- Christian Hain
JSC – Digital in Style
(Berlin.) There’s a new kid in town, one more collector to brag about his possessions. And great they are, that much we admit.
The foundations to Ms. Julia Stoschek’s art collection have been laid by her dad, Michael Stoschek, who in his time raised the turnover of family business Brose - no: not Bose but Brose, an automotive supplier - from some modest millions to a couple of billions before retiring in style. But, alas, holding shares is not a fulltime job, and you might feel like doing “something with art” on the side, something more than painting water colours in the garden. And it should be something "new, young and hip” because that’s what you are (or how you feel, at least). Finding herself in this situation, Julia Stoschek decided to collect “time based media art”. On the press conference for the opening of Julia Stoschek Collection™’s (JSC™) Berlin based exhibition space, the collection’s director got that definition wrong at first, and it surely doesn't mean a lot. It sounds catchy, and this is what counts. Ms Stoschek already entertains another art space in Düsseldorf, a West German city known for not much but money. She sports a Berlin haircut, though.
On the opening day, construction works had not yet been completed, somebody was still busy putting stickers on restroom doors, several artworks were rather provisionally labelled and a plastic mat was covering the entrance. Which is a pity as it tarnished the otherwise very fashion conscious appearance with glass cubes and white banners proudly displaying the JSC logo. From the outside, it looked much like a fashion show, or what we imagine a fashion show to look like, as we’ve never been to one (the plus proche being that close encounter with Karl). Inside there was no catwalk, yet the girls at the reception desk – clad in glittery shirts that turned them into walking works of op art - might have been rented from a model agency. Staring at their chests for too long would make you dizzy, not that we’ve tried.
At the press conference upstairs, pretty boys (equality!) dressed in black, with white sneakers and yes, of course, a JSC logo on their chests, were serving coffee, and on special request also tea. They insisted in our taking much of the delicious confectionery, our deepest reverence to the caterer. Juices and water came with straws, hopefully not to maximise profits by economising on a dish washer. We also got a trendy cotton bag with, you guess it, that JSC logo printed upon. An expensive communication agency must be in charge of Julia Stoschek Collection’s brand strategy. That logo alone probably cost the annual budget of a small gallery. But “Julia Stoschek Collection”, come on, that doesn’t sound very cool, you could be a bit more creative here, the initialism might even be mistaken for a Japanese electronics firm. And Germany’s most successful brand name agencies reside in Düsseldorf! What about “StoschArt”, “Brosart”, or “Julia RockArts” (you know a better play on words with Roberts)? "Stoschek’s Stylish Art Stash", "stArt" (into the future) or "Julie-A", or, wait, now here it comes: "Artek" ("Artcheck"?)! Fine? We’ll send an invoice, then.
Julia Stoschek Collection focuses on multimedia art since the 1960s, and somehow the term “Zeitgenossenschaft” plays an important role. This can be translated with “contemporaneity”, but it literally includes “time” (“Zeit”) and cooperative/companionship (“Genossenschaft”, itself related to “Genosse”, i.e. “comrade”, yes, like Charlie Marx used it). By the alley of apartment blocks outside, suited to host even the largest Labour Day parade, you can tell that we are in the former East Berlin, once again. Back in the days, this same building was housing a Czechoslovakian culture centre (probably not code for intelligence agency office).
On said press conference, we moreover heard things like “digitalisation”, “time concepts”, “commercial strategy aesthetics”, “pop culture”, and “digital natives creating post internet art” (so the internet’s dead already?!), but, gladly, just in time before we fell asleep, the guided tour commenced. Which we left to see for ourselves.
You can be sure, many a car has been equipped for renovating and furnishing JSC’s exhibition space. It’s top notch. The TV sets for all that video art alone will make you jealous unless you’re an art collector yourself. The show, mostly comprising recent acquisitions, is titled “Welt am Draht” (“World on Wire”), referencing a Rainer Werner Fassbender TV movie (World on a Wire, 1973) that was based on a novel by Daniel F. Galouye (sort of a 1970s The Matrix). We have some serious doubts, Fassbender would approve the circumstances of this show and his being linked to it.
