(Berlin.) Schinkel Pavilion does more than just hosting press conferences for obscure plans to rebuild the Berlin Wall as a promotion for a film series. Hosting obscure art shows for example. Two of those have recently opened.
You’re familiar with blockchains, I trust? No? Well, all you need to know is that it’s a new technology to “create” (/“coin”) “virtual” currencies such as bitcoins – now I’ve got your attention, that you have certainly heard of, and yes: you should definitely have bought, or “mined” them years ago. Blockchain technology works by magic; and also by securely encrypting every “link” of a “chain” to which new ones are added with every usage of the whole (or so I think, not truly knowing much about it). For the rest, it’s the latest bubble to make some people very rich: “Crypto” is the millenial’s dotcom (no, not him), so many crooks out there starting up “businesses” with fancy names that must imperatively include “crypto”. “wartsmagazine - Blog and Crypto” would at least triple page impressions here – no, but what am I saying: not an hour would pass before my web hoster sent a polite but firm mail encouraging me to change for a plan with unlimited bandwith.
This works regardless of the industry you’re in, “The Befoodled Poodle Pub and Crypto” would put all competition to sleep in no time, and who could be surprised to read “Bob’s Pest Control and Crypto” or “Christy&Svetlana, Restrooom Attendants and Crypto”, on a passing van soon?
The biggest problem still seems why anybody should actually spend a bitcoin, or other cryptocurrency, in exchance for a goods or service, knowing this same unit might - read: definitely will at least - triple its value within the next ten minutes. It’s not uncommon in certain circles, i’m told, to hear an investor of the first hour complain: “Man, I could be ten millions richer, if only I hadn’t bought that coke in Tokyo a week ago”. Or so it was still a couple of months back.
The technology has been invented by an individual, or group, who is hiding behind the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. In spite of all the hype, nobody knows who he is, Nakamoto-san successfully (why not Nakatomi, man?) blocks (he he) all attempts to decrypt his identity. “Nobody” with the obvious exception of bankers and tax inspectors (full anonymity is nigh impossible to achieve in our world) - unless he’s been working for some multi-national organised crime outfit all the time. Thinking about it, that is the most probable scenario. If somebody t̶o̶l̶d̶ ordered you to find the ultimate money launderette, or otherwise... well, it’s an offer you cannot refuse, I doubt anybody could come up with something better suited for the task than cryptocurrencies. Satoshi Nakamura‘s estimated net worth today exceeds Pablo Escobar’s who, dying with some thirty billions as far as we know, still counts for the richest criminial of all times (RCOAT). Nakamoto’s given no sign of life for several years by now, he probably knew too much.
Anyway, if blockchain-crypto-technology-bs is something not, it’s not
artistic (unless maybe you reserve a special place in your heart for the loveable crook, the adorable snake oil vendor).
A bunch of curating nerds and artists think different. To understand Proof of Work at Schinkel Pavilion, it’s advisable to understand the concept of, and the mechanisms behind, blockchain technology. Which requires a minimum of interest in blockchain, and technology in general. Then stay home, or sit down wherever you are with your phone, and read about the show, maybe browse Insta for the visuals but there’s certainly no need to visit in person.
At the entrance to Schinkel, you’ll find a poster with the many names of the curators who in one way or other participated in the project. This is supposed to look like a diagram/family tree/blockchain (/human centipede), as they try to prove everyone how they’re at least as important as the artists. They’re not. Then again, the art here is mostly boring and sterile. I kind of liked the quarantine tents though, two of them, and accessible via a somehow suggestive slit in the plastic curtains (suggesting Lucio Fontana, of course - what were you thinking?!). Not much inside, but for example a plastic container holding the charred remains of Euro notes, real or counterfeit: who would dare to guess. It was kind of scandaleous when Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty did this in the early ‘90s, with a million pounds. Artists are poorer than artists-slash-musicans: roughly estimated, at Schinkel it was no more than a hundred Euros.
Outside the tents, there’s a bonsai tree waiting on whose fate internet users decide in real time. Like a Tamagotchi, only that it’s a living biological entity, sentenced to life. The exact duration of the penance will depend on the ever changing, anonymous, jury’s whims as the trial proceeds (potentially) endlessly. Water it, trim it, pay for light, i.e. electricity – and the server too, the associated costs as in the case of every donation. You decide. Would probably work with human prisoners, too.
