Unlike any other artist, Terence Koh knows how to transfer post-minimalist and body art influences of the seventies into a universe of his own in which decadence and deliberate infringement prevail. The show is a journey through a labyrinth which is to take him through the world - India, China, Burma, Belgium, Africa - into the nirvana on his search for himself. Transformations, contextual shifts, spatial appropriations - Michael Sailstorfer's works soon reveal his interest in everyday things and the materials of his immediate surroundings, as well as his casual fascination with these objects' specific identity and history.
In an incredibly short time, Terence Koh’s spectacular performances and experientially intensively
accessible installations have made him a highly respected “gesamtkunstwerk”. The Chinese-
Canadian artist, who first achieved notoriety through his alter ego “Asian Punk Boy”, is one of the
most fascinating discoveries of recent years. Like no other artist, he transposes influences from
post-minimalism and 1970s body art into a cosmos uniquely his own, governed by decadence
and deliberate excess, which grants the viewer instants of fragile beauty. Following up on his
spectacular installations at the Kunsthalle Zurich, the Wiener Secession and the Whitney
Museum in New York, Terence Koh is installing one of his signature monochrome environments
especially for the Schirn; for this exhibition, he will initiate the surreal objects, ritually summoning
them to life, in a secret performance. Under the title “Captain Buddha”, visitors who set foot in the
luminously flooded room are invited to accompany the artist on a journey that will take them on a
search for themselves through the entire world – India, China, Burma, Belgium, Africa, Mexico
and Canada are just some stations along the way – one that aims to reach nirvana and ends in
Terence Koh is always the center of his installations – between a genius puppeteer subjecting his audiences to his situative environments and the absolute mythologization of a perfectly staged self that carries an impact even beyond the narrowly defined boundaries of a work of art – entirely in the tradition of Warhol. Like Dorian Gray, Terence Koh does not age, his date of birth magically adapting to his impregnable youth. Whether as an MC of decadence or a contemporary dandy who most glamorously surrenders the classical ideal of beauty to decay, Koh always seems to transmute life entirely into art. “I was genetically designed,” says Terence Koh, “to do things that make the world more beautiful.” For his New York project the Asia Song Society (ASS), Koh paraded down Canal Street in 2006 styled as the artist Zhang Zyi from Shanghai, swaddled entirely in a red veil, flanked by incense-bearing attendants also dressed entirely in red; he capped the procession by issuing a general invitation to enter a mysterious red room full of red sculptures. In the same year, he caused a 4000-watt sun to shine in the lobby of the Whitney Museum, and additionally illuminated New York’s famed Madison Avenue as an “act of generosity”. Shortly thereafter, he announced the presentation of his debut album “Sprungkopf” in Berlin and delivered a stark, three-minute yelling performance with his face concealed by a black, long-haired wig, accompanied by three half-naked men.
In Koh’s work, it is only at first glance a contradiction when the minimalist emptiness of a white room is confronted by the orgiastic baroque of a dark dance of death, the imagery of Zen Buddhism by Christian iconography, precious gold plating by the most banal objects conceivable, the purity of white by contamination with the full panoply of bodily fluids, or the art-historical canon by subculture. Koh causes both the figure of the artist and his own installations, objects and performances to oscillate between a broad range of mutually antagonistic poles, revealing a romantic aspect to his work: the reconcilability of the irreconcilable. In Koh’s work, cultural identity also emerges from a seemingly infinite palette of possibilities: as neither-here-nor-there, as ceaseless change, as transition between Asia, America and Europe, but also as a diversion. This play on the artist’s own existence is reflected in his work in such objects as dynamic, modularly stacked display-case architectures furnished with a varied selection of white objects. On closer examination, these objects appear to be the global jetsam of all places and times, stranded high and dry in a pale, strange and often grotesque beauty. Coated in white by the artist as if by a wise taxidermist, they are presented to coming generations as scrupulously preserved treasures.
Youth and decay, beauty and fragility, sexuality, cultural identity, individual personality and, ultimately, life and death, are Terence Koh’s grand themes. In his work he illustrates the fractured nature of human existence: on the one hand, the urge to experience the world to excess, to divide oneself, the yearning for the existence of a place outside oneself; on the other hand the infinite solitude that all humans know and constantly experience anew. Sexuality, a central element of Koh’s work, is not bound by moral, ideological or normative strictures, but instead is a temptation to forget the compulsions and the torn nature of human existence. For his installation at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Koh links two worlds that at first glance seem almost antipodal: Buddhism and that popular classic of world literature, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” – the tale of the fateful quest of charismatic and supremely obsessed Captain Ahab for the Great White Whale. But the two worlds are alike in their descriptions of endless and irresolvable search - a unity conveyed in the title “Captain Buddha”. For this installation, Koh himself set out on a quest: clad as a monk in a golden robe, he journeyed to fifteen places – Canada, Japan, China, Thailand, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, Iceland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Africa, and the USA – in his search for objects, much as Captain Ahab sailed the world over in search of the White Whale. In Terence Koh’s words: “I’m like the captain in Moby Dick. I’m trying to find the White Whale in the white objects, but in the end I find nothing.”
