Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama Hugs the Headlines in Berlin


There are a million journalists who are not famous. Some are half-famous. And very few famous, if not worldwide famous. (…) This week, the branch got a new mega-star. It is (one would like to say at long last, finally, it’s about time it’s) a woman. Judith Bonesky is her name. But before we can dedicate ourselves to her fame, let us step back to an indelible impression from German postwar history: it is the 7th of July 1985, 6:26 pm. Boris Becker is 17 years old and “has matchball” [proper tennis parlance, anyone?] in the Wimbledon Finals. He stretches upwards, serves, and hits his target. An Ace. The scene is repeated endlessly on television. Looking back on his life, this former wonder-child sits with a glass of beer in front of the TV and says: “This win was my own personal moon landing.”

What, you might ask, does this have to do with Judith Bonesky? Some of you might even ask, Who in the world is this Judith Bonesky? Judith Bonesky is the Bild * reporter who was in the fitness studio with Barack Obama in Berlin, whose front page story one wishes one could cite word-for-word (but one cannot), so here is the finale: “Barack Obama put his hand on my shoulder and I grab him around the waist – wow, he doesn’t even sweat! I think: What a man!” This story (or reportage, if one can call it that) is for Ms (Frau) or Miss (Fraulein) Bonesky the matchpoint, her journalistic moon-landing. The one that decides from one second to the next if one will win or lose. The report, like Becker’s ball, could have gone into outer space, but no. The reporter met her match, not only as a woman, but also as a journalist, that is, stylistically and morally.

Even if we shouldn’t compare them so bluntly (or clownishly), the reporter Bonesky is now almost as famous as the intern Lewinski. And we, her colleagues, who have been coming to the office obediently as worker bees, far from every flight to the moon or moon landing, we must contritely recognize the fact that the goddess of fortune doesn’t reward the industrious, but rather the daring. Not the colleagues in culture section, who bravely sit through one premiere after the next. Not the colleagues in the politics section, who meet up with the Head of the CDU, SPD, or Green Party for an interview, but rather the boulevard amazons who go with HIM to the fitness studio, and as he lays his arm on her, and she doesn’t shy away from all of what she reports (boldly going where no woman before her has gone). WHAT A WOMAN! Wow.

*The Bildzeitung has a readership of some 12 million, comparable to the The Sun, with a readership of nearly 8 million.

(This column, "Das Streiflicht," is published daily in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. My translation is rough and needs lessons in tennis-tongue. Help, anyone?)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fin de Siècle Contretemps

The character Erik Schmidt has been given the voice of Hugo von Hofmannstahl, who, writing at the turn of the 19th into the 20th, had made himself a ventriloquist of the 17th century. Hofmannstahl’s Letter [of Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon] (1603/1902) is hereby plundered to forge a dialogue within a 21st-century crisis of fast-talking abstractions.

by April Elizabeth Lamm

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: It would seem, my dear, that a certain symmetry with the Divisionists will inevitably be awakened. Was that your intention?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Elizabeth, darling, a peculiarity, a vice, a disease of my mind, if you like…

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: And though the manner is very similar, the content will no doubt provoke the kind of ambiguous anxiety that will render your public numb. I would strongly encourage you to take prodigious care in your titles….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: If you are to understand that an abyss equally unbridgeable separates me from the works lying seemingly ahead of me as from those behind me: the latter having become so strange to me that I hesitate to call them my property.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: I see. You have fallen into one of your fretting moods. You should like to deny your history, make a clean slate of it? We’ve toiled over this before, not to say that anyone was paying attention.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Oh, you can be so wicked with me.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Indeed!

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I know not whether to admire more the urgency of your benevolence or the unbelievable sharpness of your memory, when you recall the various little projects I entertained during those days of rare enthusiasm we shared together.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Hugo, you are testing my patience. Surely you cannot deny that there will be critics who shall proclaim that you are suffering from another bout of hysteria! You must make a statement addressing the rhyme and reason as to your having chosen the Holy Land.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Of course the critics will resort to their usual domain of rhetorical tricks: One can no longer say that the subject matter has been organized, per se, for the form penetrates it, dissolves it, creating at once both dream and reality, an interplay of eternal forces, something as marvellous as music or algebra. This was my most treasured plan. But what is man that he should make plans!

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: (bitterly) Have you been frequenting Khalil Bey’s again? I thought you had relinquished his company.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Oh I have, it is only the Courbet that I cannot resist.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: The pudenda, yes. It captivates and stirs …

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Much more than that! It is bloated with my blood. The memory alone dances before me like a weary gnat against a sombre wall.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Do you think Khalil will bequeath it to the d’Orsay?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Ah, I know not. He makes no mention of it. The mysteries of faith have been condensed there. This prophecy of morphing a train station into a salon d’hiver is most harrying to the soul.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Horrible place! It’s the one museum I ever dared deny my mother.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: the Luxembourg? Foresaken?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Quite simply. We were at the Louvre and I refused to cross the river. She demurred, of course, her inhibitions as stalwart as my inalienable will. She mentioned it again when Trudy dropped in for tea yesterday. Such an original girl, and yet, she says so little.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Yes, one might call it a “recession” from the murmuring stream one is so accustomed to hear flowing from her thirsting lips.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: (aside) Is she still dry?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Dry, my dear, is a term that crumbles out of my mouth like mouldy fungi. Why do you insist upon the necessity of always being so truthful?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: A rose is a rose is a rose, nosce te ipsum, etc.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: A rose? You endeavour to get a rise out of me?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Oh, I am well aware of how wary you are of being pigeonholed. You’re just like those, how were they called… before they were called the Impressionists, oh, you know! I know you do!

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Hah! Indeed. The name has evaded you like a strange spiritual torment: “The Anonymous Society of Artist Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc.”

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: I love that “et cetera”… or were you being cheeky?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I feel myself growing pale.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: With good reason! Anonymous, independent, intransigent, I suggest that you concentrate on your titles. The title you have given to the show is immense. It works in the exact manner of that “et cetera.”

(Editor’s Note: Here Elizabeth is referring to the title chosen for the exhibition: “Working the Landscape”)

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Oh, but these attacks of anguish spread like corroding rust!

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Hush, hush. You flounder. You know, recently she asked me if I wanted to join her on a trip to Palestine. Why there, I queried, and she was unable to say, other than her wish to visit the Dead Sea, which I found strange. We’re Jews, yes, but Jerusalem was not the first thing she mentioned, no, but rather the curative properties of the beach.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Who is she? Gertrude? My Gerty! What? She cannot quit me in my hour of most need…

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: “She” is my mother, of course. You nincompoop.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I feel like someone locked in a garden surrounded by eyeless statues.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: What’s this here on your table?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Oh, that’s just one of Moreau’s studies. Put it down.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: They are so conspicuously abstract.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: But it is difficult to surmise if they are un-finished, you know. The sheer number of them within his oeuvre makes it clear that he painted in this manner at least as early as the 1860s.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: You don’t say.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: But even the distinct image of an absent object, in fact, can acquire the mysterious function of being filled to the brim with this silent but …

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Hugo! Really…

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Don’t interrupt…

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Yes, do go on… you shall bring me to tears! (laughs)

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: What was I saying?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: … this mysterious function of the brim…

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Yes, yes, and the sudden rising flood of divine sensation.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Careful, my dear, not to get too attached to those sensations. You must detach yourself.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: The critics, I know.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Worse! The collectors!

