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

September 21, 2017

Berlin Art Week 2: Everything That Moves

Ho Tzu Nyen at Michael Janssen Gallery

“How do I recognize what’s part of the Future Now Festival?” a visitor asked me on Sunday at the Hamburger Bahnhof. “Everything that moves,” I said. 

When I saw the Wurst-stand at the entrance of the new Berlin Art Fair looking exactly the same as it did last year, I knew that imagination hadn’t been part of the new concept. 

I could only see the art fair later on, at home, on other people’s Instagram. I looked at what people posted in wonder how they can see what I can’t see. 

At KOW Michael E. Smith’s work left me neutral. “I have no opinion,” I said to somebody who asked.

At Sprüth Magers I could see that Barbara Kruger had done something with the space that had an impact but it didn’t make me warm.

Barbara Kruger

At Guido Baudach I was asking myself if the army camouflage stuff on the wall was very burnable and in case it was, how I would escape. 

At Arratia Beer, Holly Hendry’s sculptures would have been more interesting if the press text hadn’t explained them.

Holly Hendry

At Esther Schipper I was thinking that somebody should tell Karin Sander to take a course of Kritische Weißseinsforschung at the Humboldt University so that she can finally learn what she’s doing with the color white.

I didn’t go to Thomas Fischer because I’ve seen Sebastian Stumpf jumping from rocks too many times to still find it interesting.

I got excited at Blain Southern about Michael Simpson’s bench and ladder paintings. They are benches and ladders and at the same time they’re something more. 

Drawings by Michael Simpson upstairs at Blain Southern

And I got very excited about the excellent zombie movie by Ho Tzu Nyen at Michael Janssen Gallery and spent the rest of the night there, with artists Aiko Tezuka, Akane Kimbara, art historian Mariko Mikami and the artist himself. We were talking about the zombies in the film and then we were chatting about people in real life. Although after a while the zombies and the living got mixed up.

Talking about zombies, fiction and non-fiction
Good times at Michael Janssen Gallery

September 13, 2017

Berlin Art Week: Who Wears It Better?

I started Berlin Art Week in a VIP fashion. 

At Hamburger Bahnhof I hear that a whole lot of birches have arrived to be installed in the Historical Hall for the Future Now Festival. “How high?” I ask. “Six meters,” the guard tells me. I get pre-stomachache. 

KW press conference takes place in the café for some reason. It’s cramped, obviously, and the director and artist refuse to use a microphone so that nobody can understand them. This does not keep them from talking on and on and on.... 

That’s why during the press conference I’m sitting outside in the garden of the KW on these horrible green chairs of the last Berlin Biennial that make your but hurt. I ask my colleague: “Do you still write poetry?” “Na, I stopped smoking. I don’t know if I can do writing without.”

Willem de Rooij’s newest work for the KW exhibition is a sound piece with howling dogs in Greenland. This has been done before by Dieter Roth but then in Spain. So we (the press) play the game “Who wears it better?”  De Rooij makes the howling elegiac and pleasing so that it bores the hell out of you. In Roth’s piece, the dog’s barking is hardly bearable, it gets under your skin and it’s merciless towards your sense of aesthetics. And he doesn’t need to darken the space to create an existential feeling.

Crossing the street to go to an art space, the person next to me tells me to watch out for the approaching car: “Mit Diplomaten muss man aufpassen...” (you have to watch out with diplomates)

Listening to the welcome speech at the next art reception, I ask my neighbor: “Why is she reading from a paper?” My neighbor answers: “Because she has nothing to say.”

Annemie Vanackere and Miet Warlop

At HAU it’s fun to hear two women talk with a Belgian accent. I always wondered how my accent sounds and now I know it  sounds cute. I’m a new fan of Annemie Vanackere, the director of HAU. She’s awesome, isn’t she? Miet Warlop performs Nervous Pictures, which is a great title and she herself is great too. Very strange because most Belgians make me crinkle my nose. 

I decide not to go to Monica Bonvicini’s exhibition at Berlinische Galerie. Just not my thing. I mean "Sex and lube" would be a show i'd check out, but not "3612,54 M³ VS 0,05 M³"

September 7, 2017

End of the Summer Tales in Cultural History

A young man with naked upper body sits down next to me. I’m sitting on the terrace of a Lebanese restaurant eating halloumi. “Alt-Tempelhof is getting younger,” I message my friend. “Stay calm,” my friend writes back. And a few seconds later: “Stop staring!” The young man puts on his T-shirt. Maybe it feels inappropriate to eat half naked. Or maybe because I'm staring. I notice he has three vegetables on his bicycle rack: an orange pepper, mushrooms and a broccoli. Since he’s eating a Shawarma I conclude he’s not a vegetarian. 

That kind of morning

Walking inside the Lebanese restaurant to pay, I see the writing on the cook's T-shirt. It says: "Denim doesn't build character. It reveals it."

A man and a woman sit opposite each other in the subway, talking loudly so they can have a conversation as if they would sit next to each other. They’re dressed in black and have skulls depicted on their T-shirt. “Versuche das Wesentliche vom Unwesentlichen zu trennen, so sagte ich ihr,” (“Try to separate the essential from the inessential, so I told her.)  the man says, and adds: “Jetzt geht sie in die Kirche.” ("Now she goes to church.”) “Nicht meine Lösung,” the woman says (“Not my kind of solution”). The conversation continues philosophically. Talking about good or bad decision making, the woman concludes: “Es gibt keine Garantie” (“There’s no guaranty”). 

Brussels - Berlin

August 26, 2017

Summer Stories in Cultural History

How can I loose weight? my neighbor asks.
Don’t eat bread, I say. 
Don’t you know some kind of mantra? she replies.

“This” so says her tattoo on her leg.
This what? I ask. 
This body, this moment, this... she says.

Do you also want a Kaffee crema? 
No, I want it black. 
It’s black! 
Confused look in the eyes.    

Bakery German
Most art is advertisement, the artist Wolfgang Müller tells me. 
Andy Warhol knew. So he took advertisement and made it into art.

In Japanese tradition, the artist Akane Kimbara tells me, they believe there is a God in everything. She herself talks to everything, also inanimate objects like chairs and pillows and asks them how they’re doing. Even the Japanese advertisement on her internet does this: a water drop is immediately turned into a character. 

It’s a summery evening and I’m sitting on a bench in the park by myself drinking a beer. A woman of my age passes by, also with a bottle of beer. We look at each other and wink. 

Bench talk

I’m taking care of the dachshund Otto for a few days. Write a poem for him, his owner texts me while I’m dog walking. Otto likes poetry. While Otto is pulling at his line, I manage to get my notebook out and jot down: “Dog hunts birds and takes the poet in tow.”

How is life with a Dackel? so the owner checks up with me a day later. Otto is so excited about being outside, I say, that I’m starting to think the same. Outside is much more exciting than inside. Yes, the owner says, I feel weird when I’m outside without him.

August 5, 2017

UdK Rundgang or How To Take Fun Back Into Art

Vince Tillotson

I hang out for hours at the UdK Rundgang on a Sunday - was it two weeks ago? It was a surprise when the afternoon faded into the evening and I was still there. I didn’t even manage to see everything. I ran through the spaces trusting that my gut feeling would stop me if necessary. I also didn’t meet a lot of people. I chatted a bit with artist and curator Aykan Safoglu about the splendid fellowship that was awarded to him, a fellowship only given to persons under 35 (ugh). I’ve known Aykan for ages so I looked at him suspiciously, wondering: how is it possible for him to be that young?

So what did I do at UdK? I remember feeling quite happy and everybody else seemed to be quite happy too. There were bars here and there, spread throughout the school. Hito Steyerl’s class did karaoke instead of showing art works. There were collaborative pieces and if they weren’t collaborative they were put together in a collaborative mood. I was enjoying myself, seeing overall quality and if it wasn’t quality, the students were clearly having fun and it showed. It reminded me of Peter Schjedahl’s advice: “You move to a city. You hang out in bars. You form a gang. Turn it into a scene & turn that into a movement.” 

Karin Salathé's soap sculptures

I especially went to the UdK to see the class of Professor Wong, aka Ming Wong. My favourite room was the one with beautiful soap sculptures by Karin Salathé, poetic drawings by Vera Seng and a good video piece by Anna Lauenstein (Finally a work on the topic of refugees that is good! Yey! Political art is possible!). “But where are the performances?” I asked. “It’s about the performativity of working with the space and the art objects,” Salathé explained to me. Same happened in the next performance room: everything but performance. I asked again and this time performance student Lou Mou explained to me: “Did you see any photography in Beat Streuli’s Contemporary Photography class? No, the emphasis there is on the ‘contemporary’ of Contemporary Photography.” I was confused but I was liking it. 

Anna Lauenstein

The screening room of Ming Wong's class. Beautifully installed
Lou Mou explaining about performance art
in front of his work A la Recherche du Sable Perdu.

My favorite artist of the whole art route was Vince Tillotson. I’ve been following Vince for the past years and I was excited to see his last year art work. He’s been working with trashy materials before but now it has taken on a form.  I loved his foamy columns, silly sculptures I’d like to call them, standing next to the serious, real once at the entrance of UdK. Later Vince told me that things had been stolen from the sculptures but that didn’t matter. In a video Where The Whale Bones Aren't that Vince did in collaboration with Casey Detrow, the writings were inspired by Eileen Myles, Susan Sontag, Durga Chew-Bose. Awesomeness: finally students are no longer quoting Foucault and Baudrillard! I can’t say what the video was exactly about: it was about women and being sick. There was no message (oh thank god!), no statement (again, thanks!), but there was something - the little extra we call poetry.

Fun and poetry. Doesn’t this sound promising? Hell yeah. 

Vince Tillotson and Casey Detrow, Where the Whale Bones Aren't

July 23, 2017

Little Art Stories for Sunday Afternoon

I was thinking about posterity when I caught myself. I had picked the wrong word, not "posterity" but "prosperity." 

A customer at the bookstore wants to buy a Thomas Struth catalogue on sales for only 7 Euro. In German it's called "Ramsch" [junk]. The customer is suspicious: "I want to buy this book but why is it that cheap?"
There're three possible answers for the salesperson:
1. It's a bad artist.
2. I think it's still too expensive.
3. With each question it's 1 Euro more. 

"So glamorous!" I told the chief editor, in full admiration for his job at a prestigious art magazine. 
"Not glamorous, it's difficult," he said. 
True. Glamour should be easy. If it's not easy, one can't call it glamour.

"I'm exhausted," so M. at the bookstore. 
"What happened?" 
"I tried to motivate my children." 

July 16, 2017

Conzano Diary by Wolfgang Müller and An Paenhuysen

In May, Wolfgang Müller and I spent a marvelous three weeks in Conzano, Italy. Renata Summo - O'Connell, director of Artegiro Contemporary Art, had invited us for a residency as part of the Cocoaa Project.  We were writing on our book about The Science of Misunderstanding and during the breaks we watched birds. Here is the diary of our observations. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cin Cin Conzano!*

When An told me that we were invited for a residency in Italy, I was excited. I asked her: “Where in Italy?” She answered: “In the north, in a small city in Piedmont.” When she pronounced the name I understood “Cinzano.” Later I found out that it is “Conzano.” Misunderstandings always produce surprises!

* In Germany there is the advertisement slogan “Cin Cin Cinzano” for an alcoholic drink.

We’re sitting in the dining room, 12:30 pm, eating delicious bread with olive oil, cheese, and tomatoes. Looking through the open window I suddenly see a special bird. Wolfgang recognizes the bird, it’s a rare one, he says. It’s a hoopoe. He once saw the bird spreading its wings on top of a colony of ants. This way the ants attack the bird with their poisonous fluids and the wings are cleaned from parasites.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The poppies are already blooming in Italy. They do so in the month of May. The name “poppies” comes from “popping up,” so Renata tells us while driving the car to the nearby town Casale Monferato. “How simple!” she laughs. In German language poppies are called “Mohn”, in Latin it’s “papaver.” In Dutch we call them “klaprosen” because their flower leafs have the color of red roses and they fold together with the slightest breeze. Once I ate a “Mohnkuchen” made out of poppy seeds that Wolfgang baked with a recipe of his mother. It was delicious and heavy.

Today I’ve heard the call of a cuckoo. What do the inhabitants of Conzano think about this bird? I mean, the people here seem to be very kind and friendly to their children. They love their children. Do they know that this bird just puts his egg into a nest of another bird? And do they know that the young cuckoo kicks all his new brothers and sisters out of the nest? What do they think about this bird?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The cuckoo and the pigeon are in contest for the most monotonous bird song: “cookoo cookoo” or “grou grou groug, grou grou groug”. Because of the last syllabus which stretches out the sound, the pigeon could be the winner in variety. 

Time can go merciless over art and reveal it for what it is. This is the case with Anselm Kiefer, so I told Wolfgang. In the museum in Berlin where I give guided tours, his paintings look more and more “mothy.” They age badly and make you think of badly aired cabinets in which moths live. Wolfgang told me that in the newspaper he read an interview with Sylvester Stallone who had an Anselm Kiefer hanging on the wall when suddenly a piece of hay fell down from it on the floor. “What did you do?” so the journalist asked Stallone. “Stick it back on,” he said. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today we were sitting like a modern version of Bouvard and Pécuchet on our terrace that stretches like a platform over the street when a woman came up the hill wearing a blue jacket and carrying a red bag. We had the impression that we were performing a theatre play on an elevated stage. 

LG (Liebe Grüße), so Wolfgang and I agree, is one of the ugliest abbreviations in German. It’s the very opposite of what it means (loving greetings). 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

House animals: in the early morning a lizard climbed over the wall on our territory but before we could give it a name, it already disappeared. 

In the afternoon we explored the border of Conzano with our bikes. We had to go downhill to find the sign. Then we discovered it’s easy to get out of Conzano but it’s much harder to get back in. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

At the local Ristorante Vineria del Pozzo, the owner Guerrino tells us that he saw our theatre program on the terrace. He waved at us but we were so involved in thoughts that we didn’t notice our spectator. 

Emanuele, the mayor of Conzano, is driving me to Alessandria today. There I will pick up my friend Dirk at the station and we will rent a car for the weekend. Such a surprise when Dirk is not there. He sends a message that the airplane changed its direction during the flight and was landing somewhere else. But he will make it on time with the train. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Germany everybody knows Mon Chéri and thinks that the Piedmont cherry comes from Piedmont. Our guest Dirk tells us that the Piedmont cherry is a fake. It was an advertising trick of the Italian company Ferrero. Instead you can find truffles in Piedmont and eat truffle cheese. 

Today is bird day. On our bird excursion in the nature reserve near Albano Vercellese we spotted a swamp chicken, herons, cormorants and an Ibis Sacro. The Ibis Sacro has black and white feathers and a bent beak. In ancient Egypt it was a holy bird depicted as the guard of the dead. It was mummified and buried in the graves. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

At the restaurant I doubted that the rose on the table was real. But when I touched it I found out it was a real rose. So we took a picture with me holding the rose and subtitled it: “A real rose is a real rose is a real rose.”

We drove by rows of lime trees. When you make tea of lime blossoms, it tastes as if there’s already honey in it. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

While driving through the beautiful Italian villages we think of Rodin, who said that more beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing. In Germany they tend to exaggerate in renovation so that historical half-timbered constructions have the looks of Disneyland. 

In Germany they say “gehe doch zum Kuckuck!”, which means: “Get lost!” This morning while having breakfast and upon opening the window the cuckoo sounded very near to our house but we didn’t take it personally. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The cuckoo is very international and seems to integrate easily. In every country the cuckoo sings differently:

France: coucou
Italy: cucú
Russia: Kukuschka
Greece: koukoula
English: cuckoo
Polish: kukulka
Hungary: kakukk 
Latin: cuculus
German: kuckuck
Dutch: koekoek

Today a rat ran along the garden wall. We named her spontaneously Elvira. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The mayor Emmanuel was in the villa today. We heard his voice and we were wondering if he was selling the house with us included. We’re pioneers in gentrification. 

We were talking at the restaurant when Guerrino stepped in to give us an Italian language crash course. Not “ja, ja, ja” he gestured with emphasis, but “si, si, si”!

Thursday May 11, 2017

Today is our Charles Baudelaire day. Our sight is limited by the fog. In the morning we couldn’t even see the next town. “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume,” wrote Baudelaire. (Dreams and fairy tales are children of the fog.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

We admire the panorama in the park and smell the surprising scent of the invisible brooms that ascends from the orchard below. 

Bird of the day: a redstart balancing on the garden wall.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

When Wolfgang looked in front of him, he noticed the geranium flowers sitting next to each other in pots on the balcony. Because he’s been reading Gertrude Stein, he said: “A geranium is a geranium is a geranium.”

In the local grocery store we meet a woman who lives in Conzano but is originally from Peru. She recommends us the fresh tortellini. With a bit of olive oil, cheese and 2 minutes of cooking they are delicious, she says.

Sunday May 14, 2017

The Day of Saving Animals: 
A big fly was buzzing around our desk. I took a big glass, put it over the fly and slid a paper in between the glass opening and the window. I carried the glass with the big fly inside to the open window where I set it free. Only half an our later something similar happened with a swallow who flew inside the room and panicked. She sat herself on the white lamp and then fluttered in between the curtain and the window glass. I threw a scarf on the swallow and grasped the bird carefully then to release it through the open window. 

We observe a starling in the back garden. He sings convincingly. Suddenly a grey female starling flies towards him. He tries to copulate. She twists herself free and he leaves, frustrated, the tree. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Harmony is an allusion. We hear screaming outside. Then we see a Siamese cat pursuing another cat around the church. Three cuckoos crash together in the sky then to flog off in three directions. Also the starling sitting on the antenna of the kangaroo house has trouble with its confreres. Only the swallows seem to be in harmony. They’re happily flying around the church tower. And the flies who gather in our apartment don’t seem to have enemies either, only allies. 

An starts to communicate with the birds.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We noticed today how there’re two kind of art critics: one type can be compared to the cuckoo and the other one with the starling. The starling takes in all the suggestions coming from the outside and transforms them into an own interpretation. The cuckoo stays true to itself, is incorruptible and doesn’t change its opinion. Art critics move in between both poles. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

krrr krrr krrrrrr
is the bird in the backgarden
coo coo 
sings on the side
grou grou grouu
is everywhere around
skweet skweet 
is in the front
around the church tower
and in the middle 
there is we
who make no sound 
at all