Friday, November 30, 2007

On the Monuments of the Mind of Christoph Keller

A Trip into the Monuments of the Mind



“The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you’ve gotten the fish, you can forget the trap.... Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.”
--Chuang Tzu


He was an oxymoron, keeping going and staying put. Like a motorhome. He was between worlds, a hinge-man.

I encountered him in my travels through time, in the era of difference, slightly before the era of sadistic children, in the winter of the year 2003. Having passed through the low earth orbit space junk, having dodged the some 8000 objects floating 320 to 800 kilometers above the earth, I met a man connecting with these objects, receiving their signals.

Though he once called himself a hydrologist—measuring the circumferent distance of lakes in the mountaintops of Chile—he now called himself an artist, measuring the mental distances between his mind and others from the foot of a small hill in Berlin.

In his name one could see a Denkbild of contradiction. If a pictograph of Christoph Keller existed, it would depict a travelling man—patron saint of travelling, Christoph—no longer travelling per se, but rather sitting in a place of storage, a cellar—Keller—watching television. That is to say, his travels were no longer those of the body, but those of the mind’s eye, no longer his, but those of many others. His suitcase remained unpacked, his travels were selected through the powers of a telecommando, a remote controlling of some 256 possible journeys to places which did not resemble in the least the cellar in which he sat. Like many others living in the dark city, he was most fond of the round tool which enabled him to put his troubled travelled mind to rest: a satellite dish. Not a plate of edibles, but instead an apparatus whose features included “remote sensing” and “high gain antennae.” Connected to his far-away-seeing box, his satellite dish accessed the world of moving pictures. Undenkbilder.

This cellar-dwelling traveller seemed to have a blatant disregard for the well-trodden path, for the perimeters of his chosen profession. Instead of producing objects to be seen and awed over, objects to be eventually stored in the cellars of museums, kunsthalles, galleries and the like, he made objects which were then transformed into representative letters and numbers, and stored in name alone. There were places that held objects with signatures, and places that held the idea of objects with signatures. Patent number P 34 71 262.4 symbolized a paradox-picture machine: neither here nor there, not even truly rundum, because of the resulting rectangle. The machine produced representative contradictions in the laws of the physical moving world. In the pictures the machine produced everything that went fast goes slow, and everything that went slow goes fast. Slow things were blurred. Fast things were sharp.






“Time turns metaphors into things and stacks them up in cold rooms, or places them in the celestial playgrounds of the suburbs.” -- Robert Smithson

Outside of his window looking onto a wall, the only worlds of motion were the reflections of a sun, reflections of an object which he couldn’t see. (“Ich habe versucht, am Grauton der Mauer zu
erkennen, ob Sonne scheint oder Regen ist.”) Patent number P 44 24 571.8, a.k.a. the Helioflex (1997), followed the motions of the sun and channeled them into the shady lower stories of vertical structures, middle-format high-rise apartments and neon-lit bureaus. This mirrored Plexiglas satellite dish, 68 cm in diameter, resisted wind speeds of up to 120 km/hour and featured a “light-dark sensor.” It was a satellite dish with eyes detecting the fluctuations and graduations of light and its absence; a satellite dish that replaced the undenkbilder of the moving pictures with pure light. “Licht das einen wegbläst,” said Keller of his way of tackling the social inequalities of vertical architecture. “Licht für Lebensraum.”

Then there was light, but no motion. His mind had been numbed from the moving pictures channeled-in from the satellite dish. But being the hinge-man that he is, he left his now-well lit cellar and went to a dark one not far from his home on a hilltop. In the cellar of the Charité hospital, he found some 4000 un-archived films. Nearly a century of film-footage documenting some monumental moments in medical history, he found out the answers to questions such as “What happens to a dog when his brain is removed?” or “Can one prevent homosexuality in rats?” “What did amputation look like at the turn of the century?” In Keller’s film Retrograd (1999), he interpolated the historical fragments of knowledge with fragments of interviews of scientists working at the Charité now. Much of the talk was of a certain “objectivity” in the films serving the history of knowledge, and not art.

Going further along this path of celluloid history, the straddle of a giraffe, the waddle of a porcupine, the gallop of a horse, indeed the movement of the entire animal kingdom was the subject of the scientist Konrad Lorenz. Animals “in” art and “as” art. They are animals on the go-go, heading nowhere further than the confines of a loop. It’s as if they were placed on a treadmill, away from the flock, the herd, the bevy of safety in numbers, on behalf of our curiosity. On 40 monitors—the same bilder-boxes for undenkbilder—Keller created a space for his “Encyclopedia Cinematographica” (2001).

