NJAHBIC Never Judge A Horse By Its Color 2002 Installation, Mixed Media, Solo exhibition, Kunsthalle Bern NJAHBIC was a pastiche constructed from picture puzzles, myths and current affairs, which included the Kunsthalle Bern as a readymade. A complex web of meaning consisting of objects and images involved and challenged the audience.
Kunsthalle Bern Bernhard Fibicher
Rita Siegfried, Bern
Louis Chabloz, Villeret
Production management CZ
Rudolf Steiner sen.
Vreni Spieser, Lydia Möst
Robert Łaszewicz, Warsaw (PL)
Jan Pruša, Klucov, Cesky Brod (CZ)
Kunsthalle Bern Canton Aargau Canton Bern City of Bern City of Biel/Bienne Migros Kulturprozent Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation Foundation Atelier Robert, Biel/Bienne videocompany.ch Barbara Huber-Streiff Kathrin Kummer Beat Hugi + Familie
Werner Schmied & Team Metalwork
Marco Eberle, Rohrbach Dermoplastic
Christian Schneiter, Viques
subject: frühmorgensgoldenstund from: rudolf steiner <email@example.com> date: fri, 10 may 2002 06:39:09 +0200 to: barbara meyer cesta <firstname.lastname@example.org> what I wanted to tell you: the thakis, the original wild horses, travelled across the western plains of the uni ted states a long time ago when a heavy winter came along and they all froze to death, except some who emigrated to mongolia where the evil man dschinghis khan conquered the whole world from their backs and forgot a few in spain, from where they went over to mexico by boat with the evil man cortes to convert the heathens, but you know all that about juan diego and the virgin mary who appeared to him as an aztec goddess, but by that time the little horses had long crossed the desert border to the united states as migrant workers, where one or two indians rode them while killing the evil settlers before these invented the colt rifle (a colt is a male baby horse) and barbed wire, which the Indians and their przewalski’s horses, named after their polish discoverer who found them in the wilds of mongolia and decided that all wild and domesticated horses in the world had descended from them; this was in the year 1879 I believe, so at the same time as edward muybridge proved to the world that galloping horses at certain moments lift all four hooves off the ground – this research was a commission by leyland stanford, then one of the richest men in the world, constructor of the railway that led right across america, horse breeder, founder of a university and a wine grower who aimed to overshadow the wines of the old world, but although he had the biggest vineyard in the world the weather didn’t play along, it got too warm so the harvest was ruined and turned into brandy, an excellent brandy, if contemporary sources may be trusted; but we were talking about the wild horses of the american plains who cut up their legs on the new barbed wire that partitioned off parcels of land into cow paddocks and – because the bison had already been hunted to near-extinction – were shot as dog and cat food, sometimes sold as table meat to the europeans because americans rarely ate horse meat at the time, after all the ole’ cowboys would have been more likely to eat their best friend than their horse, but that didn’t stop them capturing some of the animals and sending masses of them to south africa, where from 1899 the english waged a senselessly brutal war against the boers and the boers conducted a senselessly brutal guerilla war against the english (the indigenous population is barely mentioned in the sources, but they did nothing but suffer anyway), so in any case the English put up a monument to the formerly wild horses who were slaughtered heroically in battle, in port elisabeth – in this same war, a photograph was taken of three australian nurses, who looked after the women and children of the fighting boers as they were dying from various diseases in the concentration camps (another glorious invention of the time); also on the picture is a dog, with an isabelline coat (although the photo only shows him in black and white of course) with two noticeable whorls of hair running counter to the rest of the fur, the first picture of a rhodesian ridgeback, a cross between the dogs of the hottentots and the dogs that the boers (settlers from the netherlands) had brought to the continent in the 16th century to enjoy the pleasures of the hunt in their new home; a breed therefore that was able to put up with the extreme climate, protected farms from unwanted intruders and could even hunt lions in a pack – by the way it’s also very family friendly dog, but has unfortunately been listed as an attack dog in germany and england; in the czech republic I met one of these charming dogs, it belonged to an old punk and dropout who lives in one of the many nearly deserted villages on the austrian-czeck border in a shack with the dog and a horse (whose coat is also isabelline) and whom everyone calls the indian because of his Mohawk, when I met him he was lying drunk in his garden, and the dog’s name is atta because it was born on 9/11 – but that’s a different story; I really wanted to tell you how the wild horses that remained after the boers war were transported to europe in their thousands because of the first world war, where barbed wire was again in use as well as machine guns, and because the war was so boring in the trenches, a few talented soldiers began making horse carcasses from papier-
