1 artist Aleksander Komarov work Estate EDITION 750 ISBN artist work Aleksander Komarov Estate
8 Aleksander Komarov
45 Aleksander Komarov Estate Highly magnified view of one of the three common types of commercially mined asbestos, produced using a scanning electron microscope in the analytical laboratories of the USGS in Reston, Virginia. The sinuous asbestos fibers in this view are the mineral chrysotile, or white asbestos. The fibers, many less than inches thick.
46 Aleksander Komarov s Estate: Value, Work and Business: Where is Art?
47 Driven by questions about the connections between resources, production, values and the status of art, Aleksander Komarov undertook a journey to the opencast mines of the Ural Mountains and to the skyscrapers of Frankfurt am Main. The resulting video Estate reproduces the reticent and inquisitive observations of a contemporary investigator. In four chapters, Komarov examines the relationship between economics and art. He passes his knowledge, but also his questions, on to the viewer, creates experiential spaces for others and puts his trust in visual and conceptual analogies. Looked at in advance, the planned journey seems like a hypothetical expedition into the settings of Pavel Bazov s Ural fairytales, which are familiar to everyone who grew up in the Soviet Union. They are tales of paradisiacal landscapes, enterprising miners and rich geological resources, which are protected by the Mistress of the Copper Mountain 1 The stories, 1 See e.g. Die Herrin des Kupferberges (The Mistress of the Copper Mountain) by Pavel Bazov and Margarete Spady. Berlin, Aufbau-Verlag, 1961; Die Malachitschatulle (The Malachite Casket) von Pavel Bazov und Maximilian Schick. Moscow, Verlag für Fremdsprachige Literatur, 1955 which were published by Bazov in the 1930 s, are based on traditional fables. Typical for this time, however, they also contain a utopic vision of a happy and untroubled life shared by all the simple people of the Urals. What Komarov found there was a combination of entropy, ruin and dogged perseverance. The abandoned industrial sites are left open and derelict, whilst new sites are opened up next to them. Ecological concerns don t seem to be of great relevance. The ultramodern fears of an imminent exhaustion of natural resources 2 seem like nothing but intellectual rubbish 2 See here the 1974 essay from the architect Yona Friedman From Affluence to Poverty. For Friedman the most striking historical feature of the last half of our century was the sudden recognition of our poverty as a result of our squandering of the when viewed in the light of this vigorous activity. And those that hope to find in Komarov s film an interpretive proximity to representations of the alienation of man in an industrially defined space, like those found in Antonioni s Red Desert of 1964, stand corrected. The people of the area connect the powerful industrial landscapes and the smoking chimneys, the deep mines and enormous machinery with a feeling of historical and cultural belonging. A teacher, who peacefully looks into the camera while she talks about this, is standing on the viewing platform of an asbestos mine. Wedding parties come here after the registry office to take commemorative photos. School groups also come here. In handcraft classes they use asbestos fibre to create artistic place mats with floral decorations. The identity of the entire region, its self-concept and pride, is based on the mining of precious stone, gold and minerals. The local patriotism is promoted by the state and encouraged in the media by connecting it to episodes from the world of important, international events. 3 Thinking back here to the rotating stone with the veins of gold that Komarov placed at the beginning of the film, we realise that the artist has provided us with an appropriate symbol for our present perception of the Urals. The rich reserves of energy and raw materials. Yona Friedman: Vom Überfluß zur Armut (From Affluence to Poverty). In: Machbare Utopien. Absage an geläufige Zukunftsmodelle (Feasible Utopias. A Rejection of Prevalent Models of the Future). Frankfurt/Main, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1977, pp stone stands for the complete dominance of industry, the exploitation of natural resources. Simultaneously it acts as a reference to the now defunct modernism, which connected a belief in the new man and in a better society with the esoteric and mystical concepts of the crystalline or of the philosopher s stone. 3 Metaphors and symbols from Basov s fairytales are often exploited for political purposes. Here an anecdotal account of Russian-German relations in 2003: at a meeting in Yekaterinburg, Vladimir Putin presented the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with an artistic statuette of the Mistress of Copper Mountain. Although she fiercely defended the entrance to the treasure, she would open the doors for the virtuous (in this case: investors from Germany). When Gerhard Schröder left the statuette standing on the lectern Putin remarked that Germany was squandering its riches. Hardly noticed in Germany, this episode was frequently quoted in the Russian media as a proof of national superiority.
48 Anyone who starts to investigate interrelationships in the current economic system will automatically include reflections on the nature of the financial market in their research. Ever since Marx, every analysis of capitalism, even the less serious among them, has exploited a confrontation between the real-world production of material wealth and the virtual trade in stocks and shares. In times of economic crisis, this often leads to moral judgements: the example of the good productive capitalists, who create jobs, is emphasised, while the bad financial investors, who with their virtual trading throw society into chaos and bring it to the brink of destruction, are scorned. Aleksander Komarov wanted his images of the Frankfurt stock exchange to be valuefree. It is exactly this unintentionality, this aim of capturing a normal, unstaged day at the stock exchange, which provides the film with its most comical episodes. The viewer watches with amusement as a stock exchange reporter prepares for her TV appearance how she practises her mimic, her serious yet friendly report and the smile that appears in the middle of the last sentence to be wiped off in the exact moment that the last syllable has been spoken. The actions of a further protagonist seem absurd, who, before taking each step, throws a folder onto the floor in front of her, which she then walks on. Descriptions of the stock exchange as a place of unreality and fiction, as a spectacle of speculation 4 can only be corroborated by such images. 4 Urs Stäheli: Spektakuläre Spekulation (Spectacular Speculation). Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2007, p The scene in its entirety is, however, principally dominated by those images which, despite their frequent repetition, always manage to captivate anyone visiting or observing the stock exchange: brokers crouched in front of monitors, surveillance cameras, the click-clack of the changing prices. In the language habitually used to describe both art and economics (or the fictional economics often practised on the stock exchange), phrases and concepts that include the word value are frequently heard. We talk about projected value appreciation, about peak value and about market value. Can the connection between art and business create added value? an internet business magazine asks. 5 Artists constantly experience how the value of their work can be transformed, above all when the work becomes part of the collection of a large bank or insurance company. In this instance, as the British art historian Julian Stallabrass has dryly concluded, both brands, the brand of the artist and that of the business partner, enter into an image enhancing and consequently profit enhancing relationship with each other. 6 How can an artist define their personal role and their artistic identity against a background of a culture characterized by the overwhelming dominance of economic strategies and structures? The position of the artist has seldom been so personally instable and seldom so polemically discussed and contradictorily defined by the various intellectual disciplines. Boris Groys provocatively states that the artist has degenerated into a consumer, borrowing images and objects from popular culture for the creation of personal spaces in a method comparable to shopping. 7 The classification of artists as itinerant producers (Toni Negri 8 ) emphasises not only the functional element of art but also reveals the determining conditions of the artist s practice: a drifting from 2b.htm 5 6 Julian Stallabrass: Freier Handel, freie Kunst. (Free Market, Free Art) 7 Boris Groys: Der Künstler als Konsument (The Artist as Consumer) In: Topologie der Kunst (Topology of Art). Munich, Vienna, Carl Hanser Verlag, 2003, p. 49
49 8 Toni Negri, Maurizio Lazarato, Paolo Virno: Umherschweifende Produzenten. Immaterielle Arbeit und Subversion (Wandering Producers. Immaterial Work and Subversion). Berlin, ID Verlag, one project to the next, with an almost total loss of self-determination, and with all the consequences that come with it. Because this flexibility demands a melting of the boundaries between the work place and the private realm, discipline to the point of self-exploitation and permanent availability. In light of this background, Aleksander Komarov found the Deutsche Bank s collection concept Art at Work particularly revealing. As a superlative Corporate Collector in this category the Deutsche Bank has been collecting art the longest, possesses one of the largest collections worldwide and its most well known concept Art in the Workplace has been most frequently imitated the Deutsche Bank sends a signal to society, a potent public declaration of its conception of art. If you analyse the phrase Art at Work, you become aware of the polarising nature of the concept. Following this concept, a bank employee at work will be presented with an aesthetic object, which has entertainment value and can incidentally broaden his horizons. While over here share prices are being analysed and customers are having appointments, over there hangs an exceptionally auratic piece, which has emerged out of a genuine interiority. In the course of his research for the film, Komarov received an advertising portfolio with information about the Deutsche Bank s engagement with art, in which he learned that the corporation s collection is being managed under a new guiding motto: ArtWorks. The elucidation of this altered concept is reproduced in his film. While the text is read out by a narrator, the viewer looks out of the panorama window of a stylish and artistically furnished unused rental office space onto the two tow- ers of the Deutsche Bank. When we choose to ignore the overblown self-promotion, we hear an essentially honest corporate statement. It speaks of commissions given to artists, who react to the architectural and communicative conditions on site, and of art as an investment in the future. The ambiguous combination ArtWorks reveals that which has long determined the connection between business and art: art can really work. It works for the image and prestige enhancement of this corporation, or for that of the Austrian energy company EVN-AG whose collection catalogue is cited in the film in the form of images, or also for that of the art-friendly office building, from which Komarov was filming. We can eagerly await the next evolution in this concept of exhibiting art for representative purposes. Because the value and significance of a corporate passion for art isn t equal to the sum of the values of the exhibited works. And their staging in generous empty spaces has become inflationary. Levelling and assimilation appears once again in the closing images to Aleksander Komarov s film, in which he lets the shining surfaces from the emerging Ural metropolis Yekaterinburg and those of Frankfurt slide into each other. The world is globalized how pleasant that the art world meets the challenges arising out of this with humour: Art at Works is the name chosen by a recently established group of curators from Italy.
50 The View from the Scales The work is called 35g. g stands for grams. The creator of the work, Aleksander Komarov, tossed his Belarusian passport on the scales and thus established its weight, the 35 grams mentioned above. This work of art appropriately reminds us of a parascientific experiment, in which, more than a century ago, an American doctor had tried to find a proof for the existence of the soul. Weighing people at the moment of their deaths, he established that they had lost a certain amount of weight. According to his measurements, they had lost an average of 21 grams, or to be more exact, between 8 and 35 grams. As a result, he concluded that this must be the weight of the human soul, which, as we know, is supposed to be immortal. The soul must then have a material dimension, and must therefore also be quantifiable. His hypothesis was, of course, quickly discredited: the recorded difference in weight, which could also be measured in animals, for example mice, was traced back to a both banal yet completely rational cause, namely the loss of fluid that happens at the moment of death. Water, and not the soul, weighed 21 grams. Nevertheless, it still makes sense, even today, to remember this experiment. Despite its miserable failure, it was namely guided by logic by a blind belief in a rationalistic, scientific jurisdiction over not just everything that actually exists, but also over everything that can be conceived or imagined. The idea that we could take the soul, that most sublime part of a human being, and toss it on the scales like a piece of meat, was far from being just the fantasy of a freak. Just the opposite. The hypothesis that the soul possessed materiality and could be mechanically quantified was absolutely in tune with the spirit of the time. This was the epoch of the first great upsurge of industrial modernism, when the belief in its unstoppable progress had not yet been tarnished by global crisis or world war.
51 At approximately the same time, also in America, Frederick Winslow Taylor formulated his Principles of Scientific Management (1911), the bible of industrial rationalisation. His vision was a complete rationalisation and standardisation of physical movements, with the aim of increasing the productivity of industrial labour. This idea has a long history reaching back into the 15 th and 16 th centuries, when, with the introduction of accountancy for the management of both material and spiritual goods, the secular trend began of the rationalisation of every domain of human existence. In the 17 th and 18 th century, this trend continued with the intensification of disciplinary measures and surveillance methods in prisons, hospitals and military barracks (famously described in Foucault s Discipline and Punish), to take on in the 17 th and 18 th century the form of various practices for the self-control of temporal and physical behaviour. 1 The best example 1 See Philipp Sarasin, Die Rationalisierung des Körpers. Über Scientific Management und biologische Rationaliserung (The Rationalisation of the Body. On Scientific Management and Biological Rationalisation ) in: Michael Jeismann (Ed.), Obsessionen. Beherrschende Gedanken im wissenschaftlichen Zeitalter, (Obsessions. Dominant Concepts in the Scientific Age) Frankfurt/ Main: Suhrkamp, 1995, pp , here p. 81. Ibid. p. 83. Ibid. p. 86 is the regulation of physical movements in gymnastics. To quote a standard work on the theme of hygiene, published in France in the 1880 s: every musculoskeletal system can be trained; every pattern of movement modified, regulated. 2 In Taylorism, on the other hand, the 2 rationalisation of physical movement is applied to a particular realm of commercial life, that of industrial labour. Taylor wanted to create a system, or rather an organisation, in which man and machine are merged into a unity of maximum output and efficiency. 3 In short, he wanted to increase 3 the productivity of the workers. Seen from the rival perspective of the working class lobby, however, the intention was the optimisation and maximisation of the worker s exploitation. Their physical movements were scientifically measured, with the aim of establishing a norm for the appropriate daily output : one measures with a stopwatch the time required for every single operation/working procedure, to then try and establish the fastest method for performing it. 4 This rationalisation of work met with resistance, however. According to Taylor, Ibid. p. 87 it was sabotaged by the unions. They were responsible for all the wasted energy and squandered working time. For Taylorism, therefore, the class lobby on behalf of the workers is implicitly irrational, in other words, unscientific. In the same historical context, i.e. also in America, and also in pursuit of a radical rationalisation of industrial work, Fordism was developed. Henry Ford, who incidentally shared Taylor s animosity towards the unions and banned them in his factories, standardised the physical movements of the workers not on the level of the individual body, but in relationship to the manufacture of the final product. He divided the requisite labour into simple, discrete, single movements and had them performed by several workers in series. Thus the modern factory was born, in which the lives of the people of industrial modernism were reproduced, and which so decisively shaped the historical world of the 20 th century. And this, beyond any ideological or political divisions. Millions of people worked in Fordist factories in Detroit and Turin, in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union, in metropolises and colonies, under liberal democratic and real socialist regimes. Regardless of how much, or how little, political, individual, cultural etc. freedom they otherwise enjoyed, in the area of the material reproduction of their lives they were not master of 4
52 their physical movements. These were alienated from them by a hegemonic rationality, quantified as units of energy, time or money, then standardized, to be ultimately reimposed onto them in the objectified form of mechanical labour. This is the real historical context, in which Aleksander Komarov s 35g both makes sense and speaks to us as art. If we ignore this context, we only see a familiar cliché: with 35g, Komarov is protesting against the injustice of the contemporary world. He draws our attention to the situation of the excluded, to the fate of all those who are not in possession of a first-world travel document, meaning that their freedom of movement is extremely limited and made more difficult as documented in 35g by every reproduced and annotated page, together with all the visas and stamps of other countries, in his (Belarusian) passport. Seen in this light, it seems as if his work wants to say to us: look at everything that I have to put up with in order to be allowed to move around in the world. As if the work was complaining about a denied right, the right to free movement, which was such a motivation in the fight against communist totalitarianism. We only have to think about the image that stands symbolically for the defeat of communism, the image of the masses who, in 1989, went over the Berlin Wall to freedom. In this context 35g seems to be the artistic processing of a personal trauma if not to say a private resentment that, despite everything, follows a completely objective aim, namely the completion of the fight for freedom and democracy. More accurately, as an excluded subject (as a frustrated East European ) Komarov speaks to the western public and demands his inclusion a classic case of the fight, well known since Hegel, for recognition. Seen like this, the political relevance of Aleksander Komarov s work exhausts itself in identity politics, articulated by the discourse of human rights. In short, his work wants more justice for the excluded and disadvantaged. If this were its only political meaning, however, then this work would be not only politically irrelevant, but also artistically uninteresting. With 35g, Komarov has already gone a decisive step further. He reflects on and documents the conditions of his own work as an artist. More exactly, he assesses it using the tried and tested criteria for the rationalisation of industrial work, for example, the time wasted, and the money squandered, in obtaining residency permits and transit visas, in order to expose the control mechanisms that his movements, the movements of a working artist, are subjected to. Taylorism rationalised and standardised the movements of individual workers, Fordism did it on the level of the organisation or factory. In the world of post-industrial, post-fordist production, the movements of working bodies are now globally regulated, but undoubtedly for the same old purpose, of optimising exploitation and maximising profit. This is what Komarov talks about in 35g. He doesn t toss his passport on the scales just to present his identity and a passport is per se the ultimate document of identity (ID) in all its material nakedness, to demonstrate the utter arbitrariness of its imaginative and cultural, that is to say, political character. Komarov doesn t show us identity in the lie of its existential pretensions, but in the truth of its capitalistic utility. He doesn t scream: The king is naked! Far more he is saying to us: The naked one is in control! In other words: My identity may be nothing more than these 35 grams of paper and ink, but it still essentially determines my entire life. 35g isn t then a demand for a more inclusive and democratic identity politics, but exposes the contemporary identity politics that are already democratic as a regulation
53 mechanism of post-industrial and post-fordist exploitation. Ultimately with his work, the artist is exposing himself as a cognitive proletarian in the global art and culture market, bound by the chains of its identity-based control mechanisms. Artist at work: that is what 35g is actually showing us. As we then enter the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Komarov s Estate, his camera behaves like the scales in 35g. It desublimates the found reality and shows it in its everyday banality. In the very place where capitalist means of production take on their most sublime form, as a trade in shares, Komarov chooses to focus on the simply terrestrial: the stock brokers sit in front of screens and chew their sandwiches, a TV journalist prepares for her live stock market report, a monotone noise signals the constant changing of numbers on the large display board etc., in short, a not particularly exciting atmosphere. But where there s so much money to be found, art can t be far away. And, sure enough, in the neighbourhood of the stock exchange in Frankfurt we find the Deutsche Bank world famous, not lastly, for its art collection. Art has been collected here for years, and collected under the concept: Art at Work. This is taken to mean Art in the Workplace, which literally means that the collected art works decorate the working spaces of this financial institution, and in doing so, as it is typically believed, can somehow refine a dry, bureaucratically alienating working atmosphere. We could choose to believe that the role of art in the work place is to impart a sublime dimension to the essentially rational and pragmatic working with money, to, as it were, elevate it artistically from the dirt of reality. Exactly the opposite is the case. It was exactly this artistic redesigning of the work place, this going artistic, which was viewed at the time by Herbert Marcuse, in, for instance, One Di- mensional Man, as an example of what he called repressive desublimation. Art doesn t enter the work place in order to breathe soul into it, and thus refine it. Instead, art wants to aesthetically sensualise it, to affectively charge it. Art wants to make working sexy. Why? To extend the control over the working body. It is art that now takes over the old assignment of rationalisation and standardisation, which industrial modernism once used to kick off its historical boom. Instead of engineers like Taylor, it is art that is mobilized to increase productivity, or, in other words, to increase the efficiency of exploitation. But here, Aleksander Komarov also takes it a step further. In Estate he brings to our attention a further progression, which Deutsche Bank has in the meantime made in its conception of art collecting. The company no longer calls its collection Art at Work, but Art- Works. Although the difference might not sound so dramatic from one ambiguity: art in the workplace or art while working to another: works of art or art works it explicitly marks the transition to a postindustrial and post-fordist method of production. Art can now really work, and not just stimulate and monitor the working process from the outside. Art is no longer there to make working with money more efficient, it makes money itself. The same thing can be said for the sublime. It has also become a worker. The first part of Komarov s Estate undeniably evokes in us an experience of the sublime, and this in the Kantian sense: it is images of nature the opencast mines in the Urals which create the feeling of vastness and boundlessness. It is a vision of the inexhaustibility of natural resources, in this case, the natural reserves in the Urals, and, taken still further, of the boundlessness of nature itself, which is communicated to us by these
54 images; in other words, exactly that feeling of exaltation, of the sublime, as defined by Kant. In addition to this, Komarov documents to use another Kantian concept subjective awareness, which goes beyond the sensual to attain the realm of ideas: in the transcendence of nature in its boundlessness, which both implies the inevitability of the industrial exploitation of natural resources and provides it with ideological legitimacy people have found their authentic world to work and live in. In other words, it is their identity, a soul breathed in from their reality. Identity is after all nothing more than soul at work, and Komarov has exactly measured it. It weighs 35 grams. INTERVIEW Jule Reuter / Aleksander Komarov
55 Your video work Estate from 2008 deals with the evident dominance of economics since the financial crisis, and its interrelation with other spheres of society using Germany and Russia as examples. What determined your choice of these two locations? Do they represent in general the first and second world and their relation to each other; or are there more personal reasons that have to do with your origins from Belarus, a post-socialist country, and your current residence in Rotterdam and Berlin? When you ask about the choice of location, I would say that source. In the same way one might read an entire book in order to find the passages that work for your theme, I travel to a place and while I m there I take stock of all the things related to my current subject to find the images for the film. The starting point for my film Estate was the fairytale. This fairytale comes from the tales of the miners in the Ural Mountains. Marking the border between Europe and Asia, the Urals are the oldest mountain chain in Russia and are well-known as a source of precious stones and metals, including gold and copper ores. The most famous character from these stories is the Mistress of Copper Mountain, a protector of gems and stones in the Urals. The choice to go to Yekaterinburg was there from the very beginning. Frankfurt came into the picture afterwards: I read in the financial news about speculation on moving the headquarters of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt to London, and that the Frankfurt twin towers (the building has been a popular backdrop in print media and television as a symbol of the German economy) will be closed and the art collection will be relocated by Imagining the empty towers from inside, and at the same time being confronted with the impossibility of filming or even seeing them empty, I wondered how the media shaped my imagination. In the end, I filmed in a show room in Frankfurt, which has a view onto the Deutsche Bank Towers. In the film, the notion of value passes from material value to ideal value systems. The Ural area is as well known for a seemingly endless capacity of resources as Frankfurt is known for its high density of bank buildings and the stock exchange. Economics has interested me for some time. For me it is rather personal issue. Because of my migratory lifestyle I have learnt that identity is directly related to economics. There were no thoughts about the first and second world, but I would be curious to discuss with you your thoughts about the terms in relation to today. In Estate the image of production of value is related to the economy of the places I chose to film. The ideologies powered by the government cannot be suppressed, First, second and third world are terms from the political context of the Cold War which, although they are less frequently used today, still codify a ranking of the world order. My question aimed to find out to what extent you wanted to draw attention in Estate to the systematic connection between spaces (here, raw material production, there sales and production of value) within the global economy. You mention that as a migrant, you discovered that identity is closely connected to economy. Could you be more specific and say to what extent these experiences had some influence on the film? but they cannot be explicitly communicated either. In the city of Asbestos, which is situated in the Ekaterinburg region, I had a guide, a teacher from the local school. She explained the history of the city to me and we went up onto the platform where I could look out over the excavation site of asbestos. It was an incredible experience: the grey landscape sculpted into the earth, and big trucks and trains scaled down to miniatures, repeating the same movement over and over again. I realized the political implications of the name that were given to the city Asbestos: it expresses the duration of its existence and its relation to larger economic structures. The guide told me people used to celebrate weddings in front of the mine. I filmed her there, standing without speaking a word as if she embodied the production of asbestos. If she had spoken, we would have been looking at her, but as she stayed silent I get the feeling she was looking at us. She looks through the camera to an unknown spectator.