by Maximilian Probst
(transl. by Maxi Lengger)
All summer long I’ve been hearing from people who go to Kassel for the art, to Muenster, even to Venice. I go to carpark Altenwerder for the art, an absolute non-place, a place the people that go to Kassel, Muenster and Venice either don’t know at all or that they associate with nothing else but a highway exit shortly after the Elbtunnel.
I admit: I too went to the Biennale in Venice. While taking the ferry across the Elbe from Teufelsbrueck to Finkenwerder, I think back to the journey on the vaporetto, a boat so packed I could hardly see anything else beyond mobile phones on outstretched arms, the passengers took selfies or filmed the Canale Grande. A cheap coconut perfume was in the air and mixed with body odour to create a smell of decay. How pleasant the draught that is blowing through the Hadag ferry. A remote smell of motor oil, nothing else.
I didn’t last long aboard the vaporetto, descending on the Rialto bridge and making my way through Cannaregio and Castello towards the Arsenale. The story is the same at every bridge, even beyond the typical tourist route: boy meets girl and off to Venice they go for a photo shoot. Having arrived in Finkenwerder, I ride my bicycle along the levee towards the port, in the glorious void, a couple of fishermen who aren’t catching anything. Above the Koehlfleet the blue sky and the Burchardkai’s container bridges reaching into it – right now the Serenissima would truly look like a fool by comparison.
Then I leave the water behind me, the road goes along a freeway, lined on both sides by factory boxes, warehouses, a field of rails, the road ascends, it’s winding and branching out, ends in a highway entrance ramp and there I see the landmark for orientation, stretching high above the scenerie, like a sunflower at first sight, radiant as never before: the yellow Shell sign with the shell motive. The gas station and the parking lot itself lie in a type of basin, at the edge of which I am now standing. On the one side, the gas station with adjacent meeting place for truck drivers delineates the area, behind it the highway ascends. On the other side the port comes into play, a long trail of colorful containers is rattling by, appearing like lego bricks from this far up. They are the same size as the trucks standing in this lot by the dozens. It’s sunday, the day all trucks must stay off the road, so they stand in line like post-horses at the trough while the drivers are downing a beer in the saloon. And in the midst of all this: four cars with open doors, parked hastily, as though its passengers had merely gotten out to quickly arrange a crooked deal in this unhospitable place. The crooked deal is art. The art of Kunstverein St. Pauli, who can no longer exhibit in St. Pauli because the rents are too expensive, and who is now as mobile and maneuverable and full of drive as art itself is at times.
While I lock my bicycle and descend the slope towards the parking cars, Venice is going through my head again. It is loud here, just like in the giardini. There it were thousands of cicadas that sawed into the calm and remoteness of the place. Here it is the thousands of cars that circle around the ramp and roar across the near highway. And doesn’t the carpark Altenwerder also resemble the giardini in that the exhibition spaces appear to be jumbled freely across the space? In the giardini, one strolls around the different pavilions, the Brasilian, the English, the Polish pavilion and so on. In Altenwerder, a small group of forty, fifty guests orbits the exhition cars, a Japanese Mitsubishi, a German Audi, a French Opel — as can be said as of recently — and an American Chrysler Jeep.
I first approach the Audi. It’s a station wagon. The trunk is open. An installation is sticking out, it consists of a Carrera racetrack with a wired construct spanned over it. At a closer look the wire is revealed to be a guitar string that runs across an empty juice bottle. Two vehicles are speeding on the course in endless circles, the guitar string swings and from the trunk the distorted sound of a portable amplifier plugged into the installation is droning. The artistic duo Tamaki Watanabe and Walter Zurborg have doubled the place we are in, they have introduced it into the art. It is the only piece in the exhibition that also raises the interest of a truck driver. He is from Poland, speaks neither German nor English, wants to go to Monachium, which quick research on the internet reveals to be Munich, and is eagerly recording his life with the camera of his smartphone: cars, race course, sound and drinks, and all of this is somehow fulfilling, because it’s unavoidable, or so it seems, because don’t we all, in the end, in everything, circle one void or another?
On to the next car. A black Jeep. Already suspicious. I sit in the front passenger seat. The backrest is vibrating. As if one had taken a seat in a massage chair. Comfortable. To be looking through the front window and onto the nicely unpretentious artist crowd out there. It is the fourth meeting of Kunstverein St. Pauli, always somewhere else, but the people probably remain more or less the same, a familiar group that chats and drinks beer. When I close my eyes, the vibrating neck bolster lets the car I’m sitting in and that itself is standing still appear to be moving. At the same time, I sense a strange and sweet, earthy smell, that the artist Hella Gerlach, as I am later told, has created herself. I open my eyes again and see a tuft of a plant unknown to me dangling from the rear mirror. I move to the backseat. Nothing is vibrating there, but a ceramic cucumber is tied to the front seat’s vibrating neck bolster. Hm. I hold the cucumber in my hand and think of the sex in the backseat of a car that I never had, because I never owned a car nor have a driver’s license. Did I miss out on things in my life? I can’t say with certainty, and it is this feeling of insecurity that I enjoy, I’m into it, also in art.
At the third car all doors are locked. On the side window a short video sequence is projected in a continuous loop. A black and white scene on a street. To the left, it is confined by palm trees and streetlamps, to the right by a medium-sized faceless building. A couple of cars are jolting along the road. It is a classic image from the movies, it makes me think of Hollywood: the driving cars ahead, filmed out of a driving car. I’ve seen this a thousand times. But this is a first for me. The first time I see this image in, no, on a car. In the front windshield the same picture, flaunting splendidly girt by the car’s metal body. The art, operating under the name “Distruktur“, has reframed the old image, thereby quaintly disconnecting it into a distance that helps us to better understand the familiar, to see it anew. Upon leaving the car behind me, I turn back once again and notice the license plate: it says EGYPT, not Hollywood.
Lastly into the Mitsubishi for some real cinema, sitting with the back towards the front seats and facing the trunk and a flatscreen. There, the artist Daniel Laufer from Berlin is showing his roughly fourteen-minute movie Colour Memory. A woman has disappeared, someone is sitting in a rattling metro, the camera is winding through an urban labyrinth, the artist is stomping through a stone desert, shot in black and white, captivatingly beautiful. In between, piercing colors are inserted and an offscreen voice is philosophizing about images and afterimages with the help of the theories of art historian George Didi-Huberman. One sentence gets stuck: “Blue — the color of where you can never go, the color of where you are not.“
I get out of the car and look towards the sky, into this intangible blue. Tomorrow I’ll probably be sitting in the rain again, grey on grey, nothing lasts, but today, here in the carpark Altenwerder, where everybody comes only to leave again, here and today I have nowhere else to be, this place of passage becomes the place to be, everything turns into poetry here. I now wholeheartedly believe the blue of the sky above me, the rare blue, and the rare art here below, I believe in their promise of permanence.
Stay here. Why not? In the gas station, they sell shower gel and bath slippers, there is also an electric pan with wooden scraper that can be heated via the 24-volt-socket of the cigarette lighter.
Should I nonetheless at one point leave Altenwerder, the images will accompany me. They will follow me – and outshine the images from Venice’s giardini. The blossoms of art, this summer I found them where I least expected them.