sub fiction - Fine Arts
Dorf Fiction – art in an exotic space - The exhibition section of the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale 1998
Sometimes we find ourselves in places which present themselves as theatre sets. Everything there seems, to a certain extent, to be a performance. Everything seems to happen there just to present the unacquainted with a particular image, or to complete an already familiar one. Every detail there is somehow special and seems unreal or exotic.
Strangers more familiar with large cities than with villages and more familiar with Western Germany than with the former Communist East Germany may, on visiting Tornitz village for the first time, feel it is unusually remote, and not only because of the long journey necessary to get there. The station is a relict of itself, the smell of production still pervades the air from the deserted industrial areas, the fields of former farming cooperatives are wide, the grey facades which seem cowering and hostile line the winding cobbled streets (some planted with roses and conifers), fresh new sign posts stand between them, the few people and many dogs barking invisibly are hidden behind rusting steel gates, the farms are derelict, the old cinema belonging to the „Post” pub … everything here is full of traces, clues, stories, everything is full of time. And full of desertedness: it is not only the stinking, sputtering Trabis that have almost disappeared. But these surroundings are real, they are not staged, they form a concrete, real context (even it is not our own) – but it is difficult to believe in.
The fact that some 25 percent of the villagers are unemployed and the same number voted for the extreme right-wing DVU party may be a good story for the tabloids, but what they do not report is that there is also a state-of-the-art „Centre for Artistic Visual Media” here, run by people who look so different at first glance and who have also organised an international Biennale Festival in exactly this atmosphere since 1993, quite apart from the work they do all year round (film and video productions, grant programmes, media research, workshops, training, documentation, etc.). Why here, of all places, and why do it at all? This question, which is asked again and again about all forms of cultural work, has been faced by the Werkleitz Gesellschaft e. V. over and over again since it was founded. Significantly enough, in the Regional Government of Saxony-Anhalt 30 km away in Magdeburg it was the opinion in June 1998 that the least important chair to be allocated was that of the „Committee for Culture and Media”. Thus the difficult situation created by the recent election results was turned into an advantage by giving this position to the DVU. The supposition behind this being that Frey’s remote-controlled zombies could do the least damage there and/or would perhaps act according to the interest of the majority.
How could we organise an art exhibition within such a context – a „public space” that (seen from outside) seems completely surreal? In a way, everything seems to be there already and the image already seems complete. Wouldn’t it be better to add nothing, not to intervene, and certainly not with artistic foreign bodies which only make our view even more exotic? Or is the place that is the most distant from the White Cube in reality and where the natural dynamism and atmosphere of this specific „background” are strongest, also the place which provides the greatest impact for artistic projects? One thing is certain, however: The approx. 800 residents of Tornitz/Werkleitz show a relatively large amount of interest in, identification with, and support for the Werkleitz Biennale, in comparison with most metropolitan festivals, art space and public space projects. Also, immediate contact between local residents and the insular cultural set is unavoidable – and not only because access to the venue for the film and video section is given through the village’s only pub.
All the venues for the exhibition section in 1998 have a strong individual character: station, Local History Association, the two churches, the Village Hall, the bowling alley and gym remain, on the whole, what they are, even when they are turned into presentation environments over four days for the 15 participating artists. Nevertheless, the exhibition section of the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale can only be characterised to a certain extent with the extremely hackneyed label „site-specific”, after all, more than half of the 20 artistic contributions have already been seen in other contexts and/or in other forms.
As far as its structure is concerned, the exhibition section is a heterogeneous conglomeration of clusters: medially and thematically approximate works/projects form focal points in the various places which are loosely interconnected by interpretative and atmospheric channels and echoes and, thus produce a (subjectively) appropriate exhibition. That is, firstly, the works stand alone, secondly they are in their respective places, and thirdly, they stand in conjunction with neighbouring works to which they also form a contrast or amplification. In contrast, the leitmotif running through the entire area is subconscious: In fact, Tornitz Church has nothing to do with the Calbe/Saale (Ost) Station, even as exhibition venues for this Biennale. This is in a way a curatorial presentation of islands with a few connecting elements. And since the works collected together in various places refer to each other so intensely and in doing so shift the presentation framework, this exhibition can only be described as „semi-site-specific”.