It seems indeed rather difficult to make art about blockchain technology. A finely modelled – or) 3D printed? - toy swordfish wearing a beret (“ha! ha! a hat! no, but these crazy artists and their ideas”), and writings on his back: “autumn/hiver” - that’s French for winter - smartar..ry of the day -, “cream”, “sinners”, “freaks” &c. Perhaps the artist was mobbed at art school and classmates assaulted his project with permanent markers after that one long party. Oh yeah, the fish’s “sword” is a chopstick. What all this is to do with blockchain technology? ... ... ... Well. ... Yes. ... Good question. It probably has. But I’m ignorant.
A second show upstairs, Henrik Olesen‘s Hey Panopticum! Hey Asymmetry!, seems not any more interesting from an aesthetic pov. To be frank: there is none. Conceptually not bereft of interest, though. The panopticum, courtesy of Jeremy Bentham, once started a revolution in prison architecture, it was a useful idea – useful for the greatest number, not the individual inmate - to keep cells or persons arranged in a circle around a central guard post. In our case, visitors take the warden‘s place, and the prisoner is Art. Or not, the analogy doesn’t even reach this far: there are not only works on the walls but also in the centre. Phrases and slogans much repeated, and at the core, the metamorphosis of everyday objects, mostly food, to consumer goods and art. Milk and juice cartons, convenience dinners and more, have been gradually painted over to loose their identity (and readymade-ility) and become something else. Arranged in standing order, their appearance bears some ressemblance to... a chain of blocks (but of course, this is another exhibition entirely).
An edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses behind glass confirms supports the interpretation.
A ticket to Schinkel’s is five Euros, elsewhere in Berlin, that’s a currywurst, a beer, and tip. The beer might be a Kindl, and boy: what a transition! There’s something new at Kindl Brewery’s art space in the hip party ghetto south of Hermannplatz (the occasional driveby shootings should not deter you from visiting the bars and multicultural food stalls).
The letdown brewery has two new shows on tap, as well as, on opening night and outside: a fresh new “organic” draft. I did not try the latter, but only the art. Upstairs, Kathrin Sonntag‘s photographic juxtapositions of a pear and a paper cut, a porcelain vase and a banana (nasty!), a tea can and an ocean steamer, &c, yes: even a snake and a cable, you’ve seen before, often. In other works, Kathrin Sonntag likes to protocol the everyday aesthetics she meets with in the streets, the hazardous beauty of accidental compositions. Nothing wrong with it. You do it. Every photo/art student does. Even famous artists do. At first, I wanted to write: “Look, there’s Richard Wentworth with a show at Kindl!“. Sonntag must be a keen admirer of the sculptor’s photo works.
One series stands out: Collage-esque, three-dimensional, pictures in many layers, photographed forms flowing together. Honestly, I would buy them; if I were a collector, and this a gallery. But the rest is just staffage. And very carelessly presented. The frames are plain ugly, everything appears just thrown at the walls without paying any attentively, as if they left the scenography to the janitor. Consequently, the artist left a ladder and paint pots before a half-painted wall, yellow. She even repeated it a second time. Yeah, a “painter” can refer to either of two professions, nobody ever noticed this before. A last photograph records the molesting of a cat‘s behind with a banana (#miaowtoo). The artist thought the idea so awesome, she made a trytich.
Downstairs, yet reaching at least as high up, there's the former boiler room, hosting Thomas Scheibitz‘ huge installation that is... huge. And great, no really, between MERZbau and dollhouse for the Brobdingnag’s breed, it’s the perfect way to make use of the mighty space. Say what you want, it’s impressive art, Scheibitz found a way to deal with the unforgiving environment. The installation seemslessly blends into the environment, parts remind of punched out letters, larger than than any ophthalmologist’s tables. Maybe put it in your wife’s dressing room (you are a collector, right?).
P.S.: Don’t be taken aback when engaging Google before a visit to Kindl’s art space. The search engine will come back to you, asking whether you did indeed not mean “Kindle”. - “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Don’t buy Amazon Kindles, buy paper books.
Proof of Work, 8 September-21 December 2018;
Henrik Olesen, Hey Panopticon! Hey Asymmetry!, 8 September-21 December 2018, Schinkel Pavilion
Kathring Sonntag, Things doing their things, 9 September 2018-27 January 2019;
Thomas Scheibitz, Plateau with Half-Figure, 9 September 2018-12 May 2019,
Kindl Centre for Contemporary Art
World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism