Künstlerhaus Dortmund
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4 November - 4 December 2011

Whoever, when reading this title, only thinks of beer cans, squatting and sun burns is off the mark: ARBEIT NERVT! shows the work of 13 artists from Germany, Austria, England and the Netherlands and focuses on a really annoying phenomenon: WORK.

Plenty of search engine results seem to provide a clear picture of the title’s direction of impact: When googling "Arbeit nervt", one obtains Deichkind (a German electronic hip-hop band). Their song, with the same title, rose to a pop-slogan in 2008 and has ever since maintained its clout.
While Deichkind in their punk-attitude sing of an everyday holiday, in neurobiology a small protein is in the limelight. Named NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) it provides the basis for our nerves to grow. A look through the microscope proves that work – physical and mental activity – raises the NGF production and hence, increases the growth of our nerve fibres.

Here, where science collides with pop culture and social criticism meets science fiction, where stories about foam spitting metal cubes are told, ARBEIT NERVT! focuses on work in a different way and shows quite divers / unexpected approaches to the topic / positions relating to the topic in an unexpected way. So come over and let yourself be surprised by an after work group exhibition!

The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue.

Opening on 04/11/2011

Participating Artists

Gilbert Geister (Cologne)
Miguel José Gonzalez-Gonzalez
Jana Guerrero
Stephan Henrich
Frank Höhne
David Jakubowski
Alessa Joosten
Ben Long
Clemens Mock
Colin Penno & Philip Ullrich
Helmut Smits
Anton Steenbock

Gilbert Geister

"Seilbahn / Cable car", 2011, cable car, ink on paper, variable size
Gilbert Geister has a cable car operating between paint and canvas. Once selected, the paint is transported in the direction of the painting surface and is deposited there, without any possibility of interference or control by the user or artist. The apparatus relieves the artist of the uncomfortable bent posture over the canvas: one could say the user is transformed into a “lazy” Jackson Pollock. Since the result cannot be controlled – reminding us of the chance-driven works of John Cage - the artist is freed of any nerve-racking choices.
Considering the comfort, the added value and the delicate appearance of Geister’s construction, another consideration is easily forgotten. The cable car – which just moments ago was filled with paint – soon will be silently and emptily prompting us to continue , thus seductively beginning to dictate the rhythm of work. Similarly concealed is the control of the artist via the given choice of paints – somewhat reminiscent of Nam June Paik who once remarked that he was no longer a chef but only a delicatessen merchant.
As in many of Geister’s works, the topic here is the distance of authorship as a precondition for gaining a fresh view on the world auf robots and their creators.

Miguel José Gonzalez-Gonzalez

"synckehrt", 2008, swing, brooms, rope pull, variable size

Miguel José Gonzalez-Gonzalez focuses on moments in which one pauses and becomes aware. Special meaning is given to the interaction between recipients and the artist’s work: Gonzalez creates spaces of awareness which the viewer comes to understand only through his own corporeal experience. The perception of the art work and the body are thus inextricably intertwined.
In his work „synchehrt“ the artist uses a rope to connect a swing which is suspended from the ceiling by chains with seven brooms. When a visitor uses the swing and starts swinging back and forth, the brooms are set in motion via the rope. The sensuous movement of the person on the swing is thus immediately transformed into work. The enjoyable movement creates an everyday chore, the individual controls a synchronized movement that loses more and more meaning the longer it continues.
The initial desire for cleanliness is transformed into repetitiveness: this is more reminiscent of an enjoyable movement back and forth than work. Thus, over time, the ballet of the brooms converges with the true intentions of the person who is on the swing: A piece of work about how work makes sense.

Jana Guerrero

"Wild at heart", 2010, wood, aluminum, iron sheet, foam machines, 180 x 220 x 60 cm (2x)

Jana Guerrero‘s work „Wild at Heart“ is a confrontation of two similar machines. Identical on the outside, they emit different coloured foam from an aperture on the front. Each trail of foam creeps towards the other. The meeting of the two metal cubes thus takes place through an amalgamation of their foamy outgrowths into a colourfully tingling mix.
In the broadest sense, this is a kinetic sculpture: one that heralds the sensuousness of story-telling. The message of the sculpture thus transcends the purely formal and material fascination with its form. The cold mechanical surface of the two shapes elicits a shudder, the foam, on the other hand, allows for an almost organic empathy. Guerrero instigates an increasing irritation which accompanies: this irritation becomes entrenched deep in our procreational memory. While the machines do the work, we observe the creation of a new species.

