The room is a landscape of grey newspaper. Newspapers neatly stitched together with transparent sticky-tape cover the entire surface of the galleries concrete floor. The audience tramples all over this textual carpet as they spill into the room. Partially blocking their smooth entry, however, stands an industrial rubbish skip. On the outside, the skip is decorated with multi-coloured stripes rendered in enamel paint, evenly spaced like a TV test pattern. On the interior floor of the skip is a projection of tonight’s performer Franz Ehmann, emerging cocoon-like from newspapers formed to create a synthetic chrysalis.
To one side of the skip, a technicolour paint-spill echoes the brightly hued stripes decorating this prosaic industrial object. The sudden explosion of colour spread across the carpet of newspapers appears to represent primordial chaos, that of the world as much as of the artist. More specifically for the artist, it also conjures something of an art-school prank: a variant of the ubiquitous slapstick banana-peel. The sticky paint mass seems fittingly unformed and randomly applied; the press is always slippery. In contrast, the hard-edged televisual stripes colouring the skip suggest inhibitive media restrictions that, in this case, literally bind the artist, at the same time relegating his or her attempts to break-free of narrow, externally imposed creative stereotypes, to the status of refuse.
Partly technicolour as well are a series of scrunched-up newspaper balls of varying sizes laid out in a line adjacent to the rubbish skip. At the far end of this small stretch of flimsy, potentially flammable boulders, the performance is about to begin. The rolled-up newspaper shape that we have by this point but barely glimpsed in projected guise, is now wriggling from side to side flat on the ground in the opposite corner of the gallery, albeit in real time and space. A pair of feet protrudes absurdly from this makeshift nondescript cylinder. As the artist slowly struggles to break the bounds of this confining, literally paper-thin structure the sound of uninterrupted rustling permeates the gallery.
The performer’s drawn-out attempt to emerge from the newspaper package in which he is encased is both uncanny and ridiculous. Such humour is further high lighted as the artist’s hands finally emerge, sliding rather than punching their way out of this be-printed paper bag. With this gesture Ehmann successfully anthropomorphizes the image of the newspaper so central to the landscape in which he performs. The ‘daily rag’ to which we are constantly exposed comes alive. Moreover, the oppressive presence of newspaper is transformed in the same way that the Golem of ancient Jewish mythology is brought to life—by way of the Word—only to wreak havoc on those who have endowed it with superhuman power. The performer’s beseeching hands and arms desperately plead with us to pay serious attention to the creature he has become. Such a feeling is further exaggerated as he sightlessly bends down to grasp one of the paper rocks beneath him, a movement both infantile and ironically megalomaniacal; the sphere is simultaneously a child’s ball and diminutive model of the earth whose indecipherability marks it for future destruction.
The intimation of doom is also played out at the moment a skull is literally ‘born’ from the folds of the performer’s paper mantle. It clatters to the ground, the distinct resonance of plastic upon thinly covered concrete fully emphasizing the artifice of the world Ehmann has created. This feeling is additionally magnified as, initially sensing the image projected downward into the skip to be a live video-feed, we soon realize that here (and by implication, everywhere else) the Real and Represented do not match up. This dis-synchronicity reflects critically on the content of our mediatized universe whose principal representative in this instance is again the newspaper clinging pervasively to the ground, destabilizing it at once.
Drawing to the conclusion of this event, strangely and unexpectedly, our performer, Ehmann, is finally free. Returning to the more mundane terrain of galleries and exhibitions, he casually kicks—soccer-star style—one or two more of the paper balls he has roughly crafted, before laughingly alerting all present to the fact that the show is now over; the artist ‘himself’ has appeared. To emphatically prove this fact, Ehmann personally supplies those remaining with a polenta dish he has prepared, as if to say that there remains a communal domain in which it is still possible to be simply amongst friends, untouched by the questionable and over-estimated incentives of society’s paper tigers.
Franz Ehmann, Forever Young
Performance, 19.07.2007; Installation, 20.07 – 11.08.2007