The Calbe Ost Station plays host to language-oriented works by three artists whose approach may be described as „painterly”, but which has nothing to do with painting in the usual sense.
Although the station is still operating, the building has been in disuse for years, it stands empty and most of its windows are boarded up. It is up for sale to investors. In the dusty, pastel-coloured entrance hall, where tickets used to be sold, there is evidence of the clumsy, fleeting traces of time-killing and „interim use” since its closure: scribblings, drawings, jokes, mini graffiti, messages, etc. left by teenagers with a marker pen ever at the ready in their pockets. Adib Fricke has placed his contribution to the Biennale, in the form of a six-metre-wide wall painting over these traces: In large yellow-orange letters with blue shadows beneath them, it proclaims „YEMMELS” down from the wall into the room, which thereby becomes the object named. This word, however, is one of Fricke’s meaningless protonyms which have been offered for sale (since 1994) as products of his „The Word Company”, which closely regulates the utilisation rights of these words. With its technically precise composition, „YEMMELS” does not only provide an ice-cold contrast to the deserted atmosphere of the station: As a deafeningly silent and anonymous proclamation, somewhere between product placement and slogan, it counteracts the narrative and personal graffiti and, as a title or label, throws the space out of kilter from the inside out. We may also read „YEMMELS” as a empty promise, as an invasion of the market economy into a ruin of the deconstruction of the East. With its newness and lack of function, this foreign body reduces the messages and traces of earlier use to a mere background, or even a playground through which it spreads. „Perhaps there can never be giving without taking” reads one of the messages scribbled on the wall, which awakened Adib Fricke’s interest the first time he visited the place.
Leaving the entrance hall, we move on to the old Station Cafe which is now also completely empty and whose walls alone tell of past times: „Self Service” proclaims the sign in nostalgic lettering over there in the corner where the serving counter must have been. The large neon strip lights betray past hustle and bustle and the pale rectangles reveal where removed pictures must have protected the wall beneath from yellowing for decades. And time stood still long ago for the old station clock.
This is now the site of a huge Décollage of the Grand Master of Nouveau Réalisme Mimmo Rotella, now 81 years old, who gained international fame in the Sixties with its poster rippings. Here we are confronted with a 3 x 6 metre poster which advertised the „Holiday on Ice” show on the streets of Milan in October 1989. Now fixed onto steel plates and removed from its original context it becomes a ready-made object and the traces of its destruction become pictorial gestures. Despite its pictorial power and monumental nature, the work almost seems to belong here in the Station Cafe, it seems as though the workers who cleared out the station simply forgot to take it down or put off removing it because it was so unwieldy. But in the East Germany of 1989 there were no such billboards – apart from those which served the propaganda machine of the State. As a found object, „Holiday on Ice” tells of a time which never existed here, or perhaps also of a year which presaged the great slide in the imploding GDR.
The second room we enter from the hall is the so-called billiard room. It is well preserved. The wood panelling, the impressive wooden ceiling and the fine-grained blue wallpaper lend the room a somewhat solemn atmosphere. Rupprecht Matthies has cut out from Perspex and wood the words Moneten, Kies, Kohle, Asche, Knete, Kröten, Schotter, Mammon, Mäuse, Piepen, Pinke, Bares, Taler, Zaster (all slang words for money in German), and other important words such as und (and), oder (or), vor allem (above all), wie denn (how), erst recht (all the more) and hung them from the ceiling and walls of the billiard room with nylon threads to create an explosive, colourful composition of possible contexts. Are these the words once spoken in this room that have somehow materialised? Each single word bears a relation not only to its immediate environment – for example the transparent locker (loose) hanging by the window or the dark-red usw. (etc.) crawling over a piece of wood – but also conjures up numerous word associations which are somehow always wrong and always right. We take immediate pleasure in our own ideas and in the call to join in the inventive process which is the semantic product of a series of words like Kies, Kohle, Knete, etc. But at the same time, each individual word-object insists on its material independence and separateness. Unlike Adib Fricke, who always carries out extensive research to insure that his invented words, or protonyms, do not have a meaning in any language before he gives them an extremely normative form, Matthies uses every-day oft repeated words which, through their individual form (material, size, colour, sheen and in particular the „handwriting” of the cut-out letters), become valuable unique pieces. Whether it is installed in the space or simply held in the hand, each word suddenly takes on something akin to a personality.