As usual, we will only mention a selection, all in all there’s 50 works from 30 artists, or 38 from 20. It starts with videos by Rachel Rose: Watch a collector’s villa with a naked senior (unfocused, not really distinguishable) fading into view, followed by a sandstorm on a beach and more seemingly unrelated situations. A deer on the grass flickers into a house on (probably) the same site. As time goes by, people are left behind by the future; maybe ghosts are only time phenomena, wormholes and stuff. With the second video, a pattern forms. Landscapes change to old paintings, a close up of details in oil is followed by a close up of an actual person’s décolleté, accompanied by a modern remix of a 1960s pop song. More blurrings, soft focus, and time travels appear, forms and zooms in time and space, micro and macro. Not bad, really.
Timur Si-Qin might well be the first contemporary artist born in Tibet we’ve ever seen works of. They are a bit on the stereotypical side though: Western ad posters (no text/slogan or logo) cut in half and connected to Tibetan prayer flags, and Photoshop excesses of landscapes framed in Jeff Wall-ish light boxes. Actually a triptych with the words “Arrive...” “Here...” “Now...” written over it (why not add an “Om”, or some other mantra). Then, there’s Hannah Black on sports, with a weight bench, stability balls and a video of bodybuilders building their bodies. (“... But bodily health and vigour, it may be said, are not to be classed with wealth and population as mere machinery; they have a more real and essential value. True, but only as they are more intimately connected with a perfect spiritual condition than wealth and population are. The moment we disjoin them from the idea of a perfect spiritual condition, and pursue them, as we do pursue them, for their own sake and as ends in themselves, our worship of them becomes as mere worship of machinery, as our worship of wealth or population, and as unintelligent and vulgarising a worship as that is. ...” Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, 1869; we just wanted to drop that quote once, somewhere.)
Some artists seem to dream of a career as graphics designers in the video game industry, such the Chinese Cao Fei. Also Ian Cheng’s video projection looks more Xbox One/PS4 intro than Le Cube worthy. If you think this impressive, you’re not a gamer. Slightly more interesting, Amir Yatziv filmed medieval toy soldiers in an – potentially artificial - historic environment. An extra room for the same artist(?) has a historic architecture book and a modern architecture model under glass, plus a (fictional) commercial video promoting a “house building machine”. The voiceover is in German, and when the salesperson talked of the technique’s potential to “set people free” (“Menschen frei machen”) cold shivers ran down our spine (“Arbeit macht frei”).
Advertising is an industry Julia Stoschek seems obsessed with. Maybe, if she had decided to get a proper job, this would have been it. Brita Thie sold the collectress Three Commercials, and props for a web series. Yeah, that’s the future, after television, YouTube you know. The series’ soundtrack is playing on an iPod and we wondered: those still exist? Come on, when was the iPod a thing – 2006?! Somehow fittingly, patrons are invited to take seat in a 1970s SciFi style round chair. Melanie Gilligan pursues quite a similar idea: A cannonlike, a little phallic, video stand holds two screens, and a sort of tube mail system connects three more in the adjoining room. The label confirmed our suspicion about the film, it’s one more “webnovela”, a futuristic soap opera.
Wu Tsang’s documentary work on the LA gay scene seem rather anachronistic – has not all this been told thirty/forty years ago already? (Last Exit Brooklyn going ...Beverly Hills?) Maybe contemporaneity also means an endless repetition of the same. There are quite a few Chinese or Chinese American artists in the show, Ms Stoschek knows the importance of China for business, any business, and we worry she might get discretely contacted by the Chinese embassy for the inclusion of, you know, that one artist from a “historically and genuinely Chinese province”, the above mentioned Timur Si-Qin. We wonder how she’d react, Brose cannot possibly risk losing the Chinese market.
