Joep van Liefland

There is something for everyone in Joep van Liefland’s “Video Palace,” a fully operational video rental store that the Dutch artist has been setting up illegally in abandoned buildings around Berlin over the past two years. In its latest version, VP went official—or as official as XXXrated can get—and took over the entire space of a gallery. You enter the makeshift space at your own risk and inevitably leave with a strong sense of the strangeness of contemporary culture—whether you’ve watched Wrestling Super Stars in the VP Test-Corner, enjoyed the video of the month, Cannibal Holocaust, or listened to the tunes of Burger King Beats.

Van Liefland’s work initially appears as an installation: Everything from the emergency- exit sign to the peephole is here—all constructed in trashy, do-it-yourself style. But the work also derives from collecting the slops of the film industry. Among the rentable videos, Psycho IV, for instance, appears as a sad sequel to the missing original; one can rent videos about kitchen renovations, golf strokes, or planes taking off; the X-rated area offers Aussie Exchange Girls, Surf Side Shemales, and Bad Assed Blondes, while elsewhere one finds My Friend Mutz, about a gray tabby. While presenting an array of second-rate videos, van Liefland adds his own homemade brand of “splatter porn” tapes. To date, the artist has fucked an alley wall, Potsdamer Platz, and a car—in the exhaust pipe, bien sûr. Here, van Liefland decided to go organic and “teach the green piece of vegetable a lesson!” Broccoli Hardcore, 2003, mixes the genres of Italian Nazi porn from the ’60s and contemporary Internet veggie sex (an accompanying leaflet shows that no vegetable has been left out of that cornucopia—not even bok choy).

True to pornography, the work is all in the details—and looking endlessly at them. Van Liefland’s singularity is to show everything—from the broccoli entering the asshole to the ooze coming out—and thus to underscore by contrast the chastity of artworks that merely allude to sex. There are other details that both incite and resist fetishization: the swastika, the dog muzzle on the artist’s face, his white sport socks and flip-flops, abandoned plates of food on the floor. Even the screening room—padded with stained mattresses—suggests that the traces of desire can be a source of both comfort and disgust.

With his penchant for exaggeration, van Liefland works in the tradition of Paul McCarthy. Yet far from trashing mass culture, van Liefland goes through the dustbin to save its weary relics. His work is marked by a desire to be comprehensive, no matter how “low” culture appears to fall. The gesture recalls the collector of caricatures Eduard Fuchs, who compiled, among other things, a history of what were then lowly erotic drawings from the nineteenth century. Like Fuchs, van Liefland focuses on passions that have escaped art, despite their broad audience. Within this plethora of pleasures—from broccoli to bok choy, she-males to Mutz the cat—there is a distinctly utopian drive, an attempt to satisfy visually absolutely every desire. While offering much to see, “Video Palace” honors a populist notion of sexuality, largely repressed in the utopian projects of modernism. Beyond material abundance, collective forms of pleasure are hard to come by. But who can imagine paradise without sex?

Jennifer Allen