Düsseldorf

Ei Arakawa, How to DISappear in America (Duration: multiple times in total of 9 hours, & approx. 60 hours on preparation, Honorarium: 3,500 EUR, 0.72 EUR per minute), 2020, LEDs, hand-dyed fabric, grommets, controller, SD card, power supplies. Installation view.

Ei Arakawa, How to DISappear in America (Duration: multiple times in total of 9 hours, & approx. 60 hours on preparation, Honorarium: 3,500 EUR, 0.72 EUR per minute), 2020, LEDs, hand-dyed fabric, grommets, controller, SD card, power supplies. Installation view.

Ei Arakawa

Galerie Max Mayer

In the art world as much as anywhere else, the pandemic and its attendant economic crises have done the most damage to those who rely on their labor, rather than capital, for their livelihood. Like other performing artists, Ei Arakawa felt the full brunt of the lockdown as social-distancing enforcement closed nearly all venues for his work. Approaching the financial details of his art practice with refreshing candor, the artist’s excellent recent show “Fees & Nerf” was as much an exercise in emotional and financial bookkeeping as a nimble pivot to potentially more pandemic-proof areas of practice. The gallery space was divided up with crude barriers made of wood and sheets of clear plastic picked up from a Japanese restaurant during the mid-pandemic install. In the spaces between were five round digital displays, mounted on the wall or lying on the floor. Composed of individually visible LEDs rather than crisp LCD panels, they emitted a low-definition glow, which, along with an intentionally added flicker, complemented the grainy Brutalist walls of Max Mayer’s handsome new gallery space. This modernist jewel box once housed the gallery of Alfred Schmela, the legendary dealer of Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein, and the Zero Group—what better place to mull over the art world’s fraught conceptions of value?

The digital displays showed small coins in various currencies. Lengthy titles linked them to the per-minute honorarium that the artist, by his own calculations, received for one of his past performance works. In a work called Single’s Night (Duration: multiple times in total of 3 hours, & approx. 80 hours on preparation, Honorarium: 1,000 GBP, 0.20 GBP per minute) (all works cited, 2020), a copper profile of Queen Elizabeth II referred to the 0.20 British pounds the artist earned for a minute of work on a presentation at Tate Modern in London in 2012. The brass- and silver-colored European maps visible in the piece titled How to DISappear in America (Duration: multiple times in total of 9 hours, & approx. 60 hours on preparation, Honorarium: 3,500 EUR, 0.72 EUR per minute) were related to the 0.72 euros Arakawa received for a minute of work on a sprawling musical he co-organized at the Ninth Berlin Biennale in 2016. A collaborator on that project, writer Dan Poston, also joined Arakawa and Tokyo-based composer ZALA to make a song called “Family Dollar (Social Capital).” Here, it reverberated at regular intervals from a smaller screen in a corner of the exhibition space. Jumping between sweet synth pop and thrash metal, it is sung from the point of view of a personified coin, but in direct reference to the artist’s recent biography. In words that are equal parts goofy and poignant, a cracking, high-pitched voice meditates on the emotional connections between global and personal financial crises while making poetic references to recent economic hardship in the artist’s family. The video accompanying the song is a digital slideshow presenting the foreclosed-upon Arakawa home in Fukushima, Japan, and discarded equipment from a now-bankrupt family business. As usual, the affective power and reach of money is best understood by those most reluctant to structure their lives around its accumulation.