Magazine article Artforum International

Remote Control: Kerstin Stakemeier on Anne Imhof's Angst, 2016

Magazine article Artforum International

Remote Control: Kerstin Stakemeier on Anne Imhof's Angst, 2016

Article excerpt

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"ANGST": In both German and English, the fraught title of this operatic exhibition and work staged by Frankfurt-based artist Anne Imhof encapsulates a universal and personal dread. With far-ranging references to nightclubs and avant-garde dance theater, to working out and work, via paintings, sculptures, drawings, performances, and (not least) the intermittent appearance of live falcons, "Angst" is epic. It is also an epic, if we look to the philosopher Frank Kuhne's claim that the form's modern function is to stage exposition as critique, as the recognition of the process of individuation, of the emergence of a mode of consciousness and its proximity to the object of critique, rather than to provide critical distance. Imhof's agitated Gesamtkunstwerk takes familiar contemporary commodities (a soda, a sneaker) and gestures (cell-phone use, smoking) and breaks down the actions, traces, and desires that are characteristic of normalized subject-object relations to propose instead a set of affective relations that run through individual bodies and things. The result is a meditation on contemporary power structures--social, capital, sexual--turned inward, into the body. The imprints of social exclusion and control are internalized into an intensification of desire within the show's materials, performers, props, paintings, us. And this libidinization of bodies and things stages an onanistic and androgynous sex--an epic without gender or narration or resolve.

The first iteration of "Angst" was curated by Elena Filipovic at Kunsthalle Basel--it will evolve further as the project travels to Berlin and then to Montreal--and included a demanding opening program of performances. At the core of the thirty-five hours of performances over the course of ten days was a community of eleven performers, each signifying a character, consisting of a sexed but degendered set of gestures. We witnessed an androgynous "siderealism," to use the occultist artist Austin Osman Spare's term signifying representation that bypasses not only the strict social functionality of mundane life but also the ideology of subjective consciousness bound to it. Individuation was shared in an ongoing circulation of various intensities. Eight of the artwork's eleven acts, all between two and three hours long, were dedicated to introducing the performance's characters--the Prophets, the Diver, the Lover, the Choir, the Clown, and the Spitter--while two five-hour-long chapters, Act I and Return of the Lover, presented more epic expositions of their interrelations and shared life forms.

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Immersed in Angst, we viewers were proof of a sidelined reality, the naturalized subjectivity of our own physical presence rendered uncannily inappropriate. Not only were Angst's codes esoteric, but they never revealed a guiding narrative. A constant negation of our ability to make sense of the work's proceedings characterized its aesthetic pull. Accompanied by dark and metaphorically laden musical themes, including romanticist songs and an aria, the exhibition was the embodied totality of its media. Yet this is a totality that excludes us and inhibits our understanding of it: Angst demonstrates a publicly performed yet clandestine whole.

The show filled the four adjacent spaces of the kunsthalle's upstairs gallery--a landing, the large main space, a smaller back room, and a tiny repository, the layout perfectly suited to the dichotomy between part and whole that continually broke down one's perspective as an observer. Spatial hierarchy was sharply mirrored in the choice of works in each space. On the landing, two white-leather-covered sport mats alerted the viewer to the fact that she was entering a site of action, while the main space was framed by eight sculptures--narrow punching bags made of wood, resin, and more soft white leather--which dangled motionless from the high ceiling of the grand late-nineteenth-century building. …

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