mimicry (2010) __

the shaman (2009) __

sieg und niederlage (2008-10) __

expansion der gegenwart (2009) __

brigade joussance (2004) __

spaßkulturen (1997) __

international fuel crisis (2007-2010) __

kunst des nationalismus (2006) __

unkirche (2007) __

widerlegung der unterhaltung (1998) __

traktat über die schlange (1998) __

turns (2001-2009)


Certainties like Popcorn

Quick supervision on principles of play (2003)


1) “One day art must be absorbed into the human need for celebration: the reclusive artist and the one who exhibits his work will have vanished: instead they will be in the front line of those who are inventive in regard to fun and feasting.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)


Does this envision the ethos of our contemporary event culture or is this statement a mere historical coincidence? Whatever the case, Nietzsche’s impulse of perception is of importance for our time: the main task of contemporary cultural activists and/or theoreticians has to be to detect any form of hypocrisy, false moralism, ethical and aesthetical standstill in order to challenge it. All rigid seriousness is based on a lack of playfulness – a playfulness that stands for the ability to throw around one’s convictions and certainties like popcorn. This assertion is no ode to postmodernism.


2) According to the German philosopher H.G.Gadamer –hardly a thinker one would call postmodern – any play is made up of five aspects:


—  repetitive movement (e.g. a swing)

—  playing “space” (e.g. soccer field)

—  conscious act (e.g. two robots could never “play” with each other)

—  surplus of energy (“unnecessary” behaviour, e.g. the play of young mammals)  

—  communication activity (e.g. gathering of audience)

(I would add mistakes as an additional aspect as most competitive games depend on the opponent’s failure.)


If we translate Gadamer’s notion of “play” into “art” these aspects show up in the art idiom as:

— series of works (repetition of motifs)

—  media (the “location” of expression)

—  subjectivity (the dialectics of authorship and socio-cultural enclosure)

—  creative impulse (the act of a permanent surprise)

—  exhibition (socialization of works of art)

[—  failure (the strive for the ultimate)]


The idea of play came often into philosophers’ minds in cases when they did not wish to commit themselves to strict definitions (– consider Wittgenstein’s “language games”). On the other hand the concept of “play” was used frequently as a metaphor for “freedom” or, in the above case, for “art”.


3) As I have indicated above “play” on one hand relates to a set of rules that enable a comprehensive and fair playing process. It is based on conventions that lead to a ritualization of acts (e.g. boxer’s handshake, setting up chess pieces). Rituals make a rapid change of rules difficult, if not impossible. The French poet Paul Valery claims that “it is impossible to be sceptical regarding the rules of a game.” This is because the ritual of play is not based primarily on logic but on mutual agreement. In this instance “play” denotes a conservative activity that dwells on an “indisputable” set of rules.

At the same time “play” implies exactly the opposite: the ignorance of pregiven restrictions of behaviour and of any strict form of rules (e.g. “just playing around”). An artist, according to Mr. Gadamer, is someone who “lays down templates without resorting to pattern”. A good illustration of this notion is a video work I saw featured at Documenta X. It presented on first sight a regular soccer match. However, the intriguing fact was that both teams happened to be playing simultaneously with two balls.


4) Similarily, the arts have developed historically in this twofold sense: firstly, very often the impulse to alter ways of perception determined the working process. Secondly, aesthetical theories (e.g. decorum), workshops and academies led to conservative tendencies that reformulated the established imaging principles (e.g. Euclidean perspective, proportional aestetics of the New Era) in a normative manner. (The one who works as an artist, musician or performer should be aware of these juxtaposing states of mind: acceptance and refusal to a point where a result is aknowledged. At the same time a profound doubt about one’s endeavour, ...etc.)


5) In our recent past it has been explicitly the era of “Modernism” that has tried to impose its aesthetical norms on the whole of society unaware of the dialectics described above. In a strict sense, since “Modernism”, the idea of play has largely been banned from art.

The art of “Modernism” cannot be considered as playful as it vehemently proposed an autonomy of the creation process (for which “abstraction” was the emblematic alibi). Yet, at the same time it claimed to be sufficient relevant to change the perceptions of particularily that society, of which it claimed to be entirely independent. The difference between an “autonomous” avant-gardist and an equally “autonomous” hobby artist lies precisely in the fact that the first one implies a certain metaphysical relevance with his art, while the latter does not. The employee, who deals with his hobby after working hours has no interest in changing the world in the same manner as the radical constructivist.


