There’s really one central question at our galleristic point of departure: Which aspects of art could be of cultural importance for society? I’m a trained architect and urban planner, so the constant analysis of cultural, social and economical phenomena has always played a role in what I do. When Philomene Magers and I began thinking about Kraftwerk, we very quickly realized that “exhibiting” the band was far too large a project for a gallery space. I’ve known Ralf Hütter since 1968—he actually lived in the apartment under me in Aachen where we both studied architecture.
Of course today, representing them has to do with their colossal cultural relevance and unsurpassed ability to reduce sonic and visual elements to the essentials. Like Alighiero Boetti, Kraftwerk are able to differentiate between important and unimportant in a way that few artists can—which is an important part why their work has become so iconic. It became clear to us that a museum is really the only adequate place to present their Gesamtkunstwerk. And where better than the MoMA?
Kraftwerk not only invented electronic pop music, they also managed to give it its visual precision and beautiful form. Theirs is an all-encompassing cultural statement that can compete or even surpass many of the known video works that we see in the museums. It’s both timelessly modern and an embodiment of our era.~ Photo: Dagmar Schwelle
Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here. ~
This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:
I began my studies at the art academy in the late sixties under Diter Rot, Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, who had all been extremely influential in terms of my artistic development. That’s also when I first met Ralf and Florian and became involved with Kraftwerk. In general, the art world in Düsseldorf was a pretty competitive atmosphere and it wasn’t always so easy to find people you could work and get along with, especially in terms of feeling comfortable enough to show your art.
At the time, both Ralf and Florian were already innovative and advanced, musically speaking, and I had long been fascinated by electronic music. They were gracious enough to allow me to come by and, well, take part. My input with the band was always part of a larger artistic dialogue, which included visual ideas that were developed together. It wasn’t just give and take; it was also about developing things conceptually in parallel processes. A good example of that is the “music comics” developed for the album Ralf and Florian, where, if you know the group, you can really see what a mix of ideas and input it is, visually speaking. Interestingly, the same was also true for developing some of the musical instruments and electronic sounds. Whenever Kraftwerk wanted to redesign an acoustic instrument to make it electronic or somehow create an electronic simulation, then a visualization, a sketch or a notation was part of the process.
Electronic music makes use of a sound spectrum that’s larger than acoustic music. It’s enabled humanity to expand mental processes and to imagine the future, which is why I think there’s always been such a strong connection between electronic music and science fiction. For example, at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964, I saw a pavilion called Futurama that featured visions of the future—cities in the ocean or in the sky, advanced forms of transportation—and these were accompanied by electronic sounds from some of the earlier synthesizers and electronic instruments put together by Raymond Scott. This is the tradition in which my contribution to Kraftwerk can be seen. I think there are two main metalanguages in this universe: music and image.
When I create an image and put it into the world, then people understand it non-discursively. You know, people tend to say an image is worth a thousand words, but music is even further along in that sense: when I play a series of notes in a certain order, then people immediately relate to it in some way—they have immediate associations. That’s why progression in music and art is strongly connected to human progress.
You can make destructive music, but you can also make music that pushes things forward. Electronic music is the music for modern times, the music that allows us to meet the standards of today’s technology. The Internet and other forms of digital communication demand a metalanguage sophisticated enough to process and interpret it. Progress in art, music and society are also necessary to balance the madness of excess and greed, which leads to landmines, radioactivity and destruction of living cosmic tissue. You can see the balance and progress in children—especially in their acceptance of electronic beats. They are far less biased than older people, far better able to perceive things intuitively and far more likely to see art and music as a reminder of paradise.
For the shows at the MoMA, and specifically the 3-D visuals, I participated by figuring out ways to provide the images with a new dimensionality—especially those for “Autobahn”, “Kometenmelodie”, “Airwaves”, and “Trans-Europe Express”. These we discussed quite a bit and, with the programming skills of Falk Grieffenhagen, turned into material for film projections. I’ve been taking part in Kraftwerk concerts for over forty years, and what was presented at the MoMA was the absolute pinnacle of what I’ve had seen and heard. The sound, the visuals, the amount of people at the shows . . . it wasn’t a normal “concert” experience. In that sense, it wasn’t really a “concert” experience at all.~ Photo: Luci Lux
Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here.
This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:
I had the privilege of seeing three Kraftwerk shows at MoMA, so instead of writing straight up reviews the whole time, which would have gotten boring, I opted to spend Trans-Europe Express observing other people’s reactions—particularly Afrika Bambaataa and Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame. It was a very different way of seeing and hearing the concert; through the filter of the reactions of two of the most influential Kraftwerk fans in pop music.
Sakamoto stood in the front row and off to the side, always near Ralf Hütter. I knew what Sakamoto looked like because I interviewed him for Groove six or seven years ago. The funny and endearing thing was that he kept snapping pictures of the band and singing along the whole time silently. It seemed to me like he knew pretty much every word. He was also really well dressed in a grey wool suit jacket—he had this sleek, elegant appearance with his white hair bopping subtly to one of Kraftwerk’s most dignified tracks, “Europe Endless”. It all somehow made perfect sense.
“Europe Endless” is one of those songs that the band never plays live. You’ll hear it occasionally on a bootleg from the seventies, but at some point they just cut it. That’s what made it so special to hear in their obviously updated version at the MoMA. My guess is that the band as- sumed that all of the hip-hop and electro kids would be coming to see Trans-Europe Express, so they really put a lot of effort into their set that night. It was certainly a highlight for me, and it looked like for Sakamoto as well. But it was a strange contrast to, say, “Radioactivity” in which the band had yet to “update” the list of nuclear disasters lyrically and visually: Sellafield, Harrisburg, Chernobyl, Hiroshima . . . Where was Fukushima? Sakamoto, who has raised lots of money for victims of the disaster, appeared almost puzzled during the song.
When Kraftwerk came to New York last time in 2005, I wrote about it in the Village Voice. I was up near the front row in a sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom, which was very, very different to the MoMA experience. I mean, normal people could go and it was much more mixed, both ethnically and age-wise. There were art school kids and engineers, black kids and white kids, teenagers and sixty year-olds all losing their mind to “Trans-Europe Express”, which the band played pretty close to the end of their set. Everybody was dancing and letting loose. That’s something that turned me off a bit about how it went down at the MoMA: the entire audience seemed like they were from the press or were VIPs, and they definitely weren’t dancing—except a few of the older heads, like Sakamoto and Bambaataa. At a certain point, I was just counting people: here’s the guy from Rolling Stone, there’s Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker, in the back is Jon Pareles from The New York Times, there’s Michael Stipe, here’s Julian Schnabel . . . Where were all the fans?
Obviously, people have written about the Kraftwerk-hip-hop connection to death, but it was fun watching Afrika Bambaataa, who stood way in the back with a couple of people from the Zulu Nation that pretty much accompany him every- where. I actually saw him air-keyboarding at one point and singing along with “The Man-Machine”. Honestly, watching Bambaataa at the MoMA so obviously enjoying himself was as much a highlight as anything else I saw or heard.~
Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more – Read them here.
I originally came to New York in 1981 from London to run a fashion store for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood called Worlds End 2 in Soho. At the time I had been living in the Chelsea Hotel and fashion and music for me were always intimately connected, something that both Malcom and Vivienne understood very well. In the eighties, the burgeoning hip-hop scene wasn’t really that organized, and there was no hip-hop scene in downtown Manhattan. But there were DJs, MCs, B-Boys, B-Girls, dancers, and graf artists scattered all over the place up in the Bronx, so I basically went up there and brought them all downtown, and organized them. They had no idea where this journey would take them, nor did I.
I had first been exposed to hip-hop through watching Afrika Bambaataa and The Rock Steady Crew open for Bow Wow Wow at The Ritz, which was a show Malcom had actually organized. That was when my mouth dropped and hip-hop replaced punk for me in terms of main musical interests. In the early days it was all so experimental, and it was never about making money or bling-bling, or shareholder meetings, but more about unity and fun and dancing to incredible music. My contribution was, I guess, combining all of these elements into the electronic dance club context, and it worked. It was mad. You could feel an overwhelming sense that things were shifting into a new era of explosive creative freedom and change in NYC. Mash-up culture was born and DIY was the name of the game. You could do anything and no one would judge you.
The hip-hop and downtown scenes mixed fantastically; like the perfect cocktail and a brilliant sense of humor. I had this gut feeling it would work and after a short spell promoting parties at Club Negril, which got closed down, I had the idea to move the scene and start the Roxy parties, which ended up being game-changing. I always wanted to open a massive dance club in NYC on the euro-electro music tip— people dancing to the sounds of Kraftwerk, Ultravox,and the like. But I wanted to do it with a twist. I was particularly inspired by the blitz-electro-new-romantic scene in London and what DJ Rusty Egan was doing, but I didn’t want it to be so exclusive.
I think the Roxy was the first racially diverse electronic dance club ever, and it became the blue- print for so many important clubs. We had everyone from punks like John Lydon, to serious couture fashionistas like Carolina Herrera, to Madonna, to twelve-year-old B- Boys, DJs like Bambaataa, to Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Mick Jagger, Leigh Bowery, Debbie Harry, Julian Schnabel, and the ubiquitous Glenn O’Brien. And then there was all the people from the Bronx . . . All barriers came down and there were absolutely no age limits. We shunned Studio 54’s elitist policy, and we knew we were on the right track because the juxtaposition of these diverse sets of people was so mind blowing. At the time, hip-hop culture was all embracing: no one cared if you were a tranny, had blue hair or wore spandex or a Sex Pistols t-shirt. This was the party where white people first saw all four elements of hip-hop culture showcased in one place in downtown NYC and in a massive dance club environment.
There are so many stories to tell, I can’t think of them all . . . I remember booking Malcolm McLaren to perform his hit ‘Buffalo Gals’ at the club, and he went missing the night of his show. He had serious stage fright, but I managed to locate him in a bar somewhere in Midtown and convince him to come to the club and that things would be all right. It turned out great in the end, of course. Prior to that, I managed to convince Malcolm to give me a copy of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle to show at the club. That was the first time the film was ever shown in America, and what a pivotal night that was; when hip-hop met punk face-to- face. The right chemistry was there so I ended up screening the film every other week for a laugh. I felt like a mad scientist mixing and mashing up cultures to create a new conversation.
Kraftwerk were very, very important to my club. Everyone danced to Kraftwerk—and I mean everyone. I made sure their songs were played every week, and it quickly became part of the soundtrack. I find it extremely difficult to rate their output, because virtually everything has been so influential and so high quality. But if I had to choose, I would say Radio-Activity, Trans- Europe Express, and Computer World are my absolute favorites. I’ve also had the chance to see them live a couple of times, most recently at the MoMA retrospective. All I could think is how timeless and relevant this band is, especially in today’s Apple computer culture. And I loved the idea of wearing the 3-D glasses. I attended Trans- Europe Express together with Afrika Bambaataa, and it brought back a lot of good memories of the Roxy and ‘Planet Rock’. Of course, ‘Numbers’ and ‘Trans-Europe Express’ were classic Roxy anthems. Musically, I am not sure you can overestimate Kraftwerk’s influence. Like hip-hop, Kraftwerk is everywhere and still miles ahead of their time. For me, Kraftwerk was the perfect mash-up band as far as representing the future goes. And they had a message. Even though their lyrics were minimal, they remain incredibly poignant, even today. ‘Radioactivity’ is perhaps the perfect example.~
Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwer Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more – Read them here.
Photo: Max Dax
What exactly is a ‘temporary artist’? According to Romanian artist/writer Dan Perjovschi, it’s someone who creates work that is eventually replaced, scrubbed off or painted over. Therefore, a temporary artist always has a fresh canvas—a fresh perspective, and a fresh start to remake and reconceptualize the work of his past. A temporary artist is always new.
Max Dax: Dan, you once said that three things impact your art: ‘the political events of 1989, the free press and the international art scene’. How are these three different entities connected?
Dan Perjovschi: I was academically trained as if I were in a zoo—very detached from society, because everything that I’ve been studying had nothing to do with what’s going on beyond the school. This situation changed in my country with the revolution. 1990 was a year that I spent more time on the streets than indoors, engaged in protest. That kind of reality modified the way I was looking at things, but my skills were not enough to correspond with this change so I tried to find a territory where I could get a hook in. I found it in the media.
You mean reality suddenly invaded your life?
These events shaped everything I knew about society and life. There were people dying, there were heroic moments, depressing moments, pathetic moments. The most interesting territory at that time in my country was the new press, because for the first time in recent history they could print what they actually thought. It was a boom of newspapers, people queuing for hours to buy something, so I moved into illustration—although I was trained as a painter.
The art galleries at the time were very boring compared to everything else that was going on in journalism, so I migrated to this journalistic territory. I started to illustrate texts that had something to do with my reality. Then I could travel, which is worth mentioning as I was unable to get out of my country until the communist system collapsed. In our travels, my wife and I soon realized that Romania had been cut out of contemporary culture for decades. It’s hard to believe, but we were missing fifty years! The art of the ’50s, all the way through to the ’90s hit us at once. We didn’t have any basic knowledge; our education had barely reached Picasso. Of course this all influenced what I was doing.
In addition to becoming an illustrator for the free press in Romania, you did your own newspaper Dan Perjovschi Newspaper in 1992.
Everybody was very poor at that time—as was the art system. There was no money for catalogs. But I was working for a newspaper at the time, so I knew the practices and could organize paper and a printing machine and whatever help I needed. The first issue we printed instead of a catalog and it was cheap. Since then, it’s become a practice. Even now I’m producing my what I call eight page galleries, a freely-distributed newspaper with my drawings. I like very much that I’m caught in the art market a bit but still have this medum that can be distributed to exhibitions, that can make physical contact for free. I love the medium of newspaper; I love printed matter in general. My art is temporary, my wall drawings have a temporary appearance and newspapers are also a temporary practice because people often don’t keep them—they might throw them away tomorrow. Like a performance, newspaper is of-the-moment.
Like the Internet, which is even more immediate?
Although I’m actually very low-tech, I’m fascinated by technology.
Here’s a funny coincidence: In 1992 I started my own magazine called Alert, which was a tribute to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. It was strange… even though we didn’t have a communist system in the Federal Republic of Germany, and despite knowing everything about Andy Warhol, nobody was doing a magazine with the format of an interview as a document of other people’s views, as opposed to present articles by critics who tell other people what to think. This was new in Germany.
For me, it was not a conceptual decision; more like necessity, somehow adapting myself to the situation and finding a strategy. Only afterwards came the conceptualization: what kind of space is it, published space or not, free or priced. First I saw the possibility of doing something in a context and with no money. It was something that had to be managed somehow… we didn’t even have a Xerox machine! I just profited by the coincidence that I had migrated to journalism. In some respects the journal and the printed media were my second school somehow.
The second coincidence is that we’re trying something with Electronic Beats that almost everybody has forgotten in the age of the Internet. Because the online world is so contemporary, everyone forgets what was yesterday and what was happening the day before yesterday. We’ve made a functionality which allows you to flip back the pages and see what we published a day ago, a month ago—like a pile of newspapers. It’s embarrassing to say but nobody else does it.
There’s a saying that ‘nothing is as old as yesterday’s newspaper’. But that’s only one side of the coin. We’ve all experienced the fascination of discovering a pile of newspapers. It’s like calibrating yourself, seeing what was happening a week, a month or a year ago. I worked with this weekly magazine called 22 in Bucharest in 1990, and every year they bound the yearly collection together. I have all the piles, and I’m showing it as a sculpture in an art exhibition right now.
You were talking about the revolution and how everything opened up, but what was it like before? To confront you with another statement of yours ‘doing something in a frozen society like communism was in itself a radical act.’ What did you do during communism?
Under Romanian communism, you were given an obligatory job for at least three years after you graduate. Sometimes, if you studied the arts, you could even get a job in the industry. I was lucky and got work at a museum in western Romania, in a city were lots of young artists lived. Until today, I think it was a mistake from the communist party. We would get together and organise exhibitions and every week we would do a show. Even the communist censors would say “oh, you’re doing a show” and they’d come and take a look. So in that sense the act of doing was radical because the rest of society was just waiting for the dictator to die, like they’re doing in Cuba today. I was born in 1961 and the dictator in the ’70s was more liberal, but where I was educated and grew up studying art our society was completely frozen. So doing these exhibitions was an answer.
Our homes were the only refuge from censorship, so we’d use our apartments for artistic projects. These exhibitions and performances were very private—only the closest of our friends would come. My wife would do performances with no audience, myself being the only witness to document them with a camera. We couldn’t place it in our art history, but it was instinct. Later, of course, it turned out that it was great to have documented everything. But all these actions were merely ways to somehow survive with our mind intact.
Now you draw pictures that only exist for a limited time; is this an extension of what you did back then?
In some ways yes, but it also comes from practice. I was very poor, Romania was very poor, nobody would pay me transport or insurance for my art, and there was no system to support me as a professional artist. I had to invent a strategy to be free. You can carry some drawings in your suitcase but you cannot fill a big space, so I ended up drawing my art directly on the walls, just to minimize infrastructural needs. I started to reduce everything in order to unleash my freedom of movement. Now, I don’t have a plan, I free my mind… I cannot stand having a plan. My work is like a performance, and because these pieces have to be painted over, I have to digest the idea that I’m a temporary presence, an idea which has become a philosophy. At the beginning it hurts to see your art overpainted, but now I see the potential: every time a piece is painted over, I can dream of doing it better
By painting for Deutsche Telekom, you are collaborating with a big corporation to decorate their huge booth at the IFA fair. Working with big corporations has always been a source of criticism in the art world —you really have to think about whether you want to be associated with them. How do you cope with being the face of Telekom?
One of the few pieces of mine that you can still see is in the National Technical Library in Prague. Almost all of the other pieces were temporary and therefore are not visible anymore. For Telekom’s IFA booth I’m doing drawings on a huge wall, commenting about cloud-commuting with chalk. Honestly, I think that’s funny! I see it as a collision of a highly technological forum and my low-tech handmade drawings. And let’s not be shy: Deutsche Telekom have believed in me and collected my works from a very early stage; old black and white photos documenting my performances and my drawings… basically establishing a collection following me in several of my mediums. So in a sense it’s a response to that, a partnership. You’re right to ask me how I can be critical if I work for a big corporation, but for me, all these cultural frames—and this includes my appearance at the MoMA in New York—are essential. I’m also curious about what’s going on in new technology, their questions and how they see societies, ideas which are all subjects for my drawings. It might turn out very well, it might not… let’s wait and see.