallery hopping night is on Thursdays in Helsinki. For a calm and cold city, the art scene is quite happening. We manage to see four openings and miss out on another one. Exhibition openings start early in Helsinki. When we finish our tour we're surprised to see it's only 8pm but it feels like bedtime. “That's not surprising,” Gil says, “It has been dark since five hours.”

My highlights are the student shows at the Exhibition Laboratory, which is part of the Academy of Fine Arts. It has two spaces of which one is in the city center and is called the Project Room. I visited the Project Room already at the beginning of November during my first gallery hopping tour. My colleague and I played the game which art work we would like to take home. I chose a dirty kitchen towel painting at the Project Room, which consisted of a dirty kitchen towel stretched over a canvas. My colleague picked a painting at Hippolyte Gallery, which had light smears on it as if somebody tried in vain to remove some smudges. Both of us preferred something dirty to something clean. 

If you like dirty, art students’ shows tend to be good. Students have nothing to loose, at least not on the art market, so why not make terrible and distasteful art. Before I get to Exhibition Laboratory, I have a peek at a photography show by Juuso Noronkoski at Hippolyte Gallery. His photographic works are fine and elegant, just like the sentences that he writes to accompany them: “We got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.” Elegance definitely has its pleasures. 

L M Salling, People Are Oysters

The setting is different at the Exhibition Laboratory Project Room. L M Salling, who tells us to call her Sally, exhibits her work with the fucked-up title People Are Oysters. On white drapes the artist painted a figure she names Miki. There're also sculptures that look like oysters and some other sea creatures. The artist herself has a huge plaster on her forehead because she bumped into something just before the opening. Love it. 

Photo by Gil & Moti
At the second space of the Exhibition Laboratory there's a group show of students. Excellent cinnamon and cardamon buns are served. I see some performers lying on the ground which must be some sort of Anne Imhof persiflage. The best performance is the one I can’t understand since it's spoken in Finnish, but its aesthetics convince me. Nothing complex, but very simple: Astri Laitinen reads a text without creating a fuss and afterwards she gives out tissue pocket packs. Later on Astri translates her text into English for us, and it's wonderfully confusing: “I’ll give you money so you at least eat every morning and evening. Buy you some drink if you spend the evening with others at the weekend. Pay your chocolate and fruits and cheese and tofu and bread and coffee and oatmeal so you certainly survive and you don’t need to go to the grocery store.”  In the corner she exhibits some sunset photographs from her grandmother, still in their plastic foils. Nice comment, isn't it, for an artist based in a country where you can't seem to make art without talking about nature. 

November 18, 2017

Travel Essay from Tirana, Albania

Entering Tirana with a cab, I’m looking for the houses that were painted by Edi Rama, the former artist mayor of Tirana who’s now Albania’s prime minister. That’s how I know about Tirana in the first place, by seeing Anri Sala’s video interview with the mayor about his project. “That was about ten years ago,” Genti Gjikola, curator of the National Gallery of Arts tells me, “It’s mostly gone.”  Later I’m introduced to the artist Alban Hajdinaj, who made a critical video piece about the mayor turning the houses into his art work. In the video a woman is looking outside the window in these houses, as if she’s looking at a colorful cinema screen that doesn’t move. There was no remote control to switch channels. In the end, time was the only remedy. 

The Rosemarie Trockel show looks great in the spaces of the socialist architecture of the National Gallery of Arts. The museum was built in the 1970s. Next door is an example of 1930s fascist architecture of what used to be the grand Hotel Dajti. Genti tells me that in 2009 the Tirana Biennial took place in these hotel rooms. Now it’s waiting to be renovated and turned into a bank. In Tirana, there seems to be a bank at every corner.

A bit further on the road is the new Skanderbeg Square, designed by the Brussels architecture office 51N4E, using stones from all over Albania as a national symbol of some sort. Standing on the square the Dajti Mountain can be seen in the east. In a sidestreet I buy colorful knitted socks as souvenirs.