6) The longing for the reversible nature of “play” juxtaposes the manifold expressions of life against the existential necessity of death. When we play, we tend to bracket this insight as we adopt the specific necessity of the game – we always die a little bit with the “death” of a movie star.

This “holy seriousness” (Huizinga) of play makes explicit the hope of a further and deeper understanding of our world. A newborn child, for instance, learns to “comprehend” his surrounding literally by touching, penetrating and throwing around objects. Subsequently, the meaning of “surrounding” by further abstraction and socialisation expands to notions like “world”, “nation”, “culture”, “universe”, etc., that is: notions and abstractions that cannot be touched, penetrated or “thrown around” anymore.

In this context, artistic playfulness exemplifes the skill to recover the original perceptions from abstractions of our real “life world” (Husserl) and to calibrate all meaning to the level of personal distance.

Consequently, the American sociologist Richard Sennett writes: “Who loses the ability to play, loses the feeling that the world is sculptural.” Perhaps what we call “world” today might already be a symptom that we have forgotten how to discover the playful dimension of being.  




How bad things start



Bad things start bad. No.1: Simple Truths.

You want simple truths laid out in front of you? They need to be simple in order to strike you? To touch what is nearest to you? A combination of words that absolutely make sense, that will keep you from thinking about other things that are less important? (Why then, oh reader, do you keep thinking about less important things all the time?)

What is your effort anyway? What is it that you intend to do so simple truths will come to you, at all? What is your invitation? Simple truths do not need politeness or generosity.

I guess what they need is simplicity and surprise. Why is it so difficult to be surprised? You say “it came on to me”. You cannot explain how the idea came on to you, still, you insist on claiming that it is your idea. How mysterious! You lay claims on something that you never have controlled and will never control – as if a little bird had flown into your room window by coincidence and you claimed that it is your bird, not nature’s bird. It is your coincidence, but it is not your bird. However, if it is not yours whose is it? If nature “owns” it, what is nature? Nature is something that has no claims in regard to anything whatsoever – even its natural laws may disintegrate over time (we are looking several billions of years ahead).

Yet, if there is no universal ownership (=purpose) neither by you nor by nature – who do you expect will write words that matter, will produce images that matter? What is the enchanting formula for the lightning that strikes you, a lightning that comes from nowhere, no God and no nature involved?

On one hand, your personal “world formula” is not to be too general because it could sound tautological, like “I am what I am”. Great for songs but terrible for anything else. There is no evidence in tautology (albeit tautology itself is evident). On the other hand, wisdom is not to be too specific as it becomes trivial and mechanic, like encyclopedic knowledge, e.g.: “I know that x has 20 times more y than z.” This is knowledge that makes some people stupid because they think like archives would think if they had a brain – but real archives aren’t stupid because they don’t have a brain; if you do have a brain, don’t be stupid (which is what US-Americans call a “no-brainer”). It is a no-brainer to say: ideas are living beings. Everything else is dead. Is this a platonic sophism? Ideas are dead? God is dead and so forth?

Imagine: After I have accepted each of your clever critical remarks, after I have granted you every possible acknowledgment, after I have given in, lost all arguments, all words, all thoughts, tell me, victorious, what are you looking after? There are no victories. Only defeats. What moves you anyhow? Why do you move at all? What kind of input do you strive for? Not too general, not too specific. The right moment? Kairos, the golden opportunity – is what drives you?

So, this peculiar moment – what is going on in your mind, now, this very second? Where is your lightning? Where are your flashes? No lightning. Darkness. Dead life. Archives?




TOP TEN LIST of what I remember from New York            



10. The elevator man — Before I came to New York I never had any encounters with elevator men. I forgot his name. Our meetings were very short (about 20 sec) and formal (hello, thank you, good bye).


9. Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt’s classes — a joy of scienza gaya, splendid insights in the nature and the imagology of art, film, acting, “in” and “out” - analogies, life, sub-life, and hell’s kitchen. With Tommy I felt like captured in the hallways of an art monastery inmidst of an orchestra of sun light shining through colourful windows and ornaments.


8. Art critic Jerry Saltz’s classes — in politics it won’t work but in art theory it does: Jerry divided his memorable slide presentations into ‘bad’ and ‘good’. Despite his journalist ‘camouflage’ I believe he is and always has been an earnest philosopher, which, by the way, should be the secret identity and alter ego of every art critic.


7. Fellow student who wanted to beat me up because of my art work. We know about our instincts — and the perceptive Fine Arts chair David Shirey has one more story to tell to the next generation of students.


6. Richard Tuttle for asking: “Where is the art?” while standing in-midst of my crowded studio. I did understand the question, of course. Yet, in the end it is a rhetorical issue or an issue of power: the one who asks has the authority to do so. Point Your finger. However, art may be nowhere, at least not in my studio.


5. Taboos like: Nobody wants to speak about money. One does not do it: money is part of the game. Play, do not talk about the rules.


4. Annoying bureaucracy — the original idea of bureaucracy was to create and maintain justice and predictability. Nowadays, it is the opposite: dealing with bureaucracy is unpredictable as ever and in regard to justice: you have to buy it of the state or the institution that you are dealing with or you won’t get it. (I will not go into personal details.)


3. Naked guy completely wrapped in duck tape stepping out of his doorway. Three possibilities: a) a “weirdo”;  b) an actor about to walk to the set/stage;  c) a guy who loves to wear duck tape all over his body; I go for c).


2. Secrets are either things that I do not like to remember or I remember at will and with pleasure. I did not have any secrets then, I spilled everything out and thus became a secret to myself. “How are You?” “Well, I don’t remember.”


1. Garbage — someone stated once that every garbage – as it concerns fundamental questions about our environment – is holy, suggesting that all garbage of our industrial cities shall therefore be placed in cathedrals and churches. “Holy” means: “worthy of complete devotion”. I remember rich-looking ladies carrying dog shit in plastic bags while walking after their pets, which must have certainly left a deep impression to every animal cherishing Hinduist. Holy Spirit and Shitty Bag.




Holy Spirit and Shitty Bag

The Philosophy of the unimportant



What is unimportant but holy? Garbage. The city would be completely covered with garbage and dog feces in a few days if upper-class ladies did not carry it away or New Jersey trucks did not transport it to the other side of the Hudson River (— a shit-covered city: a new film idea for German film directors living in Hollywood).

What is unimportant? Art. Art is so unimportant that, until now, there has not existed a single culture without it. We depend on things that we don’t need but that make others believe that we need it. Garbage, art. Nobody needs art, we have gyms, supermarkets, television, organic milk, etc. but people nevertheless want to own art or to buy art or to make art. But do they “need” it? No. They want it. Because they do not need it. They can afford to not need it.

The first artists were cave women and/or men who were a “little different”, i.e. who were probably unable to hunt or to gather. Either they were dismissed from the tribe or they discovered new ways to contribute to the group. The idea of early depictions of animals and hunters must have been caused by a social miss-function — much later the bourgeoisie will come to call this state of the art “genius”. I like these useless genius painters from Lascaux, Altamira, and the other couple of caves that have been found by now. As far as Altamira is concerned, it stroke me – when I visited the site – that the scientific literature does not emphasize the compositional method of the cave drawings. The drawings have been placed very consciously according to the relief structure of the cave's stone ceiling. They have not been placed randomly. We can relate to the purpose without knowing the motivation. And that gives us a good reason to compare neolithic and our existence.

Existentialist art theories since the late 19th century stressed that art and pain, art and tragedy are complements. The poete maudit is the prototypical modernist artist, who offers himself to his oevre. In the last years we have come back to the painters’ of Lascaux theory that art and leisure (fashion, shopping, celebrities, hypes, etc.) are complements. In a certain sense we still haven’t left the caves.

Well, in this unimportant world of garbage and art I recall my decission to go to New York to visit a garbage recycling institute, called art school. I produced a lot of waste admittingly, but recycled some of it, made unimportant stuff look even more unimportant and so on.

Our need determines what we depend on. At the same time we depend on things that we don’t need anymore (e.g. garbage). If this is the case then the definition of our lives cannot be complete. Something is missing.