Stephan Henrich

"The Fungus-Project", 2011, model of the „Robotic Gardener“, 3D plot, ABS, 120 x 45 x 70 cm, 3D animation of the „Robotic Gardener“

Stephan Henrich's fungus project is a fascinating contribution to the exhibition. His Robotic Gardener is based on the concept of an insect-like body that moves due to water pressure generated in water engines whilst simultaneously spreading water in order to nurture and harvest the oyster mushrooms in its care. These mushrooms fulfil a more complex role before landing in the pot, as the large modular expandable building components (measuring 2x2m each) demonstrate since it is there that the mushrooms grow.
Stephan Henrich engages with the interdependent relationship between robot-like machines and architecture. It is a process in which the robots (in)form the architecture, and the architecture in turn affects the work processes of the robot. Using living organisms allows Henrich to develop different levels of encoding and recoding between nature, machine and human - levels that continually override each other. Working as an architect and designer, Henrich creates true works of art. The animation of the robot moving about on delicately graceful outgrowths shows a playful elegance that can only be the result of biological processes permeated and penetrated by design and high technical prerequisites.
Even though his machines fulfil the requirements of concrete duties - reaching from construction to transport to horticulture - we can understand them as transcending their perceived function as Duchamp might have: as "machine célibataire".

Frank Höhne

"Tag der Arbeit / Day of Work", 2011, different pencils on different papers

Frank Höhne committed himself to an eight-hour marathon drawing session for ARBEIT NERVT. His day’s work began on November 2 at 08.50am when he boarded the ICE to Dortmund in Berlin.
Höhne had already attracted attention with a similar campaign in early 2011: at Leave a Note, the closing party of Tanzplan Deutschland, he sketched for a duration of eight hours, together with colleagues. The results, which all centred around different aspects of dance, turned out to be a running commentary – sometimes hilariously funny – on a moving subject. By turns laconic or stunningly simple, the speedily sketched drawings have a unique appeal.
For Dortmund, Höhne drew continuously from the moment he started his journey in the morning, throughout the setup of the exhibition right up until everyone downed tools for the day. When everyone else felt that their work was getting on their nerves, he decided to call it a day, too.

David Jakubowski

"Ameisenparty", 2007, video, mute, 2:23 Min. loop

In his films, David Jakubowsky directs a penetrating, almost microscopic gaze onto the animal world of invertebrates and insects. Individual actors such as a snail, a plant bug or a woodlouse are intruded upon as well as a whole colony of ants. New, often bizarre or surreal situations arise through some well-timed interference into the world of the tiny actors.
The disruption of ant life through the comparatively huge sugary candy pearls creates a strange situation of simultaneous feeding and over-feeding, of decoration and threat. In a suddenly chaotic environment the ants have to deal with the new situation and thus become distraught players in a game which they seem to partially understand and influence.
Obviously, we have by now been led down the path of anthropomorphic comparison. Jakubowsky tells modern-day fables – with a sickly-sweet humour.

Alessa Joosten

"Ohne Titel", 2010, mattress springs, wool (crocheted), 90 x 200 x 20 cm

“I see art in many everyday situations and objects. [Mattress] springs that are normally hidden from view have a beauty of their own – and I want to make this beauty loudly, colourfully and aggressively visible. Working with this material is a long-drawn and monotonous process which, however, creates in me an addiction so that I don’t want to stop working. During this work I am completely engrossed: this process gives me the opportunity to distance myself from my surroundings.”
Alessa Joosten has been engaging with the act of wrapping for some time. However, this is not a process of concealment but instead a much more complex procedure as her work for this exhibition demonstrates. In a first step, the inside of a mattress is understood as a random find, followed by a monotonous work process of deconstruction, a knitted wrapping of individual pieces and reconstruction.
Working with the materials is the artist’s main point of engagement: the contrast of hard metal and soft textiles, rusty wire and multi-coloured wool. Materials and colour interact with one another and result in a new, intensified sculptural act of expression. By adding new textiles, the mattress does not gain a new form of functionality. Instead, the mattress’s new form demonstrates its utter uselessness as its interior is taken seriously and is paraded in front of the eyes of the visitors.

Ben Long

"Spirit Structure (Fisco L3/L53)", 2011,Aluminium spirit levels, polyester resin connectors, 255 x 132,5 x 200 cm

Ben Long has created a rectangular three-dimensional structure out of 80 standardised yellow spirit levels. The structure cordons off a volume from the surrounding space as if in warning, yet since it consists of nothing but edges and lines, no sculpture obstructs the view into the interior. The view of the beholder cuts through the structure.
The spirit levels sourced from DIY stores become materials for a standardised piece of art: Long reflects on the production conditions of art between DIY store and studio. The serial usage of everyday objects reminds the viewer of Pop-Art: but whereas Pop-Art has the aim of enhancing its materials, Long undercuts this message. He doesn’t want to create new, valuable unique pieces of art – instead, he aims to create easily reproducable structures built following instructions. Nonetheless, Long’s work is conscious of the modernistic currents of minimalism and Pop-Art. Combining modern thought with everyday materials, Long’s work throws up the question of the role of art in society.

