There was said to be an “interactive installation and non-performative performance” on Friday at a new gallery in Neukölln. I was invited by a friend of mine, Liam, who is one half of the not-quite-camp post-awful meta-flagrant sartorially-qualified Dj duo 333 Boyz. After what Liam told me of the exhibiting artist that night “It’s always a surprise with Ann. I think you’re gonna like it”, I wondered aloud if I’d met her before. He assured me that it was unlikely as Ann was actually an American male who usually doesn’t go out much. This fact alone aroused my curiosity of the hopeful performance but also my suspicion of some sort of gender-based agenda for which I only had sour expectations. The title of the show was Iguana Begeistert / Bad Projections as if two different things were to take place conjointly. Not the most laconically titled exhibition though it had a ring to it. I really couldn’t make sense of the pairing, though. What did it mean??
In nudging a bit closer, I noticed first a computer mouse atop a makeshift pedestal in the middle of the room, just as someone stepped up to handle it. The text on the plastic started to scroll vertically, and this is when I realized the projector above me on the back wall and could estimate that most of what I was seeing move across the layers of plastic was coming from there. Though there was an elusive purple glow which seemed to come from the back of the installation - kind of a steady glow that would gradually shift in intensity. Suddenly, it swung and I saw it as a hanging black light bulb through one of the gaping holes, now swinging like a pendulum behind the plastic sheets which also then began to move as if something else were hiding inside. An arm holding a black handgun then cleanly protruded from one of the holes in the plastic and curved around to aim at a tall handsome gentleman I immediately recognized as the well-known David Pfifferling. He yelped at the sight of the firearm and nearly fell backward as a loud “Pop!” sounded and the arm quickly retreated back into the installation. Mr. Pfifferling hid in the adjacent doorway laughing and visibly shaken, looking towards the rest of us with wide eyes. Then he slowly mouthed a silent “What.. The.. Fuck..” He apparently wasn’t shot with anything apart from a paroxysm of surprise and confusion. Other people started to laugh as well. I began to sense that an inchoate “performance” was upon us. I was instantly made paranoid. I had to swivel around to look at those around me, noticing how dark it was, and how vulnerable I was - standing there like a dummy drinking a wet napkin. The term “safe space” came to mind, and I had to concede to the reality that this was not. Although it was supposed to be an exhibition - commonly considered as a safe space functioning most proximately to the somewhat-safe space/s we live in.
I turned to Liam to ask him if he knew it was going to be like this, but he had already retreated behind me and was slowly walking back through the way we came, looking over his shoulder at me shaking his head in the way he does when he means to convey “Nu-uh. Not doing that”. I forthwith decided the same and joined him, however committed to return later after the theatricized heat died down. We stood around near the bar after ordering our 2nd round of Crumpled Wads, and the DJs were now segueing, which is usually my favorite part of a DJ set because I like to hear where one seamlessly fades into the other - how two DJs have to compromise for just a moment in order to make the switch. However, Bluestork just abruptly began with a hard cut, both he and Bubblebeth chortling as if it were intended. The music ensemble of the night seemed to match the exhibition - dark and obscure, almost sinister but familiarly jocular - letting light in through the profane.
I overhead a couple coming out of the exhibition room say “He’s destroying it. Is it just for tonight?” A guy responded “Yeah, it’s just for tonight.” “Is it a real gun?” one of them asked the guy. “Yeah” he said dryly. (It obviously wasn’t a real gun. It was most definitely a toy, so I’m not sure who this guy was but I don’t like people who are ironic without style or elaboration). I turned my back to him in a quiet protest to his presence. I thought of what the girl could have meant when she said “destroying it”. She sounded like she was using the word literally and with sadness, and I wondered what kind of actual mayhem I was missing. Unfortunately, I was wearing one of my best pairs of pants and I wasn’t willing to risk some sort of surprise which might require me shitting them. I would wait until I was sure the performance was over to more closely inspect the work. About two cigarettes and a third round of Crumpled Wads later, a bespectacled young fellow with an unlit rolly under his moustache, wearing a thin black windbreaker which read “STAFF” on the back (the kind you see event workers wear) brushed past me as Liam pointed him out as the artist. “He goes by Ann right?” I chuckled to Liam. He nodded and said “Ann Dunham” without smiling and immediately started talking to the person next to him. I was planning on introducing myself but when I turned back he was gone. I then saw him through the window out front leaving with three others, one of whom was Sam (other half of 333 Boyz), and I didn’t see him again for the rest of the night. Where was he going with Sam? Why did Sam leave without saying Hi to me? .. I miss Sam.
