What Berlin’s fashion scene lacks in professionalism and prestige it makes up in personality and approachability – Blame being the perfect ambassador for this attitude. Sarah Büren and Sonja Hodzode don’t take the fashion game too seriously: “Sometimes when we are stressed out, designing in the middle of the night we just start laughing because it’s just fashion. It’s not the end of the world.”
It is in their Kreuzberg hinterhof studio, which they share with a men’s wear tailor and a noisy group of men fixing car tires out front, that the two create their vintage-meets-zeitgeist fearless fashion that has won them the Premium Young Designer Award for women’s wear and has brought them into the final round of Start Your Own Fashion Business (winner to be announced on the 6th of July). Meet Blame:
Sleek: Where do you come from and how do you know each other?
Sarah Büren: I’m from Duesseldorf and Sonja is from Saarbruecken. We met during our studies in Trier where we worked on projects together and lived together.
Sonja Hodzode: It was our dream to have label together but it wasn’t really planned and then it just happened. Sarah came over to my place for a weekend and we put our designs together and noticed that they really went well together. We designed a couple of things together and the collection was finished!
SB: It was a very organic process with no concept and that’s still how we work now.
You aim for your designs to be wearable for more than just a couple of seasons. The fashion world isn’t really known for its longevity. How do you approach this challenge?
SB: We have a very classical approach. We don’t do things that are really art or obviously based on some short term trend. We follow our personal taste.
What’s behind the name Blame?
SB: It’s a bit of humour and tongue-in-cheek to express that we don’t take fashion too seriously.
SH: It’s a name with a negative connotation but hopefully if the collections are good the name will resonate more positively!
Your designs are for the modern woman. What, for you, is the modern woman?
SB: A woman who is confident and has her own style. She’s very busy and needs clothes to match all her needs.
SH: Even if she’s a mom, she still wants to look good, be in the here-and-now and not just in the baby world.
There are more fashion focused cities out there. Why Berlin?
SH: We really feel good here at the moment. The competition is bigger in other cities and it’s more stressful. It’s easy going here but still you can push things forward if you want to.
SB: It’s special to be here at the start of things rather than going somewhere where things already happened.
From the first ideas/inspirations until production…what does the process at Blame look like?
SH: Designing and doubting! Re-designing and doubting again! It is all work in progress.
SB: We always start with the fabric and the color which is vital for our design. After deciding on color and fabric the inspiration gets clearer and the collection grows.
The idea behind Blame?
SB: Transforming vintage into a modern look but not making a one-to-one copy of vintage. We don’t want our clothes to look as if they’ve been bought from a flea market.
SH: We always incorporate humor. Last season we had a very classic shift dress with a collar but we used neon fabric for a cheeky contrast.
If art remained un-viewed would it still be created? How dependent is art on the art market? Is the art world imaginable without collectors? Who are these collectors anyway? The BMW Art Guide wastes no time asking these near to impenetrable questions – they’re smack-bang on the cover of the book.
BMW and Independent Collectors began their collaboration three years ago. The result? The first ever published guide to private collectors boasting an elaborate list of over 160 publicly accessible, privately owned collections in over 30 countries. Journalists, artists, curators and collectors worked together to create this archive, which can’t be compared to anything previously published in this field.
The collections are alphabetically presented starting with Argentina and ending with the United States of America. A small picture of either the exterior or interior of the collection accompanies an easy-to-digest yet informative text with vital facts like address, phone number, website and opening times listed in the sidebar. Scattered throughout the publication are reflections on the book’s content offering in-depth information on the making of the book and the nature of private collections. This guide offers exciting prospects for even the biggest know-it-alls of the art world as a few handful of featured art collections have only just opened their doors to the public.
Kristine Alksne intuitively draws the world into her work, selecting from from personal encounters with people, place, moments and objects. Filtering as she goes, the Latvian-born artist says that she acts as a “receiver”, clearing her mind of all information and simply absorbing. “I just put all the things together and it comes out,” she explains.
Making trips to the locality of her exhibitions and embarking on intimate journeys, Alksne eventually settles upon the components she wishes to expose: from lack of greenery in urban spaces, to a small shop in Palermo that sells enormous watermelons and highly patterned wallpaper, these details are distilled and reconfigured for the gallery. Influenced by maps, landscapes and the view from aeroplane windows, Alksane’s zoomed-out perspectives offer a fresh take on the details that are often overlooked by those of us too blinded by mundanity to look hard enough.
The desire to seek critical and physical distance led her to “downshift” from her increasingly hectic life in Milan to Berlin over a year ago in a quest for space and freedom. Refusing the temptation to overcomplicate or become mired in theory, Alksne strives for a humanised connection and clarity in her quiet, reflective work, and in doing so distances the viewer from today’s increasingly hypermediated environment, even if only for a fleeting moment.
Hedonism in Berlin has heritage. The city has accrued layers of sedimentary crust, and new releases “Berlinized – Sexy an Eis” (Lucian Busse, 2012) and “Bar25 – Der Film” (Britta Mischer/Nana Yuriko, 2012) promise to bore holes into recent strata. Crews from the 1990s and 2000s respectively attempt to document their own stories; in so doing, they are swelling a peculiar heritage industry. Of course film is a time-based medium, and with the subject of hedonism – where time dissolves in pursuit of pleasure – it would be a shame for the slippage between medium and subject not to be explored.
Honey Suckle Company started out as a youth movement, growing from a list of dead-ends: they were 15 years late for punk, 20 years after hippies, and techno was just too “unsexy”. “Berlin Super 80” (2005) serves as a prelude. This mixtape-cum-reader in 1980s subculture compiles mainly black-and-white grainy shorts. It’s a glimpse, totally un-narrated, into pre-Fall Berlin. Out of such shadows, “Berlinized” opens with a rock cosmonaut walking out into a sandy wasteland and playing his guitar to an audience of building sites. Honey Suckle Company’s crazy-gadfly aesthetic premiered at an anti-fashion catwalk show in the Suicide Club (1995), all knitted caps with ears and duct tape over mouths and eyebrows. The kitschy-sexy-random vibe is a constant through the documentary, leading up to the teeny Bügelbar on Augustrasse, which served the eponymous Sexy an Eis drink (key ingredients undisclosed). Bügelbar spawned galerie berlintokyo (1996 – 99), which hosted rotating shows for Berliner or Japanese artists – the latter, faked. Members of the then reigning crews look back on their moment from homes and studios. Jim Avignon, of the nomadic U-Kunst group and Radio Bar (U is for Unterhaltung, or “entertainment”), says the art-bar tour was a ruse to get access to unusual places; by then they were through with empty shells, and sought prestigious locations: the botanical gardens, a takeover of Tresor, the French Embassy, the Fernsehturm restaurant, Documenta in Kassel. “All that mattered was the moment, the experience of the night, a single evening, and the next morning was a new deal.”
New Yorker Howard Goldkrand takes a loftier view. Unlike the UK Summer of Love of 1989, their experience was less about hedonism, or even music, and more to do with “thinking about how to live your life in an artistic way.” And so the film cranes its neck towards a more worthy vista, where art and nightlife hold hands in the sunset, quite the beautiful couple. Jan Edler reminisces about the Kunst & Technik club from among tourist deckchairs by Museum Island (“this is where the DJ booth was!”). “It wasn’t a techno club or a house club or a jungle club,” he says. “It changed from night to night and we also had live performances.”
Reminiscences sour against the Berlin of today. Goldkrank concludes that the city is now “living off the fumes of the fantasy of the mythology.” Nina Rhode, of galerie berlintokyo, assesses the hype around the art/club crossover from behind conspicuously non-wacky sunglasses: “maybe we prepared the ground for that. […] I think we were among the first to give the whole thing up too, because it actually doesn’t work. You can’t really merge club culture, or nightlife and art in such a restricted space without having the art suffer,” and she means it literally, “because when you drink, something will naturally get spilled on some object.”
In the background to the empty buildings and Freiheit of the 1990s there are the Golden Twenties, the jazz bars, cocaine addicts, motorcars, department stores and prostitutes – scrums, grotesqueries and largess caught in the imagery of Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann, who make vivid the moral decadence in the build up to the events of 1933. The rise of the entertainment industry in 1920s was a form of compensation – as Siegried Kracauer wrote, “the more monotony holds sway over the working day, the further away you must be transported once work ends.” By contrast, “Berlinized” and “Bar25 – Der Film” present the hedonism of the last two decades as something with moral direction.
The year was 2003 and on the north bank of the Spree, on disused land, a community of 13 were to build with bare hands a legendary wooden “Mikrokosmos”. They lived there in huts, dressing up and nurturing anti-fashion to flower into something brighter. Bar25 did electronic music a service, lifting it from the hardcore urban underbelly and repackaging it with bunting, swings, fairy lights, disco balls, clown costumes, hula hoops, oversized glasses and feathered headgear. This was a place for childlike fun and adult frivolity, where adventures went through day and night, where epic afterparties were adjunct to kiddie theatre, a restaurant, and even, later on, a spa. “We want a place for different things in the same area,” they say, “techno club with restaurant with circus.”
