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    The street, a space

    A text by Lucas Hirsch and Thea Mantwill


    I was thinking about elegance the other day and the following sentence stood in my mind, firmly entrenched like an institution: elegance is the ability to make something heavy seem light. Paul Valéry said the same thing, but more beautifully:


    Elegantia

    This means freedom and economy translated into the visible

    ease and spontaneity in

    difficult matters.

    Finding without appearing to have searched

    Knowing without revealing that one has learnt


    So elegance can mean running a gallery without a floor if the room doesn't have one — but it can also mean subjecting a room to the most painstaking changes that ultimately make it appear as though no hands or tools touched it since the last departure. Both — the visible effort (afterwards) to operate above the groundless, and the invisible effort (before) to create traces that are not recognizable as such — are two sides of the same coin.



    DÜSSELDORF

    A party. At the academy. Could have gone wrong, but there's a guy with an almost bald head and a blue down jacket standing in a cage playing hardcore techno, the vibe is kind of aggro, but good.

    A party. At AGI'S BISTRO. The guy is exhibiting a smurf picture and the ceiling is fistbumped down.

    A mutual friend introduces him to me at a Philara opening in the Rhine harbour: His name is Lukas and he painted a basketball court. The next day at the next opening, we meet again as he asks his friend who the little guy is that he brought with him yesterday. Even though it sounds like I came along in his trouser pocket, we become friends. 

    For the Peter Mertens Scholarship exhibition, he scanned found objects and printed them on tarpaulins for outdoor advertising used for scaffolding. I stand between them and panic, because my not-yet-existing gallery has him in its programme and it's increasingly likely that an existing gallery will be quicker than me. Rock'n'roll or job security? Although my work buddy steals the show and quits two weeks before me, I stick with it and go to open a gallery in former Sandy's Copyshop.

    Plans are always good until they meet reality. My plan: Let SANDY'S COPYSHOP be SANDY'S COPYSHOP and only show Appropriation Art. The reality / Sandy's plan: Move and open the same copy shop somewhere else in Düsseldorf. So no appropriation and the space will be gutted ... I won't reveal how much I've had done. But Lukas is consistent and six months later, he shows stolen objects from Brussels: manhole covers, objects from building sites, that sort of thing. And a year later, the criminal offences jacket; his down jacket with his justice portfolio embroidered on the back.



    WARSAW

    My first art fair. I was recommended to the two organisers, Stereo and Piktogram. The stand fee was just 1,800 euros, but I had only recently opened my gallery and hadn't sold a single work of art yet. There's no money left over for transport or production. So Lukas Müller and I travel from Berlin to Warsaw by train, without a single artwork in our luggage. We want to find something locally. We eat pierogi in the Boardbistro and drink too much Zywiec. We arrive in Warsaw in the evening pretty drunk. We first go to a bar called "The Kraken" and order vodka. Lukas explains to me what it means to have a foamy one. We wake up late the next morning and have less than 24 hours until the fair opens. All Lukas has collected so far are loads of pieces of paper lying around on the streets all over the city. We laugh all morning because we have no idea what to do with them. Lukas came to Poland with a rucksack full of dirty washing and has to wash it at the Airbnb first. As he hangs up his wet clothes, I have the idea of going to Ikea and buying three laundry racks: we want to hang the found papers on them. The racks cost 30 euros. We get a taxi and take them to the Palace of Cultures, where the "Not Fair" is taking place. At the entrance, we are greeted by Stereo and Piktogram.

    “Hi, I'm Michal",

    “Hi, I'm Michal."

    they both say.

    “Hi, I'm Lucas."

    “Hi, I'm Lukas",

    we reply.

    Michal from Stereo asks: "One question: who's gallerist and who's artist?". We don't really know either.

    We hang the flyers with clothes pegs on the Ikea laundry rack and sell one of the sculptures to the MoMa Warsaw. Piktogam-Michal's mobile phone ringtone is "Everyday I'm hustlin' hustlin'. Hustle, hustlin' hustlin' hustlin'. Hustle, hustlin' hustlin' hustlin'...".

    His gallery has a roof terrace where we listen to Polish rap on YouTube and drink beer. I break a rib when I do a belly flop onto the way too hard mattress of a hotel room.

    Then it's someone's birthday and we go to a restaurant called "Dom Wodki". There's an animation of James Bond in the mirror in the toilet, chatting at you in Polish while you wash your hands. Each course is preceded and followed by a vodka shot to match the food, and between courses there are an unbelievable amount of uncoordinated vodka shots. The prices are astronomical by Polish standards, and we dread the bill for the whole meal. Until finally a man from Liechtenstein throws his credit card on the table and pays with a "Fuck you all".

    The next morning, we are badly hungover with Wojciech Bąkowski at the Jewish cemetery and I cry. Later that day, an Italian colleague is labelled a terrorist by a security guard and thrown out of the Palace of Cultures. He was sitting in the lobby with a rucksack and laptop, which seemed very suspicious to security. Meanwhile, outside on the street, people are demonstrating against new abortion laws. At the end of the fair, we throw the laundry racks into large rubbish containers and split the flyers into three plastic bags. My rib still hurts when I laugh for over a month.



    COLOGNE

    Art Cologne 2017: my first major fair. I'm showing a solo presentation by the recently founded collective HC. Lukas and Friedemann are living together in Brussels at the time. Whenever I visit them, we go to a delicatessen market, eat loads of oysters and drink litres of Cremant. Friedemann once poached a whole pack of eggs as a hangover breakfast. He put the raw egg in cling film with a little oil and boiled it briefly. For me, there's hardly anything worse than eggs whose white and yolk haven't been mixed together. I ate the egg on toast anyway and fought the urge to gag so as not to offend my hosts.

    Anyway, we show ten canvases at Art Cologne, all versions of paintings from Francis Picabia's Transparence series. Watercolours on canvas, all in the same format and with a large white border. A gallery owner from Hamburg recognises a Torero and says he sold the original on the secondary market years ago. A few months after the fair, I receive a thick letter in my postbox. It's from VG Bild and threatens us with a lawsuit. To avoid legal proceedings, they want me to reveal the identity of HC and name all the buyers of the pictures. We are supposed to pay a fine of EUR 2,000 per picture, destroy all the works and document the destruction. Apparently Picabia's heirs complained.

    Our first idea was to blur the watercolours with lots of water and make them unrecognisable. Then we came to our senses and called in a lawyer from Berlin. The year prior he had represented Ida Ekblad, who, together with the Kunstverein Hamburg, was sued by the Birkenstock company because she stuck one of the company's advertising posters on the wall as wallpaper for an exhibition there. The case went to court and, in the end, Ida Ekblad was proven right. It's called appropriation, nothing new really. We kindly ask VG Bild whether they have heard of it? The letter from our lawyer to VG Bild is very well received. Everything is dropped immediately.

    Some years later, we will meet someone from VG Bild again at an opening where the pictures are on display once more. She will apologise very nicely and it will seem as though she finds it all a bit uncomfortable.

    Of course, the expectation for VG Bild to have heard of an art form that emerged in the 70s is fundamentally different from the expectation for the rest of the world outside the art bubble — which is still smaller than the crypto bubble, no matter how much they hit the gym or do coke. At this point, a digression to appropriation art would be possible*. But. First, there's Google, and second, I get such an Effi-Briest-like feeling about it. I'm afraid of compulsively pushing my glasses up my nose and prefacing that this is a wide field. And then I get tired again.

    What wakes me up: theft. Removal, appropriation, property crime, plagiarism, taking away, Mauserei (my favourite so far), embezzlement, thievery, incorporation.

    Taking something for yourself. Can you steal space? Can I steal something that was given to me? Is it really theft if the victim is relieved that it was taken from them? Plagiarism is the theft of thoughts. There are many thoughts that I would gladly have stolen if they were really gone afterwards. Monelle says: Don't throw rubble behind you, because everyone should help themselves to their own rubble. Sounds like it's not theft to steal something that someone no longer wants or needs. Apparently, ownership also means having decided that something "belongs" to me. And yet everyone should use their own rubble to build their own house. Of course this is a metaphor, but the value attached to usefulness is interesting here: how am I supposed to build a house that is mine from rubble that is not mine? It’s as though the material would crumble between my hands, it inaccessible to anyone other than the person who originally owned and used it.

    A short time later (measured in lines), Monelle says that young snakes should burn their old skins so that no one can make use of them. Again, the idea of a possible theft of identity or value through the possession of someone else's past, knowledge, experiences. This image is much more sinister and close than that of the debris, someone could be wearing my old skin. Blackmail through knowledge. Even if there are thoughts and experiences that I would love to have irrevocably stolen from me, emptied from me, I don't want anyone to know about them, to be able to empathise with them.

