Cologne

Titus

Esther Schipper

The gallery space was stuffed to the gills with neatly arranged East German refuse—that is, you instantly think of refuse when you see the faded flags, the old toys, the gray paper bags and yellowed boxes, the jars and bottles, the blue work smocks—the kind of stuff you get rid of when you feel it’s old, useless, or defective. And you think of the (former) German Democratic Republic, a deceased system, as soon as you take a close look at these objects, for example, the cross on the wall. This cross, roughly constructed, is made up of metal, an East German license plate, and a toy car (a Trabi, of course). The title, easy to understand, prosaic, and vaguely sentimental, is Meinem Freund Trabi (To my friend Trabi; all works 1991). The materials, we are told, actually come from the former GDR and from garbage—at least most of them do. A few were sold or given to the artist. But today, East German garbage gives off the stench of discarded one-sided classifications—the aroma of poverty, of fairly old fashioned inelegance—the failure of that social system adheres to them almost as a patina, and it stigmatizes them.

Thus, as the detritus they are, they contain statements about everything and nothing. But through their artistic arrangement, they go through an essential—Western—reevaluation. But first, as discarded everyday objects, they make a clean break with the East German past. The society, whose economic and cultural heartbeat was measured collectively, develops a final, macabre pattern of collective behavior: people in serried ranks simply dump tons of products into the trash heap. In this light, the things in this gallery speak the loud-and-clear language of death. They also talk openly about the shame of the past, about lost ideals, and about stranded hopes.

In their placement within an art-market context, these objects gain a new value. Here, in a life-size assemblage, Western art finds its theme in an unchallenged assertion of power. While Titus may naively and playfully speak about the return of external reality to art, he also crassly lists the consequences that the total freedom of art may have for the individual in an allegedly free system. Gedanken an Uwe Troschütz (Thoughts of Uwe Troschütz) contains a highly explosive mixture of both approaches. The glass case contains an East German I.D. card belonging to Uwe Troschütz, born 12/27/71, and residing in Dresden; in addition, it has many of his documents, letters addressed to him, his diaries, etc. We see just about everything that constitutes a former East German citizen. So much for the return of the outside world to the artwork. But actually Troschütz the person becomes a drab and dreary social product that has thrown itself into the garbage can, documenting itself or leaving itself open to interpretation. In any case, he is mercilessly exposed—and by an artist who for years now has been hiding his own identity behind a pseudonym.

The works here tell about the death of a political and economic system, created, supported, and ultimately destroyed by human beings. These works also have an ironic, activist side. They are fascinatingly direct, much like Hans Peter Feldmann’s works from the ’70s. In fact, Titus, like Feldmann, stopped producing art during the ’80s. It is remarkable that both artists are again showing new work. Perhaps it is because the attack on art, history, and everyday life once again has real targets.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.