mâché, which they then used as sniper cover on the battlefield; the snipers would shoot his enemies through a hole in the horse’s midriff – truly a contemporary version of the trojan horse, quite suited to modernity. by the way: muybridge shot his wife’s lover with a smith & wesson nr. 2, not with a colt, and leyland stanford lost his only son to an accident in italy. in the night before his death, this son appeared to his father and asked him to do good in the world, so the father founded stanford university. he quarreled with muybridge however, or rather muybridge quarreled with stanford, because stanford collaborated with a certain stillman to publish the book “the horse in motion” in which muybridge was only peripherally mentioned. stillman by the way was present at the exhumation of a certain phineas gage, whose forebrain had once been grazed with an iron bar, leading to changes in his personality, including irritability, risk taking, uncontrollable mood swings: all traits which the defense also attributed to muybridge (in his case as a result of a carriage accident) and which was meant to save him from the gallows, but finally the jury agreed that they could not condemn a man for a deed which the members of the jury said they too may have committed considering the circumstances. In retrospect we are very grateful to this jury, for had muybridge been hanged we would still not know that horses can keep all four hooves up in the air simultaneously. in south africa by the way there is a winery called scher penheuvel (like our pilgrimage site in belgium) and on an american cemetery the image of the virgin mary was first discovered in the trunk of a redwood tree, and a few days later on a branch cut from a tree at the other end of the cemetery. ever since, people have been going there to pray and make videos and take pictures. in poland the image of the virgin mary was discovered in the window of a tenement building. a young woman named julia butterfly sat in the top branches of a huge old redwood tree for two years, more than 50 metres above the ground. every two days a support team came to bring her food and batteries for her cell phone and notebook as well as taking away her rubbish. she only came back down when a conservation order was placed on the tree. a while ago the trunk was heavily wounded after it was attacked with a chain saw. the police are so far searching for the perpetrators to no avail. in his first film sans soleil, chris marker mentions hitchcock’s vertigo and the spiral of time in kim novak’s hair and the scene in the park with the redwood giants with the giant cutaways of the trunks with their growth rings … a) the two oldest stuffed horses are to be found in the armory of the royal museum in Brussels. the mare apparently carried isabelle on her ceremonial entry to the city on 5th september 1599, the stallion was dear albert’s – but there is some doubt about this, because the white stallion is also said to have saved albert’s life during the siege of ostende 1601–1604, by taking a lethal bullet to the throat, an injury from which it died a year later – this, however, it impossible because (according to the most recent x-rays) the aorta had been severed, meaning the stallion would have bled to death on the battle field – unless the story actually took place at the battle of nieuport in 1600, no one is quite sure. in any case the oldest stuffed stallion in the world has a hole in the neck and his hind leg is at such a strange angle that if one wanted to get a live horse into this position the sinews would need to be severed. it is astonishing how impossibly most equestrian statues are posed, even most paintings of horses impute impossible movements to their subjects: the so-called dummy position was particularly popular, the front legs stretched forwards, the hind legs backwards. It isn’t clear why isabelle’s mare and albert’s stallion were preserved in the first place, perhaps only because it was possible? b) if we start with the growing suspicion that ingestion (to eat a large number of foods with the greatest of pleasures) is our artistic strategy, that is, everything ingests: the place ingests the pictures and the viewers, the pictures the viewers and the place; and if we also assume that the viewers are to be fed (usually indicative of a special effort and a particular reason), with long-term consequences: that they stop trusting their digestive system and keep coming back for the next hundred years or so until they can’t differentiate between their optic rays and their intestines, so that they may even end up ingesting themselves in the sodium vapors of the street
