The range of reactions from the audience to Anne Imhof’s Angst II exhibition as durational opera during Berlin Art Week this year ranged from “Turner Prize” to “You could be one of the performers” [the equivalent of “I could have done this”]. The first reaction I heard came from two German girls standing behind me at the entrance waiting to get into the general public opening night, “Der Nebel! Ich liebe Nebel!” [Fog! I love fog!] I thought, has fog become the new sunset. Throughout the evening I heard comments like “This is lasting forever [when there was still 3 more hours to go],” “Berghain in a museum [Berghain several times],” “Just your average night in Berlin [Americans bragging to out-of-towners],” and “hahaha lets go.” The crowd was also a mixed, broad and diverse sampling of Berliners and visitors. I saw middle-aged and older museum goers, start-up CEOs, tourists, cool kids dressed in black and PR party girl types. This wasn’t an emotional piece but it made me think about it for quite awhile.
The smoke machines filling the main hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof offered a thrilling aspect for me as a lover of smoke/ fog. I spent about three hours walking back and forth taking photos and almost running into one of the main non-beings. The humans in the piece were not performing as humans but as the equivalent of objects. The gestures slowly performed by the non-beings were like tableaux vivants or living pictures with ready-made objects. The living pictures showed the postures and movements the bodies made with a mobile phone or a cigarette or shaving cream but blankly. Without the objects, their gestures were at times highly stylized and mannered, sometimes recognizable and other times not. Often the gestures mimicked exhaustion, death, boredom, fatigue or the audience. And the vacant looks of the non-beings were well-executed by this cast. They did however at times acknowledge each other. Almost immediately, I realized how gendered and almost Quattrocento my own postures and gestures were compared to these non-beings whose gestures were androgynous, desexualized, and highly anti-social.
It’s difficult to be moved by the musical sound of a soda can going “pop” or for shaving cream to be used not for the non-beings, whose bodies no longer had any hair but so that the shaving cream could perform and the razors could have its moment. The roles were interestingly reversed but whether equality was achieved, that is harder to tell.
Although the piece had no narrative and the audience was told this, I still couldn’t help but try to follow a conventional narrative structure, convinced that if I stayed till the end, something might happen. I didn’t make it to the end but it was interesting to know that I kept on thinking it would. Even though the humans were non-beings, the regular humans still followed them around and gave them more importance than the objects because that was also an old habit to break. In fact, most of the drama was actually created by the drones, the falcons, the smoke machine, the shaving cream, the razors, the Coca-Cola/ Diet Pepsi cans and mobile phones. Once the falcons left the stage, it was fairly uneventful.