Every day events that have the potential to become part of history take place. But who decides which event fulfils the potential to enter the historical canon? Whose history is told and by whom? In the exhibition "Golden Times" four artists Steven Claydon, Diango Hernández, Mai-Thu Perret and Sung Hwan Kim examine the complexity of history in their own ways. As different as their works are, these artists regard history as elastic, nonlinear or fragmentary. Personal experience, narration, authorship, authenticity, time lags, historical facts, references and representation all these aspects play a central role here. For the artists in this exhibition history is always a question of interpretation, narration and fiction just as historical golden ages are often idealized and almost mythical in character.
The first part of Golden Times exhibits sculptural works and installations by Steven Claydon, Diango Hernández and Mai-Thu Perret in the classic setting of a museum. Sung Hwan Kims film installation forms the second part of the exhibition and will be presented in the central hall of the Haus der Kunst
, where previous film projects have been presented.
Steven Claydon (b. 1969 in London; lives in London) is concerned with admiration as a motif and with the representation of the admired. This includes representations of historical figures in memorials and monuments, occult objects and the use of things like flags and symbols by political and cultural groups as a form of image cultivation. The contextual points of departure here are primarily moments of upheaval that have been forgotten or ignored but in which utopian visions are formulated as alternatives to existing historical value codes. Based on such stories, which Steven Claydon regards more as fiction than objectively true, he develops groups of works that, as an ensemble, present a kind of "new future" for the respective past. For the exhibition "Golden Times" Steven Claydon makes use of the Munich Secession movement. Founded in1892, it was the first collective secession of its kind and, in several of its exhibitions, the group strove to document a different understanding of art.
From a compositional point of view, Steven Claydons sculptures seem like hybrids of object and pedestal, artefact and display. Individual elements, such as bases covered in linen or integrated light boxes, bring to mind presentation modules that, for example, are typical of natural history museums; at the same time, however, they are obviously an essential feature of the works. In the case of the recently completed sculpture "Untitled" (2009), Steven Claydon places the supposed centrepiece, the bust, underneath the base rather than on top of it. The combination of ordinary objects and art objects in his displays, such as the combination of a stylized bassoon, bronze egg and bust, are treated with the customary hierarchies. His approach draws attention to the habitual and instinctive ways we present and accept cultural products.
The presentation by Diango Hernández (b. 1970 in Sancti Spiriti, Cuba; lives in Düsseldorf) is characterized by "Years" (2008), a fragile construction made of rusted steel. The skeleton-like room divider consists of the numbers of the years 1959 through 2008; organized chronologically, they can be regarded as an objectified timeline. The dates represent Fidel Castros period in office, from the time he became prime minister in 1959 to his age-related resignation in spring 2008. "Years" thereby forms the pattern or the glasses through which all Diango Hernándezs other works in this room can be viewed: the history of Cuba from the revolution to the present day.
Diango Hernández is concerned with the processes of writing history that are characteristic for his native country: the rhetoric of Fidel Castros political speeches; the belief in a successful revolution as implemented and conveyed to the population for years; the subtle changes in Fidel Castros regency leading towards a totalitarian system.
The works display states of suspension and tension. "We Cant Celebrate" (2008) consists of a chair cut in half that is held upright by means of an electric cable that has been pulled tight and wrapped around the neck of a champagne bottle as if it were the christening of a ship that can only be consummated when the equilibrium collapses.
Diango Hernández uses domestic objects in his art: desk drawers are arranged on a rickety staircase; a needle is stuck in a LPs innermost groove emitting noise rather than political speeches. He places objects, which have been relieved of their function, into precarious states of equilibrium. These balanced yet instable arrangements produce new emotionally biased images for the political situation of his home country, Cuba.
Mai-Thu Perret (b. 1976 in Geneva; lives in Geneva) studied literature and transfers the narrative techniques of novels to fine art. In so doing she stretches and expands the terms authorship, reality and fiction to such an extent that it seems as if she wishes to reduce the methods of literary studies to absurdity.
Her project "The Crystal Frontier" (begun in 1998) consists of fictitious documents from an equally fictitious womens commune in the New Mexico desert. The commune exists in the tradition of feminist utopias that characterize their aesthetic preferences and products, including diary entries, writings, manifestos, work schedules and letters, as well as the rugs, pottery and sculptures created by the individual members. Amid this wealth of various figurative voices, the auctorial narrator the artist Mai-Thu Perret seems to disappear completely.
In the Haus der Kunst Mai-Thu Perret presents a new project that she sees as a possible historical model for her fictitious communes, as their "archetypal possible past": a film about the sculptor couple, Katarzyna Kobro and Wladyslaw Strzeminski, both of whom were central figures of the Polish avant-garde in the 1920s. The film recounts individual episodes from Katarzyna Kobros tragic life: her poverty, her concern for her undernourished and sickly daughter, her difficult marriage with Strzeminski, who had been a cripple since the First World War, the failure of this marriage and work conditions during the Second World War. These biographical scenes are intertwined with scenes from "We", a Russian science fiction novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921 that tells of the life of a totalitarian society in the 26th century. The film is projected onto an enlarged, pavilion-like version of a constructivist sculpture by Katarzyna Kobro.
Sung Hwan Kim (b. 1975 in Seoul, South Korea; lives in New York) chose to present his films, including "Dog Video" (2006), "Summer Days in Keijo" and "From the Commanding Heights
" (both 2007) a.o., in the large central hall of the Haus der Kunst. Sung Hwan Kim is a storyteller. Some of his stories are like images from a dream, while others are based on actual events the material out of which rumours, myths, legends and even history are made. "From the Commanding Heights
" begins with the artists words: "I know that it does not matter if the things are true or not, but this is a true story..."
Sung Hwan Kim uses the most simple means to put his stories into images creating a visual, verbal and atmospheric collage from parts of different stories; words spoken by the artist off-camera appear simultaneously as texts on the screen; drawings are created in real time in front of the camera or are animated by Sung Hwan Kim, who assumes the role of actor. As the variable leading man, the artist slips into the most diverse roles and designs every segment of his stories himself: as director, illustrator, cutter, narrator, performer and composer.
In "Dog Video" he picked his relationship with his father as the films subject matter. The paternal severity is reflected in his almost violent direct gaze into the camera and by the way he treats the dog. The dog, a man with a paper mask and floppy ears, is being yelled at and bossed around the room. An episode in "From the Commanding Heights
" retells what Sung Hwan Kim heard in a telephone conversation with his mother: During his childhood in Seoul there were often power cuts in the citys apartment blocks. Back then a famous actress lived in such building. Supposedly a president was having an affair with her and intentionally caused such power cuts so that he could visit his lover without being disturbed or recognized.
With such excerpt-like, semi-surreal new stories, Sung Hwan Kim introduces the viewer into his personal universe. In doing this, songs and soundtracks composed together with David Michael DiGregorio serve as a universal language that needs no translation.