lantern by which we meet after the exhibition – if we assume all that we’ve advanced a little way through the stained glass windows with the tags we stole, looking out towards the criminally disfigured wall where they came from, the wall that excludes us with its secretive demeanor (there is no need to exclude us) and therefore takes us back to the horse which we might embody as it ingests us. for if we were threatened we could protect ourselves in this horse’s belly, with the help of its body we deceived the enemy, although the fissures in the baby’s skin on the wall behind us might reveal how porous and idiosyncratic our own skin is, our skin that surrounds us, protects and nourishes us, but would also separate from us if the suffering became too much. so the mild gaze of the virgin soothes, it rests on the fox and we look at it too, because we are ingesting, insinuating ourselves so that we may look at the exhibition from our vantage point in the optic ray emanating from the virgin’s eye, showing our inverted image to the viewers who wonder about the clever fox who has encased his snout in gold and in whose belly an organ may play. should the door be a trap door that leads in and out of virtual space without being locked, but which is flat like a perspectival line drawing of a mousetrap that will be displayed among other plans when one approaches the fox, still almost clueless as one grasps the handrail?… c) I am thinking of a mousetrap as a grid when foreshortened and as an inversion of perspective. I am thinking of the virgin of guadalupe and of the direction in which to cleave human skin and the bunch of roses and the fox with the gilded snout and the camouflage horse into which I can crawl – falada, falada, the little rocking horse is the horse of troy is a sniper horse; many hounds catch the fox the bloody fox, blood red roses in winter and little lord jesus asleep in the hay with the crown of thorns; the handrail as a playpen as a barrier tape as measuring bar as signpost; the gate is the trap is dürers perspectival machine is eternity is the matrix is the model of a grill which is the cross hatch on mary’s face is the direction of cleavability of human skin; the lamp is the sun is the eye of god, of the king, of the security state and enemy of graffiti tags and the opposite of privacy and intimacy; tagger’s are hidden from the eyes the public, because they do not belong to the king and they fear the lamp, which winks however, it winks with one eye, is half blind like the eye of our lady mary who watches us and we watch her who carries the proof of her existence in the apple of her eye, the eye of god of the king of the public state; that’s why the artists are showing a video that shows them in weapon training: where do we look when taking aim, do we face inwards like the walls of the kunsthalle? the heraldic stained glass as a farewell on the occasion of the anniversary are the marks of social duties fulfilled, they are the tags of the bourgeoisie of the family clan, the scorch marks of the herd: je suis au roi is more precise than the color; the signs, who before they become signs already carry signs within them, the burn marks, the tattoos in living skin stay visible on the skin of the dead, the wrinkles, the fissures, the matrix, finally the color of isabelle’s shirt that took on the color of skin, during war, during a siege, and it is also the color of the horses best suited to war … d) where is there honey in the rock and where is the shirt of isabelle? To start with I would suggest erecting a lattice grill (with a door in it) which as a perspectival drawing foreshadows everything one encounters later with regard to duchamp, dürrer and the monastery of st. urban, whereby the concept of perspective as a two dimensional representation would shift to a perspective of the mind, gathering together the thoughts of the landscape to correspond with the gaze of the fox, in the sodium vapor of the street lantern by which we meet after the exhibition and in a window that looks straight out into the crown of a tree, in the second room, we might have a glass window installed according to our instructions. robert could make it in warsaw, it’s pieces would be cut and transported as fragments, before being assembled on site, a window that leads outside as an inversion of the gate, the initial perspective portal, as one descends the staircase. one approach might be to organize the space in just such a way that it might exist for – let’s say – one hundred years.
