YOU ARE FREE
Curated by Julie McKim and Daniel Kingery at Tape Berlin, February 2010
YOU ARE FREE will travel to Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna in 2011: http://www.wuk.at/WUK/Kunst/Kunsthalle_Exnergasse/Aktuell
MARC BIJL / PIOT BREHMER / ERIK BÜNGER / JAN CHRISTENSEN / KATE GILMORE / DELIA GONZALEZ / ANDY GRAYDON / GREGOR HILDEBRANDT / CHRISTIAN JANKOWSKI / AARON JOHNSON / DANIEL KINGERY / ANNIKA LARSSON / TIM LEE / DAVID LEVINE / ALEJANDRO ALMANZA PEREDA / VIKTOR TIMOFEEV / STEPHEN NEIDICH / KIRSTINE ROEPSTORFF / JEREMY SHAW / BRYAN ZANISNIK
+ PERFORMANCES BY: TOBIAS BERNSTRUP/ nihiti (NYC) / HEATSICK FM / NIFFMF$ / VIKTOR TIMOFEEV
The birth of ambient, electronic music began, in a post-1968 West Berlin, as a way for German youth to transcend the historical legacy they had inherited. The first generation born after World War II, the early architects of “Kraut Rock” came of age in the ruins of a post-war, post-wall Germany. Using this desolate and complex territory as their catalyst, these non-musicians seized the freedom their situation allowed and used it as an opportunity to forge a new German identity. Purposefully residing outside the guitar-driven music of the west, the sound explorations constructed by bands like Neu, Cluster, Can, and Faust became the soundtrack to their vision and a way to create what Wolfgang Seidel defined as a “sonic utopia,” a different world of different sounds – a sort of promise that there is way out of the surrounding society.”
In his prologue to Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Greil Marcus identifies the moment that Sex Pistol’s front man, Johnny Rotten venomously spat the words, “I Am an Antichrist,” as a defining moment in western history. Not because this moment signified the beginnings of punk, but because with these words -- heavy with intent, enraged with youthful passion and pointed with social critique – Rotten reduced everything that came before and after to rubble. With this solitary act of shock Rotten, according to Marcus, leveled the past, and rooted a generation of western youth firmly in the realities of a Margaret Thatcher England, only to deliver them into an uncertain and boundless future.
The musical genres may differ, but what both Marcus and Seidel describe is a space open and cleared for exploration and new possibilities, a place to create anew and transcend what is known. For both of them this idea of freedom is translated most effectively through music.
In many ways, this exhibition can be situated in the intertwined relationship between the first utterance of the word teenager and the advent of rock and roll, for the mass production of sound, for the first time, was far-reaching and in the process became a platform for constructing identity, social commentary, and rebellion for post-war youth. Ultimately, it is an intangible, elusive, esoteric, often idealized, and highly individual concept of freedom, but one that is unmistakably recognizable when it occurs. For many of us, it is a disruption, a sound that changes everything, a song that makes you less innocent, while simultaneously making you feel immortal. A place situated outside conventions, societal constraints, and where changing the world or starting a revolution is not unrealistic. A sense of freedom that is most often made manifest through the visceral experience of music.
YOU ARE FREE assembles a group of international artists, musicians, and djs whose work is fueled by this intangible notion of freedom. Whether they are musicians themselves, incorporate music into their practice, use musical tropes and codes as ready-mades, or seek to comment on the larger society, their work stretches the definitions of music in an attempt to represent this elusive and indefinable concept of freedom. Working across disciplines and employing various mediums, these artists aim to mirror that initial impulse, that utopian and teenage dream coupled with a critical reckoning with the world around them.
The new video work by Berlin-based artist and musician Delia Gonzalez draws inspiration from the pages of Anaïs Nin’s diary. Writing about an afternoon spent with Henry Miller, Nin completes her journal entry by quoting a lengthy passage of his writings: a poetic and vivid first-person narrative of revelation. Gonzalez’s In Remembrance (Oberon) merges, what she considers “archaic, analogue art forms” ballet, piano, and 16 mm film to make visible the visceral aspects of Miller’s metaphysical narrative. Accompaniend by a haunting piano composition, written by Gonzalez, two almost identical dancers perform a ballet based loosely on Miller’s story. As they dance before a mirror, the repetition of the minimal music and the synchronized movements coupled with the mirror’s reflection creates a continuous doubling. Hypnotic and mesmerizing, Gonzalez pulls the viewer in as she retells Miller’s tale of revelation, not through words, but by attempting to relay the dynamic emotions that this passage first stirred in her.
The videos of Swedish artist Annika Larsson are highly aestheticized explorations of power, control, and alienation that expose everyday gestures as erotic, disconcerting, and violent. Filmed in a sleek, stylized manner, Larsson employs her camera as a voyeur obsessed with her subject, using extreme close-ups, tight framing, and slow and carefully composed angles. In her most recent video Drunk, which premiered during the YOU ARE FREE exhibition, Larsson trains her camera on a male in his early 20s. Filmed in one room and shot from the waist up, we watch this young man as he become more childlike and troubled throughout the course of the film. A disturbing portrait, his vulnerability is palpable and difficult to watch; yet Larsson seduces, contains, and then submerges us in the unsettling beauty of this young man’s disturbing demise.
The artistic practice of Jan Christensen is as an on-going investigation into what constitutes art in contemporary visual culture and society. Working across disciplines, his artistic experiments include large-scale installations, sound objects, photographs, videos, and paintings that challenge established norms, definitions, and institutions. NOTHING I$ FOR FR€€ MOTH€R FUCK€R, the participatory installation Christensen created for YOU ARE FREE, had its beginnings as a one of many works in his recent solo gallery show. The piece was comprised of esoteric analog instruments: Tibetan prayer bowls, gongs, chimes and electronic equipment: guitar amp, microphone, speaker, suspended from the ceiling or arranged on the floor in front of a painting of the work’s title. During his show, Christensen set up the piece, accessible and ready for gallery visitors’ participation – no one participated. For the Tape Club, he expanded the installation, adding chairs, crates, an electric guitar, PA system, and chaos pad as well as a large defunct disco ball he raided from the Tape Club’s storage. Installed in the Tape Club, the piece became a participatory installation, a continuously evolving musical happening, with the audience playing the piece and creating music throughout the exhibition.
Stephen Neidich constructs expansive sculptures that balance between the abstract and the literal. Often autobiographical in nature, Neidich employs industrial materials, like polyurethane, plexi, and steel and combines them with objects both found and culled from his personal life. The combination results in sculptural records that chronicle his experiences and comment on his surroundings. For YOU ARE FREE, Neidich moved his sculptural practice into the performative. Installing a washing machine in the Tape Club and several drying racks, he washed his friends laundry and left the items to dry in the space. Through this, every drying rack became an intimate portrait, literally exposing and putting Neidich and some of his closest friends on display. Meanwhile Niedich chatted with friends and visitors while hanging the laundry out to dry in an act that as a performance and a sculptural installation inverts the roles of private and public spaces.
The work of artist and filmmaker Andy Graydon employs sound and image projection to examine the relationship between media and environment. Erased Cage, the sound installation that Graydon created specifically for YOU ARE FREE is a nod to Rauschenberg's seminal 1953 work Erased de Kooning, as well as the close relationship between the artist and John Cage (Rauschenberg’s white paintings are said to be the direct impetus for Cage to make 4'33''). For Erased Cage, Graydon contacted every artist participating in YOU ARE FREE and asked them to record their own version of Cage’s, 4'33.'' He then erased each artist’s composition, leaving only their timed durations of silence, which he compiled, and played in the exhibition. The original recording now erased, what remains are frames of silence or bracket of times, that produced a sonic metric or itinerary of time for experiencing the collective show.
In addition to the 5 artist detailed above, YOU ARE FREE included work by Mark Bijl, Erik Bünger, Piot Brehmer, Kate Gilmore, Gregor Hildebrandt, Christian Jankowski, Aaron Johnson, Daniel Kingery, David Levine, Alejandro Almanza Pereda, Kirstine Roepstorff, Jeremy Shaw, Viktor Timofeev, and Bryan Zanisnik.
The exhibition YOU ARE FREE was first presented at the Tape Club in Berlin over a two-day period in February of 2010. The initial incarnation of the exhibition included 20 international emerging and established artists. The show premiered new video works by Delia Gonzalez and Annika Larrson and debuted works created specifically for the show by Jan Christensen, Andy Graydon, and Stephen Neidich. These works are detailed above in order to provide further explanation.
In addition to presenting work by 20 artists, YOU ARE FREE opened with an evening of 10 international performers, bands, and djs including: Tobias Bernstrup, nihiti, Heatsick FM, NIFFMF$, Viktor Timofeev, DeWalta, Your Body & DJ Sweat, Einar Klausson, and Creatures of the Night. This group was intentionally selected because their music conceptually expanded the theme of the show. It was also important to include the visual artists in the line-up who were also musicians like Marc Bijl, Jan Christensen, and Viktor Timofeev