January 25, 2015

The Struggle of the Art Critic. Or How to Write About Roman Signer’s "Kitfox Experimental"

Roman Signer, Kitfox Experimental, 2014 at KINDL, Berlin

It’s hard to write about Roman Signer’s artwork. You might have noticed in my last post that I took the easy way out and sidetracked to a manifesto about the tie-dyed T-shirt... Oh how I love it when art teases me like that: I know it’s good but I can’t tell exactly why and how it works. So here I am again giving it another try. What exactly is the difficulty in describing Roman Signer’s art? First, the art doesn’t look difficult, it looks quite easy, and we all know that the simple things are the hardest ones to explain in life. Also, Signer’s art has such a humor to it. You can’t write about it in an overly intellectual way because the art will totally prick your balloon. But it isn't all fun and lightness either. In general, it’s difficult to write about really great art. Because really great art doesn’t fit into the confines of the given aesthetic matrix so you can’t rely on explaining the rules. Nor is it about the mere destruction of that matrix. It finds itself on that difficult to grasp threshold  described eloquently by Roland Barthes as the instant when Marquis de Sade “manages to be hanged and then to cut the rope at the very moment of his orgasm, his bliss.” 

Roman Signer, Kitfox Experimental, 2014 at KINDL, Berlin

So where is that edge, that seam, to be found in Kitfox Experimental, the art installation that Signer created for the newly opened KINDL - Center of Contemporary Art Berlin? The Boiler Hall of this former brewery is amazing architecture. It’s not easy for an artist to work in amazing architecture because you can’t escape it (aren't we all the victims of the architect) and your art has to deal with it and reach a same or even higher level of awesomeness. Look at the transparent hall of Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin - rarely an artist manages to work with that space in a way that both respects and transforms it. Roman Signer turned the Boiler Hall into an open air fly zone - dismantling the architecture spot-on while simultaneously using its full potential. Fans hanging on the wall create the sound of a roaring aircraft engine, which is in this case a Kitfox Experimental dangling from the ceiling. On its website the Kitfox company promotes its aircraft as “FUN - EASY TO BUILD - AFFORDABLE - SAFE - ACHIEVABLE”. Yet Signer’s Kitfox Experimental is obviously having some trouble because it’s nosediving to earth. 

My friend Elisa walked leisurely underneath the crashing aircraft to look up to that nose. Such risk-taking is not my cup of tea; I could already see the headlines in BILD-magazine: “Art Critic Squashed Underneath Art Installation.” However, Signer’s Kitfox Experimental makes you also think of a cartoon with a happy ending: Donald Duck struggling to pull his plane out of the dive, then to see that Donald is seated safely in a chair on the ground, flying a model airplane. And because Kitfox Experimental doesn’t feel like "spectacular" art - Signer’s art never really does. Even if it’s an aircraft nosediving in a Boiler Hall, Signer manages to make it seem prosaic and not in the least exalted. His art is not about influencing us or the world to higher ends but rather, as Virginia Woolf proposed in A Room of One's Ownto "think of things in themselves." Although loud and dynamic, Kitfox Experimental captures a moment of lull and suspension. For instance, when realising that, logically thinking, it's impossible for man to fly, right at the moment that the force of things launches you into space.

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