On the façade of the Kunsthalle hangs a glowing red enamel street sign with the lettering NJAHBIC 1. The two exhibition spaces on the lower ground floor of the Kunsthalle are reached by an angled staircase and a raised floor from where the first room may be entered through an archway and down another short wooden stair. An iron gate has been fitted in the archway. The public enters and leaves the exhibition through the swing door. The title of the exhibition, NJAHBIC 2, is mounted on the gate in PVC lettering. On the wall opposite the gate, a black and white wall painting shows the simplified, wood-cut-like face of the Virgin of Guadalupe 3. Her left eye mirrors the portrait of the artist couple, her right eye the portrait of a monkey 4, while in front of her a stuffed fox with a golden snout sits on a plinth 5. A handrail runs along the whole length of the wall to the right – an extension of the handrail in the Kunsthalle staircase modeled precisely after the original. Above this is “Tatooage d’ameuble ment” 6, an assemblage of 100 images of objects, plans, sketches, logos etc. that have been directly applied to the wall using tattoo foil. The handrail is there for the public to hold on to while contemplating the work. The flood of images cites current affairs, objects and themes connected to NJAHBIC and more. The open doorway at the end of this wall leads to the second, enclosed space which stands at a right angle to the first but has similar dimensions and window openings. In the middle of the room is the polyester scale-model of a horse carcass 7, hollow on the inside and with its back cut open. In its midriff a shooting embrasure opens a gap in the abdominal wall. The horse’s colour is isabelline 8. On the wall to the right hangs a street light 9 with a video projection flickering inside it. Three heraldic stained glass panels hang in front of the windows to the left. These show the three graffiti 10 on the south façade of the Kunsthalle Bern – two are real, one virtual 11. The façade is thus turned inside-out. A monitor on the parquet floor presents a video that shows the artists repeatedly taking apart and putting back together a Kalashnikow AK47 12. Turning back to the doorway between the two spaces, looking towards the opposite wall, we are confronted by a monumental representation of the cleavability of human skin on a golden ground 13. Stepping closer, we realise that the fissures are representations of vaginas. Before leaving the exhibition we encounter two glass cases. In each there is a dog collar with the inscriptions “je suis au roi” (I belong to the king) and “Je jouisse hors loi” (actually “que je jouisse hors-la-loi” – oh how I would enjoy living outside the law!) 14 respectively. To the right next to the iron gate is the “Ecriture d’ameublement”: a board with 64 light bulbs spelling out the word NJAHBIC – although the cable connecting the bulbs spells something different. On the floor we again find the N-J-AH-B-I-C letters, also isabelline in colour, and a zig-zag line of yellow tape. The line was done by the artist Tomoko Takahashi who exhibited in the main rooms of the Kunsthalle upstairs at the same time and thus cheekily invaded the downstairs space. Through the iron gate we step back onto the stairs leading out of the exhibition. From the toilet we hear the song Never Judge a Horse By Its Colour.
Trmasan Bruialesi * 1956 in Tbilissi, Georgia and studied Slavistics with a focus on ancient Slavic texts of early Christianity. Since 1989 he has been working in Berlin as a translator, author and musician.
Elements of the work: NJAHBIC
Sticker tags in public space in Paris, Prague and Bern (distributed in the run-up to the exhibition) NJAHBIC
Invitation card I, digital graffiti on the facade of the Kunsthalle Bern Never Judge A Horse By Its Color – even after the 1st november 2002
Invitation card II NJAHBIC
Enamel signboard, red, 65 x 30 cm on the facade of the Kunsthalle Bern NJAHBIC
Brass plate with description of the exhibition, 17.5 x 11 cm, by the gate to the exhibition Gate
Cast iron gate, 2.7 x 2 m, with swing door 1.6 x 0.6 m, PVC lettering NJAHBIC, wire Tatooage d’ameublement
Tattoo foil applied to wall, in 800 parts, 3 x 1.2 m, chrome handrail, 3 m (with extension into staircase) The Fox with the Golden Snout
Stuffed animal, gold leaf; plinth lined with photocopy of Kunsthalle flooring Self-portrait as an Artist Couple
