The need to recall one’s past in order to master the present is a favourite platitude of motivational speakers. The group exhibition Ancient Carriers suggested that this piece of wisdom can also be turned around. What the five artists in the show have in common is the realization that popular eschatology is often acutely revealing about our own myths of origin. It is fitting that this should have been the first group exhibition at the new location of Galerie Markus Lüttgen: after several years, Lüttgen bid farewell to the fabled art hotspot of Berlin and returned to his former base, Cologne. Where others might have taken the opportunity to look back on past achievements, Lüttgen invited the curator of Kunstverein München Saim Demircan (a regular contributor to this magazine) who put together a show with five artists not represented by the gallery, four of them very young.
The two-level architecture of the new gallery space automatically divided Ancient Carriers into two halves. The ground floor was watched over by a long-necked monster in a painting by Andreas Schulze (Untitled, 2000) – an indefinable mixture of Loch Ness monster and Japanese Kaiju. While Nessie evoked primeval horrors, the Japanese movie beasts stood for humanity’s insane striving for nuclear weapons and domination of the environment. Faceless and mute, Schulze’s creature combines the two. Painted using the artist’s signature bright palette, it provided the perfect starting point for an exhibition that packaged heavy philosophical questions in the supposedly garish formal idioms of sci-fi and fantasy.
The same applied to the six of Veit Laurent Kurz’s Megaya Scepters (2014–15) that were spread around this room. With the kind of meticulousness usually found among tabletop gamers or fans of cosplay, Kurz has implanted USB ports and other technological interfaces into found branches. Overgrown with moss and weeds, they are also adorned with pneumatic tubes and hi-tech fabrics. In the past, Kurz’s use of model-making techniques has often been geared towards a contemporary product and wellness aesthetic, as in last year’s market launch of the fictitious dietary supplement Herba 4 with the online magazine DIS. But the presence of Schulze’s mute guardian drew attention to the End Times quality of the sculptures. With their switches and compressed air canisters, they looked like improvised post-apocalyptic combat rifles.
On the upper floor, too, the space was structured by figurative painting. In Magnus Andersen’s Naughty Flaughty Flegeljahre (2014), the viewer’s gaze is met by that of a red-eyed flautist. He wears ‘oriental’-looking pointed slippers and a fur cap, and the frame bears totem-like carvings. This play on clichés of the noble savage and tribal art became interesting in contrast to Andersen’s second work in the show: the tax collector in Tax Boy (2014), who also wears an antiquated fantasy outfit, albeit while engaged in the most civilized and least romantic of all activities. Here, the noble savage is juxtaposed with his equally stereotypical opposite. In spite of their archaic traits, both characters come to us from an imaginary future. As the press release reveals, Andersen’s pictures illustrate a relatively typical science-fiction scenario: after the collapse of existing structures, a youthful leftover population regresses to Bronze Age behavioural patterns in its struggle to survive. Like its popular precursors, Andersen’s vision emerges from a logical thinking-through of the economic and personal liberalizations of our times. But whereas other literary and cinematic scenarios are obliged to devise seamless worlds, Andersen’s cleverly clichéd coupling allows the viewer to join in the speculation. When the time comes to found a new society, which impulse is stronger – the wandering musician’s love of freedom, or the calculating taxman’s desire for order? To ask this question is to touch on fundamental, timeless problems. And the more fundamental the questions become, the smaller the difference between distant past and remote future.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell