In this first UK solo exhibition of Joachim Koesters works, Stills pays attention to the artists exploration of invisible and forgotten histories of transgression.
Joachim Koester uses strategies of montage, archiving and storytelling to illuminate and complicate historical events that form a collective mythical construction of the recent past. His works explore the legacies and mine the fictions that form around movements and experiments - be they in the systems of art, mind-altering substances or the occult.
Poison Protocols and Other Histories pays attention to Koester's exploration of invisible and forgotten histories of transgression, tracing a line through the artist's films and photographs in this, his first UK solo exhibition. Each piece addresses how history has the ability to not simply reflect experience, but also to construct and create experience. This is a process that folds the past into the future, and the known into the imagined.
Tarantism is a seductive film where dancers come together in a ritualistic dance taking its name from the, so-said, only known cure for the bite of the wolf spider: frenzied dancing, that later became ritualised into a formal dance. Koester investigates the promise of the tarantella phenomena: a dance of uncontrolled and compulsive movements, spasms and convulsions.
In a newly commissioned work developed for Stills
, the artist extends his exploration of the ways that drug-related experiences become fixed within culture. A Short Trip to Alamut investigates the legend of the 'hashsishns' who, according to myth, were hashish- fortified fighters. The speculative fiction of the first assassins was embraced by a group of writers in Paris in the mid 19th Century who formed the Hashish Club. Including Baudelaire, Dumas and Gautier, the group met to alter their own perceptual states on a regular basis, driven by a will to subvert bourgeois aesthetics. The 19th Century was a time of ventures into foreign territory of the imagination. My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points (after the mescaline drawings of Henri Michaux) is a psychedelic documentary animated from the mescaline drawings of Henri Michaux. Such immaterial experiments of travel through a waking dream become translated into romantic, and often gothic, anecdotes and chemical nightmares as they enter into culture, reflecting the imperatives and fears of society.
From the Secret Garden of Sleep is a series of portraits of home-grown cannabis plants, echoing the centrefolds of 1970s magazines such as High Times or Sinsemilla Tips. This sub-genre of plant photography is an anthropology of potent projection on to this ever mutating plant, promising journeys to another state of consciousness. These objective, formal images recall the documentary nature of the history of conceptual photography. In the series Histories Koester retraces the sites captured by canonical artists and photographers, including Robert Adams, Gordon Matta- Clark and Bernd & Hilla Becher to present two histories: that of conceptual photography, and that of the places and events depicted. These diptychs reveal spaces captured and then reproduced in publication alongside an image of that same location taken by Koester. In one image, a house Ed Ruscha photographed in shows a sign 'Now Renting'. In Koester's return to the site, a slightly bigger sign reads 'Now Leasing'. The distance invokes a time travel via moments of photography from the past that still hold currency, with the doubling evidencing temporal change filled with an uncomfortable nostalgia for something now invisible. Just like the myths of drug culture, this process renders fact as unreliable as fiction.