The four kilometre journey from Calbe Ost Station to Tornitz leads through the endless Fields of the former agricultural cooperatives. A large scaffold construction can be seen from afar. This was put up by Carsten Höller, like a sculptural foreign body in the middle of nowhere where the road turns off to Tornitz. The 23-metre-long and five-metre-high construction supports a banderole-like banner which proclaims proudly „Together Towards the Future”. What does this appeal refer to? It is not only a quote from past socialist propaganda posters, it is also a quote from the hysterical German election campaigns in the run-up to the voting for the German Parliament on September 27. After all, these villages are full of election campaign posters at the time of the Biennale. In fact, however, the banner could serve as a background for any and all projections – in the style of Benetton’s advertising campaigns: It could just as easily refer to both the DVU or to a fictitious Eastern-Reconstruction-Developer preparing to build a factory in the open fields. It could also be seen as representing the alliance between the seemingly sleepy village of Tornitz and the innovation-oriented „Centre for the Artistic Visual Media”. It could even be seen as the motto for the Centre’s Werkleitz Biennale of this year. It is perhaps this very multiplicity of possible references which belittles this slogan – a set phrase typical of politicians – and thus places it in stark contrast to its own monumental form. Beer garden benches have been installed on the scaffold at a height of four metres and they invite us to sit and look into the distance.
Höller’s Biennale contribution is a re-staging: When the same slogan was presented at the „D & S” (Difference and Simulation) Exhibition in Hamburg in 1989 the connotations seemed much less ambiguous, since „Together Towards the Future” was then a common slogan of the reunification euphoria after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, almost ten years later, resignation has replaced this, at least for many new Federal Germans. The original poster from 1989 has been lost, the one in the field outside Tornitz has been remade for the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale – as a solitary warning, a nasty joke or an empty shell.
The road to Tornitz leads directly to an old farm which is gradually being rebuilt as a local history museum for tourists by volunteers from the village’s Local Culture and History Association. The so-called country parlour in the farmhouse is already finished. There, implements, small objects typical of country life and old and new photos of interesting village festivals are on display. When Martin Schmidl & Florian Haas saw this mini museum for the first time (to a certain extent, it is the community’s „public memory”), they noticed that it included only a small excerpt of the history and culture of the village and that many testaments to the past where missing. This led them to conduct a large number of interviews with villagers, to take photographs and to gather together text fragments and then to add to the country parlour the results of their research without commentary, as part of the Werkleitz Biennale. Thus, among the tranquillity of the harvest festival or an antique pitchfork we now find hints of the socialist past, the East German Communist Party, or SED, of forced labour in Tornitz, of the collapse of the GDR, of the history of the old cinema in the village inn, etc. With their discreet picture frames, Schmidl & Haas’ photographs superimposed with text (five computer scans) fit formally into the existing display in a completely unspectacular way. We discover them only on closer inspection of the collection. Although these additions are non-judgemental documentations of the villagers’ tales, they may appear provocative, since they put into perspective the formally pure representation of the country idyll.
Opposite the country parlour there is a newly restored room in which a typical country bedroom is to be reconstructed and opened to visitors as part of the Local History Museum. As part of the Biennale, this as yet empty room contains works by Susanne Bierwirth. On entering the relatively small, low-ceilinged room through its only door we discover two more closed doors. One of them does not appear to belong in this environment, since it is the kind of door we would expect to find in a modern multi-storey residential block, not least because it has a peep hole typical of such tenements. If we look through this hole we see a model interior: a living-room. The three miniature plastic figures, which are familiar to us from model railway scenarios, are moved through this living-room by motors. Whenever the two larger figures – two adults – leave the room, the smaller one – the child – appears, and vice versa. Behind this constantly repeating micro-mechanism we can see another brightly lit room which, being a model, appears to have been decorated with wallpaper bearing a photo mural. Seen through the peep hole, this domestic game of cat and mouse in the living-room seems surprisingly realistic. Exactly as if this scenario were really taking place behind one of the doors of a block of flats. It is secretly homely – little ways out behind closed doors. Another part of this installation dating from 1996 and entitled „Out of Africa” is a photograph of an apartment door – once again a typical tenement door with the peep hole – which Susanne Bierwirth has hung on the wall in an elegant cherry-wood frame.
The artist has incorporated a second piece into this spatial situation. On the floor we see a thick piece of foam rubber, approx. 40 x 80 cm, on which a small pink cuddly toy – apparently a mixture of a bear and a pig – is moved backwards and forwards by an electric motor. „Schuckelbär” („Wobble Bear”) is the title of this piece, and what we see happening to the cuddly toy in its mechanical cradle, which directly appeals to our protective instincts, seems at the same time nurturing and calming and intimidating and brutal. The inner yard of the Local Culture and History Association leads to the currently more or less disused sheds, store rooms, stables and the old farm barn. Wim Delvoye has placed his contribution to the exhibition of the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale in one of the stables here: Two live pigs, eight months old and weighing approximately 90 kg. One of the pigs has large tattoos on its back and hindquarters. These show the motifs with which some bikers demonstrate their lifelong love of freedom (which can be found on a Harley Davidson) or their hatred for a world they see as „square”. Whether they are decorations, statements, personal scars or protests, tattoos are always a manifestation of (desired) differentness and alienation. Those who have tattoos on their faces, for example, – a part of the body which cannot be hidden – build clear barriers between themselves and the society they live in and characteristically will no longer be able to find work in this society. Tattooing a living pig – a domestic animal and producer of meat for humans and a word used to insult people – (and especially with the war-like emblems of rockers) and then to send it with a touring exhibition as a piece of art is extremely perfidious for many reasons. This is not only because, when placed next to the „normal” untattooed pig (which accompanies it on all its travels), it suddenly appears naked. Although the pig was tattooed with a minimum of distress and under the best possible veterinary conditions, this „work” of course constantly causes outrage among animal rights activists („Cruelty to Animals as Art”) and thus sparks general discussions about the relationship between humans and (factory-farmed) animals. In contrast to some of the earlier exhibition venues for Delvoye’s art pig, in which a sty was built in each White Cube, thus underlining its extremely artificial nature, the pigs displayed at the Werkleitz Biennale in a „fitting”, rural environment. However, this serves to increase the contrast between the „humane” and the „inhumane”, that is between the „normal” and the „perverse”, since tattooing is a cultural technique which we see as urban and the tattooed tend to be outlaws – or rather outcasts – of this urban context.
Wim Delvoye’s second work operates in a similarly perfidious way. On an outer wall of the inner courtyard hangs a „Nestkastje”, a nesting box for birds, which has been squeezed into a suit made of studded black leather that reminds us immediately of the accessories of Sado-Masochistic sex. And, of all places, the entrance for the bird that may brood here, is surrounded by a typical, heavy chrome ring which holds together leather straps and, in such sex aids, serves to emphasise certain body parts. We could now make frivolous speculations about the inhabitant of this little house, in the same way as we can speculate about private practices that go on behind our front doors. Who is the wearer/ user of this leather corset? Once again Delvoye uses an „uncivilised” animal to explore both secret and publicly displayed cultural indicators which generally stand for unfathomability and social perversions, which are at least somehow seen as negative and which awaken moral judgements in the observer. Although Delvoye’s works are much more spectacular in this respect and darker in their humour, there is an obvious proximity of content and method to Susanne Bierwirth’s contributions.
