Lüneburg, Germany

Nina Könnemann, Cone, 2008, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes.

Nina Könnemann, Cone, 2008, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes.

Nina Könnemann

Halle für Kunst Lüneburg

Nina Könnemann, Cone, 2008, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes.

The “Illuminations” of Blackpool have been a tradition for more than 120 years. An English seaside town that drew early waves of mass tourism, Blackpool reinvented itself—after a slow season in 1879—as an early adapter of electrification. Since then, it has transformed into a flashy sea of light for a few weeks each fall. At its inception, the display must have been spectacular and new, but these days it seems an antiquated curiosity, conjuring a British Las Vegas with the feel of a folk festival: garish, colorful, loud—and extraordinarily popular. Not only are streets and buildings completely draped with lights, but vast quantities of incandescent bulbs and neon tubes are also used to construct kitschy figures planted throughout the townscape: These range from monsters, dwarves, and aliens to fairy-tale icons, cartoon heroes, and absurd amateur fantasy characters.

All of this is material for Nina Könnemann’s Blackpool Illuminations 1991–2005, 2012, a video installation for six monitors and one projector. In it, she combines material from videos that she herself shot over several years at the festival and elsewhere. This she interspersed with clips from official videos. (Local companies have issued yearly documentary VHS tapes of the Illuminations; Könnemann collected examples from 1991 to 2005—their covers were part of the exhibition.)

In this installation, she shows the footage on a wall of overlapping monitors with a large projection screen between them. Initially, this is as visually stressful as a packed carnival, but after a while, one becomes immersed in the flow of the event. Then, unexpectedly, something else breaks through the monotony of glitziness: We see the same party, apparently, but now the viewer is transferred into the middle of the crowd that presses through the streets of Blackpool among pubs and bars in a scene shot by Könnemann herself. The profusely blurry episode follows a subtle dramaturgy. The camera is a sort of pursuer; lurching through the throng, it clings stubbornly to one person—someone wearing a hat, more than a foot high, in the form of a pointy orange-and-white-striped traffic cone. For a while, the frame shows only the back view of the hat wearer; then it jumps dramatically to someone else, but this only makes the chaotic and scattered festival atmosphere intrude upon the viewer more drastically. In the process comes the realization that nearly everyone here is wearing this ridiculous headgear—local custom calls for an absurd hat to be designed every year.

Throughout the video, Könnemann inserts scenes from exotic or hermetic parallel worlds into the basic setting of the Illuminations. One, for example, shows participants in a medieval-themed role-playing game in forests and meadows; another long sequence seems to have been filmed at night in an African village during a ritual that the viewer can barely divine. What unites these episodes is that they are all collective stagings of exceptional circumstances. Könnemann acts as more than mere observer and archivist; she both documents and directs. Recontextualizing her original material, she points to structural parallels between seemingly disparate phenomena while continually refreshing the texture of the work’s visual flow. In Könnemann’s oeuvre, we see leisure, labor, and ritual as collective aesthetic projects and temporary carnivalesque utopias.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Anne Posten.