We’ve definitely seen Hito Steyerl’s (Japanese German, her) Lovely Andrea on a former erotic bondage model’s quest to take back her pictures before, but cannot remember where. Paris? Venice? Halfway through the show we paused to read catalogues of the participating artists and watch people rushing through the rain outside. It’s an impressive building, alright. So many white curtains to hide the walls, they’re literally everywhere! And you’ll see dead people. What appears to be Whitney Houston interviewed by Ellen is in fact a lookalike convention directed by Josh Kline. (Who was it who said, “Whitney was clean at last – she spent hours in her bathtub?”) There’s another one featuring Kurt Cobain, and we’d love to come back with a little more time to watch these post mortem interviews to the end. They’re meant to describe a non-aging society that keeps to the same idols forever – which sounds a lot like Prince who, rumour has it, was convinced he’d not grow older as long as he would not care about counting the years. Did not help him against those pills, though.
World on Wire by JSC - Julia Stoschek Collection is an event. Parts of it are great, and parts are less so. The collection sticks to its concept with art that refers to new ways of life and -styles, to technological and societal change and questions arising from it. State-of-the-technology art that mirrors artificial life. Relevance is now! is what matters. This sounds suspiciously like what fashion wants to be about.
The product sold here is JSC, Julia Stoschek Collection. That cotton bag we got features the logo – with many dots, or pixels, remindful of those glittering outfits (corporate identity, aye?) - on the one side, and the names of all artists in the collection on the other. Individual names are printed too small to be easily decipherable, it’s only their number that counts, they are branded now. Not only galleries do it, but collectors too, the individual artist loses importance, becomes merely a piece of the fashion line, of JSC’s Spring/Summer Collection 2016. Maybe this suits well an art that will only exist as long as nobody’s pulling the plug, ephemeral must-have items that will not survive the equipment they are running on. The artist himself is less important than his belonging to the collection of somebody else whose biggest achievement in life consists in signing cheques, a lot of them. Or, to be less strict: a collector is a designer is a curator is an artist? (Btw, Ms. S., if you should ever be in need of an art advisor – “contact us” is above, we won’t take more than the regular 25% from you and the dealer each. No, we’re serious!)
Outside, we looked about us again. Many small businesses reside on the ground floor of those socialist realist apartment blocks. Trendy millenials can be observed in their natural habitat, sitting behind MacBooks and professional printers, designing T-Shirts, furniture, music or events. One shop is empty. We’d bet some serious money on a gallery for digital art soon moving in. “Julia will come to our opening!” “But the next one, no doubt she’ll be there!” “She has to visit this show!” “We need to keep up the good work, and Julia will come, she definitely will!” “She could not possibly stay away from this!” “If we had lasted for one more show only, Julia would have come.” Then maybe an interior architect will take over the space.
Finally, allow us to indulge in a moment of Luddism. Digitalisation in a way truly means democratisation, or profanation. It’s astonishing, how much everything becomes increasingly alike. Film, games, and digital art look more and more the same, and worse: they feel the same too. You could argue whether it’s good for a company like Brose when no one needs to buy a sports car anymore for it will only grant you the same experience, Gran Turismo will on the next generation of game consoles (as long as you’re still allowed to drive yourself at all, progress does not like individuality, human beings taking their own decisions and responsibilities). Technology simulates life, and at least for some of us, this translates to taking out all the fun. The future is bought. Digitalism suits well a world without tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt and manual transmissions that we will all experience soon, a future the masses demand. And digital natives censure us for calling them savages. At the same time, we cannot wait for the next instalment of GTA, please, Rockstar Games, get your sh-t together! O tempora o mores, all ancients complained about the youth already. Maybe digitalisation is not all that important, just another hype, and life and art won’t change at heart at all.
World on Wire, 2 June-18 September 2016, Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin