WORD UP The methodology of misunderstanding in the work of Michael Riedel, language-mangler and current art-world rave Text: Sameer Reddy
The modern moment is characterised by a cacophony of diverse languages and expressions, but Michael Riedel’s practice suggests that he’s mastered the art of translation. Since graduating from the Städelschule in 2000, the 39-year-old, Frankfurtbased artist has been articulating a deadpan investigation into the ways different phenomenal systems work – reinterpreting music, film, art exhibitions, and internet content to create parallel worlds with unique potentials. His aesthetic dialect seems dry, but look more closely, and its surreal dimension is revealed, along with a playful approach. “There’s always a shift when you’re doing a translation,” he says. “The more misunderstandings the better.” It would be a stretch to equate his efforts with the fantastical tone of Lewis Carroll, but the end result is as transportive as Alice’s adventures, travelling through a perceptual looking glass to arrive in a wonderland which undermines basic assumptions about reality. In June this year, the Schirn Kunsthalle will open the first museum survey of Riedel’s work. His initial output established his conceptual interests in a strange terrain which manages to simultaneously problematise “the real” and “the virtual”. Two notable works include “Gert & Georg (Gilbert & George)”, in which Riedel hired two artists to shadow Gil-
bert and George at their Frankfurt opening in 2002, mimicking their every movement, and “NOSNHO” at Galerie Michael Neff in 2004, which consisted of a recreated local nightclub, Robert-Johnson, literally turned upside down. Visitors acted out Lionel Richie’s 1986 pop hit by dancing on the ceiling to a soundtrack recorded during a night spent in the original club. It doesn’t get more Alice In Wonderland than that. Describing some of his early motivations for embracing translation, Riedel says, “When you start as an artist there are all these judgements. People are telling you, ‘this has already been done, this isn’t new’ and at some point you’re thinking, ‘Why am I doing it, I’m not here to be the idiot who is judged all the time for what he’s doing.’ People can’t really judge what you’re doing if you’re reproducing things. In a way it’s not judgeable by critics. It provides a protection.” Riedel has attracted attention for his 2D work as well. For a 2011 exhibition at David Zwirner, Riedel culled information about himself from the internet, extracting information and text from websites that mention his work, and then incorporating the information into 22 large canvases, overlaid with large coloured dots. The canvases, which resembled a kind of mechanical diagram, were hung on floor-to-ceiling wallpaper composed of text from the
gallery’s website. The resulting effect transmuted the self-referential source material into an architectural form, containing the viewer within a recombinant matrix of visual language. Discussing Riedel’s body of work, museum curator Matthias Ulrich says, “Michael’s idea of creating forms is of a machine or system that produces the art, and as the artist, he just makes decisions about whether the output is the right one or not. There is a chain of positions that create the work as such, but after that comes another object or work, so the process in his work is also to be seen as a variation of a starting point. He shows everything, how the work is produced. It’s totally transparent. It’s all obvious, all there.” That might sound extremely Warholian, but on the surface Riedel has little in common with Warhol or the generation of postWarholian art stars who have come to dominate the pop cultural conversation. Warhol’s degraded silkscreens, along with much of the morbidly sexy work that was celebrated in the Noughties, exude a decadent, manufactured glamour, in stark contrast to Riedel’s fragmented, aloof visual language. But Riedel’s process, if not his results, echoes Warhol’s in the obsession with translation. Not as a means of reconstituting someone else’s expression, but as an end in itself containing a proprietary set of meanings. Although his methodology and materials aren’t flashy, it could be argued that Riedel is translating “pop art” into a new format, one that engages with common pop issues like context, reproduction and sampling, without gratifying our appetite for conventional visual pleasures. Knowing from where Riedel derives his source material adds to the experience of his work, but his rigorous, graphical creations, often created with cheap
materials, stand on their own, just as Warhol’s cheap, smudgy silkscreens of Studio 54 habitués live out a distinct existence from their human referents. Both deconstruct the aura of the artist, while expressing an ambivalence about the value placed on material artefacts. The similarity between the artists is perhaps best articulated through Riedel’s own words. He says, “I like when things are getting produced automatically… inventing a system, which is then doing the art for me, so I can be the spectator of the art going on in the system. I still believe in authorship but there’s a shift. I’m inventing an artist who is doing art and I can look at him and evaluate it.” Andy couldn’t have said it better himself. MICHAEL RIEDEL , Kunste Zur Texte, June 15 – September 9 2012. www.schirn.de
Left page: Michael Riedel during the installation of his 2011 solo show “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” at David Zwirner, New York. Photo by Jason Schmidt. Cour tesy David Zwirner, New York. Clockwise from top: installation view of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” at David Zwirner, New York, 2011. Vier Vorschläge zur Veränderung von Modern, 2008. Installation view of “Stutter”, Tate Modern, London, 2009 (left: No. 14, right: No. 3). Untitled (Michael S. Riedel), 1997. Photography. Installation view of “Neo” at David Zwirner, New York, 2005. All images cour tesy Michael Riedel and David Zwirner, New York © Michael Riedel.