    There is something very impersonal about stealing things from the street: stolen construction material and signs become worthless once they have been extracted from their system. Just as bureaucracy, if we were to take one of its imperial-era “rules” and stripped it of its absurd overall structure, would collapse in on itself. 

    My sister stole cuddly toys from the shop for a while when she was a child. She told me later that she didn't enjoy it but couldn't stop either. A psychologist says that stealing is not about possession (I would understand that, I'm a greedy person), but about the moment of stealing: the possibility of being caught, the attention. My sister sat in her cold blue room and didn't want to grow up. She told me later that she was always afraid of disappearing, of not being seen, of not being a person.

    I think I get what she means: I know what it's like to want to be someone else, probably everyone does. I once stole something from someone I wanted to be — as soon as I had it, it turned grey and worthless. Now it was mine, and I was even more me. But the act of taking it was a promise.

    The thought of someone using my debris, slipping into my skin, is scary — mainly because I immediately think of the bad things, the unpleasant remnants and scars that someone might discover. The feeling of being exposed (losing your teeth, leaving the house without trousers, etc.) is always unpleasant. But as soon as I imagine it the other way round — that I am helping myself to someone else's rubble or, even better, slipping into their skin — it becomes a promise. Who wouldn't want to be someone else, sometimes, often, always?

    And yet I have the feeling that there is an essential difference between using rubble and slipping into someone's skin (even if it is an old, discarded skin): the rubble is no longer needed. What has been discarded, thrown away, forgotten, lost, is still material. Nobody is entitled to something that was not important enough to be preserved, retained or kept. On the contrary: it is only possible to take a differentiated view of what is considered worthless or valuable under which circumstances if there are several perspectives. The status or value of an object can change when it has been used or worked with. And what has value for whom and under what circumstances is not only a potentially philosophical or art-historical question, but also a political one.

    (Now I really did end up writing about appropriation (I think))


    MILANO

    There is a silent agreement at art fairs, but it is almost always disregarded: no works with sound.

    At Miart, there is a stand diagonally across from me by a new gallery from Florence that I have never heard of before. They are showing a single, huge sculpture in the form of a silver tin globe and a small work on a shelf that emits a sound. All I hear from the other side of the corridor is a nine-second loop of a melody: "Duuuuu-Duuu, Duuuuu-Duuuuu, Duuuuuuuuu, Duuuuuuuuuu".

    I calculate that with five days at the fair, each lasting nine hours, I will have listened to the loop around 18,000 times by the end of the week. Even before the preview of the fair begins, the gallery owner from Florence drops by. He introduces himself as Gianluca and apologises sincerely for the noise disturbance. I show him my phone calculator with the result of 18,000 loops. He laughs and apologises again. In the evening at the hotel, I can't sleep. I can still hear the melody, as if it's burnt into my brain. This is beyond earworm, I think, and I’ve only just managed 3,600 loops. By the beginning of the second day, the melody has almost grown on me. I even hum it to myself when I'm too far away from the Emergent Section to actually hear the sound. I briefly think I'm no longer functioning and incapacitated as soon as the sound is taken away from me. In the evenings I start to hate it again.

    The fair is already going very badly on the second day, even for the gallery from Florence. No wonder, I think to myself, with an excessively large sculpture and sound art — although I hadn't sold any work myself.

    That evening, Gianluca invites me to a dinner he organised. Apparently, 6 April is International Carbonara Day, so I order one of the best carbonaras of my life. When I come back from the toilet after dinner, I sit down at the table and suddenly have a PTSD earworm flash of the melody. For a moment, I am convinced I have something like brain damage. The people at the table notice my lapse and look worried. As I voice my concerns that I can't get this stupid music out of my head and that I'm about to go mad, the whole table laughs. Gianluca pulls a Bluetooth box out from under the white tablecloth ... 🖕🏻🖕🏻

    After the show, he sends me the wav. file via Whatsapp. The song is by Michael Stipe, the singer from REM. He composed and recorded it for the work of New York artist Jonathan Berger. The track is almost 10 minutes long and beautiful.

    In the summer, I travel with my wife across Italy to Calabria. On the way, we spend a week in Tuscany, at Gianluca's mum's house.

