New York


Leo Koenig Inc. | 541 West 23rd

At 10 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2005, Leo Koenig confined four members of the Viennese art collective Gelitin (Ali Janka, Florian Reither, Tobias Urban, and Wolfgang Gantner), American artist Naomi Fisher, and psychiatrist Gabriel Loebell inside a large, double-insulated plywood box constructed in his Chelsea gallery. Tantamounter 24/7 was outfitted with a kitchen, shower, toilet, and beds fabricated by the artists, as well as three truckloads of art supplies: fabric, stuffed animals, modeling clay, paint, a sewing machine, and magazines (including lots of pornography). Cut off from all time-telling aids, the group remained inside until they were “liberated” exactly one week later.

But what might sound like a good old-fashioned endurance performance was actually something quite different. During the show, the gallery was open twenty-four hours a day and the artists turned themselves into a giant duplication machine. Visitors were instructed to insert an object of their choosing into a plywood chute, and after a wait of unpredictable duration, the original reemerged, along with an idiosyncratic facsimile. Over the course of seven days, objects ranging from CDs to food to clothing to other people’s artwork—even a three-year-old child—were bundled into this unique contraption. The resulting “copies” were as diverse as their models. Some were painstaking—albeit craftsy—reproductions. Others hewed more to the spirit than the letter, or relied on the readymade (for instance, a box of Celestial Seasonings Honey Vanilla Chamomile tea was represented by a box of Celestial Seasonings Wellness tea).

Tantamounter 24/7 delighted everyone from critics to club kids because it engaged the imagination without requiring specialist knowledge. But the project also addressed, in sublimely irreverent ways, serious art issues, including originality, reproduction, mimesis, and the revolutionary potential of the copy machine à la Hans Magnus Enzensberger. It also confronted the relationships between art and commerce, artist and craftsperson. Perhaps most important of all, it created a relationship between the ad hoc communities on either side of the plywood walls: the collective inhabiting their hermetic factory-cube and the customers waiting like patrons in a Laundromat for their items to be reworked and returned, interacting for a change, rather than experiencing art in parallel silence.

Previous Gelitin projects have played fast and loose with a range of art-historical precedents: Their giant pink Rabbit, 2005, for instance, pokes fun at the seriousness and machismo of Land art. In a similar way, Tantamounter 24/7 might be considered a tongue-in-cheek test case for Nicolas Bourriaud’s arguably played-out notion of relational aesthetics, in which art takes as “its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space” and is conceived as a “social interstice.” Gelitin’s assembly line seemed both to occupy this state more fully than most current art, and to come close to satirizing it—or at the very least injected the model with a sense of irreverent wit it often lacks.

For a week after the group was freed from the box visitors could peer inside at the messy remains. Some shelves and other objects will be retained for later exhibitions, calling to mind relics of actions by Joseph Beuys and others. For those who have experienced such actions most often as art-historical documents rather than living examples, it was great to experience the genuine article—even if in this case the article in question was wholly dependent on the idea of the copy.

Martha Schwendener