Clemens Mock

"Ein Haus in der Pillweinstraße", 2010, DVD including audio, 4:56 Min. loop (original on 35mm)

Clemens Mock’s work is procedural using a variety of media: the scope of his work ranges from performative approaches to fictitious constructions to documentary methods. Consistant methodology, specifically adopted from and adapted to each subject, is complemented by the empathy and sensitive approach of the artist. His focus is on the changes and interventions in the public sphere as they relate to the privacy and autonomy of the individual.
A House in Pillweinstreet combines over 3000 scanned slides of the renovation of a large tenement house with the stories of migrants and refugees – the tenants who moved into the building after the renovation and who tell us about their current situation in Austria. The act of continuous photography and the long work hours involved in scanning the slides have allowed Mock to achieve a translation of the protracted renovation processes into images. Through the combination of image and sound, of outside and inside, of the past and the present, the different levels are interlinked and give a compacted view of the building and its inhabitants.

Colin Penno & Philip Ullrich

"construction derby III", 2011, imitation wood, fake marble, roof battens, digital c-print, site-specific

Colin Penno and Philip Ullrich have built an obstacle course within an existing building, emphasising architectural features which in themselves are so self-evident as to be without meaning. The implant made of roof battens and laminate flooring - integrated in a thoroughly contradictory manner – determines the route, the line of sight and finally the destination. The destination itself would be unremarkable if it wasn’t the focus and centre of the two artists‘ sculptural design. Space is sometimes opened up, sometimes obstructed. In this way, the utility room of the Künstlerhaus becomes a place of central interest.
What lies behind the wings of the official exhibition spaces is explored via a contraption that is reminiscent of construction site fencing. But whereas the approach to the space „behind the scenes“ is that of a museum, the original function of the uncovered spaces is ignored. The inversion of architectural importance is accentuated by the choice of materials: the laminate intended as a floor covering stands vertically in the rooms, adding to the sense of imbalance through its opaqueness.

Colin Penno

"untitled (holes)", 2009, holes and pigments, variable size

Colin Penno lets the exhibition space speak for itself. He does, however, lend a helping hand with his power drill. The untitled work engages with the white cube as the ideal exhibition space and argues that the white is a hard-fought battle against the naturally porous and colour-leaking walls. With different drilled holes, Penno demonstrates that the space is not really white but instead conceals different colours in the masonry underneath the paintwork. When the white cube is probed with the drill these colours emerge as multi-coloured drill dust. The work with the drill creates a painting with pigment which manifests itself on the skirting boards and the walls, documenting the true origin of the space against the overwhelming whiteness. Penno himself only comments on his work with an ironic reference to a website containing helpful tips for DIY amateurs at home:
»Everyone will have to drill holes into a wall at some point. Many people don’t believe themselves capable although drilling really isn’t witchcraft. The following instructions demonstrate how to drill a hole and place a wall plug, e.g. to hang a picture on the wall. The wall plug ensures that the picture will hang safely on the wall.« (www.expli.de/anleitung/loch-bohren-duebel-setzen-157/)

Helmut Smits

"Nine to Five", 2010, time switch set from 9:00 to 17:00

Helmut Smits succeeds in finding seemingly simple solutions for complex problems in his works. His art comments on the relationship between media representation and gritty reality with humour, and through succinct phrasing the essential questions are revealed. His square of burnt earth which he presents as a dead google-earth pixel, initially plays with the resolution of the graphic and the question of representation of real time. However, it soon broadens into a reflection on the endless permutations of visual representation.
Here in the Künstlerhaus he is exhibiting a piece of work which has two different states: on and off. A timer clock allows electricity to flow from 9am to 5pm but has no electricity flow for the rest of the 24 hour day. This simple instrument reduces the world of work to the simple slogan of “nine to five” and simultaneously raises the question whether the same principle applies to people as it does to the electric machines. After work would then mean before-work, and work would be everything. Brave New World, made by Smits.

Anton Steenbock

"Hausmeister Aquarell/Janitor's Aquarell", 2010, documentation of process – hard to buff ink on door, variable size

Anton Steenbock’s work is inspired by and inspires through its connection to an urban environment. A space in which caretakers, graffiti sprayers, landlords and cleaners perform a subtle ballet of decoration and beautification, of disinfection and repainting; Anton Steenbock is integrated into this context as if by chance and points to a reality transfer between picture, urbanity and social constructions of roles. The caretaker who creates new images when repainting disfigured walls is as paradoxical a figure as the person whose wiping efforts on doors seem to replicate and echo the art of Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Steenbock reluctantly documents and archives these pieces of art; he speaks with the people involved and thus integrates a finely calibrated social structure into the landscape of the urban map.

Organisation: Caspar Walbeck, Hannes Woidich, Elena Schneider

Images ©: Hannes Woidich
Images Opening ©: Julia Reschucha

kindly supported by:

Sparkasse Dortmund, Cultural Department of the City of Dortmund,
Brinkhoff's, Dolezych, Holz Kummer, Torlop, Laconic Records