It’s often a good idea to forget what art is. How can one look at things with a completely new, neutral eye? Imagine that you don’t know what art is or what it’s meant to be – considering the present while being yourself wholly present. You come across art by coincidence, and try from there to work out what role it might have in our lives.
I’m trying to recall, from memory, Kai Althoff and Lutz Braun’s Kolten Flynn (2006) at the 4th Berlin Biennale without looking at any installation photos. It was my first time at a Berlin Biennale, and during my first semester of study at Frankfurt’s Städelschule. I remember lining up outside an old Berlin apartment on Auguststrasse to enter an extensive and very special installation that triggered something in me that I will hopefully never forget. Stressed from the long wait, I was suddenly ushered into this apartment with a small group people for a limited time. I was disgusted and afraid of the smell: a musky mixture of aldehydes, cigarettes, kerosene and compost that recalled a bad version of Comme des Garçons’s synthetic perfume from years ago. Upon entering, my brain was already ignited, a mix of anticipation and panic washing over me. Althoff and Braun’s art occupied the whole apartment, requiring the visitor to walk around carefully, always in danger of tripping over fallen furniture, fabric, half-empty trash bags and all kinds of other ‘stuff’. It was at once haphazard and deliberately beautiful. In a kind of alienated trance, I took in the smell, the textures and changing shapes. It felt as though someone had lived and partied in the space for three weeks before leaving all of the debris behind: somewhere between a drug den, a hoarder’s home and an apathetic student art exhibition.
Writing this now, I’m thinking a lot about family and my youth. When I saw this piece, I was only in my first year of school. The sheer, incongruous bizarreness conjured an onslaught of questions, considerations I’d not approached until then. How did Althoff and Braun want the viewer to navigate this environ-ment of paintings and props? Was the aim to observe the artists discovering their youth, the rebellion brewing within? Like toads, spending time together, leaving nothing but emotions behind? I was too late, they were gone and I was left alone to consider their provocations: their oscillation between skill and de-skilling, authority and pretense, style and strategy, art and that which falls outside of its scope. I imagined Althoff and Braun approaching the work with feigned boredom and disinterest, masking a deep attention to detail and style and desire to be understood. What did Althoff do there with Braun? Did they intend to disappear? Meanwhile I’m dreaming of moving to my grandmother’s town in Germany and living in an old barn, of flying back-and-forth between great metropolises with ease. Leading myself through their apartment installation years ago, seeing the synthesis of myriad of threads and ideas – a satire on creativity – I had that great feeling of being too late.
First published in Issue 25