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Even in familiar and humdrum conversation all the opinions which are generally expressed with ease and sleep-walking assurance have become so doubtful that I have had to cease altogether in taking part in such talk. It has filled me with an inexplicable anger, which I can only conceal with great effort.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: But you can very well predict, no? Auto-da-fé, the fatwas, the underlying sentiment of paranoia well on the path to paralysis.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: You cannot mean…

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Yesterday’s confabulation, I most certainly do. The Déjà New. That was it! Perhaps we should have taken less claret.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: (deep in thought) Once, through a magnifying glass I saw a piece of skin on my little finger look like a field full of holes and furrows, and so it is how I now perceive human beings and their actions.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: You should rather blindfold yourself than….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: No, I no longer succeeded in comprehending them with the simplifying eye of habit.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: It’s a thorny issue. You don’t want to put yourself in the position of having to kidnap yourself! Do tell me, what’s this one called?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: This? It’s called Man in Tree.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Rather like the body snatchers. Do you know recently I saw a Degas that reminded me of your….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: How utterly ridiculous.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: No, really, in its lebensraum and not the wohnzimmer… those jockeys. You think I jest?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Rather you have placed cobwebs in front of me in which my thoughts may dart!

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Hugo. Incorrigibly colourful. All pink and pale blue. What will they say as to the palette?

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: You cannot imagine that they will hurry down that path, surely?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Just as much so as they will to the Promised Land!

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I dread the perilousness of the imagination….

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: But you cannot presume that making a trip to Judea as a German Jew….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I am not Ashkenazi, but a pseudo-Sephardi if you must insist.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Oh stop being so Austrian! In any case, your abstract notion of borders will be made a topic of, no doubt, as one cannot travel to the land of milk and honey without having made a choice….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I beg to differ. I was there thrice, thank you, but it was only this last time that suddenly I was overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness, something entirely unnamed, even barely nameable which, at such moments, reveals itself to me, filling me like a vessel, any casual object of my daily surroundings with an overflowing flood of higher life.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: You are overflowing again… Restrain yourself.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Oh, Elizabeth, I cannot expect you to understand me without examples, and I must plead for your indulgence in this absurdity.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: What absurdity can you possibly mean? I do understand….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: No, I am quite sure you do not. I mean to say that a pitcher, a harrow abandoned in a field, a dog in the sun, a neglected cemetery, a cripple, a peasant’s hut – these faces in the field! All these can become the vessel of revelation.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: You are covering yourself in evaporation powder. Like an ébauche, an unfinished work, surely you must express it somehow…

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: But why seek again for words which I have foresworn!

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Hugo, if you carry on further like this I shall have no choice but to dress you up in lavender and banish you to the poetry room!

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I have troubled you excessively…

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: But try, in stereoscope, please.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: I feel compelled by a mysterious power to reflect in a manner which, the moment I attempt to express it in words, strikes me as supremely foolish.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: You are well aware that Manet wanted his “copy” after Delacroix to be the opposite of a sycophantic imitation. He wanted to ensure that his own work could never be mistaken for one by Delacroix.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Syco, sicko, psycho, Elizabeth, you torture me again, the critics…. Like a splinter round which everything festers, throbs, boils. It is then that I feel as though I myself were about to ferment, to effervesce, to foam and to sparkle.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Hugo… oh never mind. Foaming, yes, that seems to be the case.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: And the whole thing is a kind of feverish thinking, but thinking in a medium more immediate, more liquid, more glowing than words. It, too, forms whirlpools, but of a sort that do not seem to lead, as the whirlpools of language, into the abyss, but into myself and into the deepest womb of peace.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: You sound quite settled on the matter, and I must say I do adore your Man in Tree. But I warn you that you must give heed to the titles. They shall resort to labeling it a dementia, a disease of the eye.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Bereft of feeling?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Yes, you must make clear that you have made frank use of the materials without attempting to disguise its process.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: What do you mean? I leave myself to the boundless superiority of the mind that you have summoned before us.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: There is a story, you know, going round about Monet and the Louvre. You have heard this already, no doubt….

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: No, please, I beseech you, do not tease me.

