New York

Jamie Shovlin

Freight + Volume

After I inserted the seventy-two-track sampler CD that was issued to accompany the recent exhibition “Lustfaust: A Folk Anthology 1976–1981” at Freight + Volume into my computer, the program that identifies music choices from a master database informed me that “Multiple matches were found online for this CD” and asked me to choose the correct title from the following list: Real Men of Genius—Budweiser Beer; Fcd201—Focus Production Music; The High Calling Volume Two—Howard Butt, Jr.; Kos—111 Dangerous—Kosinus Music. It was quite obvious that the disc was none of these, but neither was it quite what its publishers claimed. Purportedly the cacophonous outpourings of an experimental noise band formed by a bunch of disgruntled West Berlin session musicians in the late 1970s, the determinedly lo-fi recording—which vaguely echoes the likes of Can, Popol Vuh, and, of course, Faust—initially appeared to be the product of an obscure, defunct collective almost too cultish to be for real. Further investigation revealed that, sure enough, the “enormously influential” Lustfaust collective only exists in artist Jamie Shovlin’s imagination.

The show itself consisted of a dense pseudomuseological display—supposedly drawn from “the Archives of Mike Harte & Murray Ward” (we’re never told who these people are)—featuring “fan-designed” cassette cover art alongside badges, fanzines, posters, tour schedules, music press advertisements, and other, documentation and ephemera, much of it appearing homemade. Grimy-looking photocopies, felttip-pen abstractions, punky collages of faded magazine cuttings, vintage soft porn, and DYMO tape typography all figure heavily, giving the array a convincingly dated, DIY look. Each set of related artifacts is also paired with a text in which the works’ supposed creator expounds on his or her memories of the band. Here, as well as in the gemlike catalogue (copublished by Freight + Volume and London gallery Riflemaker) and on the website lustfaust.com, is where the real richness of Shovlin’s project emerges. These hazily recalled accounts of Lustfaust and the underground music culture of which they were a small but reportedly much-loved part are so convincing that one finds oneself unexpectedly touched, despite the knowledge that this is all a clever fabrication.

The history of the band that Shovlin has penned for the catalogue contributes substantially to this effect, but the visual and textual diversity that marks his project is critical too. Also featured, for example, was a video in which Shovlin and Ward interview a gruff Lustfaust cofounder, the “Belgian guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Guido van Baelen.” Here, something of the infighting that, according to legend, led to Lustfaust’s bitter demise is raked over. It’s another facet of a story that, though familiar from a thousand similar career trajectories of the kind mapped out in Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees (1980 and 1983) and on VH1’s “Behind the Music,” is enacted with sufficient care that the suspension of disbelief is real and lasting.

Where Jeremy Deller’s multiformat The Uses of Literacy, 1997, uses real tributes (poems, drawings, and the like) to a real group (the Manic Street Preachers) to explore ideas around fandom, adolescence, and the search for identity, Shovlin’s project posits a fictional band as a way to engineer its own—no less affecting—conversation, around authenticity, the “underground,” and the ways in which shared culture (however obscure) is filtered through individual experience. As “Jan Eberstark” writes in the text that accompanies his selection of tape covers, “Lustfaust were quite scrappy and messy and seemed to embody the very fabric of Germany so the failure of the ’50s tied in with this failed music” while “Glenn Smith” offers his own, less equivocal, characterization: “Fuckin Rockin man. What a band.”

Michael Wilson