July 5, 2012

Short and Sharp. Andy Warhol, Dieter Roth, Valeska Gert and Colleen Becker

Valeska Gert's advertisment in Aller Lüste Anfang. Das 7. Buch der Werbung, 1971

Yesterday I met my friend Elias on the street, who was waiting for his pizza to get ready. He was a little tired but satisfied. During a few intensive weeks he had been working on the advertising of a chocolate bar, which had brought him enough money to last for a while. Sweet. I offered him my own creative writing in case he needed a one-liner of some sort. Something about soccer was coming up, he said. I refused, of course, I could not imagine having to think about soccer for a minute. Still, advertising has its attractions. I never watch it on TV and I'm not, at least consciously, looking at it on the internet. But I do love Mad Men, the American TV-series about a 1950s New York advertisement agency. Since those uptight 1950s, advertising might have become more broad-minded (although, also that is to be doubted). Yet without the daytime whiskey, cigarettes and secretaries, the fun must be gone.

Another reason for my interest is that a few of my favorite artists have worked in/on advertising. Of course, the first one that pops to mind is Andy Warhol. The profile of my blog reveals that I'm a die-hard fan who caries a bag with on it straps the famous quotes “I've never met a person I could not call a beauty” and “In the future everybody will have 15 minutes of fame”. It is amazing how Warhol can entertain and be extremely funny, and at the same time be so acute and accurate. Saying that, I'm stealing the promotion pun on my edition of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) (such a great subtitle!). It's by Truman Capote: “Acute. Accurate. Mr. Warhol's usual amazing candor. A constant entertainment and enlightment.” It does happen rarely that the combination of humor and critical analysis occurs in art - especially in German art seriousness seems to be equalled with in-depth analysis. The quality of Andy Warhol's art and writing is that with an essentially simple image or with just a few words, written always in a playful way, he is able to express the most radical critique. Most people need an overload of paint or a whole book and even then they have a hard time getting the message across.

Dieter Roth, Advertisments / Inserate, 1971-1972.

Also Dieter Roth was fascinated by advertising – at least by the advertising pages in the newspaper which he called “ein grosser Schrotthaufen” (“a huge heap of junk”). In 1971 he decided to advertise 220 of his own invention - short sentences that made no sense, signed as “DR”. He only made it to 130. The newspaper refused to publish any more, having received too many angry reactions from its readers. Recently I learnt that another favorite artist of mine participated in advertising. Wolfgang Müller showed me his newly acquired book, also of 1971, entitled Aller Lüste Anfang. Das 7. Buch der Werbung (Emeriten-Press). In this mockery on advertising the Berlin dancer and performer Valeska Gert is presented with the sentence: “Jeder Käufer von zwei Sargen enthält als Zugabe einen Kindersarg.” (“Each buyer of two coffins gets as a bonus one children coffin for free.”) Valeska Gert had a way of leaving people speechless. Her work still does, as I noticed a few weeks ago when I showed her performance in the W.G. Pabst 1929 film Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl) to an acquaintance / art collector . I have not heard from my acquaintance since. No doubt, if Valeska Gert had stayed in New York in 1945 instead of returning to Berlin, she would have worked together with Andy Warhol. She herself thought so. This fall Karl Lagerfeld is republishing one of her four autobiographies: The Beggarbar of New York (the first one Mein Weg (My Way) was republished in Wolfgang Müller's Valeska Gert: Ästhetik der Präsenzen).

Valeska Gert's one-liner advertisement reminds me of the shortest story I ever read. It's by Ernest Hemmingway: “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”. I heard about it from Colleen Becker, who is a flash fiction writer herself. Flash stories are five hundred to one thousand words short and as such the narrative depends mainly upon the reader's imagination. Also Valeska Gert had a flashy dance style: she danced the jump only in its offset, leaving it up to the audience to fill in the rest. In 2009 Colleen Becker participated in a Shortness conference that was organized by Tate Modern "tackling topics ranging from aphorisms, text msgs and short attention spans to nanophilology, sampling, ephemeral relationships, punch lines, short narratives and other short-lived entities and phenomena (insects and fashion)". On the occasion Colleen Becker read one of her flash fiction stories titled “B&I”. The short piece was also published in the anthology Tales of the DeCongested. Here it is:


When I lived in Chicago I shared a house with five other people: four Scorpios and a Pisces, all artists. Our place was spacious, but we spent most of our time in separate bedrooms to avoid conflict. When we needed to communicate, we would do so via ESP, sending each other psychic messages to "please get your crap out of the living room" or "please stop eating my food". When that didn't work, really bad things would happen. Like maybe you would walk into the bathroom to find all of the silverware in the toilet.

I rarely saw or spoke to my flatmates, with the sole exception of B. The two of us were very social. After work, B and I often sat together on the front porch swing; I made up fake blues songs while he played the guitar until one of our flatmates would psychically tell us to "please shut the hell up". One day B took apart the television and connected it to our stereo. Instead of looking at the boring stuff that's generally on TV, we watched the colored lines that are usually hidden inside of your television move around to the music. We did this for hours at a time.

B and I eventually moved into our own place. We lived on the third floor, which meant that when we sat on our back porch, we had a great view of all of the crime in our neighborhood. As we watched the crime, B told me stories about the Rosicrucians and bear constellations that were actually really scary.

Later, this stripper from New Orleans named Poppy moved in with us, and although the number of kitchen fires increased dramatically after she became our flatmate, B was still
psyched that she was around. I moved shortly thereafter, but I left her my mattress 'cause it seemed like she needed extras. I later learned that B had been sleeping with her in secret the entire time.

Tales of the DeCongested is published by
Apis Books
Flat 9, 50 Roman Road
Bethnal Green
London E2 0LT
ISBN 0-9552538-3-7 / 978-0-9552538-3-6
Contents © the individual Authors, 2008

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