The German philosopher Hegel (1807) called this state of mind the “unhappy consciousness”, which, by the way, appears to be the German version of Thomas Jefferson’s “Pursuit of Happiness” (1778) — Frankly, who pursuits happiness must be unhappy or must at least sense that something is missing.




Life is not like the movies (2002)

(it is not even like life)


Perhaps these modern caves of Lascaux represent the answer to the existential gap that seems to concern conscious mankind from the very beginning. It has been pointed out very often: Plato’s cave allegory is nothing but an envision of the movie theater: there exists a light of truth (resp. projector) and only philosophers (resp. directors) are able to understand the production process of its reality of which the general audience only perceives the “shadows” (resp. the two-dimensional image). General audience cannot perceive the whole “story”, they miss something. You can watch “Psycho” a hundred times, you will always find something to miss.

Similarly, our existence is always accompanied by the experience of a gap: “I” am “there”. But what else is there? Or: “I” am part of the world. But where is this “I”? Philosopher Martin Buber found the relationship of Me and ‘Thou’ to be the closest answer to this question of existence. Yet, this is a notion too religious for me. I would rather watch “Psycho” a hundred times and be dissatisfied rather than find fulfillment in the divine other.

True, life is not like “the movies”, it bears serious consequences and there is no repetition, no renewal, no eternity.  Nevertheless, the term “life” contains a lot of imagination, construction, openness, and “direction”, if you will, that can be found in movies, as well. Life has learnt from the movies. Today, almost anyone’s biography could be used as a film script (— Vasari is in retrospect the first art-filmmaker of history). And besides: do we only have one single biography, or is not our Curriculum Vitae rather a complex network of biographies, short stories, never ending repetitions, “eternal recurrences”? At the end, is not our life very much like the movies?

That is: Our life and the art and artifacts that “participate” in it are not analogies but complements: You need the unimportant that permanently surrounds you because without the unimportant you are unimportant — a lot of people misunderstand this and try permanently to look important. Admittingly, no one wants to look like garbage.

But we all are potential garbage that will be disposed of one day. And we live the life of products (“cycles”), we try to be “new”, to “improve”, to be “effective” etc. People who are “out of cycle” become “old-fashioned” or out of date. But if you only look closely everything that you look at is outdated.





How to become a young artist (2008)


In 1999 I made this painting. It showed abstracted forms on a slick surface. Pretty. I usually do not paint this way, but I wanted to paint something that I haven’t painted before. I remember that a certain kind of abstract formalism was very fashionable in the New York galleries at that time, so immediately after completion fellow students approached me to congratulate me for the painting as if I had been sworn in to a constitution and now had joined a new club. As if it requires genius to paint a certain way and not the other way – ridiculous. I noticed that my intention and their perception – as often happens – diverged. They supposed that I placed myself in a certain art context by painting this. They would not even think of the possibility that I got there, where they saw me, by “mistake”, or that I was a ghost of an artist but not a real one. I did not intend to paint this. I just painted it. This is not to sound mystical, it is just a matter of the production process in an experimental studio surrounding. You produce permanently, and you are not always aware or you simply forget your intentions, which is a good side effect of making art (and probably the only effect of art in general), as it opens up the horizon of things you can produce instead of sticking to “known knowns”(D. Rumsfeld).

Now, if I hadn’t followed artistic rules – namely, to work against my own intentions – who knows what would have happened? Would a certain kind of formal revelation led to a certain style that retro-actively would have been declared as inevitable? That a certain type of art critic later would describe in teleological meditations and with art historical references in order to place may work yet another time in a context where it never was meant to be?

My role would perhaps have been the naive character who does not know exactly how he produces results. The intelligent dumb artist type. I would have to act “young”, straight forward, intimidating, proud, unconscious etc. but at the same time strategically aware of the will to power that rules the art universes – shortly: this effective combination of naivete and strategy that forcefully determines the process of generating value with non-functional objects (art work).

Certainly, I was naive in other terms, instead. I was and perhaps still a believer in the honesty of content and form...


The matters were and still are simple: If you found your niche – let us say, you exclusively use only certain colors, forms, or material, which others will later call your “style” – you are recognizable in the market place, which makes sense, as you don’t want to make a complicated world even more complicated.

Don’t spoil the party even if there is no party.


... (theory in progress)