Phil Collins, marxism today (prologue), 2010, HD video installation, 35 minutes. Projection view.

Phil Collins, marxism today (prologue), 2010, HD video installation, 35 minutes. Projection view.

Phil Collins

Kerlin Gallery

Phil Collins, marxism today (prologue), 2010, HD video installation, 35 minutes. Projection view.

This exhibition, “Ich esse keine Bananen mehr und trinke natürlich keine Coca-Cola” (I don’t eat bananas anymore and of course I don’t drink Coca-Cola), consisted of two works developed within the context of last year’s Berlin Biennale. The title is a quotation from Petra Mgoza-Zeckong, one of three former teachers of Marxism-Leninism interviewed by Collins in marxism today (prologue), (all works 2010), a thirty-five-minute HD video linked to a feature-length project about radical education that Collins plans to undertake in Manchester, UK, next year. Mgoza-Zeckay was traumatized by the former East Germany’s sudden transition from socialism to a new regime. Though she has found a role as a social worker, she is currently unemployed. Mgoza-Zeckay refuses to consume commodities she associates with capitalism, such as bananas and Coca-Cola. She is not the only subject to communicate an attachment to the old system. Andrea Ferber, an expert on neoliberal economics, claims to continue to rely upon her early training as a “method for thinking.”

Collins is clearly fascinated by the aesthetics of pedagogical discourse. The title sequence affectionately recalls the diagrams on overhead projectors used in the days before PowerPoint, and the interviews are intercut with archived footage from sources such as a studio-based East German TV show “by teachers, for teachers,” a propagandistic film about classroom techniques, and colorful scenes of a mass athletic spectacle in a huge outdoor arena. The emotional effect of these scenes is amplified by the addition of an alternately joyful and wistful musical sound track by Lætitia Sadier and Nick Powell. Collins also explores the dark side of life in the GDR, revealing the psychological and physical damage inflicted upon model students. This becomes apparent in the final interview, with Marianne Klotz, who readily abandoned the classroom to set up a dating agency called Academia Circle, and her daughter, Ulrike, a former gymnast who represented her country at the 1988 Olympic Games. Klotz dreams of retiring to Gran Canaria but will not abandon Ulrike, who is struggling to recover from a harsh training regimen that damaged both her spine and self-esteem. In the sequences featuring Mgoza-Zeckay and Ferber, Collins relies mainly on the juxtaposition of archival material and individual testimony to communicate tensions between personal values and official ideology. The story of Klotz and her daughter, however, introduces private archival sources such as family photographs to highlight parallels between the family and the state as pedagogical formations. This final sequence also collapses distinctions between ostensibly public and private media through the repetition of a fragment of television coverage—capturing the injury that ended Ulrike’s Olympic career.

The exploration of boundaries and convergences between public and private continues in free fotolab (berlin). Consisting of fifty-two photographs printed from exposed but undeveloped 35-mm film rolls donated anonymously by Berlin residents and presented here in eight individual panels, this work initially suggests a pseudo-ethnographic study of amateur photography, incorporating portraits, landscapes, holiday snaps, and domestic interiors. On closer inspection it becomes apparent that several images are repeated within the composition to create a sense of symmetry and order. Unlike the mass spectacles depicted in marxism today (prologue), this unified structure does not effect a subordination of individual components. Instead, it elicits connections between otherwise disparate images; the peculiar combination of hope and anxiety evident in the expressions of many young people recalls the faces of students and teachers from another era, enabling ordinary photographs to resonate with historical significance.

Maeve Connolly