“Berlinized” is sewn together from director Lucian Busse’s video footage and present-day interviews, and where it is absolutely retrospective, and thin on atmosphere, “Bar25” announces itself as being filmed from the inside. There is charming footage of the club’s initial construction, with non-workmanlike guys quietly clearing the ground, overlooked by a few blocks of flats – this was “club recycling.” But it must have been as the local authorities threatened closure that the idea to start filming took hold. The death rattle dragged on for several years and the clash between the club and the Mediaspree property development is the crux of the story. There’s the eviction notice and shots of the community getting tired and emotional, and the protest marches (“gentrification is terror”, “Spreeufer für alle!”); they get a reprieve on the rental agreement, but ultimately the forces of capitalism are greater. Gentrification is explained to kids in a puppet show where a cardboard O2 stadium bobs into view. There is particular reliance on footage from the final shebang in 2010, and the subsequent funeral, featuring ashes, candles, and a shrine of homemade Buddhas. “Bar25 – Der Film” is very much packaged; protagonists play to the camera and scenes are set up. It is lumped into chapters, each with a preliminary title animation and an undergraduate reading list of quotations from Lewis Carroll, Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson, Aldous Huxley et al. This is not only branding, it’s a big clean up.
For the Berlinized parties, the emphasis was not the music but the spaces, whereas the repetitive tickle of Bar25’s loopy tech-house was integral to the place’s unique time-warp experience. This aspect is not reflected in the soundtrack. Song bites are mixed in to suit the mood (clown music for the clowning about, piano going extra doloroso at the funeral), giving it the feel of a promotional video. If anything the film, with its heavy-handed styling, reflects the limited life span of a subculture, and the emergence of Bar25 as a brand; rather than provide analysis, this is a product for fans, capitalising on the nostalgia-fest. As the endnotes explain, we should look to the south bank for a reincarnation: Christophe and Steffi, the community’s showiest performers, are noted to be “building new dreams from wood on the other Ufer”; Kater Holzig, that is.
In Bar25’s funeral year a film was being made that captures the spirit of the party, while studiously avoiding the place. Addressing the problems of the documentary genre, “Gone to Croatan” (Gaelle Boucand, 2010) asks, how do you access and record hedonistic experience without intruding or distracting? How do you capture the atmosphere? Boucand’s solution was to film her own experience, to use a small camera in her backpack, to ask permission from the people she was following, and to completely edit herself out. The result presents a group of international friends in real time – whatever that is – moving between Berlin’s open airs throughout the summer. Days dissolve into each other. There is a sense of continuity, unspecific to place or time (Bar25, Boucand says, was omitted precisely because it is a thing in and of itself). It’s lo-tech: the bulge of the camera lens distorts the extremities, creating the illusion of viewing within a bubble. The sound distortion prohibits tunes from marking the time. It inserts the viewer as participant. It convinces.
Again, this is a film infused with idealism. The title draws on anarchist writer Hakim Bey’s theory of the autonomous zone (1991): the search for a non-hierarchical utopia requires the creation of “temporary autonomous zones”, outside of the dominant social structure, which act in relief against it. By their very nature, these micro-societies are transient. Here then, the revellers could be artists, students, hairdressers or government bureaucrats; their body language is uninhibited, meeting and greeting, rolling around, drug taking, talking about bikes, or explaining the solar system with arms and hands –“the world is totally unlogical!”
“Gone to Croatan” is about spaces outside of the norm, just as the parties aren’t defined by the location. We don’t know where we are, except, as someone points out, “you can see to the Alps on a clear day.”
Milan was a Manstravaganza at last weekend’s SS13 presentations, with some of the key shows reflecting the varied dimensions of What It Means To Be A Bloke. Without intellectualising trousers and jackets any further, here’s the deal:
On Saturday, the hot ticket was Jil Sander’s new collection by the actual Jil Sander herself (after Raf Simons’ departure) for the label she birthed back in 1968: it was a neat, hiked-up and hemmed-up collection with a deep sense of the modern, accenting on graphic T-shirts, defiant shorts and extended jackets. When the iconic designer appeared from stage right at the end of the show, there was a tremendous and heartful applause: “welcome back,” it signalled.
At Burberry Prorsum at Corso Venezia 16 later that afternoon, the mood was much less restrained: the fashion pack gasped as the blinds were pulled back from the high glass ceilings before Christopher Bailey despatched his troops in a dazzling collection whose signatures where bomber jackets (worn over suits), the classic trench and trousers in beautifully retina-burning, anodised-aluminium neon metallics. “Business Flâneur on the set of Tron” may not have been Mr Bailey’s vision, but it certainly seemed that way in this striking collection.
Can you imagine a phallanx of athletic Estrucan superbeings art-directed by Jeff Koons wearing bathrobes, underpants, gold trophy belts and not much else marching past you to the sound of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”? You surely can, but if you can’t, that was the prevailing mood at Versace later that evening; it was an extraordinary thing. Power and strength, pecs and quiffs, pants and glamour: this was Versace doing only what Versace can, masculinity optimised about as far as it can go.
The following morning Tomas Maier for Bottega Veneta presented a far softer and more occluded collection, in the house’s signature muted, autumnal hues, of looks (including pullovers, kaftans-like tops and narrow cropped pants) that weren’t a million miles from Woodstock-era David Crosby, or John Voight in “Midnight Cowboy” (the music to the show was, naturally, “Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talking At Me” with a dubstep remix).
On Sunday evening, the event was Prada, the most controlled and graphic show of the past two days. Models walked a fascinatingly geometric figure-of-eight path, like bits in a machine, marked out by overhead gantry lighting in the jaw-dropping location, wearing elegant and occasionally sporty neo-modernist outfits (jackets, jerkins, straight trousers in subtle green, deep blue and claret, never less than fantastically elegant). In this menswear show, half of the models weren’t men, which suggest the man of the future may be someone we hardly recognise as a man any more. Milan SS13 proves that masculinity itself can be a complex thing.
When Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in 1919 he aimed to accept students no matter their age and gender. The Bauhaus archive in Berlin is now exploring the role of women within the Bauhaus movement and the effect of their work with a series of “Female Bauhaus” exhibitions, each dedicated to one figure. The homage to influential female Bauhaus artists kicked off on the 20th of June with a close look at the influential textile artists Benita Koch-Otte.
After working as a teacher for five years she enrolled in Bauhaus in 1920 where she quickly developed a remarkable weaving style. Koch-Otte wove a carpet for a children’s bedroom, which Walter Gropius famously selected to be displayed in Weimar’s art collection. She is also the creator of the carpet adorning the floor of the Bauhaus director’s room.
This exhibition successfully gives a rare insight into the design processes of a creative mastermind; with some 200 pieces, the show includes more than 70 of her sketches and designs, textile and weave samples and pattern research all of which are on show for the first time ever. Photographs of her textiles and working space taken by Hans Finsler and Heinrich Koch are also included.
The next “Female Bauhaus” exhibition will be dedicated to the work of Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp, to open in the Fall.
Eastpak’s latest collaboration with Wood Wood, titled “Desertion”, was launched in Copenhagen with a wide range of items, from a weekender to shopper, rucksack, shoulder bag, and even a fanny pack in sand and earthy tones and combinations of natural fabrics, all inspired by the unique landscape of Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave desert.
Sleek caught up with Wood Wood designers Brian SS Jensen and Lotte Nielsen (Wood Wood women’s wear), and Eastpak product manager Bartel Geus to talk about the perks of collaborations, getting out of the city, and mums.
Sleek: Wood Wood often collaborates with other brands, and Eastpak’s line of designer editions has become a staple for the brand, from Rick Owens to Kriss Van Assche, Raf Simons and now Wood Wood. What’s the most important thing for you when approaching a new collaboration?
Brian SS Jensen: That both sides get something out of it. The point of collaboration is to do something that Wood Wood wouldn’t do alone.
Bartel Geus: We look at the DNA of both brands and make sure that it fits into both brands’ vision. It has to feel right. But essentially, the point of collaboration is that you create something you can only make together with someone else.
BJ: This range of bags was very much a part of the collection we were working on at the time, it was inspired by the same thing so it fits right in. We felt very safe with Eastpak, knowing that we can come up with ideas and they would have the expertise to make them work.
And what was the inspiration for the collection and the bags?
Lotte Nielsen: A trip to Los Angeles and an excursion to Joshua Tree. It is a very spiritual place so, naturally, I was immediately inspired by it. I wanted to translate the dryness of the desert to the materials we worked with. That’s why we worked with natural materials, leathers and canvas.
BJ: And they’re wrinkled and weathered in a way. The graphics are inspired by Native American motifs, and these in turn are also repeated in the prints we have in the collection.
BG: It’s interesting that this was the inspiration because Eastpak originally manufactured duffel bags and backpacks for the army back in the 1950s, using similar shades and materials like in this collection.
BJ: Also, the name “Desertion” is both a reference to getting out of the city and into the desert, but also to the military term.
Wood Wood is a very urban brand so bringing nature into the city is about creating a state of mind. How do you transfer a state of mind into wearable items?
BJ: With details. We go from the macro – the inspiration – to the micro: zippers, embroideries and so on. It’s important that all these layers are really thought through so it feels right.
The range is very wide. I guess you didn’t try to make the ultimate multifunctional bag?
BJ: I don’t believe in the ultimate bag. You have so many different needs. Sometimes you travel, and sometimes you just step out with some change and your mobile phone.
Mums always have everything in one bag. Which one would you give your mum?
LN: I’d give her the shopper. She could fit a lot in there.
Bg: I’d give her the weekender. My mum is the travelling type.
New Order, that most modernist of bands, would presumably hate to think of themselves as the focus of nostalgia or a heritage act in the vein of, say, The Eagles, these days. But a new exhibition at Berlin’s .HBC arts space, sponsored by T-Mobile’s Electronic Beats programme, makes hay from the enduringly popular band’s illustrious history, or more precisely the stuff surrounding their myth for 30 years or more.
“New Order–An Exhibition” (note the missing spaces on either side of the em-dash separating the words “Order” and “An” – très Factory, non?) shows a range of documentary photography by the band’s perennial pal, portraitist and fellow Manc Kevin Cummins, along with the louche Peter Saville’s sleeve artwork, which over the same time frame has spanned from the sumptuous and the austere.
Naturally, the iconic, loss-making 12-inch sleeve for “Blue Monday” is there, along with his thermally-imaged designs for 1989’s “Technique” LP. In Cummins’ photography, meanwhile, we see the band in the Paradise Garage, at a Liverpool football field (for the brilliantly preposterous “World In Motion” video) and on the streets of New York. In the minds of some – this writer, for instance – the photos of Bernard Sumner flâneuring through NYC in his cherubic prime seem to solve the conundrum of whether New Order where actually a synthetic “machine” group in the vein of the Human League, or a laddy guitar band who prefigured the Happy Mondays and Oasis: perhaps what they really are is a kind of intellectual boy band which happened to include one non-boy. There are also some of Cummins’ chiaroscuro photos of Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre, which, before it was blown up by the IRA in 1996, could match anything in Berlin for architectural ugliness. Brutalism, football, disco and NYC – all the stuff that put the “new” in New Order.
The exhibition brings some accompanying merchandising – posters, T-shirts and so on, along with an attractive photo book which includes the artworks, an intriguing round-table convo between Max Dax, Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris (in which it transpires that drummer Morris owns not one but four WWII tanks), plus a curious monograph on the band’s history and meaningfulness by music critic and sometime provocateur Paul Morley, all delivered in his trademark neo-Futurist prose (“They created a new sort of nature,” Morley contends.)
The exhibition also launched with a further round-table talk in .HBC’s cinema room with the band members, Cummins and Saville, a day before the band played Tempodrom. It was pouring with rain that evening, so much so that, surrounded by Karl-Leibknecht-Straße’s blank platenbau high-rises and a DJ playing difficult disco, krautrock and NO hits, one could easily have mistaken the place for the Manchester of the early Eighties itself.
He is the artist everyone has an opinion about, and whether you love him or hate him there is certainly no escaping the controversial kitsch art superstar Jeff Koons at the moment. The 20th June 2012 marked the opening of the largest exhibition to ever be granted to the artist, “Jeff Koons. The Painter & The Sculptor” at Schirn Kunsthalle and the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt. Each of the spaces devoted itself to a different aspect (paintings and sculptures) of Koons’ lengthy and largely discussed and disputed career.
Upon arriving at the press conference on Tuesday to a rainy Frankfurt, a mad bustle of excitement and suspense filled the exhibition space where some forty-five paintings by Koons bore down on the guests and eager photographers. The vast paintings act as a timeline of Koons’ span as one of the world’s leading artists, showing his lifelong obsession with beauty and the banal. The expansive breadth of references, connotations and memories his paintings contain and conjure up (while using extreme flatness of canvas) was best exemplified by the fact that although this space is impressive in size and would be more than ample room for most other works, Koons’ paintings appeared somewhat clustered in this context with little to none breathing space between them.
Within mere minutes of Koons discussing his work, it became clear that the man is not only a painter and sculptor but also a walking talking quote machine: Nearly every line he spoke would make a gleaming headline or a perfectly witty image caption. The über perfectionist in Koons is clearly not limited to just his work, but instead his entire Media persona. “Kitsch is a word of judgement. I don’t believe in judgement” Koons states. In what could be construed as an ironic statement coming from an artist whose entire art career has been judged and discussed in terms of “High” and “Low” time and again, he would rather see his work as an “exploration of what it means to be human”.
Before the curators could finish their last word, press were jumping from the seats and bolting for the shuttle bus in the direction of the Liebieghaus, where the sculptures are exhibited – and where things got especially interesting. This section of the exhibition is extraordinarily curated. Each placement of the sculptures within the house’s permanent collection makes sure to create reciprocal enrichment in the viewing of both the antique works, but mainly of the pop art pieces embedded within the Antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance and Rococo galleries.
The “Woman in Tub” placed in a terracotta altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia, the famous Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculpture sitting with the Egyptian death masks, or the unveiling of the new series “Antiquity” with the breathtaking “Metallic Venus” standing alone and proud in the red room, are exquisite examples of Koons’ work at its very best; provoking and yet strangely beautiful in its abhorrent ugliness.
“Jeff Koons. The Painter & The Sculptor” is a retrospective that continues to display the power of Koons’ work. It will shock the first timers, entertain the lovers, and annoy the haters. Whatever your opinion on the artist himself, the work or his methods of creation is, we defy you to leave this colossal show without being strongly moved by what you have just seen.
Pringle of Scotland’s latest Spring/Summer 2013 was the houses’ final season under the artistic direction of Alistair Carr – the Central Saint Martins alumni who, after only a year on the job, will be moving on to other things. ‘Changes in label direction’ was commonly mentioned in the midst of conversations during the show in the knowledge that the label will hand over the reigns to its existing in-house design team and cut back on catwalk shows to focus on presentations. Whether Carr’s departure is a sign of some purse string tightening or a return to a more traditional heritage style, we simply cannot know, but one thing we can say for sure, the Spring/Summer 2013 show was a successful Carr – Pringle final collaboration.
As the lights went out against a backdrop of electronic and industrial techno thanks to Yasmina Dexter, the audience prepared themselves for the waves of faux-tattooed models soon to walk down the runway. This time the infamous argyle was stripped back and simplified – the first two looks were prime example with traditional diamonds infused with nautical stripes. Aside from that and a handful of knitwear sporting Pringle’s trademark the rest of the collection was left for Carr to illustrate his talents. Ensembles achieved the balance between looking smart and being practical; beautiful tailoring was not too tight nor not too loose, as Goldilocks would say, it was just right. The chosen colours, particularly the waves of indigo, coral and brief flashes of canary yellow, were also a great choice and touches such as front pleated shorts, subtle micro-check weaves and inconspicuous yet copious pockets cemented the attention to detail. Suffice to say we will be sad to see Carr go.
As I write this, there’s a story making the ‘weird news’ rounds that I keep coming back to: Scuba divers from Sweden discovered a UFO-shaped object the size of a jumbo jet on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. After taking samples from the mass and realizing that it is indeed from this earth, they’ve determined that it’s a giant underwater mushroom shaped uncannily like the Millennium Falcon. When nature meets the supernatural, the effect is creepy, occasionally moving, and usually disquieting. For his exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Philippe Parreno crafted a cluster of atmospheric videos, works on paper, sculptures and sound installations that seem entirely devoid of human contact – where the terrestrial meets the unearthly.
From the Beyeler’s sleek glass corridor downstairs, Parreno’s two videos were accessed by walking under one of two Marquees (2012), the most recent in a series of awning-like light fixtures Parreno’s made over the past few years. The mirror and steel architectural ornaments, studded by glass bulbs, double as an indoor welcome gesture to visitors: entrances to an exhibition that’s keenly attuned to questions of atmosphere and viewing environments. But the absence of words or notation on the marquee hinted that, instead of the intimacy of humanistic themes or signs, viewers would find animatronic voices, computer algorithms, and supernatural plants.
Nowhere is that duplicity – man and the machine – clearer than in the film Marilyn. For this, Parreno used three mechanical techniques to construct a disparate portrait of Marilyn Monroe, who is never actually depicted. The room occupied by Monroe in the Waldorf-Astoria was reconstructed; we enter a pink and beige mid-century hotel suite during an afternoon rain. Marilyn’s voice was mimicked by a computer and programmed to spout script-like descriptions of the furniture, magazines, and other objects in the room. And finally, throughout the film, we witness close-ups of text being written in notebooks, her penmanship once again rendered by a mechanical contraption – the ghost in the machine.
Parreno, like his friend and sometime collaborator Pierre Huyghe, is one of a group of artists who cull from scientific disciplines like ecology and astrobiology. In Parreno’s case, this isn’t just because of the images produced by scientific fields but rather (it seemed here) because their methods may offer a way of escaping the constricting anthropocentricity of previous art practices. (In the balance of mysticism and science implied by such an approach, one is reminded of Albrecht Dürer’s interest in the then-legitimate practice of alchemy.) With its black atmospheres and pseudo-natural worlds, the video Continuously Habitable Zones aka C.H.Z. (2011) is a melancholic monument to such anti-humanism. For this work, Parreno built a garden of black plants in Portugal (with the architect Bas Smets), and filmed slow, sweeping shots of these extraterrestrial-seeming environments – think of a screen-saver created with actual rocks, crystals and plants, which were then made to look alien. The title is taken from the scientific phrase describing environments where the conditions for life are met – yet life was conspicuously absent. The paradox fits: When describing his works, Parreno likes to invoke oxymorons like “a placeless place” or “semi-fictional and semi-real”. You see what he means when you’re unable to distinguish in the film between earthly and extraterrestrial, micro and macro. Still, I sensed that, despite Parreno’s post-humanist attempt to render a ‘garden’ of our known conditions of life, I was left at times with little more than a vegetal-tinged void for my random projection. Lifelessness enabled the viewer’s own animation.
