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Michael Riedel Stops Making Sense at Hamburg's Kunstverein
Michael Riedel, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, installation view Kunstverein Hamburg, 2010.Photo: Fred Dott / Kunstverein e, bgcolor), 2010, 170 cm x 230 cm, Poster auf Leinwand.

By: Marcel Bugiel, Translated by Anna Stüler

HAMBURG.- The exhibition of new works by Michael Riedel (*1974, lives in Frankfurt am Main and New York) bears the title “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, but it could just as easily have been called “Franz jagt im komplett verwahrlosten Taxi quer durch Bayern” – both sentences contain each letter of the alphabet at least once and are used as dummy text and to display typefaces.

The exhibition in Hamburg follows Riedel’s solo exhibitions “Stutter” (Tate Modern, London 2009), “Vier Vorschläge zur Veränderung von Modern” (Four Proposals for Changing Modern, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, 2008) and the cinematic installation “Filmed Film” (David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2008). Recalling his installation at the Biennale in Lyon in 2007, where he “doubled” the entrance to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s video programme, Riedel has modified the entrance to the Kunstverein exhibition with a further entrance.

This “space within a space” presents a series of ten new works by Riedel. As material he used the webpages, which features one of his works in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York, and, which lists the highlights of the next 30 days.

Manifold forms of representation of text in his work: collaged scraps of paper, traced pieces, handwritten as well as printed corrections on printed matter, words on posters, photographed photographs, filmed films, reproductions of (handwritten or printed) bills; parts pasted over, crossed out, replaced (e.g. a person); company signage (sometimes fragmentary), name tags; photographs of writing on cakes, T-shirt prints, toilet stall graffiti, the letters on the cover of a record or CD or book or catalog or magazine; text on panels, as a projection, as reaffixed fast food stand signage, as a print on a flag, wallpaper, bag or curtain; as concert announcements written on the white stage floor, painted in white onto a street or scraped off exhibition blurbs in a museum.

Self-produced texts, copied texts, transcribed texts, photographed texts, texts in new contexts, text directories, newly ordered and reordered texts, partially corrected texts, altered texts, texts on texts, crossed out texts. Texts as directories and directories as texts. Generally: texts as drawings and as sculptures. But above all, all in all: texts, which seem to contain something more important than their immediate, direct meaning.

Texts, which automatically inscribe themselves into the fundamental literary and theoretical movements, claiming their position in the literary canon, without bearing the slightest reference to them. Visually: black on white, in fewer cases white on black, sometimes (very seldom) tones of grey. Format for typeset texts: Arial, preferably in columns, justified, most often from top to bottom and left to right. Black and white, constellations of symbols and clearly systematic (though not always lucid)—the other works are text-like too, resembling texts even where they do not comprise any (e.g. printed) writing. Difficult to make out whether the aesthetics of his work stem from a love of texts or vice versa: whether the love of texts grew from purely visual considerations. Or both: a love of texts and a text-like aesthetic appeal from the same movement, created from the need to replace the world with symbols. The sense originally intended is occasionally obfuscated beyond recognition. All meaning has a propensity to move to the margin of meaninglessness. Imitating for the simple sake of imitating, a text is torn from its original context and then distorted in a dubious manner; a text heard, stored in the memory, parroted as literally as possible and declared to be the new authoritive text. The context in which the text first appeared is also depicted, extended by what was said in the commotion surrounding it. On the other hand a crucial reference is willfully blanked out, feedback is produced deliberately and disaccords encouraged. It is twisted, shifted, cut off and printed over, detached from its subject, stuttered and stammered; and the detachment, stuttering, stammering suddenly all play a greater role than that from which was detached, which was stuttered and stammered. The words of a play are substituted by the words of a guided tour. The entry in an encyclopedia for “chair” is replaced by a dilettante description of the room from the chair’s perspective. A reading is extended by the comments of those listening or just not listening. A poem is dilated by the process of learning it by heart. Numbers are spoken instead of words—one after the other. The printed version of a literary text is pedantically compared to its recitation at a reading and corrected accordingly, focusing entirely on the differences. The thwarted attempt to reaffix a fast food stand’s signage is romanticized as successful literature. A concert is reproduced from the perspective of a recording device, which was forcibly left at the entrance. Staged interjections in a cinema anticipate what is being projected on screen. Leafing through a publication fabricates en passant the corresponding secondary literature. A description is described, a diligently phrased and composed text is dissected into its separate parts, which are then listed in alphabetical order. Or the words spoken by countless people in the course of a night are printed backwards, completely retaining the course of conversation whilst distilling nonsense. It seems, no device for torpedoing the flow of successful and target-oriented communication, is left untried.