The number fifteen is derived from the fifteen stones of the Zen garden of the Roan Temple in Tokyo, one of the legendary rock gardens that adorn the grounds of every monastery in Japan as a place of meditation for the monks. In their order and clarity, they are intended to soothe the spirit into the ideal state and enable an awareness of the essential and the beautiful. In this exhibition, Koh’s fifteen white-coated bronze objects, which the viewer must first find in the bright white light, represent both the spiritual and physical journey of the artist – all of them are assemblages: a cupcake sporting a little finger with a wick on top instead of a candle is covered by a swarm of bees; a monkey hangs from a coat hanger; body casts of the artist are juxtaposed with Burmese and Tibetan coins. A “currywurst” sausage shares space with a Buddhist peace symbol, a garden gnome hangs by the neck from the arms of Maya, the mother of Buddha, as she embraces a branch – as legend maintains she did during the birth of Buddha. There is a broken umbrella with a stuffed bunny as a handle, a Hula Hoop with Hermès gloves, a bicycle tire sporting the legend “captain Buddha incorporate” written in Chinese characters, and a dead Mexican bird. Each of these objects reveals a surreal story and harmonizes with the others to create a complex, world-spanning narrative that repeatedly loses its way in darkness. Finally, the center is dominated by a self-portrait of the artist as a starving Buddha on a golden coffin. In a secret performance the night before the opening, Terence Koh will touch each of the immaculately white-coated bronze objects with a marble wand, knock on it and speak to it in a private ritual. This secret performance will be documented in a film that will subsequently be shown on a monitor as part of the exhibition.
WEB AND MEDIA FILM: On the occasion of the exhibition “Captain Buddha”, the Schirn is producing a Web film clip for press and public for the first time. The clip, with a length of approximately three minutes, is a creation of Terence Koh himself. It can be viewed on the Schirn website in the new “Films” area, and is also available as a press download and for use by online media for their own Web offerings. The film clip is expected to show parts of the secret performance to be enacted the night before the exhibition opens in the form of experimental images. It marks the premiere of a new offering on www.schirn.de, which in future will feature further films on selected exhibitions and events. The clips will also be uploaded to www.youtube.com to make them generally available on the Internet.
Michael Sailstorfer - 10 000 stones
Transformations, context shifts, laying claim to space - Michael Sailstorfer’s works rapidly reveal the artist’s interest in everyday objects and the materials of our immediate environment, and his fascination for the specific identity and history of these objects. Sailstorfer subjects his objects to stringent scrutiny; they are dismantled, dissected, deformed, adapted, reassembled in novel forms and rededicated as poetic-realistic installations. In this process, both the space which they take up and the space that surrounds them are of essential significance. Space becomes the battleground for such antagonistic concepts as home(land) and distance, mobility and stasis, motion and the past. The exhibition in the Schirn presents five works that impressively showcase the artist’s poetic, political and ironic vocabulary. Sailstorfer has created his large light installation “Untitled (Junger Römer)” (“Untitled (Young Roman)”) especially for the Schirn. The work illuminates the urban space from its “table” – a concrete structure in the Schirn’s exterior space. Also, and for the first time, the installation “Wohnen mit Verkehrsanbindung” (“Living with transport connection”), to date known only as photographic documentation, has been transported to an exhibition space open to public viewing.
The light installation “Untitled (Junger Römer)” (“Untitled (Young Roman)”), the recreation of an old illuminated sign from the former German Democratic Republic with a rhythmically flashing program, confronts visitors even before they enter the Schirn proper. The title of this powerful, eight-meter-long neon skeleton, erected in a prominent location outside the Schirn, is a play on both the song title “Junge Römer” (“Young Romans”) by the Austrian singer Falco and the neighboring “Römer”, Frankfurt’s historic City Hall. The original of the display, the illuminated sign of a radio manufacturer of the former GDR, may still be glimpsed today as an advertising ruin perched above the rooftops of Berlin’s central Mitte district. For the Schirn, Sailstorfer programmed a cycle that causes his neon creation to flash just as it might have over East Berlin in the days of the GDR. Two circles on a horizontal pattern of lines propagate, wave-like, outward, concluding in a colorful finale of light. This almost psychedelic “quasi-readymade”, bearing the Falco title, emitting radiantly pulsing sound-wave patterns, and sited in the heart of Frankfurt’s old city, undergoes a metamorphosis typical for Sailstorfer: in this work, he links the memory of a tune that evokes the feeling of the 1980s in Germany with the memory of a country that no longer exists to create something new in an entirely different place.
