Christian Jankowski

Kölnischer Kunstverein / Schnitt Austellungsraum

Christian Jankowski came to international attention with his innovative, intelligent, and funny video installation Telemistica, 1999, at the last Venice Biennale. But until now, there has been little opportunity to see his work in his native Germany. And so Udo Kittelmann, the director of the Kunstverein in Cologne, decided to present the Venice installation.

Telemistica shows the responses of five Italian fortune-tellers whom Jankowski called during their television programs to consult about the success or failure of his upcoming participation in the Biennale. They ask him about his type of artwork and about his intentions; it’s obvious that the words “video installation” mean almost nothing to them. Conversely, there is little Jankowski can do with their prophecies and advice or their timed prognostications, for instance, when one fortune-teller promises him financial success in the second half of July. Two worlds that exist side by side meet, but reciprocal interpenetration appears utterly impossible. Their dialogue provokes laughter as it reveals the absurdity of their attempt to communicate.

The video work for Venice is based on experiences that predate even Jankowski’s studies at act school in Hamburg. His apartment and studio, located in a former butcher shop, was a frequent meeting place for friends and people from the neighborhood. These meetings provoked unusual situations, which Jankowski entertainingly described in a lecture/performance at Schnitt Ausstellungsraum. In 1992, for example, he built a “shame cabinet” with his friend and fellow artist Frank Restle and then asked friends or chance passersby to publicly confess by sitting in the studio window holding a piece of paper on which their grounds for shame were inscribed.

Later, while still enrolled in art school, Jankowski produced a video piece that very clearly addresses rhe question of the communicability of art today. In Galerie der Gegenwart 2097 (Gallery of the present 2097), 1997, the director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Uwe Schneede, is shown as having been transformed by a viral illness into a child in 2097. The child stands before the camera and, in Schneede’s own words, explains several twentieth-century artworks and attempts to engage in discussion with Franz Erhard Walther (one of Jankowski’s teachers) and Rosemarie Trockel. Coming from the mouth of a child, the presmnably reliable words of the Kunsthalle director engender more alienation than understanding. What will these sentences convey in the year 2097 about today’s art?

In Kunstwerk verzweifelt gesucht (Desperately seeking the artwork), 1997, Jankowski consults with an Austrian psychotherapist who, in twelve recorded sessions, searches for the obstacles standing in the way of the artist’s attempt to complete a work for an upcoming exhibition. Again, these discussions produce no real dialogue. Using psychoanalytic terminology, the therapist constructs a world that is miles apart from that of the artist.

Many works by contemporary artists aim to communicate. It has become crucial to the evaluation of contemporary art by critics and museum people. But with whom and about what should art communicate if it aspires to more than lively dinner conversation? In his attempts at communication, Jankowski entered the world of the soothsayer, turned back into a child, and became a patient of psychotherapy. In each case, the artist is thwarted. There is hardly any real exchange between him and the representative of the other circle of experience. Or if such an exchange does takes place, it turns out to be absurd, though of undeniable entertainment value. But does art have possibilities other than entertainment if its aim is communication? Perhaps one should ask the Italian fortune-tellers.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.