That is to say, the so-called content of a text: arbitrary in its original formulation, easily replaced—is a waste product. Text production in the sense of producing texts, which, it seems, are not intended to be read—at least not read accurately. They function like images, like photographs, indifferent as to who was intending what in a given moment, which message someone wanted to convey or how he wanted to express himself. Texts which instead reveal the formal beauty of texts—stringent only in their configuration, their filigree graphics and the agility of their coincidence.

And so, all the more central the form, the boundaries—and the shifting processes. Frames and margins—of the contexts concerned, of the texts themselves, of literary production and the market. Texts produced to produce this periphery—empty pages, cover, bookstore, context. Or in order to rewrite, distort or delete an existing text, and reduce it to and focus on its frame, margins and most exterior elements. Centrifugal texts, in which everything seems geared to sidetracking towards their edges: to what they do not deal with, to where they get out of hand, become arbitrary. And margins, which seem to demand all the attention for themselves, not because they claim to be the actual center, but precisely in their quality as margins. Jokes without punchlines, significants lacking significance. And at the end of the line: the blank page. The elegance and power of void, the dizzying blankness of pure surface—and all that is beneath.

In the alleged center: the transcripts. Consistently, generally unabridged transcripts of conversations or situations of speech—not missing a word, recorded with the aid of technical devices—reminiscent of experimental literary forms of the twentieth century in their explicit waiving of punctuation. Overflowing texts, in which completeness replaces density. Totality of a distant kind. Texts like photographs, photographs of verbal rallies, whereby the sense and purpose of writing down spoken words (sound) is as questionable as capturing movement with a camera.

Texts with dialogues marked by line breaks, in which the speakers’ identities are not denoted in any way, generated with the greatest possible disinterest for what is spoken. The universality of expression is substituted by the universality of the recorded situation—the more interchangeable the recording situation is, the more universal, interchangeable and open the sense of the output, the more potential for any sense. The more symbolic, typical, artificial, and the more connotations the author’s (real or desired) life bears, the greater the chance, that it will be recorded. And—the more vacant, exchangeable, copious and peripheral the recording turns out to be, the greater the chance it will be transcribed.

The disfiguration of representation, as a decomposition of the world into more or less empty symbols of world, takes place in the most elegant manner where the process is intrinsic to the original, part of its inherent nature: a potent reason for repeatedly choosing material from field of cultural production and particularly the so-called art world—and especially from those areas where the meaning of language is relatively limited. Documents of the sounds of language, in their congruency of being at once recording of reality as well as theatre text, commentary, poem, secondary literature and a product of chance, exert a magnetic attraction which intentional literature would be quite envious of. Writing with a recording device warrants an abundance of style, making the expression itself always appear against the backdrop of all possible forms of expression. Action shifts towards situation, information towards imagery, occasionally leading to an exaggerated qualification of everything said.

Pleasant side-effect of this method of generating texts: that the artistic process allows us to deal with the realms of life one finds interesting—in real time. It is as if, from the first moment, the yearning for the result overwhelms the desire for expression: To have written a text—any text. As soon as possible and with as little effort as possible To immediately move on to the true purpose: correcting and rewriting, striking through and annotating, selecting and restructuring, all this in direct recourse to strange material found somewhere. And then again, quite classically, taking part in defining the layout, copy editing, going to the printers, arranging publications on book tables, holding readings, book signings. The highest possible concentration of the extrinsically visible, depictable, the non-inner work of the author. Substituting the need to be an author for the author’s possible needs, transporting the phenomenon of being an author back into society, into public life—the author’s surface with the fabulous inner reality it intrinsically assumes. As texts experience a devaluation from being the basic requirement for being an author to being a by-product, the write-up of the author’s life as real literature is performed. Texts like footnotes, like secondary literature, like theories accompanying the ultimately ungraspable—life itself—the main text exists as an image, to which they relate, from which they dissociate themselves nonchalantly. Texts, margins themselves, no longer want to be margins, but instead the edge of a gaping abyss.

Hamburg | Michael Riedel | Hamburg's Kunstverein |

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