    BASEL

    I’m waiting in line for the bathroom at the opening of an Italian painter in a gallery in Basel. There is one more guest in front of me and several people waiting behind us. I had too much of the warm Prosecco they were serving next to a huge ice block sculpture in the courtyard and now I really have to pee. While I am talking to the artist in front of me a young woman cuts the line, bursting into the bathroom. I say “Hey” and she stops and looks at me provocatively. “It’s ok if you need to go first, but I think it would have been nice to ask”. “Do you see Angharad Williams over there?”, she replies. “She gave me permission to go to the bathroom before all you”. I immediately say: “Yes, well, but Richard Sides signed a certificate for me saying that I can take a shit before you can take a piss”. She looks at me in disgust and enters the bathroom. Ten minutes later she comes out again. “Thank you for being so quick about it”, I say. She turns to me, gives me the wiping hand, introduces herself and disappears into the crowd. I see her again many times that evening and also the coming months at different events and art fairs. Sometimes I wonder if we would have become friends had we met under different circumstances, but I seriously doubt it.


    DÜSSELDORF / MOON / PARIS / NEPAL

    As always, something lingered in the room: the scent of baked sugar, musk and something else coming from Dorota and Eglė's fountain: Elisa's bluish pigments, spray adhesive from Lukas' DEAR HANNAH, the traces of Sami's unfired clay sculptures on the floor, which redistribute themselves with every sweep yet never disappear. There are first rumours that Lukas and Lucas have never been seen in the same room together — we love rumours. Some people can't sleep at night because the moon is still out and my notes say: Fanta. As a second consequence of the thefts, or due to his raver-turned-criminal offences jacket, Lukas released a collection with LFDY, parts of which he then burns outside. I think about appropriation through destruction and send him an excerpt from The Book of Monelle. Monelle says:


    This is the word: Destroy, destroy, destroy. Destroy within you, destroy around you. Make room for your soul and for the other souls. (...)

    Be like the seasons that destroy and build.

    Build your own house and burn it yourself.

    Do not throw rubble behind you, for everyone should help himself to their own rubble. Do not build in the night gone by. And let what you have built go and drift.


    Lukas can't (and doesn't want to) answer because he is in the silent monastery, but he wrote from Nepal at 4.54am today:


    It's very cold at night and in the morning, but during the day I walk to the village in my T-shirt to get a few things (mostly nuts and oranges). Dinesh's mum lives here too. She might be around 80 years old. A deep happiness emanates from this woman. She smiles and sings all day and in the evening she rubs her legs with mustard oil by the campfire. I'm still trying to figure out how she manages to be so happy. But I think it's like most people here whom you ask, they say: acceptance.


    Niklas Taleb shows Scheiße alles.

    It's a new year, as always.


    __


    *... which I can’t help but briefly mention, although I swear I don't know anything and haven't read anything, I just have fleeting thoughts about: bringing the street in. Despite having a Latinum and Graecum, I have a fundamental lack of understanding of foreign words, so I have to translate them into something as simple as possible. I usually use the first association, even if it's wrong.

    Taking in the streets may sound bold at first because it is associated with dirt and rawness — even though German culture and Christianity, unlike most cultures and religions, have no cleansing rituals: we neither wash ourselves when we enter a church nor do we typically have shoes designated for the house and shoes designated for outside (that stay outside) — the street is a place made up of many places where we spend a not insignificant part of our day.

    The street and all its extensions such as trains, railway stations, shopping centres, etc., are the only place where we meet others on an uncurated basis. If we lived in a computer game (one of my favourite fantasies), it would be the portal to all other worlds. We eat, talk, argue, meet and part there. There are things we do there for the first time. Some people die on the street. Some sleep there. Children learn to walk on it in shoes, fall down and touch it with their hands, probably at some point for the last time. — Life takes place on the street. So why shouldn't I bring along and use what I have found there.

    And ultimately, the street forms the environment of the rooms, it levels everything that happens on and around it. A floorless gallery can thus be a room without a floor because its street has one.

    __


    Lucas Hirsch was born and raised in Düsseldorf. His gallery is located on Birkenstraße 92 in Flingern, Düsseldorf. Do not trust its opening hours, they tend to be flexible.The artworks are something between valuable rubbish and trashy treasures. Some of them leave irreversible traces in the already unique space, but all of them fit into this very space, to which nothing really fits except the hole in its ceiling.


    __


    Proofreading by Rebecca Grundmann

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