The organisers have located all the catering for the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale in the inner courtyard of the Local Culture and History Association, creating an important meeting point for visitors right next to the pigsty. The sugar for tea and coffee (as well as that used in the „Post” pub) and many of the guest houses round about) has been provided by Carsten Höller. On the bar we find sugar cubes whose packaging has not been used to advertise the producer company, as is usual, unless the word Zukunft (Future) printed on it is the name of a company. A multitude of connotations are triggered by this hidden intervention: that these small packets could contain the „Future” , that you can let the „Future” melt in your mouth, that you could have a glass full of the „Future” on your coffee table, that you can hold the „Future” in your hand and unwrap it, etc. Unlike the monumental banner outside Tornitz – of which these sugar cubes are an echo or a discreet reminder – this work by Höller is less of an appeal (the slogan is not repeated), and more a suggestion of a kind of status quo: the „Future” is something that sweetens our life.
A five-minute walk from the Local Culture and History Association is the Tornitz Village Hall, which is used as both the local library and the meeting place to discuss the issues concerning the village. It is a relatively small room, whose friendly atmosphere is created by the large bookcase, the beautiful grey-green ceramic stove, the little plastic flowers and the red arm-chairs round the horseshoe-shaped table, giving the impression of something between a living-room, a private library, an office and a round table. The walls are decorated with photographs documenting village life, which are very similar to the exhibition pieces we find in the Local History Museum. Indeed, without intending to be so, the village hall is no less a display than the Local History Museum, for the simple reason that it seems so exotic to the outsider. This is where Martin Schmidl & Florian Haas present the second part of their contribution to the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale. While they included only some excerpts from their research into the history and population of the village in the existing exhibition, we find here what, to a certain extent, can be regarded as the full version of their work. It is presented in the form of a 100-page booklet, „Tornitz and Werkleitz”, produced for this occasion (1.000 copies). A few copies are to be found on the reading desk and can be taken free of charge. This booklet casts light on the entire thematic spectrum of Schmidl & Haas’s interviews: Denazification and the end of the Forties, the 17th of June uprising, the fate of the former agricultural cooperatives, the DVU voters in Tornitz, the presence of the Werkleitz Gesellschaft in the village, the heavy metal band Gelbkreuz from Tornitz, unemployment, etc. The full-page pictures, some of whose subjects are identical with the pictures normally on show at the Local History Museum, are combined with quotes and statements from the interviewees. And suddenly a highly complex image of the community appears, which no longer corresponds to the image an outsider may have formed earlier when wandering through the village streets (and the exhibition).
There is dissonance in the selection and focus, in the staging and the plot of the material collected by Schmidl & Haas. Despite the lack of commentary from the documentarists, „prototypes” inevitably emerge, whose transposition onto the community puts into proportion a superficially innocent tranquillity. „What you don’t like, may be art, but what help is that to you?” is the title of an earlier publication concerning Schmidl & Haas’s past projects. Since the village hall appears so staged and unreal because of its exotic-seeming atmosphere, the status of the seemingly neutral documentation is also put into question and, to a certain extent, fictionalised. Seen in this way, this supplementation of an already existing display is yet more complex than the display created by the artists in the Local History Museum.
A stark contrast to the other exhibition venues for the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale is provided by Tornitz Church. Here we find video installations. These display very obvious commonalities of form and content which transform the 1000-year-old church into a devout, but at the same time highly tense, „situation”. The motifs of all three video works are concerned with almost silent, uncut portraits of protagonists who have been forbidden to change their body position. Within very differing contexts, all the figures shown must remain silently frozen in the situation they find themselves in and suffer the passage of the performance time, as any deviation from the norm prescribed by art produces a shocking revelation of the context. Furthermore, all three installations explore the contrast between stills and moving pictures and thus also the contextual mobility of mediatised representations, just as in postcards and film posters.
The dark nave of the church is the venue for a large projection of stills by Heidrun Gartenschläger. Facing the altar, we look up to silent, projected black and white portraits that remind us of old Hollywood movie star portraits or excerpts from a Film Noir and which, at first glance, seem to be large illuminated photographs (somewhat in the manner of Cindy Sherman’s early work). Then, however, we begin to notice that the lighting is changing and shifting almost imperceptibly. The shadows of the aurally staged female portrait move and thus mould the figure. That which was formerly illuminated in blinding light now disappears into darkness, a majestic expression becomes fragile – the visage seems to begin to move and seems to play a series of very different roles. After a few minutes the movement is over, the picture is dimmed and soon the next event emerges from the darkness. Heidrun Gartenschläger plays these filmic images (and these female images) herself, and if she occasionally cannot avoid blinking, the illusion of a model on display is suddenly shattered. The posing takes place in real time! The image has a personality, the picture is „returning our gaze”! But the animation of the old stars does not make them less still.
A small, indefinable picture in warm colours is video-projected onto a side wall. The brightness and contrast of these patches or figures which cannot be more closely identified, change and shift slowly but continually. This second element of Gartenschläger’s installation frustrates the „movie theatre element” which would otherwise be created by the church pews which face towards the projection and contrasts effectively the pure identification with and observation of the stills. And it is also a gentle reminder of an image of eternal light.
John Isaac’s work in the gallery of Tornitz Church creates a corridor with the lowered nave ceiling, with windows along one side which offers more views of Gartenschläger’s installation. At the end of this corridor, which ends more or less as a dead end where the church spire begins, we find a large monitor which also shows a portrait in real time. This time it is a man who – bathed in nocturnal light – seems to be standing up to his nose in water, half covered and/or camouflaged by leafy branches. Occasionally he glances to the left or the right without moving his head, and we do not know if he is waiting for someone or something, and if so, whether he is afraid of what he is waiting for and so is trying to hide in the water (so he is perhaps the hunted) or whether he is lying in wait for it. Is he the perpetrator or the victim? The gentle gurgling and splashing of the water raises the level of tension just like in a horror film or thriller. What is going to happen? Will he be discovered or will he jump out of the water and attack someone? Nothing happens. The tension is stretched to infinity, the protagonist remains frozen in his uncomfortable situation which in time merges with that of the beholder. Disappointment and anxiety begin to take over.
The third video installation, a work by Sandra Schäfer, is situated near the entrance to Tornitz Church. Here there is a small, low side room, used for the poorly attended Sunday services during cold weather which would not warrant the expense of heating the nave. For this reason the room is also called the „winter room”. The insulating (somehow kitsch) carpet in this room dampens every footstep. Here there are three small podia (or rather pedestals) upon which monitors (in portrait format) show formally adapted portraits of the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace, without sound and again in real time (i. e. unedited). They can be seen on the cover of every second London travel guide and on many tourist postcards: these guards of honour in their red and black uniforms with their rifles and bayonets and the conspicuous, ridiculous busby hats, who have to stand still in their little sentry boxes, only to perform staccato and grotesque marches at certain times of day. Every movement is prescribed exactly, portioned and preconditioned. Without mercy and with thought, Sandra Schäfer aimed her video camera at these stoic sentries in 1996 and now, in her installation „Shift”, she presents three mutually reinforcing loops which detail her observations. The guards mime militaristic, stern statues by order of the State, whose framing is reinforced in its form not only by their sentry boxes but also by the strictly selected camera frame with the architecture of the Palace behind it. But they do move despite all the rules of the ritual! We see them exchanging silent messages with each other, we can observe their annoyance during the parade, we take malicious pleasure in their obvious fatigue or their attempts to relieve themselves of an itchy nose without moving their hands at all. What we are in fact watching are absurd figures who do not even notice when they doze off and lurch to one side thereby destroying the symmetry they have been ordered to preserve. The human – and the mundane – wins out and the flesh becomes weak.