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: There is a rumour that Monet once obtained a license to copy in the Louvre, not to copy the paintings, mind you, but so that he could take his canvas and easel up to the balcony to “copy” the view of Paris!

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: … and that I have captured here the dreamy timeless aura of the Orient, you mean to say?

Elizabeth Grey Boone-Broodthaers: Déjà New. As we were saying yesterday.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Oh, Lizzy, my dear friend, you have unlocked this condition which is wont, as a rule, to remain locked up in me. Would that I had the power to compress this into an essay…. Would you, could you, I mean, only if you have the time and inclination….

Friday, January 25, 2008

I am a text machine

“Kunstmaschinen, Machinenkunst” / “Art Machines, Machine Art”

I am a text machine, [command: producing] machine text.

I am given a frame, no color allowed. I have been given a recommendation of more or less 4500 signs, as if I were restricted in my metaphors. Signs? Yes, signs. In German, we count signs (including space), in English, we count words. The word count being, in this case, some 1006 words, which would explain why we like our words smaller in English as bigger ones do not necessarily pay the rent.

Handwritten, the article poses the problem of counting signs including space. I resort to old new habits: the computer is the magic machine.

Pop-up window like a light bulb in my head, I resort to plug-and-chug: an old mathematical trick learned in the 5th grade, which would help me input the things I have seen into the translation machine, input the visuals of this show “Machine Art, Art Machines,” downloading my memory into yours. In the browser’s departure lounge, we find Jean Tinguely and his Mèta-Matics, a number of them, in fact, portable painting machines made in 1959 (figure 5), a fitting companion though not a part of, the great critiquing machine of Guy Debord and the Situationist International. As the geistige kin to Guiseppe Pinot-Gallizio’s Industrial Painting (1958), which was produced and sold by the meter (which has no relation to texts produced and sold by the word or sign, mind you), we find Angela Bulloch’s Blue Horizon (1990), a wall-painting which is produced with the metric pressure exerted by one’s derrière. Steven Pippin’s one-track-mind machine, Carbon Copier (Anyway) (2007), produces narcissistic copies of itself, a Xerox machine making self-portraits of its twin, two machines squished together, face-maker to face-maker (this is a when-in-doubt-play-with-your-bellybutton machine); whilst Jon Kessler’s man-made Desert (2005) is not exactly what it seems. You think it’s just found footage of a desert played on a messy stack of TVs until you realize that the odd contraption on top is actually a handmade device which simulates a virtual desert. Say that again: can something be handmade and virtual at the same time? Yes.

Programming error G82236. Not enough space to continue processing your document.

The brief attempt at producing a machine text subjectively has here met with a mechanistic rebellion against my wishes to produce a product, to feed the text machine that produces a text. The computer is no longer my instrument, it is now my slave. It shall be relegated to doing the work for me. I will plunder her gully for word-fodder. Online, I connect with a central computer somewhere out there with the help of a mouse. An anagram machine found at a random address gives me x-ways of saying Kunst Maschinen [Art Machines] or Kunst “Machinen” to mingle languages in a mixed up way and to admit to minor flaws of a missing “s.” Not even Word could catch and underline that error for Word is not bilingual, or at least not yet. Should I happen to be in doubt as to my own ability to paraphrase what has already been said, the anagram machine begins, ironically, with “Nickname Hunts”; opposed to this sudden sympathy from the machine at my mercy, I find “Nickname Shunt” much better applied to the sentiment still at hand; however, “Unmeant Chinks” might serve as a rightful reference to the interruption of the imput of this article, or “Ante Munchkin” if I wanted to up the ante in the munchkin amount of material imputed thus far; or rather, I might prefer my munchkins clean and well-dressed, i.e., “Neat Munchkins” for a bit of progressive procrastination; which would not be to deny the rightful distraction of watching “A Munchkins Ten,” Spielberg’s prequel to “A Munchkin Nest,” a much better title than the executive producer preferred, “A Munchkins Net,” which tacitly alluded to a little-used chatroom for short people on the Web; “Oh, ‘Manhunt Sicken,’ I am!” screamed the frustrated screenplay writer who slammed the door behind her in a flurry of fury leaving a wind of mystery behind her; surely she’d meant to say “Unmans Thicken” in reference to the new diet craze which gave great solace to the lonely women in Manhattan with only gay friends, but, “Oh no,” corrected a feminist friend, “What she meant to say was ‘Unmans Kitchen,’ no doubt, especially when you look at all the ‘Camera Hints’ going on around here, yes, unabashedly that Mulveyian Gaze has made its comeback and the prevention of the invention of the ‘Cameras Thin’ is not just another chocaholics conspiracy theory”; the secretary who was taking the minutes of the meeting penned in the margin, witty thing that she was, “Arcane Smith” until the “Chairman Set” a “Charisma Net” whisking her away from her daydream word-smith wizardry.

You have just witnessed an experiment of neo-science using only 16 anagrams of some 6071 possibilities.

The machine is not less creative than the writer behind it. A text based on anagrams is not more objective than a subjective text on “Art Machines, Machine Art.” Think tank: the computer was the first machine in which memory could be purchased and stored, expanded upon by consumption. Memory traveled with floppy discs: a poetic ideal indeed. The databank of an art show now has an additional external memory, here expressed in an impossible file merger of QuickTime hardcopy (patent pending).

To conclude: if the artist can disappear behind the machine, can the writer who has been asked to write about this disappearance disappear too? A double-disappearance? Such a phenomenon has been known to happen quite often in the Southern Hemisphere – when, for instance, a man “is disappeared” in 1970, found in 1980, and then “is disappeared” in 1990 again. The passive tense “is disappeared” became common parlance under the regime of Pinochet, who knew that the best way to terrorize your enemy was to “have him disappeared,” quietly, mysteriously, no bombs, no bloodshed necessary. Unlike the artists who just “disappeared” (active tense) in a boat (Bas Jan Ader) or just took some time-off and “disappeared from New York” (Lee Lozano), or the artists who disappear behind the machine, the writer of this article would be disappeared (active-passive, who knew?) behind an anagram:

A Liberal Math Elm Zip

(April Elizabeth Lamm)

printer error: A machine is not just a machine. A Miele is not a Whirlpool, I beg your pardon.

Dr Speck of Cologne


Leipzig, ca 2004-2005

There is a term physicists use to describe the reworking of an old theory: the perturbative approach. This was the approach that I had in mind when approaching the city of Leipzig. We came by car from Berlin, a mere 2 hours drive, not knowing what one would find, as the autobahn signs told us, in the city of Bach; something baroque, more than likely damaged and beige, lots of architectural potholes, an uneasy wave of really old and kind of new.

With Zentrum signs in sight, we parked, picnicked in the rain, then asked some other travellers if they might happen to know the way to the famed Leipzig we had come in search of. It seemed as if they might be retro-art savvy, might know where the latest in art factory was to be found, for we Berliners had heard that the art in Leipzig was very retro.

We were on a blind odyssey whose destination was a former mill which some 10 years ago had been converted into atelier spaces and only recently some 5 commercial galleries had set up shop after the way had been paved by an art foundation based in Munich. Our journey took us to the outposts of the ‘real’ Leipzig, of one concrete block of living quarters, or quarters of living, after the next. Round and round we drove from ring to periphery. Weaving in and out of large patches of green parks, with many stops along the way to ask directions, it seemed that Leipzig was a city of Goths, not a gothic city, mind you, and only after the third group of Goths that we stopped did we realise that something strange had this way come. These darkly intellectual pale-faced Goths hadn’t a clue where this shrine of art might be. Though we were both pilgrims to the city, we had different temples in mind. Theirs was a festival of music and graveyard poetry and ours the latest ‘restoration’ art house, not a school (PS1), not a margarine factory (KW), but a cotton mill. We were, in short, in search of those mouldy spaces that Berlin was famous for, and Paris (Palais de Tokyo) and London (former mail sorting ruins) were becoming famous for.