Nobody knows what to do with the Pyramid of Tirana, also known as the Enver Hoxha Mausoleum. It’s such a enormously ugly concrete thing that it’s fascinating. I walk past it on my way from the hotel to the National Gallery. Its future is uncertain: some want it gone, whereas others want it to stay as a reminder. Next to the National Gallery is another reminder: one of the 750,000 bunkers that Hoxha built to protect the country from invasion. 

In the evening my friend Ulli Groetz, who curated the Rosemarie Trockel show in Tirana, takes me for dinner in an area of the city that during the communist era was concealed from public view. It was called Blloku or “the Block”. Today it’s a trendy neighborhood and when we tell Genti later about our little trip, he cringes his nose and takes us to a bar in front of the Gallery of the Art Academy. 

The stoplight in Tirana is particular. Not only the light turns red but also the pole is illuminated. “We see the red light as a challenge”, Genti tells me while we’re crossing the street. The more visible a stop sign is, the more one tries to defy it. 

There’s a short esplanade next to the museum, and that’s where we go for coffee. The coffee is excellent in Tirana. Ulli says it’s because of Turkish influence. We sit outside, as most cafés have terraces to the street side. It’s the end of October and it’s a pleasant 20 degrees. 

It’s pomegranate time in Tirana. There’re yellow and red pomegranates. The yellow ones are rather bitter whereas the red ones are sweet.  On my flight to Tirana I laughed with the woman next to me who told me she brought pumpkins from Germany to bring for her Albanian family. But going back to Germany, I stuff my suitcases full with pomegranates.

The press conference of the Rosemarie Trockel show takes place in the beautiful library of the museum. It has wooden furniture and big windows that are mirrored on the outside. Why were socialist architects so fond of mirroring glass? The mirror seems such a narcissistic thing. I go outside and take a selfie with palm trees in the background and I put it on Instagram. Once you put a human figure in a landscape, so an artist told me, it automatically dominates the view.

After the press conference, Genti brings Ulli and me to Gallery & Art Space Zeta, run by Valentina Koca. There’s not a lot of art infrastructure in Tirana. No gallery system to speak of. Valentina opened her space ten years ago and it’s still running, which is quite an achievement. Koca introduces us to three artists: Matilda Odobashi, Alketa Ramaj and Ledia Kostandini. Ledia just published a coloring book for adults. One image is called “façade outfit”, which consist of a house fully dressed by laundry. It’s common sight in Tirana, she says. 

Having coffee with Valentina Koca

Universities of Arts are everywhere the same. The creative buzz seems to turn even the most neo-classicist fascist architecture into something alternative. I’m giving a workshop about Berlin art life. Upon entering the auditorium filled with about 80 students, I realize that this is not going to be a workshop. The students seem to be eager to enter the international art world, while the perspectives in Albania as an artist are meager. Afterwards we do portfolio viewing. I expected many artists to work with the country’s turbulent history but this is not the case. The topics and approaches are very much international. And none of the students has trouble speaking English. They do so fluently. 

There’s a lot of excitement going on for the opening of the Rosemarie Trockel show at the National Gallery in the evening. The President himself and the Minister of Culture are going to make an appearance at the opening. I have the last word, after the president, the minister of culture, the German ambassador, and the museum’s director. But when I finally come to the content of the exhibition, I see at least half of the camera men turning away. Ulli is so nice to photograph my minute of fame before the press loses its patience. The next day Genti shows my picture in the newspaper. He says the exhibition was front news. 

November 12, 2017

Sunday Common des Famous Dumm Talk

"It makes no sense", laughs the artist who's carrying the hat.

“It uses the strategies of contemporary art but it’s not contemporary art,” so the gallerist.

“When my eyes are open, it’s more about me,” the artist explains why she keeps her eyes closed in the video.

“If I put myself physically in nature, could I become more natural?” the landscape artist asks.

“If you put a human being in a landscape, it takes over the view.” the other landscape artist says.

Helsinki design, waiting for snow
At the museum bookstore there’s newly decorated Andy Warhol table. I ask P. why he didn’t pick Warhol’s Philosophy book. P. explains his sales strategy at the bookstore. They don’t mix the light with the more heavyweight literature. It’s unlikely that the same person buys a gadget and also a book on philosophy. “You make me feel unique,” I say. 

“Are you in the program?” I’m asked several times at the video night of Phd students of Helsinki’s Aalto University. After a while it starts sounding like an institute of psychiatry. 

On the mirror of the Helsinki Art Museum women's bathroom is written “You don’t know how beautiful you are.” I wondered if this is gendered so I sneak into the men's bathroom to check the mirror but it carries the same sentence. I feel like the gender police. 

November 4, 2017

Weather and Art Report from Iceland

I landed in Iceland with WOW-Air. The captain announced that we arrived twenty minutes ahead of time.

In the WOW-Air magazine they warned tourists not to write their name in moss and not to hunt sheep. 

It was the end of September and 11 degrees in Iceland. “It’s still two digits kind of weather,” it was said to me optimistically. 

The weather was stormy. It was Irma but somebody told me that in Iceland they’re always at the end of the hurricane. 

For the first time, a cocktail party was thrown in my honor, as a visiting curator from Berlin. It was from 5 till 7pm on a Saturday, a perfect timing to transition into the evening. We had wonderful stirred dry martinis, followed by sushi, and we finished it off with whipped cream. 

“It’s magic mushroom time,” so an artist at the party: “If you see some young people covered with hoodies next to the road, that’s what they're searching for.” 

Finally I made it to the Blue Lagoon. Blue Lagoon employees took a picture of me while swimming. It was a free service and they asked my permission to do so, but I hope they’ll never release the photo publicly because I look like a red shrimp in blue water. 

I was standing outside in the rain waiting for the bus to the Blue Lagoon. Other people followed my example. “You’re a natural leader!” somebody told me. That kind of made me feel proud. 

Magnús Pálsson told me about an art work he had once made with key holes. It had been a long time ago and he couldn’t remember what they had been for. Finally, we figured out that ghosts use keyholes to move from one space to another. 

“Well, you know about fish,” my hostess told me while getting ready to cook.

They serve free coffee at the Reykjavik Contemporary Art Museum. The coffee is always excellent in Iceland. At the museum you can sip your coffee with a view on the harbour  It almost helped me to recuperate from the overdose of melancholy that artist Ragnar Kjartansson purposefully served us, wasn’t it for the rainbow that suddenly appeared. 

I went to see the newly renovated Marshall building for art spaces. Olafur Eliasson is also settled there, but his space is easy to avoid. Mylo, the Living Art Museum, is on the first floor and Kling og bang gallery on the second. A collective made an interactive show about Thomas Mann Magic Mountain at Mylo and at Kling og Bang there was a discussion about the ongoing shows of Emily Wardill and Jóhannes Atli Hinriksson. I always feel that the Icelandic art community is more out of the box, not minding so much putting each other in categories. You can move from this to that and try it out, whereas in Berlin it seems like you have to stay in your lane.

I was reading Magnús Pálsson's catalogue, which has a great interview with the artist. Here just a few of its pearls:

Do you believe in the ida that every bit of information is present everywhere and can be tapped even in a secluded situation?

"There is this huge bank of information that you can have access to and, yes, even more if you are isolated. No i shouldn't say that - but it's your antenna that counts." 

Maybe you just have to keep an area of yourself where there are no likes and no dislikes, a bigger area.

"You always have to try to eliminate taste, and that creates these surprises and distasteful things."

[...] It [art] keeps us  .... basically it keeps us occupied, it keeps us out of mischief and in that sense it is very good, it keeps our minds on things that are healthy for us.

Do you really believe in this?

"I don't believe in it."

Do you think that going beyond the bounds of taste has become stronger in later works?

"I think it's been there all along. I would like to be more terrible than I am. I would like to be terrible and distasteful and drunk and banal, but I don't quite know how to handle it. I would like to imitate folk art, this attitude of loving art, of non-ambition and just the pure love of creating art."

You are so good at having an office and keeping it orderly, you have some sensitivity related to the post office.

"I often call myself an office artist."

October 28, 2017

AGB Open Sunday Part 4: Aphorisms, Cornering and Späti-Saufen

Aphorisms are a great way to stretch the brain, to think big, like universe- and humanity-big. They're also called "street poetry" or "literature's handluggage." Last Sunday at the library we did some stretch exercises in thinking. We thought for instance about how we are sweating in 2017. If the sweat of the 1970s was the one of sex, the 1980s the one of anxiety, then the sweat of the 2010s is absorbed immediately by sweat-fighting gear.  Or how we experience time in the 21st century? It's no longer the clutter time of the 1960s, or the empty time of the 1970s, the free time of the 1980s, and the slacking time of the 1990s. Somebody came up with the word "cornering" - it was translated into German as "Späti-saufen." We ended the workshop with a few thoughts about Die Bibliothek am Sonntag:

Umhergehen am Sonntag in der Bibliothek ist ganz vertraut und gleichzeitig so anders. Beides macht mir Vergnügen.
Wir frühstücken gut, dann ist alles wie immer nur in schön. 
Bibliothek am Sonntag, Menschen am Sonntag
Bibliothek am Sonntag ist ein Anfang. Ich bin für Bibliothek 24h jeden Tag.
Sonntag möchte ich lesen aber nicht in die Bibliothek gehen.
Die Bibliothek am Sonntag ist wie Wikipedia... nur in echt. 

October 19, 2017

AGB Open Sunday Nr. 3: Flash Stories or How To Think Of Things

Flash fiction is a bit like poetry. It acquires a mindset that is alert to things. "Do not dream of influencing other people," Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One's Own, "Think of things in themselves." Most of the time we don't really look because we're too busy with everything that's around the thing, like conventions and stereotypes. If you look and describe something carefully, you can call it a critical act. Last Sunday at the library we read some of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons' stories in which things stop making sense. A critic called it Wort Salat. We also read a letter by Lydia Davis to a frozen pea manufacturer asking him to reconsider his art of packaging. We started the workshop by looking at coffee cups on the table and finished it with collaborative writing. It's a Kopfkino (cinema in the head) in the library, in which we used our many voices to create one:

Whenever I go to the library, I feel that everyone is staring at me. Ich habe schon wieder keine Bücher sondern nur Videos ausgeliehen... Hoffentlich schaffe ich es, sie rechtzeitig wieder abzugeben, egal ob gelesen / geschaut oder nicht! Ob es wohl jemanden gibt, der darüber nachdenkt, was eine bestimmte Person sich so ausleiht? Libraries are like monuments to silence, a place for thinking and reading, many voices being read all at once; a hum of voices; male and female, accents and exclamations - not silent at all. Sometimes I wish I could hear every one's thoughts as they are reading and concentrating at their desks while in the library. Denn viele Menschen sehen interessant aus aber ich bin zu schüchtern jemanden anzusprechen. Allen sehen so konzentriert und beschäftigt aus. In this sea of people and books, I want to swim along time and space and feel free. Unfortunately we're under time constrain at the moment, so we need to stop for now. Thank you. 

October 13, 2017

Preis der Nationalgalerie, Female Panels, and Who's gonna Win?

Panel at Me Collection for the exhibition Portrait of a Nation

I always brace myself before I go to the talk of the Preis der Nationalgalerie, which happens every two years. I know that the sound will be wrong. It always is in the back space of the Sarah Wiener restaurant (the sound quality is not any better in the restaurant itself, it's exhausting to have even a conversation there). And also, I mostly get upset thinking about the set-up of the exhibition: each artist taking up an own space so that they never cross each other's territory. But this time I was quite excited about seeing an all-female panel: the four artists Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna und Agnieszka Polska moderated by Alya Sebti, the director of the Ifa Gallery. An all-female panel is rare in the history of Hamburger Bahnhof. Actually, I doubt it has ever happened before. Only one week before I had been claiming to three female artists of Dubai, Zeinab Al Hashemi, Amna Al Dabbagh, and Afra Atiq, at the Me Collection that in Berlin I rarely to never see a panel about a group exhibition being represented by three female artists on stage. They had looked at me in surprise. In the interview, moderated by Arsalan Mohammad, they sparkled. There was laughter, spontaneity, even chatting about the breakfast in Dubai. 

However, last night at Hamburger Bahnhof the talk was so serious, quite tenacious to follow, and certainly no fun, so I left before it ended. I was wondering if this is so because we think we have to be deadly serious to be taken seriously and to show authority. It reminded me of the European workshop "For Women Scientists to Advance" in which I participated in my twenties. It was advised to me to wear a suit during a job interview, otherwise a woman doesn't convey authority. I was wearing the damn suit on my subsequent interview for Fulbright but that didn't prevent them (male jury) to tell me up front that they didn't send people to the US to go on vacation. It was the platinum blond hair that betrayed me. 

So, who's gonna win the art price? I guess it will be Sol Calero. It's the most multimedia, inviting-other-artists, performativity work of art. It checks all the boxes of what we want nowadays. But I want to have a look again at the work of Jumana Manna. She talked about how she made sculptures depicting muscles, pointing at how muscles absorb music. I was intrigued, this was strange, and although I've only been in the exhibition for a second, I remember those muscles are ugly big things on which my eyes lingered for a second. I like a good dose of ugliness, like Brutalism in architecture. I think we kind of need some good ugliness again in the art world (ugh Alicja Kwade / Jorinde Voigt overdose). Bring that shit in!  

October 9, 2017

Open Sunday: Sonia Sanchez and Afternoon Haikus at the Library

On the first Sunday of the AGB workshop Keep It Short! we thought about short thoughts, half thoughts, top of the head ideas etc. For the second workshop we explored haiku poetry - the art of few words and many suggestions. To do so, we didn't focus so much on the traditional Japanese haikus. We read the morning haikus of the African-American poet Sonia Sanchez, who writes with "razor blades between her teeth." In free association exercises we practised writing in all five senses, looking at the way in which they played out at that very moment while sitting in the library. At the end, we made a collaborative piece by passing by a paper and picking one of our favourite sentences we had written:


Aber Papier streichelt 
gedämpftes Licht der Bücherrücken, rhythmisch
schwach fühlen bei den Gedanken an dich
hilflos smells white
ach! Nase
grincement, gorge, google, glups
weiße Sonnenflecken


rascheln Blätter, knistern
calm taste of lukewarm coffee
grounded by smooth flowing concrete
gefangen Wärme in deinen Augen sehen
leicht bitterer Nachgeschmack des Kaffees
nichts mehr.

October 3, 2017

AGB Open Sunday Action: Keep it Short at the Library

The Amerika Gedenkbibliothek is my favourite library in town. I hang out there a lot. You can take your coffee to your working table, how cool is that! And now there's an action to keep the library also open on Sundays. For the occasion I'm giving the workshop Keep it short! about short format writing and reading, each Sunday in October at 3pm (come by!). During the first session we read a few of Maggie Nelson's 240 propositions on the color of blue in Bluets. We also did some finger exercises in shortness like the surrealist game Cadaver Exquis (exquisite corpse, in which you can se only the sentence of what the previous person wrote). It came out quite poetic. The first sentence we picked randomly from Maggie Nelson's Bluets:

We can not read the darkness.
We can only read the light...
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the unseen.
Sitting on a blue chair, she could see through her living room curtains, up into the morning’s gray-blue sky,
with a faint smell of smoke rising from the carpark below
just to cover the smell of dope.
Burn it all down
and start all over, not from A, from À
and all of what A can be. A is never there, really, it’s
only on a badge of an A-team member
It’s always good to have the option B.

September 29, 2017

Guest Blogger Claudio Cravero on Damien Hirst in Venice: For the Love of Hubris

This is the second part of Claudio Cravero's reportage about Venice. In a first part he told us about Viva Arte Viva at the Venice Biennial. And now he tells us about his visit to the Damien Hirst exhibition. When I think of Damien Hirst, I think about the footage that I saw in 2013 when two of his works with dots got stolen from a London gallery. On the footage you can see the thief with a robber mask entering the gallery, then take the two works from the walls. This turns out to be a piece of cake - both gallery and works are seemingly not secured. The thief's car is conveniently parked in front of the gallery. But then the thief makes a mistake and tries to put the first work in the front of the car next to the driver’s seat. It doesn't fit. The thief opens the back door and stuffs both works on the back seats. Why not in the trunk? you might ask. The thief also didn’t bother to cover the works. Detective Sergeant from the London police stated: “The items would have been visible in the back of the car and we are appealing for any witnesses or anyone with information to please come forward.” If it wasn't a surrealist performance, was it maybe Damien Hirst himself trying to catch attention because  the prices of his works are sinking? Since that didn't work out so well, he's now back at conventional exhibiting. At least, that's my theory. Claudio Cravero visited the result. 

Making dreams come true is a sine-qua-non for artists like Damien Hirst. Although in his 50s, the Young British Artist is still full of a juvenile hormone. ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ is Hirst’s latest multimillionaire reverie displayed at both François Pinault’s art venues in Venice. Until December 3, 2017

How many times have we been told to think big? A megalomaniacal attitude may sometimes lead to success. For Damien Hirst, however, thinking big is more than a good omen to his lavish projects.
This time, the artist bursts his vainglory becoming a first-class storyteller at Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, the two art centers owned by the tycoon Monsieur Pinault.
Much closer than any ‘once upon a time’ - because in Venice the storyline dates back to 2008 - Hirst’s adventure sheds light on the discovery of a vast wreckage site off the Coast of East Africa. The finding should confirm the legend of Cif Amotan II (a.k.a. Aulus Calidius Amotan), a freed slave from Antioch (North-west Turkey), who lived between mid-first and early-second centuries AD.
In the Roman Empire ex-slaves were afforded several opportunities for socioeconomic advancement. So was Amotan. It is said he accumulated an immense fortune through which he built an extravagant collection of artifacts deriving from any corner of the Ancient world. A large vessel was supposed to ship Amotan's treasure to a temple located overseas, but the craft accidentally foundered letting its traces to myth. Almost a decade after excavations began, the exhibition brings together the works recovered during this find. Hence Hirst's story begins. And Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is its the title, as well as its riddle.

In the atrium of Palazzo Grassi, standing at just over eighteen meters is the monumental figure of a demon. It consists of a resin-painted copy of a smaller bronze recovered from the wreckage. The creature, like primeval beings in Ancient Mesopotamia, shows elements of the human, animal and divine. It is said to be unraveling the mystery of a disembodied bronze head found in the Tigris Valley in 1932. Regardless of any historical interpretations of the sculpture, the demon fills the vacuum of the internal court of Palazzo Grassi.
On the gallery floors, several clusters of sculptures depicting deities and a triumph of pieces of jewelry are adamantly displayed according to a personal idea of cultural syncretism. Adopting traditional archival methods and museum exhibition tools (cases, grids and pedestals), the artist rewrites his wry history of the Ancient world. In this direction, objects from different eras are affiliated to one another, and their erudite labels are very much explanatory of this uncanny melting-pot.

While a certain feeling of dizziness pervades the exhibition at Palazzo Grassi, a seabed-like ambiance invites visitors to walk across Punta della Dogana along with human-scaled images of underwater archeologists. However, the setting echoes a recent museum experience, such as Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds at the British Museum in 2016. The exhibition staged the rediscovery of two cities submerged at the delta of the River Nile for over a thousand years. Similar to the London show, also in Hirst’s exhibition a good number of light-boxes and video screenings contribute to transforming the spaces into a film set. Whereas the former story is documented as real, the latter is purely fictional. Hirst’s storyline is interspersed with fake elements to the extent that even the masses of corals and seaweeds covering the statue have been reproduced with shimmering lapis lazuli and other precious materials. To get the riddle solved, a series of busts that represent Hirst’s homage to his colleagues come into play. Indeed, subtle references to Jeff Koons’ works, or even an explicit portrait of Walt Disney, are part of Hirst’s pricey game.
Hirst’s hubris is then limitless. Although For the love of God, his diamond-encrusted human skull, had already entered the history of the contemporary art market, his latest exhibition will unlikely set any record within the history of art. To date, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is to be remembered as one of the most expensive art whims ever come true.

Claudio Cravero