How I First Discovered Cyprien Gaillard

… on a kind of cold evening in Berlin 2008. This evening first opened my eyes to the magic of contemporary art. Pressed for time start at 19:00, want the magic start at 23:00, want a laugh start at 27:20

“I’m interested in things failing, in the beauty of failure, and the fall in general,” Cyprien Gaillard for Interview Magazine

I think the genesis of my fascination with smoke / fog started here.

The Course of Life on “Ecke Weserstrasse”

Course of love

I first discovered Alain de Botton’s “Essays in Love” at 22 and still young enough to keep tabs on when writers wrote what. de Botton was 23 so I felt hypothetically, I had a year. (victim of the arrogance of youth) Since then, he has written on every single subject I ever wanted to write about – status, architecture, Proust, travel, work, airports – and now back to love (not to mention his School of Life). In his new novel “The Course of Love,” he provides what has been lacking in the art of love stories, how to understand the transition from passionate love (Romanticism/ Before marriage) to companionate love (Enlightened Romantic Pessimism / Many years after marriage) and the strong role that psychology plays in being able to tolerate each other’s “crazy.” That in the future, the main thing we will want to know about a potential partner is “How crazy are you?”

The only way for couples to perpetually exist in a state of magical enthusiasm is to die at the height of that feeling, this is one of the first things we learn from Romeo and Juliet. de Botton reveals that during the lifespan of a marriage, we all realize we married the wrong person. Instead of finding a soulmate, what we in fact decided on and found was a particular kind of suffering to spend the rest of our lives dealing with. Not until we realize this, can we really enjoy/understand/practice the institution of marriage and be more accepting and kinder to our chosen form of misery.

The biggest culprit in misaligning everyone’s general understanding of love and its discontents lies heavily in the hands of representation in literature, love songs, and the movies. If only we had more movies and books about the separation of sex and love at times, the helpless infant living within us all, and how normal it is to just be bored most of the time, then maybe there would be less failed marriages and more people reaching the heights of companionate love (happening sometime in our golden years). Love starts not with the finding but after the marriage.

You can find a similar message/ problem in Episode 3 of “Ecke Weserstraße” which I must applaud is so much better than the first two episodes. Here we have a group of young, urban, creative, internationals living in the coolest area of Berlin but their lives just don’t live up to the blogs, movies, drugged experiences and pop culture representations of what a cool life should be. Most of the time, they’re just bored, broke, and subliminally conscious that their way of existence is not sustainable (fireworks… no sparklers). If what fucked up Madame Bovary’s understanding of marriage was too many romance novels, in “Ecke Weserstraße” it comes from checking out too many travel blogs of couples documenting their romantic nomad getaways. (The girlfriend was so believable) Real jobs are boring and at times ridiculous so much so you just want to send off a Snapchat letter of resignation or make paper airplanes. As if life couldn’t get any worse, the hottest place to live now is Echo Park (like Berlin from the 90s or more Berlin than Berlin) as conveyed by a German to another German in stilted English.

Ironically, while watching this episode on YouTube as two of the flatmates portrayed a montage of a Berlin summer romance, I realized after all these years living in Berlin I never had a Berlin summer romance… but then I realized no, my life is not a YouTube episode, I will just be waiting in lines for gelato and trying to avoid the sun.

Michael Müller’s Gold Lodge

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Michael Müller
HERMES & HERMAPHRODITOS, 2015 (Detail)
Courtesy Michael Müller

Michael Müller’s solo exhibition “Wer Spricht?” (Who’s Speaking?) at Kunst-Werke could easily rival a showing at the Hamburger Bahnhof or the Tate Modern. It could have been mislabeled “group show” and I wouldn’t have known the difference due to its comprehensive and well-executed nature. It felt historically present, relevant and gave a feeling of totality. Whereas I usually leave a show having fell in love with one or two pieces or one specific artist, almost every single object, drawing, video, sculpture, photograph, mixed-media piece drew my attention and made me dote over it with affection. I traveled through a cushy child’s playroom with my shoes off staring at a gold jigsaw puzzle, sat in a “gold lodge” home movie theater feeling pretentious and crouched down to enter a frightening hellhole where one could imagine elicit anonymous fucks. Less powerful was a clinical setting of Sol LeWitt-like penciled script in an unrecognizable Tai-Kadai language. I wanted a painting that was a drawing which gave the impression of having erased itself into strokes. One was struck by Müller’s mastery of old art forms to new ones, and the ways in which he alluded to mythology fluidly with Star Wars and Twin Peaks adding a hint of soft porn and topping it off with a golden salute to the orient in the form of an animal seesaw.

The video that plays in loop in the Gold Lodge movie theater depicts a Lacanian courtly love in which Hermes and Hermaphroditos never consummate their love but are forever in an erotic game, in this case on a see saw.

The media image chosen for the show pictured above could do little to capture the sheer scope and ambition of the show.

In the Waiting Room of the Black Lodge…

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In Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge exists like a fortune teller on Sunset Blvd., representing an ancient backwater mysticism of a town Agent Cooper comes to love while his urbane FBI colleagues scuff at the simplistic turn of the folk town. Faux classy and bleeding sleaze, the red waiting room is filled with circus freaks and gibberish, where the darkest truths are revealed in non-speak. The knowledge that awaits can horrify you, as the spirits, both good and evil, moving through its red cloth walls morph into monsters. It appears in dreams and exists in an unseen dimension through a portal in the woods and leaves behind the bad smell of petrol.

Somewhere on Sanderstrasse, Berlin has its own replica and for reasons unknown to me that was the first place I wanted to go in the New Year. I found myself typing the words Black Lodge into Tinder chats and hearing the words tripping off my tongue since the first day of January as either a date idea or friendly neighborhood bar visit with a girlfriend.

Every time I walked out of u-bahn Schönleinstrasse and tried to go, I’d reach into my purse to find my phone dead, requiring me to depend on someone else’s navigational skills. Each time we ended up circling away from Sanderstrasse. My friend kept walking us straight ahead till we reached a gas station on Sonnenallee (at the gas station I knew this couldn’t be it) and another time, a date escorted me to the canal then around the block and back again.

It was only after I finally made it there that I began to suspect that Berlin’s Black Lodge may not be such an innocuous replica of the imaginary existence of the real thing but by building it an energy had come, a force field of dark intentions and mischief. And that I, led by aesthetics and lack of depth of its true meaning, took myself and another innocent to unravel and reveal ourselves in its darkness.

Berlin’s red room was small and the seating lined its walls creating an enlarged BVG s-bahn bike area sitting arrangement in which you sat not facing your date but strangers sitting on the opposite side. Awkward.

Because of the strange events during and after my visit to the Black Lodge, I googled it and found through Wikia Twin Peaks that one’s actions in the red waiting room determined whether you would go to the White Lodge (love in a leafy environment) or to the Black Lodge (where pain and sorrow are the currency). In the red room one meets one’s shadow self, just as the Black Lodge is the shadow self of the White Lodge. Now I wonder had my heart been more pure and courageous at heart would I found entrance to the White Lodge.

The temptations of my shadow self came out when I recognized someone going to the bathroom. The male version of the girl I wanted to be, someone I saw everywhere from gallery openings to the art library (Kunstbibliothek), in the underground, walking to the HU library, and then in a bar on Sanderstrasse, as I was on a date with someone else.

His style of tweed suits and perfect grooming, carrying his large obscure art books while working on a paper at the Kunstbibliothek had attracted my notice in addition to being my spiritual Berlin art doppelgänger.

In my utter amazement at his sight, I blurted out, “that guy that just walked to the bathroom, I saw him everyday at the Kunstbibliothek for a month.”

“Did he see you?” ouch, thanks.

I made no reply but thought, he saw me now. At that moment, my shadow self came to the realization that my fairly good-looking date lacked my aesthetic taste in style. I imagined endless days of his musician uniform, jeans and a t-shirt, just as he was wearing that evening.

As I second-guessed my desires, I later realized he was plotting how to make me stop liking him. One telling moment of body language was the clue. He turned his body toward me for the first time that evening and strangely became overly interested when I related a story of how one of my most considerate and nicest friends, slowly got rid of me from her life. The distress in which I told the story showed how much I was still hurt, angry, still stunned, and surprised from the drawn-out death of the friendship. Unknown to me, I had just given him the blueprint to “how to make this girl never want to see me again.” Suddenly after that date, the “great human being” I thought I had met was working hard to get rid of me using the template my had friend chosen in real-time. The knowledge was shocking. What was at first a good first impression changed to face the other direction.

However, it could also just be my shadow self working overtime in thinking these thoughts.

Kinfolk vs. Rocket

Father Carpenters cappuccino this fall at a table in the inner courtyard
Father Carpenters cappuccino this fall at a table in the inner courtyard

“Thus much of this [gold] will make black white, foul fair/Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.” Shakespeare

“What happens in a society and culture where money becomes the measure of all things and technological innovation becomes just a way to make more money faster? Viewers can only imagine the fully ripened fruits of such feckless sowing.” Ken Johnson

by way of Ken Johnson “Review: Simon Denny Sees the Dark Side of Technology at MoMA PS1

Like concurrently liking a Hegelian scholar and the writings of Kierkegaard, Kinfolk and Rocket Internet entered my life like two opposing forces of nature and without my realizing I was living a contradiction.