A virtual address, at last, marked the target; painted on a wall, ‘’ announced that we could begin to perturb those carved-in-stone theories made in Berlin, the ones which liked to dismiss Leipzig as merely cheap atelier space for those famed German painters paring their paint-encrusted fingernails. Rumour was amongst the conceptual punks of Berlin that many smart collections of art were being dumbed down by the blind advent known as Leipziger Malerei, that respected Ad Reinhardts across the world were being (dis)placed next to these seemingly thoughtless new kids from the Eastern Bloc.

What we found was exactly the opposite of what we thought we’d find. In the pouring rain, running between one gallery and the next, barring one, no paintings-for-paintings-sake were to be found. Instead, wry commentary on the new German painting phenomenon seemed to be the theme of the artist-run commercial gallery (a ‘produzenten galerie’) called B2. An industrial grey E-class Mercedes (a.k.a. the Baby Benz) was parked and filled to the gills with Kippenberger-like canvases. The artist, Oliver Kosset, later explained to me the meaning of the big plastic banner hanging over the car bearing a Kippenberger saying, ‘Put your eye in your mouth’, in reverse. Kosset said that he liked ‘goofing around the periphery of postwar painting, making bleak references to the recent painting boom’. The car was sadly his own as the installation has been sold to the far-off reaches of Mr Kim’s collection in South Korea at the Arario Gallery, a vortex of contemporary art.

Across the hall, gallerist Andre Kermer is a man who makes a point of not exhibiting painting. Instead, quiet albeit politically charged photographs by Andreas Wünschirs (b. 1967 in East Berlin) were on view, seemingly innocuous beach views depicting the space of master-race health, a körperkultur resort designed in the Third Reich.

Dogenhaus Galerie had a group show up made more of words and sculpture than painting and though the ASPN gallery, which shares the space, featured good abstract paintings by Matthias Reinmuth, they were a far cry from the renown style of Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy. The very-white cubesque new space of Eigen + Art, (whose v.i.p. room bore the transparency of a rich democracy) featured a Baader-Meinhof-Beuys citation installation which time and mind hasn’t yet allowed me to puzzle out what artist Birgit Brenner intended.

Alas, I did find those famed Leipziger paintings, but they lacked the shimmer of other shooting stars such as Tilo Baumgärtel and Matthias Weischer. The Galerie Kleindienst had been morphed into a salon of revisited ‘New Objectivity’, very Rudolf Schlichter, in fact, via the paintings of Christoph Ruckhäberle. The characters in his paintings seem to be as uninterested in each other as I am in them. Unfair to say really, since I perturbedly ran in and ran out, but the gallerist was still courteous enough to point me in the direction of what I had been looking for….

The generator of all the noise, the Federkiel Foundation, the place whose friendly founder Karsten Schmitz I had met because of his generous support of Carsten Nicolai. It was his space that had interested me the most. On view was a show called ‘The Passion of Collecting’ featuring both his own and the Reinking collection, demonstrating the kind of passion which is a kind passion, a division of joy rather than the joy of division. Those intellectual Goths would have been pleased had their pilgrimage made such a detour for the sights rather than the sounds.

Alas, no studio visits, nor time to settle the chicken and the egg question: who came first, Neo Rauch or his partner Rosa Loy? The Krasner-Pollock pyschogeography would never be truly mapped by my perturbative approach, no, because the sentiment of Leipzig is not one of competition, but of collaboration.

