Gerwald Rockenschaub

Sony Style Store

Any artist wishing to thematize the play between forces of culture and capital would be well advised to seek contact with the real economy. Otherwise, an analysis or critique of this relationship would be rather a bloodless proposition. What happens, though, when an artist participates directly in the creation of market value and enters into the exchange of commodities through his or her own works? Then there is very quickly talk of decoration—it's just a short step from the store windows Andy Warhol designed in New York to the kind of art that plays right into the business strategies of today's corporate culture. The Austrian artist Gerwald Rockenschaub, with his video presentation in the Berlin Sony Center, seems to be involved in such a coupling.

Rockenschaub's cooperation, though, has purely technical parameters. Sony simply supplies the tools with which the artist works. In this case, there are six television sets of the “Sony Art Couture” series, on which are shown six video loops by Rockenschaub. At the same time, he uses a symbolic language, as he has for years, borrowed from the kind of graphic design developed by entertainment electronics. His painting continually references the symbols of electronics and quotes the color palette of digital industries. What's more, the fact that Rockenschaub sets up his paintings entirely by computer, printing out lines of data as folios of images that are then transferred to Alucore, means that the paintings are not bound to traditional materials but are rather products of new-media processes. With this method, Rockenschaub equates industrial modes of production, images from everyday technology, and media aesthetics. The images are allegories of a world made up of electronic components.

The videos follow a similar principle, in that they are a filmic projection of the results of the painting process. Each individual sequence consists of simple movements, as if the geometric figures designed by Rockenschaub were repeating certain processes of production. Three right angles keep sliding on top of each other; black, white, and blue cubes dissolve into lilac-colored fields; a black sphere is split in half by an orange circle. The relentless sequence creates a technically fixed monotony: Welcome to the digital conveyor belt.

These basics of production are nevertheless at odds with the site where they were presented. The Sony Style Store on Potsdamer Platz—right in Berlin Center—is supposed to serve as the setting for the magnificence of technological use objects. It is a stage for the mise-en-scène of high-tech fetishes, a showcase, lit up through the night, for the products of consumer electronics. Rockenschaub makes use of this context to play the technical constructedness of his images against the equally techno store interior. The strict rhythm according to which his videos repeat the same motions over and over bores into the visual ambience of the Sony Style Store, while the intoxicating colors produce a nervous flicker that hangs like a veil over the sales counters. Most of all, the minimalism of the formal elements used by Rockenschaub becomes a parody of the individualism promised a mostly adolescent clientele by PlayStations and MP3 players. While the advertising touts the endless possibilities of these devices, Rockenschaub preprograms every last detail. In place of fantasy he insists on the technical standards of image production, his commentary in the face of the corporate visual culture so necessary to a firm like Sony.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger