Made in Germany
Hannover Explores Art Production Conditions

The mammoth art program art summer is likely to push even the most diehard art aficionados to their limits: documenta in Athens and Kassel, the Venice Biennale, Skulptur Projekte Münster, Art Basel. And then there is Hannover, where Made in Germany is on the agenda. Every five years, an exhibition project initiated in 2007 documents what young artists are up to in Germany. This stocktaking exhibition is beeing organized by the city’s three most important institutions: Kestner Gesellschaft, Kunstverein Hannover, and Sprengel Museum. This year, six curators invited forty-one artists and collectives to participate. Under the title Production, they show artists in Germany work and how they deal with production conditions as well as manufacturing and presentation sites. These questions are mainly of interest to the artists themselves and insiders. But it’s worth taking a detour to Hannover, because some impressive works are on view in Made in Germany.

One of them is the installation made by the Städelschule graduate Veit Laurent Kurz at the Kestner Gesellschaft. Life-sized puppets loll in a living landscape in which angular, modernist furniture was converted into a biotope. Water runs down sideboards, and plants sprout from armchairs. The figures look like the living dead from Hollywood B movies. They have enslaved other mask-like creatures and put them on chains like dogs. Lying everywhere are cans of “HERBA4,” a strange energy drink pumped like a drug through hoses into the entire system consisting of people, furniture, and plants. The modern age with all its functionality and candor has fallen into decay and is inhabited by zombies. Yet on these remains something new is growing that is no longer controlled by people, something post human. Laurent Kurz is not the only one who investigates this idea—it occupies artists and curators across the globe.

Including Thomas Ruff. His photograms from the series r.phg are not made by people but by computers. And they fit astonishingly well into Kurz’s dystopian ambience. Ruff’s pictures with their synthetic forms could be abstract art or scientific photographs, shots of planetary surfaces or cell nuclei. They are products of a “virtual dark room” that could only be realized with the help of powerful computers at the Jülich Research Center. Ruff is an old-established artist who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection. But it is justifiable that his photographs are presented here, because he stands for a very contemporary mindset that is far removed from the idea of the artist as an ingenious creator who has to be in contact with his work.

At the Kunstverein Hannover, visitors encounter a young photographer who represents a diametrically opposed position. Carina Brandes, who currently resides in Florence as a Villa Romana Fellow, works completely autonomously. She takes her analog black and white photos using a self-timer and even produces the prints herself. Yet Brandes’ works should not be viewed as self-portraits. Instead, she uses her body as a material that is in a constant state of flux. As a grotesque hybrid creature, she crawls through nocturnal streets wearing a mask. Or she interacts with black beams in her studio, whereby it is hard to say whether they are attacking or protecting the artist. Brandes appropriates the aesthetics of female avant-garde artists of the 1970s and imbues them with current sensitivities, including a longing for liberation and authenticity.

Oliver Laric has stopped looking for these things. He makes his sculptures on a 3D printer based on art-historical models. Like Frankenstein’s monster, his copy of John Gibson’s Neoclassicist Sleeping Shepherd Boy (1824) has visible seams—the sculpture is composed of fragments of different materials. Laric answers questions about authorship and reproducibility with the utmost radicality: On his website anyone can download various historical objects from public collections.

The Sprengel Museum focuses on issues that transcend the art context. In recent years, the established artist Hito Steyerl as been presented everywhere. In her video The Empty Center, she observes changes that Potsdamer Platz in Berlin underwent over a period of eight years. Freedoms and fallow land on the former border between East and West disappear, investor architecture rises to the sky. The Berlin Wall is replaced by construction fences. By contrast, the photographic works with which Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili lampoons current security debates tend to be metaphorical. Using different reproduction techniques, she manipulates advertising for locks and bolts that she found on the Internet, some of which make use of the German flag and the slogan “Made in Germany.” Germany as a manufacturing site is supposed to stand for quality. Yet her pictures deform, and the promise of security turns out to be a fiction.

One of most endearing works in show ironically returns to the realm of handicrafts: Kasia Fudakowski’s fourteen-meter-long wickerwork accompanied by a text video. With laconic humor, the latter describes the production of the giant tapestry she made when she was studying at Villa Romana. It documents progress and setbacks, the frustration of tedious manual work, artistic self-doubt (Will it look like ethno Ikea?), as well as phone calls with gallery owners, curators, and their mothers. Only rarely do artists reveal so much of their lives and the genesis of their works.

At the same time, however, this exhibition project leaves an essential factor of art production untouched: the role of museums, dealers, and collectors. And the production, distribution, and exhibition possibilities that are not dominated by the market are disappearing increasingly. It would be good if at least one work “made in Germany” dealt explicitly with the economic and social conditions under which artists in Germany produce their works today.  

Made in Germany
Kestner-Gesellschaft, Kunstverein Hannover & Sprengel Museum, Hannover
Until 9/3/2017