Unless you’ve been living under a Steini, you’ve probably heard that something with slightly more of a cultural repercussion than Burgers & Hip Hop went down in Kreuzberg last week: Dutch queer artist Dries Verhoeven created a fishtank-like dollhouse for unsuspecting users of Grindr lured into a live art performance with the ambiguous invitation to “come play” with him. And it didn’t exactly go down like honey. After facing an angry mob/near-public lynching, the installation was shut down on Sunday, October 5 (only five days into its planned 15-day run) by the artist and his backers, the Hebbel am Ufer theatre in Kreuzberg.
As Mossy had earlier advised, mess with people’s privacy in Germany (without a corporate interface to hide behind) and you’re really down shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe. A lot has already been said on the matter and Mossy doesn’t have anything particularly insightful to add.
Except perhaps an interesting question: what if it had been a woman sitting there inviting hapless gents from Tinder? If we remove the problematic way in which the work tore apart an assumed safety that queer people came to trust on Grindr, maybe the concept did have some straggles of merit. It also may be interesting in that a woman’s greatest fear in meeting men online is that they’ll be a psycho killer and murder them, while men’s greatest fear in meeting women online is that they will turn out to be fat.
I have to say, I felt kinda sorry for old Dries, maybe because he’s a vain, naïve idiot with illusions of grandeur, and yours truly could relate to that. I mean, it was one thing that he got punched in the face by a guy he wanted to make pancakes with, but he also got some scathing high-brow trolling, too. (Is it okay to punch someone in the face if they sexually expose you? Because that would only be the excuse for millions of acts of domestic violence worldwide. Hmmmm.) Anyway, this is what Ashkan Sepahvand, a curator at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, had to say on Facebook:
“…Your complete lack of ethics in your ignorance of basic protocols of privacy, consent, and participation is unjustified, and to use the excuse of ‘art’ as a space where ‘anything is possible’ and you are just doing ‘your work’ is hand-in-hand with what Hannah Arendt sensitively described as the ‘banality of evil’…”
Le Royale Berlin Smackdown: Nazi comparisons. Mossy thought that might’ve been just a bit OTT. There were, after all, pancakes on offer. The Dutch are known for displays of public perversity and their sweet little pancakes; a little element of culture clash might be in the mix of this big ol’ mess.
When I was a teen hippy wandering the streets stoned and barefoot after an anti-war demonstration, I bumped into a guy from a painting class I was taking whose reputation ranged from tragic (that he went to see every single movie at the cinema alone) to slanderous (that he was a paedophile). Standing right outside a fruit stand, hot, bothered and vagueing-the-fuck-out, the painter re-focused my attention by offering to buy me a piece of fruit on the proviso that I allowed him to watch me eat it. The combination of being half-baked with a slight Lolita complex meant I did oblige. Sometime later, unbeknownst to me, he exhibited a drawing me looking like a Les Miserables character (but not in a cute skinny way) devouring a nectarine. (It was a nectarine. I should have chosen a peach for the story’s sake, but it was a nectarine. I’m just sexually unconventional like that.) After hearing about this drawing, I felt a bit freaked out and exposed because the last thing a teen girl with eating neuroses wants is a drawing being of herself publicly displayed of herself eating AND looking ugly. I don’t mean to draw a true comparison between the two instances of being unwittingly turned into art; I’m not THAT much of an idiot, I can see the potentials for how negatively impacting the lives of Verhoeven’s subjects was a zillion times greater. Only to say that sometimes lessons with weird artist types are learned the hard way, in this instance, not just for the hurt and angry people, but for everyone.
It’s kinda easy to get lulled into a sense of trust with strangers, and forgot that the internet is the internet. I think the outcome of making people feel a bit more paranoid than they do isn’t entirely bad. Not that those who were hurt by the project were asking for it nor did they deserve it, but perhaps a safety issue that is Berlin-specific was articulated: instead of worrying whether your prospective online hook-up is a violent sadist, or a fatty, worry that they might very well be turning you and your sexual narrative into an art project. In Berlin with its dense population of
mentally ill people artists maybe you shouldn’t feel safe that your forays aren’t going to become the fodder of someone’s self-advancing creative agenda. Cunning cunts are still allowed to make art, unfortunately they’re often the ones who are more talented at it. Obvs, not always the case though.
Artists have been exploiting and disregarding the feelings and well-being of their subjects since the beginning of art. It doesn’t make it right, but it is the nature of the beast. If the piece of art is seen as so profound no one seems to care that much about the ethics i.e. the iconic photograph of the Vietnamese child running naked, screaming in agony. That won the Pulitzer Prize without significant thought into her reality. Can artists really be qualified by their ability to fulfil art’s entirely abstract responsibility to society, and to use ethical means of production?
Maybe his art was pretty shit idea. If Berlin had a ‘no shit art’ rule then, well, there’d be no… erm… well… that’s another question.
XOX Mossy Brackets XOX
REMEMBER: A wise man once said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. That is a lie. Look between your flaps. There’s moss.