BY Saim Demircan in Profiles | 10 MAR 16
Featured in
Issue 23

In Focus: Veit Laurent Kurz

The consumption of ecosystems and drug-altered states

BY Saim Demircan in Profiles | 10 MAR 16

Frog Dope, Installation views, Bed-Study Love Affair, 2015, courtesy: the artist & Johan Berggren Gallery, Malmö

Veit Laurent Kurz’s recent exhibitions expand upon an imagined, artificial biosphere the artist has crafted over the past several years. Contained within these sculptures and installations are micro-analogies to fears and in- hibitions, from Chiraptophobia – the phobia of being touched – to his current project Frog dope (both 2015). The biology of things, and how things operate, fall in and out of contact, is rendered as an immersive working methodology in Kurz’s projects.

The centerpiece of Chiraptophobia at Johan Berggren Gallery, Malmö, in 2015, for instance, was a larger version of the artist’s terrain-prop landscapes, which he began to develop as components in the series Megaya (likewise at Johan Berggren, 2015). These artificial topographies have evolved like living organisms: industrial and electronic machine parts, tall plastic flowers and glistening pools of clear resin have been added to customary faked moss-covered stone ruins that typified Kurz’s earlier models based on 3D modelling programmes. While alluding to formerly inhabited worlds, Kurz’s post-technological landscapes are recast as entropic, fledgling ecosystems in an ancient future, or sometimes as parts of ‘production units’ for the manufacture of the herbal juice Herba-4 –  a recurring fictional product. Made primarily from painted Styrofoam and modelling  materials, they resemble the kind of homespun tabletops associated with hobbyists and escapist role-playing games. Such models act as containers for the projection of fantastical scenarios. Similarly in the artist’s work, the shift in scale tends to create a fantasy backstory rather than glue together a piece-by-piece ‘reading’. In this respect, Kurz shows a regard for a creative impulse found in childhood and adolescence – when the imagination when  it, one could say, is somewhat untainted by the effects of larger social and cultural influences. 

(Herba-4 Parasyte Series)
Mixed Media
2.2 x 1.2 cm
courtesy: the artist,
Johan Berggren
Gallery, Malmö

A noticeable addition to the landscape in Chiraptophobia is the introduction of invented creatures, his so-called Teufelsgrille (‘Grilled Devils’); purple anthropomorphic insects with large comical eyes and tufts of blonde hair. The appearance of these creatures in Kurz’s sometimes placid, unencumbered environments turns them into spaces of violent degradation. Yet rather than consume their surroundings  or multiply within it, the Teufelsgrille feast on one another. On the other hand, there is the sense that the Teufelsgrille are in a diorama-like state of being watched, pointing to a condition of surveillance or scrutiny – like the painting Teufelsgrille (Chiraptophobia Series), 2015, which depicts a profile of one of the creatures as if it were being analyzed on a screen. Their bug-form too, also literally suggests spyware. Installed together, both sculpture and painting function as sterile objects of scientific observation. Who exactly is doing the watching is unclear however. Similarly, the artist’s installation Herb-o-Rama at The Duck (an occasional artist-run space at Kurz’s ground-floor studio in Berlin, which he co-runs with artist Max Brand) could only be seen from the outside through the windows of the storefront. 

While the clean setup of Chiraptophobia put distance between the Teufelsgrille as objects of scrutiny and the onlooker, Kurz presents the latest creatures in his work in a different form of deprivation whilst still dealing with notions of confinement and enclosure. Dilldapp – first created for Bed-Stuy Love Affair’s presentation at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, 2015 – are pint-sized, humanoid figures amalgamated from their folkloric namesake in Germanic fairytale.  Kurz reimagines them as wild, aggressive creatures kept in cages or chained up in installations that demonstrate a drainage system that refines their shit for a recreational drug; described as ‘Frog Dope’ in an accompanying text written by the artist. Where the Teufelsgrilleappeared to be contained for study, as if inhabitants in a vivarium, in the artist’s exhibition ‘Frog Dope’ – The Complete Story at Off Vendome in Düsseldorf, the Dilldapp are installed as prisoners in a scenography akin to a feces-strewn dungeon. 

Megaya Sculpture, 2013, 184 x 101 x 86 cm, courtesy: the artist & Johan Berggren Gallery, Malmö

Without pronouncing it explicitly, Kurz’s work speaks of control and also a loss of it  – from the consumption of fragile ecosystems and natural resources by corruptive agency,  to intoxication and drug-altered states at the threshold of the medicinal and existential,  all within the larger frame of disciplinary and corporate society today. The slumped figure in Herb-o-Rama appears to have OD’ed on the over-ripened vitamins in Herba-4; Frog Dope is a psychotropic and an entheogen  (a chemical substance used for shamanistic purposes). Literary parallels can be found here too, not least because Kurz’s work in a sense illustrates fictional narratives: the codependency of drug use and products recalls Philip K Dick’s narcotic Can-D and Perky Pat in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), whereas William Burroughs often cast his substance abuse as a paranoid agent in  his writing. While the artist deals in the fantastical, it is still possible to read real-world traits into his work. The Teufelsgrille’s cannibali-zation of one another could be seen as mistrust or competition amongst a group, while the text for ‘Frog Dope’ refers to Coprophagia  – the scientific term for feces-eating most commonly found in the animal kingdom. Even though the inhalation of the Dilldapp’s  excrement offers a high as an escape from reality, here instrumentalisation is turned into a sort of refinery. A comment, perhaps, on a culture in which one is always consuming  – as Kurz has written – ‘the shit of others’. 

Saim Demircan is a curator and writer. He lives in Turin, Italy. He recently curated ‘Exhibition as Image’ at 80WSE, New York, USA.