VULNERABLE PHANTOMS

THE BAADER – MEINHOF’s STORY revisited by two LOS ANGELES ARTISTS

Daniel Martinez and Erin Cosgrove

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DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ : I AM ULRICHE MEINHOF, 2017
Roberts and Tilton Gallery, Los Angeles

“… the ink of reality stains the very fingers that put that reality in parenthesis.” (Emmanuel Levinas)

by Rosanna Albertini
Hello Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, as phantoms of my own past I prefer to keep you silent. Someone wrote that, if the future existed, maybe the past wouldn’t be so seductive. But the future is a figure of speech, “a specter of thought.” It was Nabokov.


DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ,  Teltow Channel close to the Dreilinden roadhouse. The Teltow Channel, (German: Teltowkanal) is a canal that lies in both the states of Berlin (south) and Brandenburg, and at points forms the boundary between the two. Hidden away near the Teltowkanal is the old border control point and roadhouse Dreilinden. The area is part of a nature reserve. Nearby is a bridge across the canal which was divided by a piece of wall during the GDR period, making it impassable., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

After ’68, dreams of revolution in Europe were quickly replaced by symptoms of something else: a diffused, unpredictable violence for many years bringing bombs on trains, in banks, garbage cans, subway stations, department stores, kindergartens. Under the verbal umbrella of terrorism, the seventies and early eighties that I witnessed in Italy and in Paris were years of a familiar terror, following our daily steps like an invisible dog. In Paris attacks were shamelessly announced by the radio early in the morning. “Are you coming to work today?” my friend Dany Bloch on the phone from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. “A museum and the subway will be under attack.” “Of course I will come.” Southern fatalism kept me active. It wasn’t courage, I would call it a passive state of consent. The night before, the post office near my apartment had blown up. An unfamiliar landscape in Paris, les terrasses, the cafes’ tables and chairs, were empty.

Terrorism in Germany was no surprise, at least it had names, and faces. One more idealistic failure. People of my countries were too busy checking for abandoned bags or packages on trains and buses to dig into the reasons that built the RAF (Red Army Faction), the tragic death of most of the members. Ulrike Meinhof was one of the founders of the terrorist group in 1970. It was almost fifty years ago. Yet Daniel Joseph Martinez, today, declares “I am Ulrike Meinhof or (someone once told me time is a flat circle).” The art piece is a series of large b & w photographs. He brings back the young woman’s images printed on banners he carries vertical, holding the pole, during a long and solitary parade through Berlin. Astonished, I couldn’t stop looking at Ulrike’s face, and to the artist’s silent standing, looking distant and obedient, like a boy in a procession. Pictures are dark. Light would disturb the intimate hospitality each place offers to these two strangers who keep their presence at the edge of forgetfulness, extremely quite. If they think, they seem to listen to walls, dead leaves, trees or bricks on the pavement of the street, as if silently answering a hidden invitation, locked in a missing answer without wonder. Being there is all there is.

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ, The Abspannwerk Humboldt (electrical power substation) in the Kopenhagener Straße is an extraordinary example, designed by the important industrial architect Hans H. Müller and built in 1927. The Wall was constructed directly next to the Abspannwerk Humboldt, so that it was in the East sector, and the Kopenhagener Straße was used as an entry point to the death strip by the border guards and their vehicles., 2017
Medium format black & white printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ,  The inner yard of Märkisches Viertel. The Märkisches Viertel consists of a large housing estate of about 17,000 apartments with chains of high-rises up to 18 floors that were built from 1964 to 1974. To the east it shares its border with the Rosenthal and Wilhelmsruh localities of the Pankow borough, from which it was separated by the Berlin Wall until 1989. In 2003 Märkisches Viertel had about 36,000 inhabitants., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in    Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ   In the area between Königsweg Brücke and the pink amour memorial. A densely vegetated place, as you can see reveals a sparser background., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in    Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

Why, what, meaning, history, the artist’s intentions, my curiosity, stumped by the power of these images. Don’t expect any criticism, or aesthetic descriptions. Look at them. From Arthur Rimbau to Daniel Martinez resonates “I is another.” “I am I because my little dog knows me.” (Gertrude Stein) Time to decipher. No jokes?

The artist is in Berlin. Maybe Martinez is there too drinking coffee in the morning, but his “I” is already the artist, a human stripped of name or language, a naked being who becomes “a site, a whole world, a hospitable place.” Not because he has a deep, inner generosity; I would say his presence unfolds a message that is simple and astonishing: a silent listening. THERE the artist is: having a sort of primordial intuition of a story unraveled by philosophers for at least two centuries. Not only discovering that “inner life” is only a beautiful fantasy, also disclosing the flower of real life only blooming in the world. Maybe the artist in Berlin -my fantasy- opens up enough to see himself in Ulrike Meinhof’s image, and her image in himself as an artist. He is vulnerable. He offers himself exposing his own sensitivity. Suffering for Ulrike’s suffering, showing himself as human. I forget history and thank him. But, even trying to put the facts in parenthesis, the tip of my fingers remains stained by the ink of reality. Emmanuel Levinas has been my accomplice. Without his pages I wouldn’t never have seen all the things that Daniel Martinez doesn’t not say.

 

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ERIN COSGROVE : HISTORICAL, HYSTERICAL, HISTORECTOMIST

She wrote “The Baader -Meinhof Affair”  2002

 

…it is the past not the present which changes. We go on for a long time, taking the present as a constant, much as the self. At some point we raise our heads and are surprised at what lies behind us… DAVID ANTIN, 1972

 

Erin Cosgrove,  A Heart Lies Beneath, 2004

By Rosanna Albertini

For a long time Erin Cosgrove, no less than Jim Shaw to be earnest, has been my antidote against frustrations and illusions nested in my previous academic life, the one I had in Europe before I became a video art promoter and affectionada. Although still guided by ghosts of dead philosophers, I was incurably starving for apparently nonsensical, surprising moving images. At the time, I was far from realizing that images and words had already started a new journey in the universe of artifacts. And right now, moving lightly over my first immersion into contemporary arts I try not “to sink into history” and “stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!” Nabokov again.

Words gave up their primary, indisputable voice. The term revolution has a strange taste on the tongue like licorice mixed with absinthe; heroes and visual symbols turned into ruins underneath the crumbled wall in Berlin. But disappointment, disapproval, disagreement, yes, colorless and washed out through the increasing insanity of our world, still have meanings, a variety of meanings in each place, in each language. I let the change take me in, having learned to enjoy uncertainty and displacement. Erin’s art, after all, with her provocative and satirical storytelling, isn’t more scandalous than many stories written by my old friends Fontenelle, Montesquieu, or Jean Jacques. They are also “conjectural” in the same way.

Erin Cosgrove grabbed a piece of yesterday and reshaped it today: by romancing, the Baader-Meinhof tragedy was transplanted from Germany into an American college collective game, as if growing the same tree in a different place: The Baader-Meinhof Affair, Printed Matter 2002. The new place alters leaves and colors. In 2004 the written story was transplanted one more time, into seven minutes of a live action and animated video: A Heart Lies Beneath. I would lie if I hide from you that I was shocked by the energy and the intelligence of these two art pieces. Damn serious as they are in their purpose and execution, they also threw in the air my memories -already nebulous- I was afraid they would splash on the floor like a defective aircraft. But I was wrong: the past has changed. So much of it was romance. It’s pinned on my sweater.

Erin Cosgrove is a scribe of contemporary disagreement about almost everything: religions, wars, global warming, social games, evolution, borders, political regimes, and family life. Wars and new agents of terror and hurricanes and droughts and epidemics and bankruptcies are heaped on our road. Cosgrove doesn’t stop harvesting meanings. From cold winters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she learned flatness and silence. Late in the night a wolf waited for her outside of the art school’s door. Half frozen after standing for hours in front of the federal Building protesting the first Gulf War, she finally fainted into a big basket of candies at a nearby shopping center. She learned from Samuel Beckett that silence could be told if the voice springs from inside and stops two steps from the feet.

She is a calligraphy queen free from chronology, conventional cages, and high and low. In words and images her calligraphic characters wear the faces of Darwin, Diogenes, Jesus, Leon Trotsky, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Andreas Baader, and everyone else, including faces that are real, imagined, forgotten, or effaced by history. No shadows on the ground. People remember only symbols and play with them to the exhaustion of meaning. In Cosgrove’s mind, and in her art, stories melt into romance, drawings, tapestry, and animated films.

Only one condition for human survival: that we step outside of belief systems. The ones who believe do not see what’s around them, if they see at all. Instead Cosgrove believes in looking and earnestly says what she sees: the immense variety of artifacts whose logo could be “human made.” So much the better, I won’t call it “culture.” The more impersonal, the more popular and down to earth, the better signs and images function: they are an infinite number of alphabetic letters morphing themselves. But, as with any language, there is no exit: that’s why, maybe, Erin displays a meticulous and detailed encyclopedic style leading to didactic explanation. It doesn’t mean that the story is reasonable or reliable. It is what it is, not something to remember or to forget. It’s romance. A heart lies beneath.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emmanuel Levinas, Humanisme de l’autre homme, 1972, Fata Morgana, Montpellier, France

Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1972

Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, Random House, Inc., 1936

Erin Cosgrove, The Baader-Meinhof Affair, ©Erin Cogrove and Printed Matter, Inc., New York, 2002

A Hundred Flowers Have Bloomed, A Reader’s Guide to Erin Cosgrove’s The Baader-Meinhof Affair, 2004 Published by Carl Berg Gallery, Los Angeles

Catalogue of C.O.L.A. 2008  Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Barnsdall Park

 

 

SCRATCHING SOUND OF DESPAIR

SCRATCHING SOUND OF DESPAIR

 

excerpt

  Ivan Mrsic : N G A  H E I H E I  O R C H E S T R A

At Te Tuhi Center for the Arts – Auckland New Zealand, on Saturday, August 13, 2016

and human chickens click their feet in the dust, apparently with no clue

(Nga Heihei is a Maori word for a cacophony of sounds or the commotion of kicking up dust. Chickens are called Nga Heihei because of the noise they make stirring up the dust. And the word Nga is a suffix used to change a verb into a noun, especially to denote a tribe of people. As a noun, moreover, it means ‘breath.’)

Ivan Mrsic during the concert

by Rosanna Albertini

“The real is a closely woven fabric. It does not await our judgement before incorporating the most surprising phenomena, or before rejecting the most plausible figments of our imagination. … Truth does not ‘inhabit’ only the ‘inner man,’ or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty*

NGA HEIHEI is a music from the inner core of an artist, and a splinter of War and Peace in our time, that hits the brain like a storm. Facts and images of facts around us shriek in our consciousness, piercing our dreams. One child on the beach, dead like a shell out of water, we only see the nape of his neck, grateful his face isn’t visible, sucked into the sand. Another boy on the ground was abandoned, a lifeless doll embracing flatness, crucified without a cross. They stayed in me like symbols of sacrifice for a long time, those two boys, and yet, as much as I would like to avert the very idea, I know the massacre will not stop. I’m waiting for the next. Hordes of refugees escape wars and poverty, they are treated like new barbarians. None of us owns an ideal truth. We have music instead, if nothing else, as an act of devotion.

And through Ivan’s sounds, history takes the form of a huge storm including Napoleon’s cavalry, canons and machine guns from World Wars I and II, and recents battlefields like big mouths vomiting voices and falling mountains, tsunamis, angry gods of the oceans, and an endless lack of meaning, what is it for?  Instruments, especially the digital alteration of natural sounds produced, at times, with a simple kitchen metal bowl, translate languages and stories into one long impersonal lamentation, the mediterranean expression of grief.

In such a bewildering human landscape, half gardened half destroyed, the artist, Ivan Mrsic, and the four performers next to him** become an island of resistance. Torn between his native Croatia and the new homeland he found in New Zealand, Ivan’s feelings float in both places. Transpierced like everyone else by things perceived, he/it/she shows the strength of resilience, and spreads around not intelligence -almost impossible- nothing more than the fastest beats of a heart.

 

The imaginary war in his head could not be expressed through words, or images, it’s a long river of steps on the ground, screams, trees shaken by winds, bombs, fountains of blood, and singing birds, despite the horror. Because our sense of dismay isn’t disjoined from an equal awareness of joyful attachment to this absurd world. Arts of our time merge into the living. No more illusions about the brain, our friend enemy personal engine, emotions come first. Physicality, sounds sometimes. We are not right, not wrong, not saints, not monsters.

Non-involvement, so far, has replenished the holes of the old wars.
As Hone Tuwhare*** wrote in his Haikuku

To reach the dizzy heights
of non-involvement
one must be unattached

In order to reach the peak
of non-attachment (ah yes)
one must be dissolved.

Ivan Mrsic dissolved himself, for a limited time, in a piece of music.

 

All the stills from a piece of video documentation commissioned by Te Tuhi, Auckland.  

https-/vimeo.com/181915486.webloc

BIBLIOGRAPHY

* MAURICE MERLEAU PONTI, Phenomenology of Perception, translated from French by Colin Smith, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1962

**The performance of Nga Heihei Orchestra premiered on Saturday, August 13 2016, at the opening of the Te Tuhi exhibition Share/Cheat/Unite, Auckland, 5.30 pm. With Ivan Mrsic, the performers were: Hermione Johnson, Pat Kraus, Jonny Marks, and Andrew McMillan. John Kim as a sound engineer and a performer.

***HONE TUWHARE, Deep River TalkCollected Poems, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1994, p.77

This text was published in SHARE/CHEAT/UNITE VOL. 3, online catalogue edited by Anna Hodge and Rebecca Lal. Curated by Bruce E. Phillips. Te Tuhi, March 2018, Auckland, New Zealand.