Wolfgang Tillmans with Isa Genzken, Science Fiction
Every direction is go…
Last week I was in Berlin and a dear friend directed me to the Hamburger Bahnhof, which is an amazing art museum of contemporary art, in a train Station, specifically for the route of Berlin to Hamburg in the 1840s. It’s a beautiful building, painted simply in whites and greys on the inside, as a fitting backdrop to the modernity of the art it houses.
While I was there, there were 2 exhibitions in play- The Probably Trust Registry by Adrain Piper, taking over the main hall, and then Moving in Every Direction about the ground floor, the exhibition was of installation art from 1960 to today with a focus on narrative structures.
“There is at present not a sense of anything being successfully happening, moving is in ever direction beginning and ending is not very exciting” Gertrude Stein, is the quote Moving in Every Direction uses as their spring board.
The exhibition contains permanent exhibits from Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman, as well as temporary pieces from Fischli & Weiss, Edward Kienholz, Susan Philipsz, Thomas Schutte, Pipilotti Rist, and Wolfgang Tillmans with Isa Genzken.
“Viewing the narrative fragments and perspectives within the artists spaces constantly shuffles the visitors into new associations[,]” each room- for the most part one per artist, creating a portal into another’s work. However, within the continuous narrative there were still some that stuck out.
Fischli and Weiss’ piece “Ohne Titel ( Fragen Projektion)” (Question Projection) is a slide show projection of overlapping questions, fading in and out, one on top of the others, both in English and German. The technique is something they’ve used before, notably in their flower series, which was my first introduction to them as artists, and are still some of my favourite pieces. Although I did not see it, I believe the piece may have been shown at the Tate Modern in 2006, in their retrospective Flowers & Questions, producing the book, “Will happiness find me?” as many of the questions are the same as the book with same title. These questions- mundane, profound, everyday worries on the minutiae of life as well as questions too large to answer, are all projected as swirling thoughts across a black backdrop, with only a tiny model of a bed as company. They are the thoughts rolling through our foggy brains as we stumble towards sleep, and here are witty, thought provoking and ultimately as mesmerizing as dream state, “tracking the mechanisms of the mundane.” 1
Pippilotti’s Rist’s work The Remake of the Weekend, is both an homage to the film of the same title by Jean-Luc Goddard, but also a comment on how we hold-up the weekend as a time to life our lives to the fullest, while quite contend to trudge through the drudgery of a 9-5, 5 days a week. The installation itself is a series of projections from the ceiling projected onto a series of pools of pebbles and sand, a reference to the Emily Bronte’s reflection on the pebble in The Weekend. The videos themselves are vibrant and carefree, beautiful overlapping, colour burnt, over and double exposed. The ones I loved the most were simply of 2 women exploring the beach, the shadows of their skirt and the freedom of the wind caressing the fabric about their legs.
The installation has been show in various incarnations, from it’s initial inception, shown at the Hamburger Bahnnof in 1996 after the artist did a DAAD residency, where it was shown on “a three dimensional, life-size version of a bus by using back projection screens[,]” “produced a light, floating effect[.]”2.
Showing the videos as puddles on the floor forces an entirely different viewpoint upon the audience, and presents them as more small moving paintings, than as video/ film work. Rist herself has described video as ” a painting on glass that moves, because video also has a rough imperfect quality that looks like painting… video has its own peculiar qualities, it’s own nervous, lousy, inner-world quality and I work with that” 3 and I think with this viewpoint, they indeed become paintings rather than film.
Horace Walpole said “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think” which is a quote that was used to describe The Weekend and is followed through beautifully in Rist’s work.
Edward Kienholz’ room, Volksempfangers, feature radios of the same name “a range of radio receivers developed by engineer Otto Griessing at the request of [Nazi] Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels[,]” 4 cheaply produced so that anyone could afford them, creating a powerful propaganda machine.
“Listening to foreign stations became a criminal offense in Nazi Germany when the war began, while in some occupied territories, such as Poland, all radio listening by non-German citizens was outlawed (later in the war this prohibition was extended to a few other occupied countries coupled with mass seizures of radio sets).” 5
“Hitler’s dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. His was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made the complete use of all technical means for domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man…” 6 Albert Speer
The radios play news broadcasts, layered with Wagner, a composer appropriated by the Nazi’s, all of which have foot pedals that the audience can press to turn on, multiples together, or, thankfully, off.
The other exhibition in the space, Adrain Piper’s The Probable Trust Registry: rules #1-3, is an installation in it’s own right, it seems particularly reverent, as it resonates within today’s political climate, particularly with proliferation of fake news, forcing the questions of truth and trust in the news. However, the piece was actually created in 2015 for the Venice Biennel. It features 3 infomation desks in which the audience can register their compliance with 3 statements, which is signed on a tablet and then printed out and given to the participant as a written contract that they have signed. Written above the desks are the statements
1. I will always be too expensive to buy
2. I will always say what I mean
3. I will always do what I say I am going to do
“[I]t raises philosophical as well as quite practical questions regarding democratic processes and individual responsibility.” 7
It’s a simple but powerful installation and it creates a bank of trustworthy people, “each individual voluntarily comm[iting] to align his or her future deeds with ethical principles such as honesty and reliability” that at the end of the project are allowed to contact each other, if both ends wish. 7 “In this way, Piper binds us together quite literally, between book covers, but also in time: anyone who breaks their promise to the agreement is somehow beholden not only to him or herself but also to the other people who have sworn to uphold it.” 8 This “database of signatories that will be held securely by the museum for a century.”9
The simple act of signing a a written contract with oneself, witnessed by another has weight and one that once initiated feels like an act of residence in a world where lipservice is becoming everything. ‘Her work, [the venice biennal jury] wrote, “invite us to to engage in a lifelong performance of personal responsibility.” 9
It’s a contract once signed does induce the audience to rethink their words and actions, self realization being everything. I realized I’m terrible at #3, and am actively working on it!
Although Joseph Beuys’ work in the museum is part of their permanent collection, I was totally in awe of the pieces displayed. I have seen his work before, notably at the Tate Modern, as part of their permanent collection, but I have to say the explanation of his work always seemed lacking and never seemed to be a complete description of his full process ,or truly encompass the breath of the concepts of his work. Although it’s too much to go into all the Beuys’ work in the musuem here, as it’s extensive, the writings of Caroline Tisdall, Beuys’ travelling companion, which are fragmented around his work, are deeply insightful, and more can be read about their relationship and her work here. There is a book of her writings, Joseph Beuys: We Go This Way.
“make your secrets productive”
For more info on Fischli and Weiss see http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/fischli-weiss
For more on Pipilotti Rist see
6 Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks; Andrew D. Evans; William Bruce Wheeler; Julius Ruff (1 January 2014). Discovering the Western Past, Volume II: Since 1500. Cengage Learning. pp. 350–. ISBN 978-1-111-83717-4.
For more on Edward Kienholz see
For more on Adrain Piper and her work with The Berlin Journal of Philosophy see