Thomas Locher

Kunstverein München

Since 1989, it is not only the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany that has increased, but the legion of unemployed and of right-wing extremists. And for the first time since World War II, Germany is once again involved in combat, in ex-Yugoslavia. It seems timely, therefore, to take another look at the foundations of this state: namely, its so-called Basic Law, the Grundgesetz. As things stand today, presenting this text in any form, and certainly displaying it publicly, is in itself a political act, casting a certain doubt on the legitimacy of present-day developments and procedures. Why else would Thomas Locher be examining it so minutely just now? In his recent project, this Cologne-based artist wrote out the Basic Law on the walls of the Kunstverein München.

In “Präambel und Grundrechte in Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (Preamble and basic rights in the basic law for the Federal Republic of Germany), Locher used the spaces of the Kunstverein most artfully. Walking up one flight you encountered the first text; the texts continued as you wandered on through the various spaces, always from left to right, regardless of whether there was a window or not; the installation gave the viewer the impression of leafing through a three-dimensional book page-by-page. The Basic Law, and thus Locher’s work, begins with the Preamble, and ends with Paragraph 19—which list restrictions to basic rights. Locher’s texts, in black with red footnotes, consisted of two continuous columns, comprising the original text and the artist’s own annotations. Usually his remarks are more extensive than the legislative passage they gloss. Apart from lawyers and politicians, of course, probably no one knows the Federal Republic’s Basic Law more intimately. Locher, an artist intensely concerned with logic and linguistics, finds many questionable passages in the Basic Laws; and the mass of questions they raise in him form the greater part of his commentary. There are, however, two other levels to his remarks. In italic script the reader is also addressed in personal asides, in words like “You’re free to stop reading” or “Is this of any concern you?” On a third level, the texts are put in quotations marks, in boldface script. Here the viewer is addressed once again with the familiar du, only this time far more impersonally and formally, highlighting the peculiar workings of the German language. Locher’s commentary on the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany also raised questions about the role of the author. It successfully investigated implicit structures and subliminal prejudices, providing visitors to the Kunstverein with the pleasurable experience of authentically deconstructive reading.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.