Jeroen Jacobs, Erik Smith
Sommer & Kohl, Errant Bodies
Property is what real estate is called in Britain, where I come from.
Tonight, for the first time in ages, I felt the rain drop onto my head. It prompted this reflection: is it worse to be out in the rain without a hat when you’re bald – or when you’ve got a head of hair? Or perhaps you have an umbrella? Or perhaps you just don’t care? Or perhaps you don’t just care?
Angst is an almost perfect German word. It means more in English than its direct English equivalent – fear – ever will. “I fear I have contracted a cold.” It’s an upper class verb. Stilted, conformist. Angst, or anxiety, is something for everyone. Fear is something for cold war horror-movie-posters, discussed by touch sensitive male-matinee-idols, and the career oriented.
Angst accompanies us all, day-by-day, night-by-night, night by day – day by night. In the end, it’s nearly all night. Except when it’s light – and – err – err – here is a visual clue.
Errant Bodies in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. I’m hardly ever in this part of town these days, despite having spent so much time here in the past. An anarchistic café society, that was Berlin back then for the likes of me. Breakfast at three o’clock, yes! Thank you very much! Mostly that was more than twenty years ago. Errant Bodies is a place where art is sometimes shown, though its main focus is publishing, at least that’s what my cursory talk with owner Brandon LaBelle reveals. He started this trajectory in 1995, just after I left Berlin for London to find a job that I could do.
My friend Erik Smith, originally from Colorado, is, like myself and many thousands of others, an artist based in Berlin, and he has his opening here tonight, thanks to the agency of Argentina’s Mario Asef, another friend, who has done some things here in the past. Mario works a lot with sound, and “sonic…practices” are one of LaBelle’s main interests. I think he may be from America.
The Errant Bodies website: since 1995, “it has been dedicated to supporting diverse discourses and projects in the fields of sonic and spatial practices, auditory culture and performativity, experimental writing and critical thought. The project further aims to consider the specifics of location, media and modes of address, and the co-productive details generated from cultural work and its place, through site-based research, collective actions and collaborative projects.”
This is thus a place that prescribes its own context. Daring, I do say.
“Urrr – can you get high if you eat cannabis?”
“I’ll look it up on the web.”
Later on that evening, I’m at Sommer & Kohl in Schöneberg, where yet another friend, Jeroen Jacobs, has his opening. Sommer & Kohl is one of my favourite galleries in Berlin. It’s a gloriously confident show. I’d love to imagine a never-ending amount of Jeroen’s lovely pieces: say I had three thousand, what would they mean then? Or suppose I had thirty? Or three? Art is a very rich way of getting through life, even as it makes you poor.
At this point, when I realise that I have been lucky enough to see two good shows in one evening, I also realise that to conflate them in a sort of double review could represent the kind of challenge that you get more out of than you have to put in. We’ll see.
For they are two very different shows, linked prima facie only by a solipsistic web of friendship and acquaintanceship: and this is the decisive factor in my appearance at both venues. Acquaintanceship: this web, just like the internet, affords a sense that I am not completely alone, and that there are plenty of other middle-aged people out there in Berlin that can animate the skeleton of Berlin’s art scene, and that we are the people that are always welcome, because we have earned a little respect through the years for what we have done. Or even just the ways we got drunk. But we will live with the spider at the centre of the web, which has not noticed us yet. We’ll live with it.
But sorry, none of this matters, because in the end we are only really there to make up the numbers.
“Art and money ain’t like vinaigrette, if you shake the bottle then you mustn’t pour.”
Mostly, art is about seeing, and only rarely about feeling, but feelings are what wrap up the evening, feelings distilled partly from involuntary reminiscences.
A work in Erik’s exhibition knocks the wind out of me. A steel table frame, black, the colour that Erik tends to dress in. On it are piled a few rectangular shapes cut into rubber sheets with the middles cut out of them in different ways. Specifically, they look like rubber floorplans. The record of the demolition playing in the background becomes the soundtrack to what in my eyes are shifting changing plans of buildings that probably once existed. But I never find out if they existed or not. I don’t bother. It’s when you’re a spectator rather than a participator that you tend to reminisce, and not find out, because in order to spectate you have to try to engage with what you’re spectating, and this requires a passive sort of effort, an acquiescence to truth. Partly this is the truth of your social position, the multifaceted truth that is people’s opinion of you and your relationship to the machine that is the art context to which you belong. This acquiescence can be directly compared to the surrender that you declare when you turn on the TV after a bad day.
Erik Smith’s show is about a demolition. The demolition of an arts centre in Miami, DimensionsVariable, where he was invited to make a show. The invitation, enacted, found Erik witnessing this demolition. The whole neighbourhood had been chosen for sarcastic gentrification. Erik hid microphones in the fabric of the building and made a vinyl record edition of the sound of the building being annihilated. This record was on view at Errant Bodies for the duration of the exhibition: Erik had made a set of different sleeves for the record, in different colours and featuring different photos from inside of the soon-to-be-demolished space, and hung on a grid on one of the walls at Errant Bodies.
INTERVAL – Eat a sandwich, it will do you good!
