Hannes Böhringer: Fridge kaput. The Work of Thomas Rentmeister
Catalogue essay from the exhibition “Thomas Rentmeister. Objects. Food. Rooms.”, Kunstmuseum Bonn, 19.10.2011 – 05.02.2012; in Thomas Rentmeister. Objects. Food. Rooms., (cat.) Kunstmuseum Bonn and Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Cologne 2011, German p. 109f, English p. 111f., translated from German by Pauline Cumbers.
It should be fresh and aromatic, spicy but not perfumed. Nothing stale, nothing that is mouldy! But fresh things wilt, become insipid. How can you keep them fresh? Does what is preserved still have the freshness of something just dug up from the earth, picked from the bush?
A lot of things are unpalatable when they’re fresh. You have to leave them to ripen. They have to be cooked, matured. There are times when nothing grows. Stores have to be kept. Mice prevented from gnawing at them. Fish is dehydrated and salted, vegetables are pickled in oil, apples kept in a cool humid cellar. Refrigeration keeps things fresh, preserves them. Electrification brought fridges into people’s households, replacing old ways of preserving food.
Art’s fridge is the museum. The museum is where artworks are preserved, kept durable. But products are altered by their storage place. Food is produced for the fridge. It is often pre-packaged, precooked. All you need to do is heat it up. You buy things packaged in small portions for your fridge at home. By contrast, the museum encourages large formats – cool art that keeps viewers at a distance, yet is still supposed to attract a lot of visitors.
Art should also be fresh and not wilt too quickly. Like a good cook, the artist must succeed in combining the fresh with the ripe, the braised with the matured, in preserving the liveliness of spicy freshness and not just replacing it by mere coolness.
Art is the product of rest and unrest, of a scribble, a line that continues on and on, producing a web, a ball, the confusion of lines conjuring up figures. And it is the product of a mark, a spot or a blotch that runs, slowly spreading out, a mark at which you sit, smearing it until the indeterminate spot takes on a form. The mark is a spot at some place or at some time, meal time, when I sit down – and stir the broth – or it’s a swollen pock-mark on my body that itches and pinches – that I treat with a cooling ointment.
Flames of infection fire up the artist’s work, irritating until he rubs and scratches. The spot swells, gets hot and needs to be cooled. This is the origin of the creative process, worrying away at something that is still indeterminate. The mark is a spot of muck. I’ve made myself dirty. Grease spots on my shirt. I’m unhappy. I’ve soiled my pants. I’m in the shit, stirring it up, as I can’t get out of it. Art is alchemy, the art of turning base matter into gold, of making a misfortune, a weakness or an obsession glitter. The stinking crap becomes sweet and tasty, a chocolate-marked meal.
In the beginning is an I-don’t-know-what, a spot that irritates me, passion and pain. It becomes painted over but not wiped away, rather it is emphasised, enlarged. It is supposed to be beautiful! The enlarged mark, the swollen pock-mark, is cooled, iced, polished till it shines. It has become so light it seems to hover above ground, an indeterminate rounded something – untitled Polyester. All interpretations roll off it. Cool art in the ice-box of the museum, yet nothing other than spilled chocolate paste, the only difference being the perceived temperature.
We are in a pickle and trying to stay cool. Which is only right and proper: nonchalance, not getting excited and flustered. But just as I was marking time, my fridge breaks down. The door bursts open. Too much heat, fever, too much pain and passion. The fridge itself is infected and needs a cooling ointment.
I’m a fridge and I’m trying to keep fresh, to stay cool. The museum is a fridge. It preserves art. Here too, the door bursts open: too much art. Overflowing, spreading out all over the place. The myth of modernism was the new. The old could be put into the museum and the museum set on fire. But the new, the art of modernism, was disconcerting and required a commentary. Things have changed. Art has made it in society and, for its own part, has proceeded to re-mark on all sorts of things: political events, icons of the mass media and its own history.
Modern art wanted to leave footprints in the fresh snow. Wanted to be doing everything it was doing for the first time. But it could not continue marking its time like that forever. Art today cannot avoid doing something a second time, repeating, remarking, alluding to something that went before it, that already exists; smearing what has already been de-mark-ated. Art has become historical. It has to forego the new but salvage the moment of freshness it contains. A heap of ready-mades from the world of consumer goods forming a huge block, paperhankies, reminiscent of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. The hard has been replaced by the soft, but you still have to wipe and clean. 5 Minutes later evokes Caspar David Friedrich’s Eismeer. The creator-deity made the world and five minutes later it was already iced over and at an end. Nearly 100 fridges in a corner is on the trail of Beuys’s corners of fat.
The corner has always been a suitable spot for making a mark. It doesn’t have to be created, it’s already there. The corner is never in the middle of the room, it’s always eccentric: the position of art in society. Art impacts the middle from a corner of society. That’s why Beuys’s art, all in all a corner of fat, is a last utopian attempt by modern art to change society from an angle, to create a “social sculpture”, a new community, with the help of fat and warmth. Everyone should be able to refresh themselves in such a re-markable corner. The inflammatory source of art is in the corner, intended to infect everyone, make everyone an artist.
But the hopes were deceptive. Modern art has flowed out of its corner into the city, into every house, and has not changed society. Art has changed itself. It has had to bid farewell to the grand gesture of beginning and end, the gesture of making a mark for a first or an irrevocably last time. It has to continue re-marking.
Art as a large machine is a high number of fridges – almost a hundred – piled in a corner. The fridges could produce different temperatures, tension, cool inside yet giving off heat outside, were they not kaput. They seem intact from the outside, but they no longer work. Nearly 100 fridges in a corner drafts an image of an entropic end-stage in art where differences in temperature can no longer be produced. Everything is cool! But then there is also nothing that might be kept fresh. Yet the whole lot is still covered in a layer of fat, a mere hint of warmth and cooling, a soothing ointment that eases the pain of disappointment. The fridges are empty. They look like pixels in a digital image. Pixels are the repeated pock-marks that have stopped itching and pinching. Yet the absence hurts. And that is why there is no end in sight, the hallmark of preservation.
*The author plays with the multi-meaninged German word Mal, which can mean mole or mark, the imperative form of the verb to paint (Malen), and time, as in first time, second time; also with the similar sound of Mal and Mahl (meaning meal).
© Hannes Böhringer