Manuel Graf

One cannot help but cower at the feet of Ekkehard Wallat—not least because the older gentleman appears almost life-size in a projection that fills the entirety of a gallery wall; the room is furnished with low, modern plastic stools. Wallat is a teacher accustomed to translating complex ideas into simple formulas. Here, in a presentation more graceful and direct than that of any politician or late-night talk-show host, he summarizes the evolutionary theory of Otto Heinrich Schindewolf, comparing the curvatures of the skulls of adult and child Homo sapiens with those of their ancestors since Australopithecus. His hands trace his explanations with precise elegance, and, as if by conjuration, a series of animated skulls glide in front of him; as Wallat’s ideas become more complex, the death’s heads follow him like balls, almost as if he ruled with the power of a magician. “If we summarize all this,” Wallat says, “we could speak of a bidirectional flow of time.” Schindewolf’s ideas ran contrary to the Darwinian theory of evolution.

This illustrated lecture takes place in Manuel Graf’s black-and-white video Über die aus der Zukunft fließende Zeit (About the Time that Flows from the Future, all works 2006). With the support of these wonderfully playful, almost foolishly fantastic animations, Schindewolf’s long-outdated thoughts develop an idiosyncratic accuracy. Graf’s video has a visual beauty, quite unlike the diagrams and graphs of the usual educational films that seek to explain and popularize science for laypeople.

These theories are further investigated in Woher kommt die Kunst? Oder: Die Blüte des Menschen (Where Does Art Come from? Or: The Blossoms of Mankind). Could it be that the blossoms on a tree don’t spring from the wood but are in fact spawned by butterflies? (After all, butterflies are livelier and brighter than wood, and they look more similar to flowers.) The action in the video takes place in a small world of Styrofoam, paper, and plywood; an artificial butterfly hums around a wooden stump decorated with daisies, as the hand of the artist is seen stacking wooden blocks into classical arches. A few of the miniature film sets, which are only crudely nailed together, accompany the video in the exhibition space—an empty city theater that serves as the temporary residence of the Museum Abteiberg, that incubator of the postmodern (designed by Hans Hollein), currently under renovation.

Since his 2005 video 1000 Jahre sind ein Tag (One Thousand Years Are a Day), Graf’s technique has become even more deliberately handmade. The imperfection of the videos and models, both in terms of technique and content, is not only a rejoinder to the slick standards of contemporary art. In this theater, slated for demolition when the museum returns to its permanent home, one senses how the relationship between reality and virtuality has shifted: The model no longer determines the contours of the possible but rather lives its own life.

Catrin Lorch

Translated from German by Diana Reese.