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Back to Reviews 97


jürgen stollhans at otto schweins

by Rosanne Altstatt  

Installation view of
O.T., 1997


Images from the CD-ROM

   "Pressure, Servitude, Degeneration, Exploitation and Indignation" (Druck, Knechtschaft, Entartung, Ausbeutung und Empörung). These five words quoted from Karl Marx were taken by Jürgen Stollhans as the title for his recent exhibition. Stollhans explored the boundary between individual production and mass-production by creating a series of works that are hand-made, thus "imperfect" in the sense of not being perfectly identical.

The show featured mixed-medium works on the wall as well as sculptural constructions. Schweins' gallery walls were plastered with round woodcuts, shaded to give the impression of a three-dimensional array of grey balls. Two overlarge woodcuts printed on muslin of a Volkswagen Jetta car radio became three when Stollhans added an identical piece half-way through the show. A roll of prints of the so-called U.N. Auto, brought out by the Lego toy company in the early '60s (to help sell both Lego's new wheels and the new United Nations) stood waiting to be hung, framed, wallpapered -- somehow applied to the greater exhibition. Each series stretched the limits of its own medium: no matter how well their printed surfaces are carried out they still cannot give the same impression as three-dimensional balls, radios or toy cars.

The subject of limits also comes up in Baudelaire's essay, "Why Sculpture is Boring," from his Salon of 1848, which was set out in the gallery for visitors to read. Baudelaire compares sculpture, which he finds unbearable in its three-dimensionality, to painting, which is said to be straightforward, exclusive, despotic and strong as a result of its two-dimensional limits. Stollhans' corresponding installation consists of two banners that read "Defense of the Narrative Form" (Verteidigung der narrativen Form) strung between wooden poles stuck into the sprocket holes of twin, giant mock-cassette tapes bearing the same title as Baudelaire's essay. Both text and image invoke their own limits. Baudelaire's words alone cannot fully describe an image, and the installation implies that the image cannot fully explain as much or in the same way that text does. The fake tapes cannot be played and the political banner is powerless without a real statement to back it up.

A further aspect of the show is Stollhans' preoccupation with the mass media, which adds a sense of place to the exhibition in that Cologne is touted as "Media City" -- the German center for television, radio and advertising. In addition to incorporating representations of communications media such as the audio tape, radio and banners mentioned above, Stollhans has made a CD-ROM titled Remapping. This multimedia work features different non-linear bits of absurd theories, systems and objects that must be put together associatively. The task is not so difficult, though, as today's computer user is accustomed to fitting together puzzles of signs and symbols. For instance, under the menu "On the Moon" the first rocket scientist C.E. Ziolkowski and his formula for calculating a rocket's speed is followed by a cartoon squid propelling itself through an underwater seascape. The link between these two unrelated things could be the idea of speed and movement, as well as being two seemingly impossible theories made real. According to recent press reports, Captain Nemo's legendary giant squid have now been found, and as everyone now knows, the rocket flight that once seemed an impossible theory of physics was eventually realized.

The show's many different aspects and Stollhans' refusal to make his works in one continual style sometimes seems disjointed, but when you scratch the surface you see that the various works fit together on a different level. Stollhans has created unique pieces of art that walk on the borderline between mass media, mass-production and the personal touch that fit the pluralistic world of ideas we live in today.

Jürgen Stollhans at Otto Schweins, Apr. 25-July 5, 1997, Ehrenstr. 10-12, 50672 Cologne

ROSANNE ALTSTATT is a critic and curator working in Cologne.