August 27, 2016

Summer Musing: Celebrities at the Museum

Sometimes I give guided tours at the museum for exclusive people like the wives of ministers and presidents. It’s the museum director who takes care of the fun celebrities from Hollywood. Once P. from the bookstore saw a guy with a cap flashing by the bookstore going to the director’s office. When you see a cap and somebody speeding at the museum, it’s probably a celebrity. Later P. heard that it was Brad Pitt zooming by. On the TV-screen in the subway on my way home I read that Pitt had been wearing different hats throughout his Berlin trip to misguide the press. Hollywood stars are smarter than the government people, whose arrival at the museum is always so obvious that they seem to be screaming for attention - probably because they know nobody really cares. First the undercover men arrive, dressed as undercover men with the main purpose to create a nervous atmosphere. A little later a line-up of police cars arrives in front of the museum announcing the arrival of the car with the president’s wife, which then arrives a few minutes later. She is mostly accompanied by an entourage of embassy and security people, wearing black sun glasses and grey suits. I like it when reality tries to be a movie. I always try to adapt as a guide and act like I'm a movie star too.

August 25, 2016

Summer Musing: Practical Advice by Ingrid Bergman

In my favourite art bookstore there is a new edition of Isabella Rossellini’s biography Some of Me, published in 1997. Salesperson P. told me that it’s not a good book, but it does have some good insider news on Rossellini’s mother Ingrid Bergman. Apparently Bergman liked the homely life, taking care of the kids, cooking, etc. And there was one advice she gave to Rossellini, so P. told me: “Du kannst immer etwas mit in der Küche nehmen.” (You can always take something with you to the kitchen). It means, when you’re on your way to the kitchen, why don't you look around to see if there’s anything that needs washing, like an ash tray or a wine glass, and it’s true that you will always find something, isn't it. Very good practical advice from Ingrid Bergman that can make life if not easier, at least cleaner.

August 24, 2016

Summer Musing: How Beautiful!

Oscar Wilde took in 1881 (he was twenty-seven years old at that time) the boat to the United Stated on his mission to spread beauty in the country of industrialisation. In his Lecture for Art Students he told the students not to copy beauty but to create beauty in their art. He was kind of pre-Duchamp because he told them not to lean on "ready-made beauty." Wilde had also some simple advice for the viewer of art: “All pictures that do no immediately give you such artistic joy as to make you say ‘How beautiful!’ are bad pictures.” In 1964, an equally young Susan Sontag continued along that line in Against Interpretation -  a manifesto against the killing of the art work by wanting to nail it down to a “what does it mean?” It's a simple truth, isn't it, but the level of feeling and experiencing in the understanding of art seems often to be ignored or muffled away. Here, for your convenience, are Oscar Wilde's guidelines to express feelings when looking at pictures:

- for archeological pictures: "How curious!"

- for sentimental pictures: "How sad!"
- for historical pictures: "How interesting!"
- for all pictures: "How beautiful!"

August 18, 2016

Summer Musing: How To Keep An Open Mind

To make great art, you need to have an open mind. I’ll give you an example of such an open mind. I read this story in Andy Warhol’s Philosophy, or it might also have been his Popism. I don’t remember but let me paraphrase it for you: “I have a problem,” Warhol said, “something is wrong with me. Every time I watch a detective story on TV, although I’ve watched it several times before, I always forget who’s the murderer.” Of course, there was nothing wrong with Andy Warhol. I think this story is an excellent example of an open mind: it doubts what one thinks one knows so that it opens up to possibilities: the murderer could always be somebody else. 

August 11, 2016

Summer Musing: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be.”

Yesterday my friend Elisabeth and I were talking about vision. And Elisabeth mentioned that moment when you’re walking in the darkness late at night and you see something you can’t make sense of immediately. It’s a fearful, but also an exciting moment: Is it an animal? Is it a branch of a tree? Or is it a person? Until then recognition sets in, and with it comes categorization (which goes along with a value and a hierarchy) - things are “safe” again. The artist Wolfgang Müller once told me how everything that comes into existence in the world gets categorized. I was thinking that maybe art finds itself in that fearful, exciting moment in the darkness before categorisation takes place. You see, talking with the artist Ming Wong last Monday, I got another perspective on what is happening in Europe nowadays. Ming has been spending a lot of time in Asia lately and he was excited to be back in Germany. There’s a lot happening, he told me, with Brexit and all the refugees coming to Europe. Also in Germany things are changing, and with it German identity is changing, which is kind of exciting. It was the first time that I heard somebody address current times in a positive way and I’m liking the tone of it. “The future is dark,” Viriginia Woolf wrote in her journal on January 18, 2015, “which is the best thing the future can be, I think.”

