I can’t say I didn’t see this coming: the end of year review. I approach this time of year with a mix of dread and depressed resignation with our current mediascape. My Facebook feed currently includes such reflective gems as “The 40 Most Influential Poms of 2013” and “35 Most Important Texts of 2013.” (Spoiler alert: they’re neither important nor deserving of the title “text.” Also, “Poms” is short for “Pomeranians,” in case you didn’t know).
For Americans like myself, it feels like Black Friday. What started as a few good sales is now a media and consumerist spectacle that every year claims more lives, with people being trampled to death or else being injured by massive brawls.
Logging on to Facebook and Twitter, I’m beginning to feel a bit like that girl on the wrong side of the stampede. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good year in review. It’s comforting, on the verge of another year coming to a close, to remember what we saw, what we thought, what we felt. But if I have to risk getting trampled by the forty cutest Pomeranians of 2013, I’d rather just read my book.
This year, in lieu of the most awesomest, I’ve selected several interesting, insightful, and intelligent stories from ArtSlant’s last year in Berlin worth re-reading. You’ll remember: We protested the destruction of the East Side Gallery. We admired the Schwules Museum’s new space, even as we scoffed at its same old white male focus. We stood in awe of Hilma af Klint’s abstractions and bent over to admire Shrigley’s shit-covered boots. We used our liberal arts education to understand the meaning of photograms and welcomed the (re)emergence of the zine. We even got to talk horror and hacktivism with the incredible Ulrike Theusner.
So instead of an angry mob, here’s something closer to a really warm pair of socks, half off. To an interesting year past and another exciting one to come!
Welche Mauer / Which Wall?, Nicole Rodriguez
Above the crowd, bobbing in and out of busy heads was a poster with the slogan “Welche Mauer?” (“Which wall?”). A profoundly deep statement I find myself steeped in. It’s true that there is some stranger-than-fiction irony in Berliners gathering to try saving the very concrete they had once died trying to escape over. But the question holds. Is this the same wall? Like a scar that becomes some inextricable marker of experience, the East Side Gallery and other stretches of the Mauer ring true as a sobering reminder of the past, but also as a marker of all that has been accomplished. Its destruction would mean the loss of a symbol of collective consciousness, a document of the sense of freedom and opportunity that now permeate the city’s now famous spirit and social fabric.
A Transformation Incomplete, at the Schwules Museum, by Parker Tilghman
The street was filled with queers of all colors and sizes and various forms of fashion. I was anticipating an exhibition reflecting this crowd. I was anticipating a marker of diversity showcasing what queer life in Berlin has become and the potential of what it can be. I was sorely mistaken in my anticipations... At times it felt as if I was walking through a hallway of repeatedly similar images of bearded Caucasian males holding hands or embracing. This is 2013. This dialogue is tired. New voices and bodies need to be seen and need to be heard.
Hilma af Klint, The Ten Greats, no. 2, Childhood. Group IV, 1907, Oil and tempura on paper, mounted on board, 328 x 240 cm; © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk / Photo: Moderna Museet / Albin Dahlström.
Lost History of Abstraction, Found, Hilma af Klint at Hamburger Bahnhof, by Parker Tilghman
I feel a jolt of electricity enter through my eyes and immediately shake off the Sunday morning cobwebs. The first glimpse of af Klint’s massive, floor to ceiling paintings is electrifying. Bright swathes of color wash over all of the senses. Free-flowing but deliberate lines carry me from one panel to the next as if I am no longer in control of my feet. I lose track of time. Hilma af Klint saunters from strict, formal geometric shapes in varying scales of color to fanciful, brightly hued canvases of whimsy then back to comparatively miniscule and messy watercolors. At no point does her connection with the superhuman waver. Her canvases are simultaneously as transcendental as they are grounding. I do not want this to sound trite, but I felt as if I were on LSD and af Klint were in tune with its effects thirty years prior to its invention.
David Shrigley, installation view of Big Shoes, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and BQ, Berlin.
Shoes, OMG Shoes, David Shrigley at BQ, by S V Kim
Floating above the large and in-charge slogan “LICK MY BOOTS”, it’s unclear if Shrigley’s thug, rendered in the artist’s characteristic intentional juvenilism, merely has large feet or is leering down at the visitor. Either way, the viewer finds him or herself in comic submission to a fictional oaf, in danger of being trampled. Despite the graphic simplicity, this dry twist on a typically sexy and materialistic command – fetishistic or sadomasochistic, depending on how prudish you feel at the moment – highlights the sheer unsexiness of this decontextualized act. The viewer faces an unusual dilemma: metaphorically speaking – though obviously one has free will to do as s/he wishes – to lick or not to lick Shrigley’s offerings? The image manifests the artist’s self-conscious metacommentary on the actual exhibition.
Thomas Ruff, phg.04_II, 2013, C-Print, framed 240 x 185 cm - 94.5 x 72.8 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin.
How’s that for photography?, Thomas Ruff at Johnen Galerie, by Max Nesterak
Yellow spheres, blue swirls, gray spirals. The objects Ruff used are impossible to make out. He’s distilled his subjects down to variously colored light and shadow. Perhaps more accurate would be to say light and shadow are the subject...In the same way that light is the only medium with which we understand the farthest reaches of the universe, it also the basis for how we see everything else (Plato’s cave anybody?). In such a way, Ruff’s work is not so much about the aesthetics of the illuminated chopsticks or pieces of string as it is a deconstruction of how we even see these objects. Granted, they do have an aesthetic charm.
Bibliophilia in Technophobia, Pt. II: The Return of the Zine, by Mara Goldwyn
Nowadays there are zine fairs, book fairs crowded with neo-zinesters, pop-up “reading rooms” in major museums filled with independent publications, mobile zine libraries and twenty-somethings everywhere, advertising their zines using social media. Though, children, believe it or not, back in the day we used to trudge ten miles through the snow, barefoot, to sneak into the Language Arts classroom when it was empty during study hall to run off Xerox copies of our adolescent concrete poetry, collages of personal photos developed at the Thrift Drug, and hand-typed album reviews… we would then walk them over to the record store to leave them in the windowsill or put an ad with an address with a P.O. box number in the back of another zine…
Interview with Ulrike Theusner, by Ana Finel Honigman
Yet, despite these surface delights, her content is serious, dark and timely. Theusner’s images recall Goya’s grotesqueries and Otto Dix’s brutally seductive social caricature. Many of her characters wear historical costume, like ghosts staging a play, but she also directs sharp attention towards today’s political and social inequalities. Using wit and beauty, her work highlights contemporary culture’s poisonous absurdity and underlying moments of horror. Here, she leads us through the worlds that she makes, which are disturbingly close to ours.
(Image on top: East Side Gallery protest image; Courtesy of East Side Gallery)