Florian Slotawa

Städtische Kunsthalle

It all started when Florian Slotawa, then an art student at Hamburg's Kunsthochschule, decided he didn't want to create, install, or produce any more artworks. Plagued with doubts about his art studies, he began taking photographs of the objects in his flat: furniture, dishes, clothing, silverware, even the bottle opener. Adding information about the object's acquisition—then later about its resale—its condition and importance, he drew up a book resembling a catalogue raisonné. Finally, he installed his worldly possessions in a room at the Kunsthochschule for several weeks.

Next he moved back to his old Heimat—Slotawa makes a point of referring to his hometown using this loaded and barely translatable word—of Munich, where he reinstalled his objects in a new apartment. Invited to exhibit in Düsseldorf, he took his belongings—his refrigerator, washing machine, mattress, bookshelves, books, and blankets—with him once again and used them to construct Heimatrelief (Homeland relief), 1996, an installation that referred to the mountainous landscape of his childhood. In 1999, in Kassel, he piled his things into towers that he named Mama, because their height was the same as that of his mother. The reference was as banal as the objects, but isn't the break with one's origins, which could also be called Heimat and which are always somehow embodied by the mother, the first step into a liberating emptiness that can then be filled with new possibilities?

But Slotawa fled the emptiness of his apartment or hotel rooms across Europe. He checked in at cheap motels in cities like Prague, Grenoble, Trieste, and Leipzig for one night at a time. Once in his room, he built himself a kind of cave out of the furniture found there—bed, wardrobe, table, chairs—which he then photographed and slept in. Before breakfast he quietly put everything back in its place. Only the photograph remained as testimony to the event.

He dealt with his home again in 2001 when he was invited to Mönchengladbach by the Museum Abteiberg. He had art objects from the museum's storage shipped to Berlin, where he had moved in the meantime. He arranged these objects in his new apartment alongside his own—a Gothic carving on a shelf next to his stereo system, a Neoclassical portrait next to his wardrobe—documenting everythg with his camera. These shots were then sent to Mönchengladbach to be exhibited together with the packing materials for the transported artworks.

Since then, all the belongings of this nomad artist have been sold to the Düsseldorf collector Axel Haubrok. On the occasion of Slotawa's receiving the H.W. & J. Hector-Kunstpreis (art award) of the Kunsthalle Mannheim, these objects were displayed again. Night after night, Slotawa photographed his Gesamtbesitz (Entire possessions), 2002, also the title of the exhibition. After being photographed, each item was then brought to the Museum Abteiberg, where the Haubrok collection was being presented. For the last time, all his belongings were spread out there; later they were packed up again and handed over to the collector, who is contractually prohibited from publicly exhibiting them unpacked again.

What Slotawa shows is that commodities in the traditional sense are no longer the primary objects of exchange. The “entire possessions” of the artist are not the objects—these are to remain stored away—but rather the photographic records of an event. The image is the commodity. The makers of Conceptual art offered ideas for trade, too, but in a society in which exchange values were invested in concrete merchandise: Now images and information are the hottest commodities—for example, a photo that documents the reconstruction of a hotel room as a cave. Does it even matter whether this reconstruction actually took place?

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.