Friday, November 9, 2012

No news is good news

Is it [[no news] is good news], or [[no] news is good news]? I mean, does it mean that hearing nothing from someone means that they're doing just fine, or does it mean that everything you read in the paper, see on TV, etc. is always bad, like no one cares for positive news? This is really important.

The best thing in Berlin, other than the terrifying mutants at the Museum for Natural History, was Martin Honert's Kinderkreuzzug show at the Hamburger Bahnhof, which is a huge contemporary art museum in an old train station. Honert was trying to recreate memories of childhood, which happens to be one of my favorite hobbies these days as well. (I am back in Durham, and in my house it's hard to tell if I am seeing things or the memory of things. If you could map the views in the living room where I am sitting, it would be a map with a lot of spikes and bulges. Every object opens up a very-distant view onto where it came from. There is Sam the Dot Man's birdhouse, and there's his packed store in Winston-Salem. There are the silhouettes of my sister and me from 1996, and there is the darkened room in the now-demolished South Square mall.)

Anyway, Honert went about recreating his childhood memories in a lot of different ways. He turned grainy, faded photos into grainy, faded statues.

He turned childhood drawings into big installations.

He made scaled-down models of important childhood objects, like a Linden tree or a favorite house, and put them on pedestals like busts. He put a half-sphere of green jello on a plate on a table that was rigged to shake and jiggle the jello from time to time. (He made the table so that it was too big for one person and too small for two, which I found beautiful and moving.) He did a lot of other things. But the most exciting part of the exhibit was the dorm bedroom that he created to look like a photo negative.

(If you use a Mac, press control+alt+command+the numeral 8, which inverts the colors of your screen, and you can see the negative-image of this bed. To switch back, just use the same shortcut.)  

So everything that is dark in real life is light in the room. Everything that would be wood-yellow is blue instead. Everything that would be white is black. And shadows are lights instead. It was an easy idea that played out so eerily in person.

How would you recreate your memories of childhood, if you had the skills of an installation artist and a very big budget? I think I'd want to make big things that you can actually crawl around in. A huge glass-topped coffee table to lie under, or a huge bed to try to climb up on. A lot of my memories of childhood are memories of impotence. How horrible it is, for example, to have a picture in mind and be unable to draw it with the shitty markers and colored pencils that people force upon children. 

Honert seemed more interested in the frozen moment, the way that photos shape your early memories. (Along with all his statues-from-photos, he made a statue meant to look like a bonfire in the midst of burning.)

The most evocative of his installations might have been one of the least visually interesting. He made a full-scale model (in styrofoam and plastic) of the sidewalk in front of his house, which he displayed on the wall like a mural. He also made a streetlight identical to the ones of his childhood street, and a glassy sculpture that looked like a ghost’s face, and displayed them in front of the sidewalk. His goal was to recapture that time of the evening when the streetlights turn on and the parents call the kids to come indoors. I liked this one because it was more of a nudge than a push.You couldn't help but see the sidewalk like a kid who's about to fall on a sidewalk. And what does the ghost have to do with the light? Unlike his children's crusade tableau, as clear and impermeable as a storybook illustration, the sidewalk one let you live in it for a minute.      

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