Elaine Sturtevant


No museum in America has yet dared to acquire her works, but in Europe she has been proclaimed one of art history’s unsung heroes. At first glance, her work seems overtly simple, although one senses that it is not so much overt as covert; a copy of a copy –be it an image of a Kodak flower or a sculptural urinal – Elaine Sturtevant pushed postmodern art production a step beyond ‘post-’. While Pop artists were appropriating images from advertising, Sturtevant was appropriating not only Pop, but also other conjecturing ‘stoppages’ of contemplation via the work of Beuys, Fahlstrøm, Gober, Gonzalez-Torres, and Muybridge, before anyone could fathom what mystery she was brewing.

When Orson Welles’s The War of the Worlds was broadcast over the radio in the US in October 1938, people believed that its warnings about Martians invading our planet were real, and widespread panic ensued. Such is the flight-path of the imagination of a public who believed for a moment that fiction (fake) had become reality (real). H G Wells wrote the book in 1898; Orson Welles turned it into a radio play in 1938. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz in 1899; it was made into a movie in 1939. An odd historical parallel: a 40-year span stands between original and copy. What are we to make of this?

A 40-year span has occurred between Sturtevant’s first remake, Warhol Flowers in 1964 and its exhibition in a major museum survey of her work in 2004 (although one must pause to reconsider how to describe what Sturtevant does, for to call it a remake, remix, or a replay would more than likely irk her). Sturtevant makes copies of art works, but she is no copyist. She appropriates, but is not an Appropriationist. She was a renegade female artist, but not a feminist. So what is this artist sine qua non all about?

Is she illustrating Baudrillard’s sense of the simulacrum, or denuding Deleuze’s thinking on difference and repetition? Is she challenging or upholding the aura of the artwork in an age of reproduction? Perhaps a Proustian sense of memory, of ‘seeing again’, lies behind it all. Or perhaps Sturtevant is working against the empiricists, eliminating the possibility of ‘seeing’ altogether. After all, it would seem that the crooked stick of humanity has never quite gone beyond the idea that ‘seeing is believing’.

Sturtevant’s early career is remarkably strange. In 1965, she was given her first solo exhibition at the Gallery Bianchini in New York, playing the role of a prescient dramaturge, setting the stage for future powerstations: Sturtevant/Warhol’s Flowers took its place next to a Sturtevant-/Johns Flag, a Sturtevant/Rauschenberg drawing, a Sturtevant/Stella concentric painting, a Sturtevant/Oldenburg shirt and a Sturtevant/Segal sculpture. One year later at the Galerie J in Paris she redid the show, only this time locking the doors so that one could only peek at the art from the outside. In 1967, she remade Oldenburg’s store just seven blocks away from the original, and in 1974 she re-inacted a series of Beuys performances. But the problem was that she was appreciated by a public who thought she was poking fun at contemporary art: the yellow brick road to fame was paved with the wrong colour bricks. Resigned and disappointed, it wasn’t until 1986 that she would allow her work to be exhibited again, and even this time, she would still be grossly misunderstood as an early hero of Appropriation.

If I see ‘a’ Warhol, what happens when I see a Sturtevant/Warhol? Through the remaking, Sturtevant makes Warhol into a Readymade. But does one ever really ‘see’ a Warhol any more, or has his work become a logo, a label-enabling non-thought? It would seem that ‘seeing’ a Warhol today is less ‘seeing’ than it is a ‘reported sighting’, to borrow John Ashbery’s phrase. I wonder if her appropriation/non-appropriation of Warhol in 1964 functions any differently when she repeats that process in 1965, 1969, 1970, 1990 and 1991. Famously, Andy found Elaine’s idea fabulous, lending her his silkscreens so that she could make copies of works that he himself had planned to have produced and reproduced over and over again by the members of his Factory. When asked years later how he did it, he responded, ‘I don’t remember. Ask Elaine.’