August 9, 2016

Guest Blogger Vanessa Gravenor - This Precarity: Residential Interventions

To be a tourist in the late twentieth century is to invest in a broad range of assumptions about the travel experience. Notions of escape, adventure and a return to an Edenic past are pervasive to the language of tourism, and the objects gathered during travel protract the sense of being in exotic and remote places. 
Pamela Lee, Forgetting the Art World

A Residency is like a one night stand with the other, then after you are done, you are like fuck it. 
Indrani Ashe, artist, colleague, and beloved friend 

At the core of having an artistic praxis these days, seems to be the hypocritical and paradoxical experience of travel. Travels to the Middle East, India, Brooklyn, Berlin and back. Artists are mobilized and move around the globe, bringing back their tokens of found places like colonial artifacts, endemic to indigenous populations. I, myself, am certainly guilty of this practice. Reading Pamela Lee post graduation during a part time nanny gig I was using to fund my critical writing, and less than part time visitor’s service, coat check job at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, I uncovered the paradox of the career, the paradox that several writers are calling the precariat. The precariat in me. 

Artists leaving the Uferstudios, Indrani Ashe and Sonia Barrett

The pecariat’s paradoxical desire is to move, always keep moving. Yet, unfortunately, these movements do not yield a freedom, but an entrapment. One of these freedoms is the residency, where artists are mobilized by state funds in order to visit different exotic or already institutionalized places to create social interventions. In these residency programs, one often is urged to make sound, walking installations, in order to experience the city anew. Not all works produced within the residency contain these hackneyed tactics, yet, as fellow precariat Indrani Ashe quipped to me, residency art is always akin to vacation art, for the resident never lives situated within a place, but moves above the currents of culture. 
This “authentic interaction” within the city seems to be the battle of our times. Certainly, the 20th century artist was instructed to forget community, nation, and family in order to become an artist. This, in theatrical term, is what we call the picora, or the ever traveling salesman. 
The picaro is a character that has no interiority. Historically, it would be the traveling actor, the anti-hero/ rogue who would travel from city to city and perform a type of theatre. The picaro lives by its “wits” according to google, in a “corrupt society.” The picaro rejects fixed identity, pasts, the mother, the father, and family for these are things that would trap him or her within an enclosure, disabling mobility. The picaro occupies the space on the exterior, the margins and pierces through society’s interior. 

Why is it that the current precariat has so much in common with the picaro? So many times, I have encountered this picaro figure within the contemporary art world, and laughed and his (for the picaro is usually male) untimeliness. 

“I have no name, you see,” the picaro/contemporary artists says through his or her trickster teeth. 

Les Enfants De Paradis, or a.k.a. your everyday picaro

The language of global capitalism is such that it is only these figures who can live, not on the margins, but on the tops of academic society. The professor travels back and forth between cities, entrapped by his/her/their own creative capital, which won’t let them leave the city, their art career, but the city cannot supply them with financial stability, so the artist need to travel to second tier, third tier cities. Students are left with these maternal figures coming and going into and out of their academic lives, making us develop abandonment syndromes. “I had to get a year of therapy after one of my years in college from all the trauma my professor gave me.” A typical precariat sigh, one I have embarrassedly uttered, showing my shameful privilege. 

In his book, Your Everyday Art World, Lane Relyea discusses this turn towards networked living of the artist. This networked living, of course, has its utopian facets, for it can also facilitate communities and collectivities. Yet the collective nowadays takes on this temporary autonomous fashion, which has nothing to do with communal life, but everything to do with the privileged infidel, or the pirate, who, very much like the picaro!, has no interiority or allegiances, thus cannot begin to start facilitating any sort of community or network! 

I cannot afford a temporary autonomous zone, a fellow creative class said to me slyly, referring to our collective involvement. 

Magdalena Mitterhofer and Artur Cruscsz in Processed Being, Transart Triennale, 2016

Vanessa Gravenor

August 5, 2016

Summer Musing: Ticket to Nowhere

Over the last years the Berlin Bienniale has gotten kind of a bad reputation: it seems like a ticket to nowhere. I mean, it destroys promising careers instead of boosting them, and isn’t that what a Bienniale is supposed to do with those "young" talents it picks to curate? Take for instance Artur Zmijewski, 2011. Did somebody hear from him after he curated the Bienniale? In his downfall he destroyed also the Occupy Movement, or that might be giving him too much credit... Or take the last Bienniale 2013 curated by Juan Gaitán, which wasn't a downfall but rather leading to nothing much - I only remember that it took place in Dahlem and that it rained. And this year, 2016, it’s the downfall of DIS-Magazine. After that Guardian review their only option is to  droop back to their bubble in New York City. Who’s still going to invite them? Maybe the internet? 

August 2, 2016

Summer Musing: It Smells of Beer from London to Berlin

I’ve told you before about Maria Gilissen, the widow of the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, and that once in a while I'm lucky to meet her. Last time we met during Gallery Weekend and we ended up in the Joseph Roth Diele, which is a bar that looks like we’re still in 1920s Berlin. You can eat those old-fashioned Stullen there, a loaf of bread covered with cream cheese, onion and radish. There's only one other place where I know that they serve bread like this: it's in Brussels in A La Mort Subite (At the Sudden Death), a beautiful art nouveau café in the city centre. I don’t remember the exact details of our conversation but suddenly Maria Gilissen started singing this song of Jacques Brel, called La Bière: “It smells of beer from London to Berlin.” I seem to remember that she even told us it’s a song that Marcel Broodthaers liked to sing. I think that fits perfectly with the Belgian “je ne sais quoi” aspect of his art: you can call it “s’amuser”.