“I am convinced that the future is lost somewhere in the dumps of the non-historical past.”
--Robert Smithson

In a travel wagon, one would expect that it might be high time for this mind-traveller to hit the road. But the Expedition Bus was on a meta-journey, its wheels high in the sky of epistemology. To be seen were several ethnological documentaries recording the invisible journeys of the mind of a shaman. In order to combat evil spirits, Shamans journey to the heavens above or to the underground below to wrestle with troubling demons. Ethnologists are the makers, in this case, of non-travelogue travelogues. An acceptable format used in the gathering of knowledge about differing cultures, we believe these films document a certain reality. Oddly, they function on a level somewhat in the way that we believe in a photograph of a piano concert. Separate screenings of the same film were projected onto the driver and passenger sides of the front window. The landscape the passenger saw was slightly off from that of the driver—presenting the idea of a time lapse. No longer films with a beginning, middle and end, the installation marked a passage of time connoting the interval between something said and something understood.

“Repetition, not originality, is the object.”
—Robert Smithson

Return journey. Roundtrip. Retrospective of a transhistorical consciousness. Remote sensing of not so remote worlds read through wireless signals. Reading the world through pictures—hieroglyphs—reading the world through 1s and 0s—computers. Reading the past through history. Some believe that we can read the world through a matter-less substance called Orgones, a libidinal energy to be found in us and all around us in the atmosphere, in every place we see, touch, and don’t see. Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) believed that we could channel this energy for the good of humanity, and even to cure cancer. “What Einstein was seeking in his own way—a single principle, a unified field theory to explain everything—Wilhelm Reich had already found. The libido theory was a weapon against both the death drive theory of his intellectual hero Sigmund Freud and the atomic energy of his second hero Einstein. Healthy sexuality, supported by orgone accumulators, was the bulwark against the assaults of life-threatening radiation.” However, just before his death in jail, he locked his research up –in storage—not to be revealed to the world until the year 2007. Here again we have a cellar of secret knowledge awaiting a release of its secrets.

“Stoop if you are abcde-minded....”
--James Joyce

In the spring and summer of 2003, this specimen of man, known for his fascination for round dishes with mirrors and magical powers, took up the sky as his playground. Though he was a creator, an inventor of many things new, he was also a re-creator who relinquished the idea of making something “new.” He went to the top of a clocktower on the island of Manhattan, and to an area called Long Island City (which was neither island nor city, but a borough also known as Queens). There he reenacted the Cloudbusting Project, carefully following Reich’s set of rules, including:

Rule # 4: ”In cloud engineering, you do not ‘create rain,’ you do not ‘destroy clouds.’ Briefly, you are not playing God. What you do is simply helping nature on its natural course.”

and

Rule # 6: “Do not let workers draw Orgone energy any longer if they become blue or purple in their faces or feel dizzy.”

His experiment seemed to work. His obedience to the rules in creating this large penile contraption made of shiny copper and natural wood which would suck the orgone energy out of the clouds, made it rain, made it pour. He made many an island Manhattanite unhappy, as unhappy as the long-island inhabitants of Queens.

He brought his cloudbusting-object back to Berlin and began working on his experiments once again, this time with the aim of bringing more light to the gloomy November days which fell languorously into the hands of darkness at the early hour of half-four. On the rooftop of the Galerie Schipper & Krome, he aimed his cloudbuster in the direction of the tv-tower of DDR dreams on Alexander Platz. Inside the gallery he placed a large satellite dish in the corner of the room in which the rooftop apparatus was projected live. On a crude wooden pedestal he placed joysticks controlling the cloudbuster’s movements, right and left, up and down. No longer the weather master, Keller put the idea of “helping nature along its natural course” into the hands of others looking into a live-fed film of Berlin’s cloud-blanketed sky.

No longer bound to the confines his cellar, to a museum, to a patent office, or to the windows of a non-travelling bus, Keller’s journey continues into the Himmel—into the sky, into heaven—into the Zukunft, the “to coming” and the “to going” of the beyond. Mingling weird science with conceptual art, one would encourage the young artist to go on, to keep on going on, in his experiments for a non-abcde-minded world.




April Elizabeth Lamm, December 2003

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