Wall painting; 5.3 x 4.5 m je suis au roi / je jouisse hors loi
2 dog collars, leather, engraved brass plaque Camouflage Horse
Polyester (after horse carcass), horse hooves, linen, pins Back-up
Candelabra; DVD 10 min loop, DVD player, video projector Ecriture d’ameublement
Brett, 2 x 0.4 m, 64 Glühbirnen; Gewehr The Cleavability of Human Skin
Scotchprint on gold foil, 1.5 x 2.5 m Kalashnikow
DVD, 15 min. Loop mit Ton, LCD-Screen, Speakers CLAIM
Heraldic stained glass, painted glass and vitrages in metal frames, each Ø 138 cm; in 3 parts Never Judge A Horse By Its Color
Song, 2 min, CD player NJAHBIC
Magazine to accompany the exhibition, 36 pages, 50 ill. e/f/g, 5 copies, hand coloured, including CD ISBN 3-9522196-3-0
1 Months before the exhibition opening, Haus am Gern dis tributed the acronym NJAHBIC on stickers in the streets of Paris, Prague and Bern. 2 ˝Never Judge A Horse By Its Color” is a traditional cowboy proverb. 3 According to legend, the Indio Juan Diego saw an appearance of the Virgin Mary on 9th December 1531 on the mountain Tepeyac near Tenochtitlan, today’s Mexico City. She appeared to him as an indigenous woman and spoke in his own language, charging him with erecting a chapel in her honour. Bishop Zumarraga did not believe him, but during a further manifestation on the same spot three days later, the Virgin commanded Juan Diego to pick roses at a particular point on the mountain and bring them to the Bishop as proof. He found that the roses flowered despite the winter snow and tucked them in his cloak. When he opened his cloak in front of the Bishop, the flowers fell to the ground and the fabric of the cloak touched by the flowers was illuminated with the image of the Virgin Mary. This icon, “painted not by human hands” of “Our beloved Lady of Guadalupe” is today visited by around 20 million pilgrims and therefore the largest pilgrimage site in the world. – One of the greatest secrets of the image of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe rests in her eyes. In 1929 the professional photographer Alfonso Gonzales made several enlarged images of the original and discovered a tiny human figure in the pupils of the Virgin Mary. Current research counts 13 people in the pupils of the Madonna. The human eye reflects the objects of its perception on the retina. What can be seen in the eyes of the Madonna is the scene at the moment when Juan Diego opened his cloak and let the flowers fall to the floor.The group of people visible in the eyes of the image corresponds to the oldest extant descriptions of the persons present at the miraculous creation of the image before Bishop Zumarraga. Also, the images are reflected in both eyes, and they accord with the rules of optics in their distortion and symmetry. Juan Diego was sainted by Pope John Paul II in 2002. 4 The alter ego of the artists is the “signifying monkey”, a figure from Afro-American folklore originating with the EsuElegbara in Yoruba mythology. Esu-Elegbara, the signifying monkey, speaks with a forked tongue and outwits his friends, the elephant and the lion, by playing them off against each other. The subversive strategy of “signifying” has been adopted by Afro-American rappers, for example in the way they exaggerate or downplay status symbols. “Like his ancestor Esu-Elegbara, the signifying monkey is a trickster, a great rhetorician and a big mouth, a preacher and a braggard, a hero and a coward, simultaneously powerless and manipulating […] because signifying is very sensitive to linguistic codes and messages, it often contains characteristics of parody and pastiche – meta-textual strategies that repeat linguistic patterns in order to recontextualise them in repetition and thus emphasise their ideological and historical contingency.” (cited from Florian Werner, Rapocalypse: Der Anfang des Rap und das Ende der Welt [Rapocalypse: the beginnings of rap and the end of the world] Bielefeld: transcript, 2007, own translation). 5 The fox as the European variant of the “signifying monkey” (e.g. as J.W. von Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs or in the fables of Lafontaine) got a golden instead of a bloody nose at the Kunsthalle. 6 The “Tatooage d‘ameublement” refers to Eric Satie’s “Music d’ameublement” and thus also to Marcel Duchamp’s “Peintures d’ameublement” and to his presumptive daughter Jo Sermayer, who exhibited at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1983.
7 During the First World War, American snipers used artificial horse carcasses as camouflage in no-man’s-land between the fronts and thus – like theTrojans,Till Eulenspiegel, the Centaurs and others before them – used a horse’s body without a touch of squeamishness. In this context we must mention that the exhibition took place at a time when the so-called Beltway orTarot Card snipers shot ten people dead through a small hole from the boot of their blue Chevrolet Caprice near Washington D.C. 8 The name of the colour is reported to refer to the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, the daughter of Philip the II of Spain, in her own right Regent of the Spanish Netherlands. According to legend, she vowed not to change her white undergarments before her husband, Archduke Albrecht of Austria, had conquered the city of Ostende, which he laid siege to in 1601. But as the siege lasted three years, three months and three days, the legend’s point regarding the colour is obvious. Isabel Clara Eugenia was very interested in the arts and her court was a magnet for painters and other artists. She especially supported and promoted her court painter Peter Paul Rubens, who also acted as a diplomat and peace negotiator on her behalf. 9 The spread of street lighting in the 19th century was an expression of state power and thus a precursor of today’s systems of surveillance in public space. See Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Lichtblicke: zur Geschichte der künstlichen Helligkeit im 19. Jahrhundert [On the history of artificial light in the 19th century], Fischer Taschenbuch. 10 So-called “throw-ups”: quickly painted pictures that are, if at all, only roughly shaded in. 11 The NJAHBIC graffiti decorates the dust-cover of the magazine accompanying the exhibition and was spray painted in public space and on train carriages in Paris, Prague and Bern by Haus am Gern. 12 The Russian AK 47 (Автомат Калашникова образца 47) is the most widely produced and distributed weapon in the world. It was developed from the old German Second World War assault rifle model 44. 13 The image is taken from the forensic image atlas of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Berlin (Chapter 3.2, non-natural death, fig. 3.47 “The cleavability of human skin after Langer-Hofmann”), and is supplemented by images of vaginas from Tsukioka Settei: Onna-shimegawa-kaeshi-bumizen [Final Answers to all Questions on the Correct Education of Women Ready for Love], single volume, facsimile edition published 1988 by Die Waage, Zurich. 14 “JE SUIS AU ROI” was inscribed in the dog collars of Louis the XIV’s hunting hounds. These animals always came to the hunt riding their own mounts and whoever dared hurt them was heavily punished. The dog collar with the inscription “JE SUIS AU ROI” was worn during the opening by bitch Lena, who looks surprisingly similar to the hunting hounds of Louis the XIV. She was the first animal to have access to all rooms at the Kunsthalle Bern and used this to her advantage. During the installation of the exhibition, she chewed up important documents in the director’s office.
“Pepperstein: In a way you can say that definitions of this kind [those of the artist, ed. note] reassert themselves as soon as you run into extreme situations – for example, in institutions totally unlike art institutions, such as prisons and hospitals – which nobody is save from. In Russia in particuliar, but not only in Russia, an artist who arrives in such a place or suddenly finds himself in a completely different community is immediately tested to see how complex he is, to what extent he’s an artist in the primary sense. In this terrible situation a well-known conceptualist or performance artist immediately has fairly good chance if he’s at least partially an artist in the popular sense. If you’ve ever been in torturous and testing situations like this, you’ll know that it’s very good to be an artist in the very traditional, popular sense of the word – one who can draw. If you can’t draw, you‘re not considered an artist in that kind of environnement, even if you call yourself an artist in the second sense of the word. “You damn artist!”,
they say, and after that they could beat you to death. […] Kabakov: There was one episode in my life which showed me that a person will be killed if they don’t somehow extrigate themselves from the whole business. Killing is something very natural, it’s public rage that destroys you simply because you don’t fulfill any obligations toward the collective whole. The only thing you can do to compensate for this is to draw something understandable. Something cherished and comprehensible, a horse or a naked woman being the classic example. In my younger years I specialized in horses and saved myself in that way.” 1 PAVEL PEPPERSTEIN AND GUESTS – Project Collection 1998 – 2001, ed. by Kunsthaus Zug, Matthias Haldemann, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern 2004, p. 92– 95
“Please draw a horse below!”, cited acc. to NJAHBIC, preface by
Trmasan Bruialesi in the publication accompanying the exhibition
at the Kunsthalle Bern, 2001, Edition Haus am Gern Biel / Bienne.