Wolfgang Berkowski – ‘Titles’

15 April 2011

Facebook appears to be the biggest social phenomena spoken of by everyone on the planet. Almost every human being in possession of a computer and an internet access knows what it is and has a personal opinion of it. Nowadays, being part of the network or not is a social and sometimes political status. Wolfgang Berkowski, a german artist, who has been living in Italy since 1999, uses it as a democratic platform, where to publish, in between feeds of the other users, an artistic project: a a daily, personal as well as a multi-voices portrait of these days. It’s something complex that goes beyond social networks and in this short interview he explains to us what it’s all about. Visit his page.

What does this project consist of?

Its a narration that will go on forever. Its playing on two parallel levels, one being an interior monologue, the other a continuous feed taken from journals and newspapers. Each level acts as subtitle for the other.

One level is a sort of new language, a visual diagram that you have been experimenting from a long time. Where does this language come from? How does it work? Could you try to explain the reason why you decided to create this new language?

I wanted to create a tool that could serve me within art and without. Something that helps me think and plan an art work as much as it helps in normal life. It began as short texts/notes accompanied by drawings and developed to what it is now where a diagram can deal as much with an installation as with a dentist’s appointment, be the outline of a thought process as much as a street map. There are thousands of them. They may be shown as art, but not necessarily. Some get chosen to be part of the Daily Paintings work.

With which criteria do you select feeds from journals and newspaper?

‘You don’t make up stories as horrible as that?!’ (Never Let me go, 2010)

My work as an artist is a continuous research into the ‘Why?’. Why do things look the way they look? Why do things happen the way they do happen? Why is this good and that bad?

In that its the same research that I do as a person. Or for that matter everyone’s research, I guess. I have no idea why people do the things they do. But I would like to know. Absolutely apart from transcendence, taking birth and death as a given, and what is beyond I don’t give a fuck, I still don’t have a clue about what is going on in between.

These sentences, found in newspapers, journals and books describe and contain the possibilities of what is ‘now’. What is real. Good, bad.

One of my favorite German writers, Walter Kempowski started a project called Echolot. He asked people to send him what they remembered about certain days like the last days of the second world war. He tried to make an imprint of these days as precise as possible, with as many voices providing as much detail as possible. He might have had the idea (he died before the project was finished and only a part was published) to through mere abundance of facts to nail down the inherent truth or maybe even TRUTH. I am at this point content with accumulating, gathering.

I found even now after just starting the project (I am at day 190 as of this writing) that the ‘titles’ when rearranged actually tell a story. Unlike my diary/diagrams which are stuck with the sequence of days I live through.

Why did you choose Facebook as platform for this project?

Mostly because of the layout. ‘News’ supplied by the members of the network appear at the very top and they disappear quickly as new entries take their place. This takes away the severe ‘statement’ character a blog or a personal website (or a gallery/museum show for that matter) would carry. I am just offering something that quickly gets pushed aside by other peoples messages.

I guess there was a sort of skepticism of contemporary art community about web art projects. For example I’m thinking of some net art experiences in the 90s. Do you think something has changed since then?

Yes, and there is a sort of skepticism on my side when I look at the contemporary art community and their output. All the while the art world is happily pursuing the production of commodities and expensive decoration for the entertainment of the bourgeois, we finally reached a state that was envisioned by György Lukács to be part of a future communist society of unexploited individuals: everyone can be an artist (I guess this is where Beuys took it from) if they want to. Not only the means of production but also the means of publishing a work using the internet are open and available to everyone. One does not need the walls of a gallery or to print a book. Make a pdf and put it on a blog! Brave new world, indeed!

I guess time is a relevant part of this project. How come do you publish a post everyday?

We are animals based on a daily routine. Sleeping, eating, shitting. And working, doing things. The question about why doing a work everyday would surely come as a surprise to most people working daily jobs. And there is the diary aspect. It forces me to choose both from the sources coming in from the outside, but also from what I did, found out that day. Once again, this project is by definition going on forever. And the smallest continuously doable fraction of ‘forever’ on earth, dictated by the sun, is a day, 24 hours.

Are there any projects close to yours that inspired your work? Can you name some?

My work is relational on all levels. In a sense that multiple influences constitute a platform for the work. So there are multiple references, but mostly in an elliptic way. Starting points could be On Kawara: I met and I went, Roman Opalka’s number paintings, Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1980-1, maybe Lee Lozano’s texts on paper; Robert Barry’s early one sentence works, Joan Jonas’ films, Walter de Maria’s Boxes for meaningless work, Kippenberger’s book of titles for paintings. In the end I am more interested in what I see in literature, music, movies. For the latter: Some of Robert Altman’s films, Christian Slater’s film Slackers in providing an example for an ever shifting focus that produces a whole, for example. Music: Let the power fall by Robert Fripp (with emphasis on the ‘how to’ instructions given on the postcard that accompanied the vinyl cord), David Van Tiegham These Things Happen that contained a never ending succession of possible beginnings of songs, a record from the 80s. The Residents Commercial Album. George Harrison’s Wonderwall soundtrack. Soundtracks in general… Literature: I wouldn’t even know where to start!

(an interview by Lorenzo Gigotti)