artist / participant
Now, some weeks before the opening, I still have not made enough decisions about the exhibition. Guessing that now it is still too early to supply anyone with a good announcement text, but now at least I have to make the first of a long string of decisions; to write it anyway, and deciding that way and smoothly beginning to obey with every word now the institutionalized order of procedure. But there are many “buts” in this procedure of involvement. First reaction: I immediately remember how while sitting next to me at a dinner, a great artist that had made work back in the seventies very simply spelled out the old great simple sentence “art never happens out of obedience”. But I believed instead that sometimes obedience is great energy to improve your works. And on top of it the third “but” is that I wanted to
finally make an exhibition that shows what I would like to do, in case all the usual objects are still not involved before they appear in my work, before the production procedure “obeys” to the demands of real object representation. Thus exposing more the pure stage of floating ideas and revealing, in my case, the primary impulse of dealing with text with little authentic stories and all kinds of arbitrary word references. This will be the production issue of dépendance´s “The Balalaika Moment”.
I am not sure who actually said it, but I guess it was Andy Warhol who said that decisions are always bad for the production of art. Although it was an artist of his inches that gave us such a great instruction, I still hear surprisingly often enough that collectors, gallerists or curators are using the word “decision” sometimes even as a cruel tool or almost as a weapon to legitimize their exclusive judgments on artists or their works. “An artist has not decided” is pretty, pretty bad. And as powerful as it is, one just cannot respond to it.
During the time before the works for an exhibition are ready there is a certain time before making decisions, a time of sometimes-great happiness and of real artistic density. Almost every time I have undergone this special period of the productive process, I start dreaming of finally making an exhibition almost without any material concerns, even without material objects, an exhibition just reduced to text without any material objects actually. But always the objects, like lamps, would start walking into my kitchen, my studio or the gallery space and then they would stay with the texts and even push the text back and turn them into the background of my work, somehow liberating the texts from the stressful role of being the forefront objects, allowing them to float around independently and unconcerned with the rules of commodities. Whenever I feel the desire to make a pure, simple, text-only exhibition, I remember a special moment as young artist, a kind of balalaika moment. I was working for Isa Genzken then as an assistant for a few months. One day she asked if I would be able to paint a text by Lawrence Weiner onto the wall of her studio. As a rule, I would have, as always, proudly said “yes, sure I can, but I must warn you, it may take me quite a long time,” but for this job I could truly proudly tell her that I had done the Lawrence Weiner job already for some galleries and asked her if I should do it with the typical Lawrence Weiner typeface. She explained that in fact it did not have to be made in a specific typeface and that she bought the sentence and the deal included the freedom to use and apply the purchased sentence in whatever way she wanted to. Anyways, she walked out of the room to find the sentence and when she came back with it, she opened her hand in front of me and there in her hand I saw a small piece of rumpled paper which was his work and the words and the lines of words were written on it. I was deeply impressed as a young artist in the middle of the eighties by the incredible magic power of an artist making a healthy amount of money that way, without having gone through the process of making huge material efforts, without forming a so-called object of desire or a work of idolatry in order to sell. I loved this very uncommon way to look at a piece of art, or at some piece of text, as I looked at the just opened hand, more similar to presenting a gift of gold. But, of course, I was still not aware of the incredible magic influence this act of exchange from then on would have on me, not aware of the spell that was put on me, when Isa Genzken opened her hand to allow me to look at the work, that anytime I would go through the process of determining the objects of my next exhibition many years later, I would remember it. It was a real balalaika moment. This moment would reappear again and again like the call of a hidden voice, persuading me to make it in a similar way. But then, before I can decide, as I said, some other objects would be attracted by it too and they would come in and come into the exhibition, but now, still weeks before the exhibition, I still don’t know them and don’t want to know during these moments of preparation and pure undecided happiness. How should I now tell?
“The Balalaika Moment” is the new step in a continuous project of the previous year’s exhibitions and publications by Josef Strau, in which the permanently freewheeling production of text is determined not only by using the format of exhibition in art venues as a frame of publication, but also by the modes of exhibiting art in themselves becoming repeatedly reinvestigated and re-explored. Since his texts often employ the literary tool of changing voices, leaving the question of whether it is the author who speaks in them, or someone else expressing himself in them open, the conventional identity of the artist/author becomes fragile. The identity of the author is thus opened up to different concerns desiring the fragmentation of a singular artist’s identity. Fragmentation through the use of fiction seems to be quite a conventional condition in any form of writing - in identity-obsessed art representation for example, it still at times, even manages to produce suspicious reactions. In his most recent exhibition at “House of Gaga” in Mexico, Strau partly referred to the theological discourse of the legitimizing the production of texts as quotations of magic voices speaking through them, appearing through prophecies or dreams. In a text published in May-Revue nr.4, the voices, which dictate parts of the writing, reconstructed fragmented memories of stories told by former Nazi victims as they visited the artist’s house in early childhood. In yet another recent project in the libraries of Shanghai and Brisbane, the artist produced speaking lamps, a kind of theatre-like display, in which different lamp “voices” speak episodes from the memoirs of their fictional former lives in different shops and apartments. Extending these concepts “The Balalaika Moment” will generally refer to the quite often coincidental influences that may have unconsciously determined, early on, the conditions of the artist’s later life and his artistic productions.
Josef Strau lives in New York. His writing has appeared in various catalogues and magazines such as May Revue, Texte zur Kunst and others. Strau has had numerous solo exhibitions at exhibition spaces like House of Gaga, Mexico, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, Konsthall Malmö, Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Berlin, and Docking Station, and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In 1990 he founded the legendary exhibition space Friesenwall 120 together with Stephan Dillemuth in Cologne. Friesenwall 120 was operational from until 1994, after which he independently organized Galerie Meerrettich in the Glasspavilion of the Volksbühne, Berlin from 2002 until 2006.
The Balalaika Moment