Inside the Schirn, a baby carriage-size machine cheerfully spews popcorn, which will eventually fill the room entirely. Its name, “1 zu 43 bis 47” (“1 to 43 to 47”), refers to the size ratio of the surface of a kernel of corn to a popped kernel, which with its folds, recesses, projections and curves represents the infinite variety of becoming. While the scent of fresh popcorn emanates from one corner, a wide car tire spins endlessly in another corner, assaulting the visitor with the smell of scorched rubber. Michael Sailstorfer conceived of his “Tire” during a short visit to Yokohama, where he viewed a tire warehouse. “Zeit ist keine Autobahn – Frankfurt” (“Time is no highway – Frankfurt”) is the title of this new version, adapted for the Schirn exhibition, which contrasts the motion of the tire with the immobility of the room: a rubber tire is attached to the wall in such a way that it rubs against the wall as it rotates, gradually consuming itself turn by turn. An enormous expenditure of energy noisily comes to nothing – an artistic effort in the tradition of Sisyphus and Don Quixote, a fate that confronts us in our own lifetimes and actions, a “revolution” against the limits of the possible with comic absurdity.
The series “Wohnen mit Verkehrsanbindung” (“Living with transport connection”) examines the contradiction between mobility and home. Originally created as a temporary installation along Bavarian country roads, it is one of Sailstorfer’s numerous sculptural manipulations of public space. For this project, the artist furnished four bus-stop shelters in the towns of Anzing, Grosskatzbach, Oberkorb and Urtlfing with simple furniture and household appliances – bed, table and chair, shelf, sink, stove and refrigerator, electric light and toilet, “completing” them as fully functional, minimal dwelling units. Until now, this work, which Sailstorfer “undid” right after completing it, could only be viewed in the form of the black-and-white photographic documentation. For this exhibition at the Schirn, the artist transplanted the bus shelters from their home sites and re-furnished them again. For this first time, the shelters, which are part of the public transport networks of their home communities, are lined up and on display in a single exhibition. Their backdrop is no longer the Bavarian countryside but the Carolingian excavation site directly in front of the Schirn, right in the middle of the city. Perhaps the view of these historical relics is a further reference to the 10,000 stones that form the focus of Paul Auster’s “The Music of Chance”, from which the title of this exhibition derives. Auster’s novel describes the arbitrarily irrational idea of two lottery millionaires, Flower and Stone, of moving a castle made of 10,000 stones from England to the US; former firefighter Jim Nashe and busted poker player Jack Pozzi must rebuild the stone blocks as a wall: a transformational effort that demands its sacrifice.
Sailstorfer’s reference to the respective environment is a consistent feature of his work. The artist, who grew up in Velden/Vils in Bavaria’s Landshut district, studied at Goldsmiths College, London, and currently lives in Berlin, approaches his work extremely playfully. In Sailstorfer’s work, familiar signifiers of rural life, such as sturdy wooden cabins, a tree house in the yard or simply landscape and forest, are depicted as naturally as they are ironically. Particularly the idea of simple housing in a rural environment recurs again and again in such works as “Wohnen mit Verkehrsanbindung” or the huts assembled from caravan and aircraft scrap, “D-IBRB” (2001) or “Heimatlied” (“Song of My Native Land”) (2001/2002). The objects which the artist tears from their everyday context for his transformational experiments often originate from airplanes or cars, but are now stationary or simply moving in place, causing the ideas of settling down and mobility, homeland and freedom to collide.
The 2008 video work “Untitled (Lohma)” , also presented in this exhibition, shows a house that breathes. Slowly, ominously, the sheet metal body expands, seemingly threatening to burst and scatter its entrails across the snow-covered Thuringian landscape. But instead the motion reverses. The inflated building suddenly loses air, it pulls in its stomach and seems to suffocate. Another cut, it recovers and inflates, and so on. Although this house, made of unpainted corrugated sheet metal, without doors or windows, is ever so slightly reminiscent of the solitary, peaceful log cabin of Henry David Thoreau – the American writer and philosopher who described living the simple life in the woods in conjunction with his thoughts on social and economic behavior – it inhabits an artificial equilibrium ever on the verge of disaster. In fact, the disaster has long since occurred: the life of this house originated in the destructive force of an explosion within – an explosion which the viewer cannot see, but only guess at. Destroy, transform, expand, dismantle and reassemble in ever new ways are the principles of Sailstorfer’s work. The fact that the destruction of the natural basis for human life is also depicted is the melancholy root tone in his compositions, a root tone which permits absurd chords.
Image: Michael Sailstorfer
Opening may 27 2008
Romerberg - Frankfurt
Hours: Tue., Fri.–Sun. 10 AM – 7 PM, Wed./Thu. 10 AM – 10 PM
Admission: euro 6, discount euro 4; children under 8 admitted free