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>> Marc Brandenburg's works in the collection of the Deutsche Bank
>> Olafur Eliasson:
>> "It's important to show the machine."
>> Olafur Eliasson - an Interview

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Turning to Effect

Marc Brandenburg's works in the collection of the Deutsche Bank
by Oliver Koerner von Gustorf


For the moment, works of his from the collection of the Deutsche Bank can be seen in the exhibition Blick aufs Ich (View of the Self) in Mannheim's Kunstverein and beginning in March, they will be shown in the Neue Museum Weserburg: in the drawings by the Berlin-based artist Marc Brandenburg, scenes of the everyday combine with mass-media images to form distorted stagings in black and white.

  
Ohne Titel, from the series Meddle, 1999

The organic transforms into the inorganic, plastic into skin, bizarre landscapes dissolve into shining smears of graphite: Marc Brandenburg's works always have something inscrutable about them. The Berlin-based artist calls his pencil drawings "snapshots"; they're based on semi-documentary photographs and pages torn from magazines, and he's been presenting them in psychedelic installations since the late nineties, in darkened rooms illuminated by fluorescent black light. Influenced by personal mythologies and the iconography of popular culture, his drawing series are reminiscent of film stills, single images portrayed in distorted perspective and negative form. Snapshots of friends, images of fashion models, porno stars, and hooligans convene in Brandenburg's world of images together with teenage devotional objects, fetishes, plastic toys, or geometric shapes to form visual stories rich in allusion. While the motifs in Brandenburg's work flow into their surroundings and dissolve, his series White Rainbow (2000) or Hirnsturm (Brainstorm, 2002) address the fluid transitions from original to reproduction, from commerce to subversion, from individual expression to the mechanically copied gesture (read an article by Harald Fricke here). The interplay between photography, digitally manipulated copy, and drawing finds its correspondence in cultural references, as well. The scenarios in Brandenburg's works are marked by a formal involvement with violence, latent racism, homosexuality, and his own individual identity as a German of African American background.

  
Ohne Titel, from the series Tiergarten, 2000

In two thematic exhibitions from the collection of the Deutsche Bank, earlier drawings of Brandenburg's can now be seen in Mannheim and Bremen; in contrast to the nearly metallic hardness of his current work, they seem almost playful. When Marc Brandenburg published his autobiographical Picturebook-Bilderbuch in 1994, it portrayed the fictive course of a day in Berlin. In these drawings, however, little can be felt of the social upheavals that marked life in the German capital during the past decade. Far from the reality of German reunification, his image series entirely follows its own internal laws. Thus, the artist leads the viewer into a private world of leisure in which he portrays himself surrounded by friends, objects, and spaces in the midst of a whirl of daily impressions. While the young Berlin art scene of the time was inspired by Techno, new media, and night clubs, the tea socials, walks, and rendezvous in bars and living rooms that Brandenburg depicted almost take on the character of a demonstrative refusal. The life portrayed here seems strangely anachronistic and internalized.



 
  

 
  
Ohne Titel, from the series Picturebook, 1994
Sammlung Deutsche Bank

With a great love for detail, furnishings, baroque patterns, chains, and jewelry draw references both to camp and the psychedelic underground culture of the sixties as well as the dandyism of the late 19th century. Although many illustrations from the Picturebook are based on semi-documentary snapshots entirely in keeping with the spirit of the time, we're not looking at a raw, authentic testimony to alternative culture here, but rather a stylized narrative work tied together by the drawn gesture. It almost seems as though Brandenburg wanted to fix moments from the recent past onto paper by framing them with rampant squiggles of pencil, chain links, curlicues, and proliferating ornaments.



Ohne Titel, from the series Meddle, 1999

The Picturebook can be opened anywhere, read in any direction, or exhibited as single sheets of paper. Again and again, the artist himself appears in the series, posing in various outfits and for the most part alone and isolated, yet always in the role of the narrator whom the "action" follows as it is interpolated by suggestive imagery.

This element is retained in later works, as well, although the linear narrative form increasingly gives way to experimental constructions. In the 1999 work Meddle, "uncalled-for" interventions in natural cycles and the use of chemistry and alchemy become thematically associated with details of Brandenburg's room in Berlin that flare up in stroboscopic illumination. A lampshade in the form of a soccer ball hanging from the ceiling serves as a firmament in a cosmos that no longer distinguishes between the animate and the inanimate. The stirring of a container of hair coloring and its concomitant chemical reaction are repeatedly shown, mirrored by the procedure of photographic development which Brandenburg draws in analogous gestures.



Ohne Titel, from the series Meddle, 1999




Ohne Titel, from the series Meddle, 1999

Particularly in view to the transformation in the artistic image of human beings throughout the 20th century, it is interesting that the form of visual narration in Brandenburg's Picturebook evinces parallels to the methods of modernist literature: among these are a radical interruption of narrative flow and an attention to an inner stream of consciousness that is set against the rational, socially objectifying discourse. Where authors such as Virginia Woolf or James Joyce dreamed up visionary monologues and an inner stream of consciousness for their protagonists to unite the various planes of action, Brandenburg sends his figures on a visual tour de force. It's no longer Stephen Daedelus or Molly Bloom who enter the world in sensitivity, but rather the graphite likeness of Kate Moss or Bruce Lee, a nameless plastic fighter dog, a cookie jar in the form of an apple, or the artist himself. He has become a hollow body, identical to a drawn doll or sculpture, and the boundaries between subject and object, the self and the other become blurred in his person.

     
Ohne Titel, from the series Full Circle, 2002
Courtesy of Laura Mars Grp., Berlin

"Each of my drawings is a part of an ornament in a continuous state of dissolution," Brandenburg recently remarked in a statement on his work. The increasing hardness of his drawing style is accompanied by another change in his work: symbols of the radical right and references to current events enter into the foreground now, more offensively than before. In the drawings to the performance Full Circle (2001), a parable on perennial American fears and the controversial political backdrop behind Walt Disney's dream factory, the African American author Darius James appears as a cross between Mickey Mouse and a member of the Gestapo. In Brandenburg's most recent series Hirnsturm (2002), images of Neo-Nazi marches in Berlin punctuate a ghostly panorama in which botanical and abstract patterns interweave to form a bizarre web. Imperceptibly, a turning to pure effect takes place in Hirnsturm. It is no longer the actual motif that is at the center of interest, but rather the reflex action it unleashes, fixed onto paper as a drawing. It almost seems as though the pencil point took on the role of a seismograph needle here, responding to the slightest tremor. The fact that the images arising in this way appear oppressive might have something to do with the world that produces them.



Ohne Titel, from the series Hirnsturm, 2002


Translation: Andrea Scrima

pictures: © Marc Brandenburg, Berlin