Drawings and sketches from both films were shown in another hall, adding a documentary touch to the mechanical-seeming videos. Outside, two sound installations brought the films’ atmospheres into other spaces in and around the foundation. One of these, through its reverberations, created the shape of a lily in a small body of water outside. I wondered whether the placement indoors of one of Monet’s water lily paintings beside Parreno’s simulacrum in sound was a deliberate choice – or was it merely the workings of a perverse nature?
The film “Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry”, the debut work of young documentary film maker Alison Klayman, was released in Germany June 14th, to be followed by a US premiere in July. Ai Weiwei, who is soon to be freed from house arrest, is long awaited in Berlin, where he will be able to take up his professorship at the Universität der Künste. Ai Weiwei made a rare video statement last Sunday at a special screening of the film in Basel, stating that his detention was a punishment for criticizing the authorities for the violation of human rights and freedom.
Sleek spoke to film maker Alison Klayman who had followed Ai Weiwei for three years. Her moving portrait captures moments of crises and difficult decision making, incorporates footage from Ai’s time in New York and from his childhood. Alongside conversations with longtime friends and colleagues, it also shows personal moments with his mother and with his 3 year old son with another woman. The film will be screened this Saturday at Martin Gropius Bau.
Sleek: How did you make initial contact with Ai Weiwei, and how difficult – or easy – was it to get him to agree to do the documentary?
Alison Klayman: The way I came to this story was very organic. When I graduated from college I wanted to travel abroad. I ended up in China and was inspired to stay for several years, hoping to explore and immerse and find stories to tell. I worked on learning the language and held various jobs until I got my journalist accreditation.
In 2008 I met Ai Weiwei because my roommate was working on an exhibition of his photographs for a local gallery, and she invited me to make a video to accompany the show. Those first few weeks of filming with Ai Weiwei were enough to be easily convinced that he was a charismatic and fascinating character and that I wanted to dig deeper into his story.
He liked the video I made which helped pave the way for building a trusting relationship. Plus, Ai Weiwei is someone who lives his life very openly, so I was lucky that once the project began, I had a lot of access. My challenge was to push deeper, to find the moments where I was the only camera in the room, where I was capturing something more personal than he normally shares.
In the film, Ai Weiwei comes across as fearless. He keeps a confrontational stance, also when the situation gets rather scary. Was it like that all them time? Were there moments of hesitation and uncertainty, too?
He is very savvy and well versed in the political landscape of China, therefore in his own way he is also very cautious. I remember he was calculating whether or not to show up outside Liu Xiaobo’s trial/sentencing in Beijing in December 2009. At first he thought it might be too flagrant a gesture and decided to stay away. In the end he made an appearance outside the courthouse to show his solidarity, but remained silent and gave no comment to the press who swarmed him. That was one instance where you could see how he calculates how to walk the fine political lines of dissent in China.
Were you with his family and colleagues during his arrest?
I was in New York during the arrest, which allowed me to continue working unhindered, and to speak out about his situation in the media. I was in regular contact with many of the staff in his studio, over Skype, email, g-chat, etc. It was a scary and dark time for everyone.
After his release, Ai Weiwei was hindered from talking to the press. Were you also not allowed to film anymore? Was he able to talk to you as a private person?
I was able to visit Ai Weiwei after he was released, but for safety concerns he was not comfortable filming any interviews. As a private person he spoke completely freely.
Ai Weiwei’s personal life gets more exposure than is usually shown or discussed. Was that something he wanted or did it develop this way organically?
I believe it was something I really pushed for or lucked into just by virtue of the fact that I was filming with him so often. For example, the very touching scene with his mother was captured through the good fortune of being around when she happened to visit unannounced one afternoon. Other scenes, like at his mother’s home with his son, were the result of me asking over a long period of time to have access to that kind of moment.
Were you at any point during the making of the film or after its release concerned about your own well-being?
I was often concerned for the safety of Ai Weiwei and the brave Chinese citizens who were similarly organizing and openly expressing themselves. They faced much greater risks than I did.
This was your debut documentary. What are you working on now – do you see yourself making more documentaries in the future?
I am very busy traveling with the film all over the world, and feel privileged to be sharing such an inspiring story with others and helping raise awareness about Ai Weiwei in advance of this summer, when we hope his bail conditions will be lifted. In my spare time I am developing new documentary ideas as well as a screenplay.
The 13th Documenta in Kassel, “the world’s most important exhibition for contemporary art”, was a challenging affair on many levels – mentally and physically. An artist list of some 300 names encompassing about 8 decades, a host of locations and off-sites, and a non-themed curatorial concern with, essentially, a re-imagination of the world were joined by rainy weather and mud or, alternatively, too much sun and the unfriendliness of Kassel to make for a long weekend of serious engagement with art.
A lot has been said and written about curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s public persona and her confusing and maybe even conflicting ideas about thought, philosophy and knowledge. However, when looking at the art at this mammoth show (mammoth not only in terms of number of artists or locations, but also all-encompassing world views), her statement that the non-thematic curation “is driven by a holistic and non-logocentric vision that is sceptical of the persisting belief in economic growth” becomes not only clear, but also poignant and even self-evident. In other words, as a colleague put it, the art at documenta 13 was better than the parties.
Spread across the nicer looking parts of Kassel, like the Friedrichplatz, the Hugenottenhaus or everyone’s favourite, the Karlsaue park – though the horrible post WWII architecture of Kassel was a constant element in getting from A to B – the show suggested a new vision of the world by way of non-thematic linking of works and networks. The art, shown alongside literary works, scientific research and social experiments, was meant to act by itself, to aggregate with endless interrelations, not unlike the “connectedness” of the Information Age, amounting to an alternative rethinking of social, economic and political structures.
Another aspect of this interconnectedness of everything was the simultaneity of events. With a booklet listing all events, performances and screening as thick as an airline schedule, there is no chance in the world to see everything, even if one were to spend the entire 100 days of documenta in Kassel. Did I mention there are 3 further locations in 3 other continents? Kabul, Alexandria and Banff will be host to more events, seminars, lectures and an artist retreat throughout the summer.
As soon as I came to terms with the fact that I was not going to see everything, I could start engaging with the art I actually got to see. But the same way one has to make decisions and select according to myriad variants like time, weather vicinity and, often, chance and happenstance, so will this article only mention a handful of works that I decide to discuss, mainly because this article is already too long, but also because this is probably not the first documenta review you are reading.
The Fridericianum was maybe the most problematic of all sites, where the art was shown a little too close together, though it started very well with a breeze by Ryan Gander that literally carried the viewer into the exhibition. I did find suitable showing the charts and diagrams of Mark Lombardi close together to those of Bavarian pastor Korbinian Aigner, who died in Dachau for his criticism of the Nazi Regime. In the unlikeliest location of a concentration camp, Aigner succedded in creating four new strains of apples, name KZ-1, 2 3, and 4. (KZ stands for concentration camp). KZ-3 is the only genre still grown, and was renamed in 1980 to Korbinian Apple.
American artist Amy Balkin’s research based work documented her attempt to list the world’s atmosphere as a protected World Heritage Site. The agreement of at least 5 UNESCO member countries was necessary, but wasn’t reached.
Off to the Ottoneum – Kassel’s little museum of Natural History, full of neat dioramas, where Mark Dion installed a library for Carl Schildbach’s “books” documenting 441 local tree and shrub pieces, collected between 1771 and 1799. Encyclopaedic thought and Kassel’s rich culture during Enlightenment were further investigated with the art installed in the Orangerie, another neat museum holding Kassel’s Cabinet of Astronomy and Physics. Alongside paintings by computer pioneer Konrad Zuse and nuclear physicist Erkki Krenniemi, there were also works and performances by young artists like Tarek Atoui and, my personal favourite at the Orangerie, Jeronimo Voss, whose projection was installed in the planetarium, where I could sit back and watch his interpretation of French Revolutionist Louis Auguste Blanqui’s 1872 “L’éternité par les asters – hypothèse astronomique.”
It was easy to miss the work of Anri Sala, actually installed in the Karlsaue park. All telescopes on the Orangerie’s second floor mezzanine were pointed at Anri Sala’s slanted clock, set across the park’s long pond. To the right of the telescopes, an old work of kitsch by an anonymous painter hangs in a room full of clocks. A real clock is embedded in the painting, but while the landscape (castle, forest, some people, a horse) goes into the central perspective of a vanishing point, the clock faces to the front. Anri Sala’s clock, installed roughly 2 Kilometres away, corrects the perspective of the clock in the painting, with clockwork made by a specialist, which allows it to be accurate while slanted.
This notion of maybe missing the point of certain works accompanied me for the rest of my visit, as no one of the colleagues I’ve spoken to was aware of the conenction between Sala’s clock and the Orangerie. This was later confirmed when I heard that Ryan Gander’s installation, which I was searching for in the muddy park in the rain, actually involved a man, possibly an actor, who was sitting on the Orangerie’s deck drinking coffee and working on a script.
More to come in Part II and maybe III: The Haupbahnhof, Hugenottenhaus, Tacita Dean at the former Finanzamt, Neue Galerie, Bunker im Weinberg, Brüder Grimm-Museum and the documenta’s amazing highlight – the Karlsaue park.