Martin Gostner

In an interview with Martin Gostner in 2002, Udo Kittelmann cited the Brechtian figure of Herr K., who, when asked what he was doing at the moment, said that he was having a hard time planning his next mistake. Following tracks that might prove misleading, taking detours, and keeping one’s distance from the supposedly familiar have been important elements in Gostner’s artistic practice, a complex one that consciously misuses media and symbols to make simple linear readings impossible and thereby open up new vistas. In “Them Powers,” his recent exhibition in Cologne, Gostner extended this strategy of planned error from the work’s form to its content. Frequently, the title of a piece gives the first hint of its political and social references: A work composed of human excrement in a glass cube is called Mach Mao (Do Mao), 2007—the digested matter is actually “The Little Red Book”; in A Thick Aura over Dealey Plaza, 2007, the greasy, brown schnitzel crumbs that coat a scale model of the Dallas intersection sardonically ruin the collective memory of the auratic figure of John F. Kennedy. The cotton relief covering the wall in the back part of the gallery might at first look like an anti-form work of the ’60s, but it takes on a different meaning through the title Bamiyan-Apparat, which alludes to the valley in Afghanistan where the Taliban destroyed ancient statues of the Buddha. Holes in the fabric mimic the pattern of blast holes; the amorphous appearance of the cotton—a material with which Gostner has worked repeatedly—opens up a multiplicity of associations through its diversity of forms. As an “apparatus” of perception that challenges the eye and its capacity for differentiation, Bamiyan-Apparat, 2007, also confronts the viewer with questions about what we can actually recognize via forms of information such as language and vision, which are inevitably incomplete.

In other works, Gostner plays with more “scientific” and “objective” signs and symbols, such as maps and arrow diagrams. But these codes prove to be unreliable as well. In the one older work in the show, Morbus Clausewitz, 1993—Clausewitz is the Prussian military theorist who said, “War is a continuation of politics by other means”—and in Oh My Oh My, 2007, a portrayal of the movement of troops at the Battle of Stalingrad, the claim to represent is pushed ad absurdum; the arrow as a symbol of force and movement is taken as an emblem of masculine potency, and signification meanders aimlessly into space. By reassigning meanings to these symbols, but leaving out any legend for decoding them, Gostner emphasizes his vocabulary’s aesthetic qualities. History may be difficult to digest in some respects, but to follow Gostner’s intentionally errant paths and detours is an intellectual and aesthetic pleasure.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Diana Reese.