Katrin von Maltzahn: COPY & REPEAT – a reconstruction
in: Catalogue COPY & REPEAT, Leipzig 2013
In the summer of 2010 I was asked by Rike Frank, the curator at HGB Galerie (of the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts) to set up a contact for Jennifer Bornstein, then guest artist of the Berlin DAAD programme, to the Niels Borch Jensens’ print shop in Copenhagen. Until that point Jennifer had always printed her etchings, which typically reconstruct poses from historical photographs using lines and crosshatching, in her home town of Los Angeles.
Nothing came of the cooperation with the Danish print shop – the artist continued to have her prints made back home in the States. A few months later, however, I was taken along to a party that Jennifer was holding in the spacious turn-of-the-century apartment where the DAAD houses its guests during their year-long residency in Berlin. It was there that I met Thomas Locher, the new head of the Printmaking department at the Royal Danish Art Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. In my many years working with Niels Borsch Jensen, I've developed a great fondness for the Danish capital, and I talked to him about a possible cooperation between our two art schools. Prior to this conversation I had already talked to Joachim Blank, with whom I had collaborated on an edition of print works by his students, about joining forces on the next big project.
Soon the three of us were meeting regularly at Sale et Tabacci in Berlin. Over cappuccinos and croissants Thomas, Joachim and I discussed the content of the project, developed timetables, concept texts and worked our way through lists of names of potential guests and participating students. It wasn't long before we arrived at our title “copy & repeat” and staked out the project's thematic parameters. These included questions on current forms of “reproductions” and “repetitions” as well as the relationship between original and copy in the digital age. Our questions, it seemed, were in the air – in 2012 there were two exhibitions in Karlsruhe that touched loosely on our theme: 'The Hirsch-Index: "The Art of Quotation'" at the ZKM, and “Déjà-Vu? The Art of Repetition from Dürer to Youtube” at the Staatliche Kunsthalle. Both exhibitions brought together works from the past and the present.
The students were extremely enthusiastic about "copy & repeat". It was not our aim to bring together already existing works, but to offer students from various disciplines a thematic platform with which they could connect through their own practice, and develop new works. We issued no restrictions on medium.
In oder to establish an artistic dialogue and get ideas flowing, we set up a programme of lectures, talks and research trips in Leipzig and Copenhagen. The first of these took place at the academy in Leipzig at the end of April 2012. It featured a lecture entitled "manual, machinic, digital" by media theorist Stefan Heidenreich, on the dissolution of classical ordering systems through the internet's "regime of links". This was followed by a workshop in which some 40 students from both Leipzig and Copenhagen participated.
Things continued one month later in Copenhagen. One of the highlights there was Thomas Kilpper's installation "Pavilion for Revolutionary Freedom of Speech" in Kunsthal Charlottenborg. The exhibition staged a reconstruction of Kilpper's spectacular installation for the Danish pavilion at the 2011Venice Biennale. Vast woodcuts were hung on the walls and throughout the space, featuring huge reproductions of media images of politicians and other public figures. On the floor of the exhibition space the wood cut printing blocks spread out like giant flatfish.
Martin Haufe, one of project's Leipzig participants who happened to be in Copenhagen on an Erasmus grant, suggested we visit Copenhagen's Natural History Museum. There we saw the newly acquired installation "All Things Strange and Beautiful" by American artist Rosamund Purcell. The work is a three-dimensional reconstruction of Denmark's first museum, the 17th Century "Wormarium" – a wunderkammer created by the scientist and imperial archivist Ole Worm (1588–1655).
The artist has reconstructed one of its rooms, including all the artefacts collected within it, using as her reference a 1655 engraving by Dutch artist G. Wingendorp. This image was also used on the title page of the original Wormarium catalogue. Purcell's reconstruction of the natural history, ethnographic and pathological artefacts was based on the wide-angle view that Wingendorp applied in his drawing – as Purcell discovered – to reflect the perspective of the 17th century visitor to the museum. As a result the reconstructed objects appear distorted in the eyes of the viewer today.
I am writing this text in Sweden at the end of 2012. The online catalogue of the local Ystad/Österlen library contains no entries on "Ole Worm" or his "Wormarium". But in our old Swedish analogue encyclopaedia, the "Nordisk Familjebok" from 1910, I find a long entry on Worm, which also mentions the kunstkammer and the catalogue of his collection.
In the course of my internet research on Thomas Kilpper I discover, alongside a host of details about the artist's life and work, what a huge and mixed response his installation at the Venice Biennale elicited from the media.
My Google search for "Ole Worm" and "Wormarium" hits the bull's eye. Starting at Wikipedia and following the links out in every direction, I come across endless reproductions of the G. Wingendorp engraving – without ever finding anything more about the artist himself, or even his full name. When I enter "Ole Worm" at Amazon UK, I not only get new and old books, but a whole collection of other products as well: protective phone socks, greeting cards, highest quality natural rubber mouse mats, long handled shopping bags, tea towels, T-shirts, mugs, iPhone 4 cases, stamps – all of which are printed with the Wingendorp image and, as coincidence will have it, have all been available for purchase since April 2012, when our project began!
I find all sorts of sellers offering the engraving as a digital print on paper in any format I might want. It turns up at Tumblr in all kinds of settings, and features on countless Myspace and Facebook user profiles and pages. A Twitter entry points to an upcoming sale of a first edition "Wormarium" catalogue at a London auction house. It doesn't take long before I find a 151 MB pdf of the original Ole Worms catalogue available to download on the Heidelberg University website. Unfortunately it's in Latin, a language I can't read.
In November 2012 we staged the first “copy & repeat” exhibition in the BKS Garage, the Copenhagen art school gallery. We used the opportunity to set up a sort of laboratory situation to present the various artistic approaches. The project culminates with the exhibition in Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig in spring 2013. The works shown there have been developed further and most of them are on show for the first time. The technical spectrum ranges from video, installation and sound to objects, painting, graphic prints, drawings, photography and performance. This publication, which is being printed for the exhibition, reflects the project in its entirety and documents the work of all the artists involved in it.
On the internet I found an image of one of Jennifer's etchings, which had been blown up to a huge size as part of a billboard project on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Soon, this catalogue and with it, the “copy&repeat” exhibitions and artworks, will also be part of the ever-growing and uncontrollable global system of references.