Torsten Haake-Brandt

In his performances and the objects he creates, the thirty-nine-year-old artist Torsten Haake-Brandt addresses the intersection of art and labor. In his recent exhibition “From 9 to 5” (which at times recalled Joseph Beuys’ investigations into the artist’s place in society), Haake-Brandt exhibited a dozen objects and photographs that he had meticulously masticated, accompanied with the motto “Lazy Bones! Use your free time! Chew up the opposition!” The results he achieved in these works were often quite startling.

Among the objects presented were a crucifix with an armless figure of Christ; a pistol whose barrel appeared to have melted; and the bitten-up fender of a toy car fashioned of tin. In the chewed photographs, images of Los Angeles, flowers, nude models, and Martin Kippenberger’s Metro Net installation for Documenta X were all transformed into vaguely expressive abstractions. One detects traces of animal energy rather than creative intent in these works; and yet it is precisely in this wild, even degenerate appropriation of everyday objects that the connection to labor is revealed. Mimicking the industrial workday through a monotonous, grinding process that is an almost therapeutic effort to conquer time, Haake-Brandt will chew photographs and mass-produced commodities for eight hours straight in his studio. In one brilliant action documented on video, he also shook a package of noodles for an entire day.

In a parody of creativity that once again involves a tedious, repetitious act, Haake-Brandt places paper and felt-tip pens under his bedspread in plastic bags every night when he goes to sleep. The leaking colors that remain on the paper come to symbolize what the artist calls “used rest time,” so that an entire twenty-four-hour day is relegated to work. This total dedication to production recalls yet another project by Haake-Brandt: between 1991 and 1994, he responded to a variety of help-wanted notices in order to assess his integration into society, fashioning a kind of self-portrait out of all the rejections he received. Haake-Brandt’s strategies have, in his own words, “reached the highest possible level of the social evaluation of artistic work.” That he also reflects the regimentation of other occupations defined as work is a strength: his sculptures are “all art and no play.”

Harald Fricke

Translated from the German by Vivian Heller.