A record is a classic commodity, but not as classic as real estate. Economists do not class real estate as a commodity, but it most definitely is. The reason for this is that paradoxically, any commodity’s most meaningful role is always to act as a medium of exchange between elemental currencies, fiery as hell: hereby dictating value, and thus the price of your life. In international terms.
REAL ESTATE READS
Real estate really does tell the most entertaining stories of all that you can hear about the differences in economic conditions from country to country. And from person to person. That’s why it’s so big; it has to record all of this. Real estate reads like a great big old black book of history. Pages with a golden edge to them. Right on back to Robin Hood, right on past the Romans, way back in the old ancient times. Hallelujahs! Real estate sings too. Sings like Deutschland Seeks the Damn Superstar. DSDS!
This is this way in which psychogeography was born, all you have to do is combine the words and the practices and the methodologies, geography and psychology. And what do you get???
And whadyyaknow? If I had to use one word to sum up Erik Smith’s artworks, I would use this word: psychogeography. Although he would choose the word “conceptual”. Erik’s exhibition is a memorial to DimensionsVariable, and the smell of death hangs sweet in the air. Tragedy is the dramatic form of history, and because of our sense that the dead deserve dignity and respect, we feel forced to remember the results of evil more than the results of good. The results of good instead often make themselves manifest in art. The show feels like it’s the excavation of the site of an atrocity, I, we, can almost smell the malignance.
The record plays on a turntable atop a beautifully finished shiny black plinth, reminding me of John McCracken’s imporous monoliths, this and the fact of the record putting me again in mind of the commercial contemporary art context, and what sells and to who. I’ve been a record collector even longer than I’ve been an artist. It’s one of my guilty secrets. Unless I am a Multi-Millionaire At Least McCracken Artwork Owner, I can never expect to have much of a dialogue with a McCracken piece, this despite claims against the California art of that time that it was vacuous. The record sounds like drone music, Einstürzende Neubauten meets La Monte Young. In a way, that might be a really refreshing US-German collaboration.
Meanwhile, Berlin has been a refuge for hard up mid-‘career’ artists like Erik and I. Actually, Berlin has been a refuge for hard up mid-career ‘artists’ like Erik and I. I made my way back here in 2002, moving over completely in 2008. It’s a refuge where improbably low rents allow people without a profession to live in relative dignity. The dignity of the poor, but human dignity nonetheless. We’re likely to be slightly left-wing, and this means that we mostly see gentrification as a negative force, slowly forcing us out of the places where we lived, and where we were inspired.
I should state here that Erik says on his website that he also sees benefits in gentrification.
Erik Smith’s opening at Errant Bodies occurred the same night as Jeroen Jacobs’ at Sommer & Kohl. I’m pretty sure that the idea that you can gain degrees of certainty using a comparative categorical method is baloney – it never felt right … but we will try it anyway, hoping that it works.
“It is, after all, the foundation of biology!”
I cycled between the two spaces, clad for the task.
The idea is to compare two different openings in different parts of the city that occurred on the same night. Because I was at both of them. This, hopefully, if it holds – which it won’t – will allow us, by comparing categories and informational blippets, signatures, trademarks: in a word, yes: similarities, yes; similarities. Which will fly past as if in storm, and we will make comparative connections, we will see the similarities between things: their colour, their shape, their translucency, their degree of wetness, their degree of dryness, their degree of west, and their degree of east.
It was when I arrived at Sommer & Kohl that I realised that I should do a double review with Errant Bodies. Two places where I feel at home, because of the people who come to hang out at shows here at S&K’s, and the people who go to shows there (I mean at Errant Bodies).
Memory says, “Nice places.”
“But two places where I almost never meet the same people,” I tell it.
“They are two different and independent micro-contexts of the great Berlin Contemporary Art Openings Context, intransferable as a credit card or a rock concert ticket”, says the memory.
“But it is because they are so different that you should compare them, of course. That is how the best dialectics are constructed”. And this bit is said by a different memory.
It’s this dialectic that I would build now if I were a professional. But all you get is a black page. Make it the next one after this. Imagine a black page in your head. Deep black. The blackness of space. The comparable blackness of the Internet. The black page is a link, to a video complement, and continuation of this review. It is below the next paragraph.
The black page is an emblem of the work that I carried out here in “von hundert”. It is symbolic of death, annihilation, night. It is emblematic of all the work I carried out here because I have enjoyed all of Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” and the version of the enlightenment project it proposes. Reading the book helps you tell the difference between the emblematic and the symbolic, the symbol and its crushingly more powerful “outline.”
Jeroen Jacobs, „Reibung“, Sommer & Kohl,
Kurfürstenstraße 13/14, 10785 Berlin, 19. 12. 2014 – 10. 1. 2015
Eric Smith „AABBCCDV (redux Berlin)“, Errant Bodies,
Kollwitzstraße 97, 10435 Berlin, 19. 12. 2014 – 7. 1. 2015
The link: https://vimeo.com/119885613
Sommer & Kohl http://www.sommerkohl.com
Errant Bodies http://www.errantbodies.org/main.html
Stills aus Matthew Burbidges „Essays and Argumentations #2“, 2015, https://vimeo.com/119885613