Sturtevant makes her Sturtevantian memory (or memory in motion) the subject of her work and is antsy when anyone places her on the wrong shelf of the categorical imperative/interrogative. When someone called her an Appropriationist, she responded, “I am not an Appropriationist by token of intention and meaning. I do not make copies. I am talking about the power and the autonomy of the original and the force and pervasiveness of art. Perhaps the brawny brains of this ‘doctor of thinkology’ have scared off possible fans and supporters. And if Castelli could understand enough to wheel and deal in Pop, he knew that he could never convince his group of collectors that they should not only buy a Warhol, Johns, or Lichtenstein, but a Sturtevant/Warhol Marilyn, a Sturtevant/ Johns Flag, or a Sturtevant/Lichtenstein Hot Dog (though Castelli himself once acquired a Sturtevant from her Oldenburg store).

But after decades of artists trying to create non-object objects, the anti-materialist anticipations of our non-utopian, post-Marxist society are fading fast. And Sturtevant, with increasing fame, is facing an inescapable paradox, namely, that when a Sturtevant/Warhol or a Sturtevant/Duchamp become as famous as the Warhols and Duchamps themselves, then her work too has reached an impasse.

When her works are exhibited in a museum whose collection itself is comprised of several of the works she has pastiched, her work is lost to the conventions of traditional ‘mausoleum’ thought, immured within the archive, the warehouse of aesthetic objects. Indeed, it is surprising that she would relent to exhibiting in a museum. (That said, without her work being “seen” no one would “know” about it.) The theoretical terrorist/artist thus becomes as enigmatic as the Wizard of Oz:

Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow, Tinman: We want to see the Wizard.
Gateman: The Wizard? But nobody can see the great Oz. Nobody’s ever seen the great Oz. Even I’ve never seen him.
Dorothy: Well then, how do you know there is one? ...
Guard: Orders are, nobody can see the Great Oz, not nobody, not no how...NOT NOBODY, NOT NO HOW.

No one has admission to her sorcery excepting the few who are well-versed in the ideas of Deleuze and Foucault. This ‘black magic woman’ has worked the witchery of exclusivity into her production whether she wanted to or not. Like hearing heavy footsteps on the floor above, one can hear, but never really know what is going on upstairs; until, that is, one knocks on the door.

But the writer reaches a conundrum, having reached an impasse without a permit to this parallel or alternate universe. Where exactly is the land of Oz? And can one describe Sturtevant as its unlikely Wizard? In the movie version, Dorothy calls it, “Not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain...." As reality would have it, Dorothy arrived in Oz quite by chance, mostly by the whims of a natural disaster, a tornado blasting through her drab farmstead in Kansas. Much like a whirlwind of thought, this tornado embodies the process of how a Sturtevant boggles the mind.

Leafing through the catalogue of the survey dedicated to her work at the Museum der Moderne Kunst (MMK) in Frankfurt, I realised suddenly that it is not so much a catalogue as it is a series of instructions as to how the catalogue should look. Slowly I climbed the stairs to taking refuge in a small room of the MMK, where I found several drawings confirming my wish for more than “fake is more”. The Wizard, once omnipotent, now takes on a sheen of new sympathy. What Sturtevant’s drawing Warhol Flowers Lichtenstein Pointing Finger (1966) depicts is the reality of now. Not only do “We Want You”, but we want you to show us how. Unlike her unmistakably good ‘fakes’, the drawings are a convergence of realities, playfully pointing to the spectator to forge their own ideas about these works of repetition. When Sherrie Levine makes works that are ‘after ’ another image (as her title indicates), the adverb of time either implied being in the wake of something or like a preposition, ‘after’ implied a resemblance, a derivation. When Sturtevant replicates a Warhol, a lateral thought is implied, and the hierarchy of power is eliminated. This is made clear in the drawings where a storyboard is created, whereas in the replica paintings and sculptures, an “either/or” situation is created (either Warhol or Sturtevant), and in that sense, the work is individualised when it appeared to be fighting against individualisation. Possibly, Uncle Sam’s finger is pointing to us so that we might ‘Play it again, Sam’ in our minds, so that we might remember not to forget what this iconoclastic subversion is all about.