DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Review - Jürgen Stollhans as Guest Speaker in the Salon des Refusés

8 August, 5 pm, Former police station

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
Invited to deliver the guest lecture in the Salon des Refusés this Wednesday was the documenta 12 artist Jürgen Stollhans. In his presentation he unveiled a collection of strongly associative visual images which served as background and research material for his documenta 12 piece Vorwärts auf der deutschen Märchenstraße (Onwards Down the Highway of German Fairytales) and which he himself dubbed the “exegesis of the product“. Stollhans explores the interaction of social democracy and art, i.e. pictorial aesthetics and social democracy, or to use his more accurate description, social democracy and tracked vehicles.

The association of the latter with the German Social Democrats traces back to the suppression of November Revolution of 1918/19 by the Reichswehr at the behest of the SPD anxious to avert turmoil and anarchy. There is also a formal connection in the form of an orange-coloured prototype of a vehicle designed by Luigi Colani from the 1970s, which the SPD resurrected for a poster during the 1997 election campaign and which inspired Stollhans’ preoccupation with tracked vehicles. For him a vehicle continues to symbolise progress, as something which cleaves its own path into the future. This he illustrated using images from an SPD-staged congress on the future which – in the manner of an industrial fair – featured certain tracked vehicles and other state-of-the art machines.

By way of explanation: In his small panorama in the Neue Galerie, the media installation Vorwärts auf der deutschen Märchenstraße (1998–2007), Stollhans fashioned a kind of model architecture in which he arranged orange-coloured tanks stripped of their weapons, bearing the SPD logo and a picture of Gerhard Schröder, together with various other disarmed (armoured) vehicles sporting stickers from the PDS and the CDU, stylised blue flowers and a portable WC on wheels. Posters and political banners with catch phrases such as Die Rast auf der Flucht nach vorn (“A rest on the flight forwards”), Blasenfrei zapfen (“bubble free tapping) or a red banner proclaiming Von der Sozialdemokratie lernen, heißt siegen lernen! (“Learning from the Social Democrats, means learning to win!”) augment the strongly quote-laden and ironical miniature landscape. An animated video piece completes this anarchical, humorous view of the world and the present day, and specifically that of Kassel, which is still haunted by its own historical ties to the armaments industry.

Stollhans commenced his lecture with an unusual illustrated example, a medieval representation of Fortuna as a wheel of fortune. In his opinion, this serves as a metaphor for things which come into the world, grow larger and then simply disappear again or are replaced. Subsequently, he shows his research material which to a less or greater degree is all connected in some way to the SPD and tracked vehicles: On the one hand, images, models, texts and illustrations relating to the industrial production of tanks and their deployment in the First World War; on the other hand, historical information on the SPD, such as the picture of a barricade erected during the January Uprising of 1919, modern photos of election campaign posters and slogans, including an inflatable balloon launched to mark the 100 year anniversary of the Social Democrats from 1963, together with their historical. During the presentation, it became obvious that Stollhans has been fascinated by the SPD and its iconography for many years. He first started amassing his collection of historic material in 1997 during the campaign for the 1998 Bundestag elections which signalled an end to the era of Helmut Kohl. In his research, he availed himself of the Archiv der sozialen Demokratie at the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation in Bonn. The material he unearthed was juxtaposed with examples of his own work inspired by his enduring interest in the SPD. Among them were a number of motifs which are to be found in the animated film currently running in the Neue Galerie.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
Consequently the various background elements to Vorwärts auf der deutschen Märchenstraße slowly combined to form a coherent picture, allowing us to steal a glimpse of how Jürgen Stollhans works and from where he derives his inspiration, information and ideas. We were afforded a unique insight into his detailed fascination with themes and materials, which facilitated a clearer understanding of his subtle references and associations across the broad range of his oeuvre.

After the event had actually finished and the first participants were already departing, Stollhans showed some of his older works, including drawings, such as Hähnchen und Hühnchen fahren mit dem Unimog nach Rigips ("Mr and Mrs Chicken travel by Unimog to Rigips“) and the Riesenkrakenlandverschickung (“The giant squid being evacuated to the country”) or the Fliegenden Analytiker (“Flying Analysts”), a model airplane, a Learjet, depicting a transatlantic psychoanalytical situation, in reference to the Flying Doctors. These works elicited cheerful laughter from the highly attentive audience which simply refused to leave. And consequently, this insight into the wonderfully humorous and ironic, but never malicious, potential of Stollhans' pictorial world marked the end of the lecture evening at the Salon des Refusés – to enthusiastic applause.

Organised by the documenta 12 advisory board, the Salon des Refusés lecture takes place every Wednesday at 5 pm, in the former Police HQ, Königstor 31, and is open to everyone.