I reentered the exhibition to find the installation still playing and significantly altered. The plastic was ravaged as if by a large animal. The holes were stretched and so parts of the inside were now much more exposed. I could see that inside was a platform littered with bits of somehow uniform detritus - mostly white and black, plastic and metal. Everything was of a clearly intentional color-palette. Styrofoam of black and white. Coffee cups of black and white. A computer monitor with multiple windows open with black and white photos of people praying and grey billowing flame animations. Also, an empty box of Billy Boy condoms, a gas tank, and a roll of some sort of iridescent material. There was hanging from a mess of wire a pair of white sweat pants which read “BODY HIGH”. It all seemed like a quotidian backwash of the artist’s oeuvre. I was missing something…
I walked over to handle the mouse myself and noticed that all of the text was in different fonts, perhaps all the fonts - comic sans, wingdings, Arabic, which I don’t know how to read, but even if I did it would be severely stunted by the animations that continued to carousel past, blacking out or whiting out the text. Most everything happening through the projector was black and white apart from a purple glow, which I could now deduce as part of the animation/video probably meant to eclipse the actual black light bulb hanging bare in the back of the exhibition. As much as I moused around, clicking and scrolling in utter dotage, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what I was actually controlling. Just letting it play on its own seemed to do more than I could. At this point, I’d really like to relate this to another artist’s work but I simply can’t think of any. It only directly reminded me of the shantytowns built by bums under bridges. It was like a multimedia installation built by a bum with auspicious taste and internet prowess. Then, I noticed something I somehow hadn’t seen at all before. In the back corner of the floor was a naked bed spring with a little fold of bubble-paper and book on top of it. The bubble-paper resembled a blanket the way it was neatly oriented on the bed. I had to lean over to read the title of the book - “Die Heilige Schrift”. It looked like a rather old copy and it was wrapped in plastic. This area of the exhibition actually reminded me of Joseph Beuys. The way the supposed ready-made seemed to allude to an extant craft. The bed spring was also old and rusty - this surely instructed the Beuys reference. I had to imagine lying on it and then realized I’d never thought of how repulsive this thing was - this grid of gnarly spiraling wires was the last thing I’d like to lie on though it was so close to my body every night and come to think of it, I didn’t even know what was inside my comforter at home - it might as well be bubble-paper.
Jutting out of the wall next to the installation window was a charming array of what looked like products of a distant past/future. The products were cubic at first glance, but looking closely they were little stacks of black and white syrofoam slices, about the size of saltine crackers, neatly packaged in clear baggies with stickers which read “Trilux” and some other product descriptions in german. (I don’t know german) I mean, I'm not an idiot. I knew “Heilige Schrift" meant “Holy Bible” but I had no clue what these extremely long manufacturing terms were supposed to mean. On all of the walls were rolled-up wires hanging loose from a thin plastic rail. This looked like the permanent apparatus of the gallery meant for hanging paintings, but there were no paintings. These wires are easy to remove from the rail, so it is only my guess that the artist chose to leave them there, hanging bare. However, I wasn’t so sure they were not also crafted pieces. The wires seemed to be the same as some of the wires hanging within the installation. I began to look at everything in question of its origin and purpose.
A few other people stepped up to the pedestal to try their hand at controlling the installation. They were talking rather discreetly, so it was hard for me to eavesdrop, but then the girl with mouse laughed aloud and said with confidence “It’s shit! …Hahaha No, I get it. It’s like everything on the internet! It’s shit!” I thought that was kindof a brazen assumption, but maybe she was right. Maybe this was all a mockery - a mockery of the gallery, a mockery of the internet, a mockery of the incessant trend of trying to combine the two. However, that doesn’t explain the sincerely crafted objects and overall effect of the exhibition. If it was shit, it was at least an aberration of shit, and refined at that. I could sense here a multiplicative symbiosis of contextual objects happening within this room. Everything related to everything else in one way or another. I can’t explain it, but that’s just the point. Standing in this room, and looking at all of these things, was similar to the feeling of having a word “on the tip of your tongue” as they say. It was like seeing everything you’d never considered all grouped together and pointing at some incipient something - not yet realized.
We arrived at AETHER fashionably right on time - 10 pm. The only outstanding detail of the venue was that it was pitch black, which was not especially novel to the Berlin stereotype, but here it seemed sincere. Black furniture. Black walls. Black curtains everywhere. It was as if we were entering a considerably refined sensory deprivation chamber except that there were about a hundred other people there. We ordered drinks at the bar. The special of the night was called “Crumpled Wad” - a mix of rums, seltzer and lime with a crumpled black napkin skewered low into the glass, partitioned from absorbing the liquid by a generous helping of what seemed like rather large ice cubes. But what do I know about drinks? Absolutely nothing. I usually drink juice. (They were probably standard-size ice cubes.) The price of this somewhat pathetic-looking cocktail was a very decent 4€ and it tasted exceptional. (Later on, I would have three more of these.) At the Dj cage was Bubblebeth playing a subdued set of anime-hacked chillout beats infused with the darker side of R&B sampling. I don’t know her, but for a moment we made eye contact so I raised my chin in greeting as if I did. I just wanted to fit in with this intimidating atmosphere I knew very little of.
Sipping his Crumpled Wad nose to napkin, Liam led me to back of the building where we were to be just five minutes late for the so-called performance. As we peeled back yet another thick black curtain and entered the main exhibition room, abrasive sound hit me from all sides. The first thing I recognized within it was a line from Beyonce’s “1+1” however her voice was warbling through pitches like she was gurgling liquid helium. The sound was so heavily distorted and layered I couldn’t tell if I was listening to a conscious sound-collage or just multiple tracks played at once at unattended levels. The most prominent visible feature, just ahead of me, was a large rectangular opening in the wall, draped from the inside with several layers of what looked like torn up plastic and garbage, somehow stitched together. For some reason I couldn’t help but think the word “apocalypse”. A couple of guys walked in behind me and one of them said in a guffaw, “Imagine tripping!” I could see why he said that - the installation was overstimulating and I wouldn’t want to trip in here. The installation window, strewn with the odds and ends of appliances and various packaging debris was glimmering and glowing from apparently multiple sources, though it was nearly impossible to determine if what I was seeing was coming from behind or before the installation. It was deeply layered making it alluring to approach if one wanted to investigate its inner-workings.