Nina Könnemann

Galerie Borgmann • Nathusius

Rarely have I felt so lost as in viewing the videos of Nina Könnemann. Lost, because I couldn’t determine the place or the time period in which they were filmed, or even what was taking place in them. Were the events I was observing real, or had they been staged? In this footage, reality seemed to blend into fiction—or was it fiction turning into reality? In this, her first gallery exhibition, Könnemann, who studied at Hamburg’s Hochschule für Bildende Kunst (Academy of Fine Art), shows young people running around in artificially lit spaces, subway stations, perhaps. They seem to have been on their feet for a few hours: Their appearance is disheveled, their gait unsure, their facial expressions apparently impaired by alcohol or drugs. Where have they been, where are they going, what have they been through? Aimlessly, as though guided by some external force, they wander around, stop and stand still, light up a cigarette, make faces in the camera—by chance, or deliberately?—then move on, with new ones showing up, sitting on the floor, getting up . . .

They happen to be teenagers, we discover, hanging out in a fully constructed but unused U-Bahn station, after the Love Parade in Berlin. Without this information, we would be clueless. But is it that important to know precisely what is going on? Unrise, 2002, speaks for itself: This is the moment when the exhilaration of the party, that euphoric state when you might feel beyond time and place, beyond history and the present moment, beyond boundaries and taboos, beyond desire and death, nears its end, or, more precisely, when a consciousness that just moments before was soaring above the earth sinks back into reality. Ineluctable time and boundary-making space have not yet fully reclaimed it, though soon they will, and with them comes the present, from which there will be no more escape.

The people in Könnemann’s videos always look like they’re on the run. They dash about for no apparent reason, constantly in motion, coolly followed by the camera; they never rest, never stand still. These are lost figures in a nonplace at an indeterminate time of day, torn free of all social relations, isolated, lonely and yet a part of the all-encompassing mass, able to be formed and yet individualist; they are the agonists of our leisure time, a society of pleasure seekers attempting to escape the dreary everyday.

Art has a lot to do with escape; it can take you out of your own time and space. But unlike the excitement of a party, which of necessity must end with the sobering return to reality, art can turn lack of time and place into a positive experience, putting it in a productive tension with the hopelessness of the quotidian. This is what lends art its similarity to intoxication, and in fact it is surprising that so few contemporary artists pursue this theme. With her vivid images, Könnemann is an important exception.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.