I had spent the previous year lovingly gawking at the Alice Gao/ Kinfolk aesthetic of quiet corners and cups of coffee, donuts and ice cream: an aesthetic that was minimal and championed slow living. But then I found a job at a place whose main philosophical and commercial tenet was speed. Not average Joe speed, but give me the blood of your first born child speed: analogous to Amazon Am-holes, as documented in this nytimes article (during the research of this link I discovered that the Senior VP of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney was the young political pundit/ journalist I had a crush on in the mid 90s). This amalgam would result in what I will call the picture wars, workplace bullying, and twitter mobbing.

I got hired by someone who craved power like no other office worker I had seen in the PR department of one of Rocket Internet’s spawn start-ups. After 4 interview sessions with 5 people and a copy test plus a social media business proposal for a country market that was like the US but not the US, a couple weeks of phone chasing through sickness and cross-Atlantic trips, I finally got the job after flame hoops, quicksand, CEO refusal, and reluctant final approval and written confirmations and all that LA DI DA what a party.

I found the office politics had such varied forces as the Syrian Civil War. On such a battlefield, my reading of social situations and loaded PR innuendo was so slow; it would take me a few hours to realize how low the jugular had been. Due to my new status and absolute zero power, I would liken myself to the innocent Syrian civilians. Ultimately because my ideas were initially favored by my boss, I became the persecuted and took my martyrdom in silence.

However, although I had good ideas, I started to become a liability because I not only made my own mistakes which enemy forces ran wild with (you could cut through the hate) but also I fell into every trap laid out for me. I spent the last month at war reading the 48 Laws of Power, researching Ramadan, and imagining my direct colleagues as salivating dogs.

When the only person that ever wanted me there finally yawned in my face, and I knew it was over but not before I declared “I don’t want power, I want freedom” sealing shut my own fate.

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I flew to NYC and look what greeted me a Simon Denny art piece

A Personal History of Oranienburger Tor

The crossroads of U-bahn Oranienburger Tor is becoming a strange one. I find myself landing there from two different trajectories. A place where tourists/ new residents and long established Berliners converge and always in a surprising manner.

In 1999, when the Goethe Institute had just moved to u-bahn Weinmeisterstrasse and the streets emanating from the language school’s nexus would just sputter out into a no man’s land after a falafel joint, life in the form of cafes and restaurants abruptly stopped for two Asian American girls at around the Postfuhramt, a building that looked as elaborate and interesting as the Neue Synagogue but was once a stable for postal wagons and horses.

In 2003, when I briefly landed on Oranienburgerstrasse (the main street leading up to Oranienburger Tor) and stumbled upon one of the best salads I’ve ever had in a small basement type bar, still probably in existence today.

In 2006, when I returned to Berlin to live, my experience crawled up a little closer to Oranienburger Tor by way of Tacheles which still authentically looked like a squat, QBA because no one had ever tried Cuban food and it seemed the least touristy on tourist row, and Amrit because even a decade ago, you just couldn’t escape going there at least once and that was the last time I ever ate there until last night.

Things started to change in 2007 when Picknick first opened its club in the area which I never made it to. Then in 2008 The Broken Hearts Club was located near the u-bahn station and then King Size bar showed up with its no space and pretentiousness. That same year I ended up at a Chinese restaurant called Lucky Star right across the street from King Size. My German flatmate was notorious for picking her restaurants by convenience in a strictly egalitarian manner, so I never expected much from the food. I remember my dumplings being a small, underwhelming affair and I never went back there again. I also visited the Boros Collection right around this time as my interest in Contemporary art started to seriously bloom.

From that Lucky Star dinner evening to about 2013, my Oranienburger Tor encounters depended on late night bio pizza cravings after work to Green ‘n’ Friends open 24 hours, something special in Berlin for a grocery store and the prices are not that inflated.

In 2014, I had a job interview near this u-bahn station in the offices of a publishing house and contemplated how pleasant my commute would be. That year, as I tried to renew my love for Berlin and applied to jobs, I realized Rocket Internet HQ (whose sidewalk consisted of groups of people smoking with faces saying I’m not getting paid enough to go gray) is located just a little down the street from the u-bahn and also this Japanese by way of Brooklyn aviary for older Hipster birds called the House of Small Wonder as the Matcha lattes are a little overpriced.

In 2015, a Hedge Fund / start-up friend came back to town for Easter and told me he had been invited to the opening of a new restaurant/ bar called Creme de la Creme to which he was not taking me but his new Swiss girlfriend. The idea coming from a guy (things become hazy as I was still thinking about the absurdity of the name) who was somehow related to the two guys on Torstrasse that somehow became successful Venture Capitalists. When I heard this name, I thought so there is a German living in a larger Berlin bubble than I am, a bubble that came complete with rooftop flats in Mitte. I was surprised to find Creme de la Creme at Oranienburger Tor.

This month I moved in with 2 girls around a decade younger than I am located back in Mitte. When I found this room in a flat, I was congratulated much like someone would be if they had found a new job. This is the state of the Berlin housing market. Our first flatmate activity was a plan to eat hot pot at Lucky Star and I was reminded of 2008.

This week but a little too late, I read about the Boulangerie Francois, a global pop-up bakery/ secret bar traveling the world introducing Grey Goose to an invite only crowd to the bar and the general public to the bread. Arriving at the hot pot dinner which had grown to include 5 other 25 year old girls excluding my 2 flatmates, Lucky Star was booked out but my eyes kept turning to the Grey Goose Boulangerie and I thought oh, you’re here too. Two of the Russian girls suggested an Indonesian place nearby and I thought I’ve never heard of an Indonesian place here… warning bells started to ring. As we headed toward the “Indonesian” place, me eyes again reverted to the Boulangerie.

The Indonesian place turned out to be the old Indian place that was now calling itself a Singaporean place called Amrit, a place known for gobbling up its neighbor restaurants to become like the Walmart of curry and happy hour cocktails. The Indonesian girl with us was like this is not Indonesian food. My Macau Won Ton soup recommended by the two Russian girls was good, made of cream, sweet chili spices and two deep fried won tons filled with carrots and sauerkraut, which led me to believe these won tons were handmade in Germany. The three of us flatmates being unsure which way the tourist barometer of the food would go decided to share a main dish which was also sweet, spicy and tasty. Even Walmart can have its advantages. They were able to seat 8 on the spur of the moment on a Friday night at prime dinnertime, service was prompt, friendly and on time and the food tasty. The price however reflected the changing times and had doubled since 2006 when it had been a cheap Indian option at around 6 euros.

As I sat there shocked at the energy and youth of the seven 25-year-old girls surrounding me, I couldn’t help but feel I had traveled back in time to 2006 instead of living an onward progression toward 2015, that the 2015 experience should have somehow included that secret cocktail bar behind the French bakery. The future was the obsolete in reverse. (via Cyprien Gaillard, Robert Smithson, and Nabokov).

Understanding Contemporary Art

Detail Daniel Hylden "Goes On" König Galerie
Detail Daniel Hylden “Goes On” König Galerie
Detail
Detail Daniel Hylden “Goes On” König Galerie

For friends who look at contemporary art with a admission of ignorance, they look to me as someone with a knowledge they don’t possess. In other words, that I must be bringing something to the art to engage in the experience. Why else would I go to so many openings, museums and make it a big part of my life? I must understand it but my reading is a naive one. By naive I mean, my experience is wholeheartedly subjective to my tastes and most times, I don’t even try to understand why I like something, I just do. The historical dialogue is long and we only have so much time to listen in on the debate. Unless you read the PR release or the informational text plastered on the museum/ gallery space, no one knows what is going on, you just walked into a centuries long discussion on representation.

I don’t have a role in the art world other than developing a knowledge of my own tastes. You don’t know what you like till you see it. And after you see it, you don’t know how it will change you, infiltrate your thoughts or art production. If you’ve only seen or heard of Van Gogh, then your desires start and end there. I may not be able to explain Katherina Grosse but I know I love her work. These thoughts are old, but the Daniel Hylden pictures are new.

 

 

 

False Sunlight Consciousness

Neukölln view
                                                                            Neukölln view

There are some buildings in Berlin that stand alone. The surrounding area is like a clearing or in some cases a former airfield or an expansive train track and if you live high enough, the only thing in your view, the top of trees in the distance. If you have the whole apartment, sunlight, that rare Berlin delight floods in causing a false sunlight consciousness as it allows you to experience those rare times before 6am or after 4pm, deluding you.

Looking for a new room, I visited one such apartment during its golden hour, when a warm orange light was bronzing the white walls. A native New Yorker and a man from Spain had turned a rundown Neukölln apartment into a rustic New England B&B. The walls were some parts plywood or some parts styrofoam (I think) both painted a stark white with hardwood floors and low ceilings. No piece of furniture was too big for the rooms, no item within presenting an asymmetric conquering of space whether it came from books or plants or too much table. There was harmony and a quiet beauty I could never design into my rooms. My room was always a pile of stuff without real furniture, a messiness due to a poverty of objects to put the mess in.

Then I began to wonder, is the apartment nice because it had the perfect light fixture, a Spanish heirloom, the right number and size of plants. Petite sofas that broke up the space just so, cabinets from ebay classifieds from a German girl who started sanding a dark wood piece and then realized it would take too much time. But if you took that all away and I put all my ikea crap and ton of books into the space, would it just be another rundown Neukölln apartment.