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'?


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