It is one key to this survey of young and youngish artists connected with Frankfurt’s Städelschule academy that, despite the school’s cultish reknown in art circles, for most people in Ireland (and in a couple of other PIGS-ish destinations), when one talks about things ‘coming out of Frankfurt’, contemporary art practice won’t be the first thing that comes to mind. Tobias Rehberger (the Städelschule’s sculpture professor) and Nikolaus Hirsch (its director), who curated this show with IMMA’s Rachel Thomas, do not need to be told that Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank, is associated with a kind of financial strong-arming that has few friends outside Ireland’s political class and those embedded, in the military sense, with the occupying forces.
Still, the curators remain gutsy and, perhaps even winningly, unfazed by such challenges, courting further offence by raising the letters I, O and U into upper case in the show’s title. But who owes what, and to whom? Or can (and even should) a thematic programme that looks at ‘circulation’ and ‘cultural capital’ be welcomed as something other than the cultural brigade of the same army? The curators can assert that their strategy here – to invite artists associated with the Frankfurt art academy, past and present, to take part; and for them in turn to invite one friend – will lead to an open and inclusive structure: one that will somehow counterpoint what is happening at a political level, evoke an alternative type of circulation that austerity has not quenched.
That, of course, remains the occult aspect of what has come to Ireland in I KnOw yoU. The work itself, by some 50 artists, has an eye – or in the case of Thomas Zipp’s contribution, an ear – fixed elsewhere. Zipp’s Polymorphous Oratory (2012) features a pair of skyscraping, steampunk telescopes, each with earpieces attached via cables to the thin ends, all the better to attend to the silence of God, an activity aided by a side chapel-like installation of electric votive candles. A comparable slapstick mishearing, of sorts, lies behind Letters from Mexico (2011), a cross-cultural Mexican whisper from Simon Fujiwara: a set of framed letters that he dictated in English to non- Anglophone street scribes in Mexico, who gamely typed up phonetic approximations of the artist’s words. Another bizarre and presumably unwitting collaborator shows up in Danh Vō’s Looty, 1865 (2013), an appropriated print of a nineteenth- century portrait of some canine colonial spoils, a Pekinese puppy, the credit for which work is officially shared between the artist and Queen Victoria.
The show climaxes – or possibly comes to a halt – with Holger Wüst’s Zekher (Teil Eins, Das gemeinsame Werk der Warenwelt) (Zekher, Part One, The Joint Work of the World of Goods) (2012), a remarkable photocollage-cum-video that marries Jeff Wall-like storytelling with one of those VR shots used to convince us of the conviviality of a hotel bedroom. Here time is rolled up into an image projected at extra-large scale, but still far smaller than its ‘real’ size inside the computer, which is about 30 feet high. Every inch of the image is, like nature itself, full of rewarding detail if only you’ll zoom in. In this case, Wüst has done the zooming for us, creating a moving tour of the image, scanning over its surface, homing in on some scattered pages until we can see the Marx, as it were, edging around the frame, and we finally find ourselves caught in an immense, nightmarish weather system. The image’s exploration/journey takes nearly two hours to complete, at which point we will have seen a globe lapped up and regurgitated by the winds of capital, as destructive as they are apparently impossible to confine.
This article was first published in the Summer 2013 issue.