While the Biennale clearly counteracts „Thou shalt not make an image” in the Tornitz Church and in doing so subconsciously explores the situation and/or condition or reception of worshipers (devotions, silence and the physical exertion of motionlessness), the works in Werkleitz Church handle symbols, images and representatives of good and evil.
Carmen Mörsch announces on a note attached to the church door that „the 4 whose fault everything is” have finally been captured and beaten to death and now everything is all right again. As proof of this victory the corpses of the monsters who were responsible for all the world’s evils are laid out (or staked out) on four large, coffin-like chests in the nave of the church. These creatures, formed from plastic, plaster, textiles and latex, still bear the evidence of the way they died (they have stab wounds, have been shot, torn to pieces or squashed flat). On the one hand, they cause horror and pity, but on the other hand they remind us of cute toys or distantly even of comic figures and are somehow amusing. Their character is anyway thoroughly hybrid. One of them seems to be a cross between a squid and a rat, another is half male and half female, and a third could, at first glance, be either a squashed toad or a simply a pile of industrial waste. Each of the four monsters is a visualisation of a certain group of evils, and together they are the personification of absolute wickedness – with reference, in a way, to the four elements of life. Since the evils are named on plastic signs attached to the trunks these vivid objects function symbolically, to a certain extent, as voodoo dolls, while, as actual monsters they are real scapegoats. And as a secondary effect, this also emphasises the difference between a painted version and a carved version of Christ on the Cross, for example.
As preparation for this project, the artist invited friends and colleagues to a private think tank in Berlin where they drew up a list of evils (ranging from major evils such as „racism” to annoyance with „dog dirt”). Using certain criteria they then divided these into four groups and finally discussed their visualisation in the form of sketches suggested by Carmen Mörsch. The artist followed up the collective impulse of this method as part of her presentation of the „monsters” to the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale. One week before the exhibition opened she held a four-day workshop on the theme of „good and evil” and the biblical story of the scapegoat with interested villagers and their children at Werkleitz Church. The participants have suggested that the resulting painted glass panes, which are also attempts at visualisation (i. e. projection), remain in the church on permanent display. Other pieces and remainders from the „scapegoat workshop” – such as the wordlists from the first brain storming session and drawings and sketches – can be viewed in a side room of Werkleitz Church during the Biennale.
Sabine Hartung has created a spatial installation in the gallery of the church: „Welcome to the Rose Room”. This Offenbach-based artist has spent more than ten years working almost exclusively with the motif of the rose – the queen of flowers – generally seen as the symbol of beauty, veneration, affection and love and is thus perhaps the greatest possible antipode to the evils of the world. After all, could there ever be „beautiful monsters” or „evil roses”?
Sabine Hartung draws, paints, collects, investigates and documents images of roses. She draws up meticulous lists of terms with rigid descriptions and her company „Rosecraft” offers a whole set of different types which can be ordered in the desired format and colour combinations. Many of her installation works appear as advertising blocks, i. e. they are seldom about one single exhibit but rather about the special character of the series – that is the series of great compliments of „Say it with flowers”, which Hartung subjects to a cool, sometimes normative investigation. This can be appreciated easily when we look at the filing cabinet full of a variety of material: A suite of furniture is an invitation to stay, read and peruse. However, Hartung uses the walls to present original oil paintings and several blocks of extremely fine and fascinating drawings (pencil, distemper and computer drawings) which are arranged according to various aspects of her interest in the subject: natural studies, word lists, gestures of giving, taking and paying compliments; roses as accessories, roses as emblems as well as statistical graphs illustrating her work with „roses”.
Next to the main entrance of the Werkleitz Youth Club is the Voluntary Fire Service, where until recently there was one of those rusty old gates which can be found in many houses of the village Tornitz. This is now the site of the brand-new, multicoloured „AB & ZU Gate” (pun: NOW & THEN and OPEN & CLOSED) built by Rupprecht Matthies together with workers from the Henschel Smithy, as his second contribution to the exhibition of the 3rd Werkleitz Biennale. The right-hand side of the gate proclaims a merry „JETZT IST GUT” (IT’S ALL RIGHT NOW), the text framed by radial metal bars. This broadcasts a pleasant feeling of work done and also proclaims an indefinite presence: thus it is a heart-felt response to Höller’s monumental „Together into the Future”. The left-hand side of the gate, however, with its „AB & ZU”, oscillates between thoughtful consideration and clear functional references to the opening and closing of the gate. The 2 x 3 metre high gate will remain in the village after the four days of the Biennale are over, as a gift from both the artist and the Henschel company.
After entering the Youth Club and moving through the club rooms we reach the completely darkened sports hall. Here, Rotraut Pape has set up her multimedia installation „Real Virtuality: The Guardian”. The illuminated area in the centre of the room does not initially give us much inkling of the highly complex, computer controlled technology used in the installation. A video projector produces a so-called magnetic resonance image (a kind of x-ray) of a slowly turning head on the wall. This method of detecting brain tumours enables an image to be produced of deep, internal layers of the body, while on the other hand making any representation of three dimensions impossible. The turning head sometimes seems to be a rotating mask, i. e. a gradual shift from the „convex” to the „concave”. If we now enter the field of light some two metres in size, we discover a second, considerably larger, video projection of similar images. This time, however, we see the image move through cross sections of the head which thus seems to appear as a three dimensional body out of nothing, growing to its full size and then disappearing again. The loop of appearing and disappearing is controlled by the area of light which indicates a kind of field of activity: within the illuminated space all movements made by the beholder are detected by an infrared device and sent to the video projector as a control signal for – „forward” and „back”. Can invading a certain „room to manoeuvre” bring us to literally penetrating views of another’s constitution and allow us to manipulate it, or does the light mark out an attractive forbidden zone in which we ourselves seem to be caught and „x-rayed”? Every individual psychological detail could now be analysed easily.
The atmosphere of this installation is equally both spooky and contemplative. Here computer-scanned half-beings are produced whose physicality is reduced a simulated exercise. This is a neat contrast to the character of the gym as the scene of sweaty physical exercise. Both video projections – the continual and the interactive – are accompanied by an electronically produced sound surface. The back exit of the gym leads into the entrance to the bowling alley and thus to the installation „Extraterrestrial and Cover Versions” by Michaela Schweiger. In stark contrast to the hidden high-tech in the „Mind Games Gym” we find here an intricate laboratory situation which seems to have originated in the workshop of a do-it-yourself enthusiast. Half way down the diffusely (almost claustrophobically) lit, tube-like room the bowling alley has been covered with a wooden construction some nine metres in length, creating a kind of island, which can be entered and where various assemblies objects and contraptions can be inspected and used. This is explained by an ensemble of video portraits presented on five monitors, which tell a story in the dialogue form of a play. In preparing for this project, the artist conducted interviews with children and young adults (including members of the Werkleitz Youth Club) about their ideas of the „future”. The answers where then collated into a script and spoken and played out by actors.
The children’s visions returned again and again to certain machines they felt sure would be available to mankind, and Michaela Schweiger has embodied them in her objects: a time machine, a wish machine, an anti-gravity machine, etc. Visitors to the exhibition can compare these sensory and visual materialisations with the spoken designs of the children, which are filtered and transformed by the generational leap produced by their being spoken by adult mouths. In contrast to „The Four Evils” by Carmen Mörsch, the experimentation and viewing of Schweiger’s installation results in a complex web of projection, copy, recycling and compression of images of the future. The artistic settings are hidden behind multiple transformations: projection and representation, idea and product thus become as indistinguishable as work and context or as art and function … or fiction.
Holger Kube Ventura