The art journal PARKETT plans to publish an article about a young German artist named Andreas Slominski. The article should provide insight into the development of the artist's work and elaborate on the relationship of his art to society, to current thought and tendencies, to art and its historical context. The article will have a particular slant depending on the ideological, philosophical or art historical orientation of the author. It will seek explanations in depth of the œuvre of this artist and will be accompanied by photographs of the work.
But what happens when the artist refuses to have photographic reproductions of his work made as illustrations for the text and instead asks the author to select six objects that are of special importance to her, to take pictures of them and to list how much they weigh? The author is taken aback by the idea, but, being curious, decides to take the artist up on his unusual offer. She picks out a dress that her boyfriend gave her for her birthday, a small leather knapsack that she's been using everyday for years, a china plate of the thirties that is very close to kitsch and was issued to celebrate an anniversary of the Prague Art Society "Mames," a silver bracelet that she always wears for good luck, her small Macintosh computer at which she spends endless hours, and finally, because it's summer, a plant that she has been showering with special attention. She selects ordinary items to which she has a simple and, in some cases—why not admit it—sentimental attachment.
She takes pictures of all six objects and tells the artist how much they weigh. The artist orders the objects by weight—the dress, the bracelet, the computer, the plate, the plant, the knapsack—and adds two more weights to the list. Then he draws two squares on a piece of paper, a larger one with a smaller one inside it. He assigns the weights to the eight corners of the squares so that the weights of the objects always yield the same total along the vertical and horizontal lines of the squares as well as their diagonals. Then he asks the author to convert the two weights he has added into concrete objects. She takes a little heap of sand and a package of her favorite Italian pasta, photographs the two objects, and weighs them very carefully. The artist inserts the sand and the noodles in his list, draws the squares with the weights of the objects on a new sheet of paper, includes the photographs taken by the writer, and adds a photograph he has taken himself. It shows a 500 gram weight and is to be placed next to the knapsack, which also weighs 500 grams, in order to demonstrate how interchangeable the objects are. Finally, he asks the author to publish the photographs taken by the writer, and asks her to publish the photographs, the weight of the objects, and the sheet of paper along with her article.
Later, sitting at her computer again, surrounded by colored pictures of her belongings, the writer is suddenly overcome by a rush of anger. She feels she has been lured into a trap. But soon the anger gives way to wonder, and even curiosity. What exactly is the artist doing? Making art? He didn't even select the objects himself! The author did it for him. Well, then he has turned the writer into an artist, while he simply ordered the objects, an act that is performed by writer-theoreticians. The more questions the author asks herself, the greater her astonishment, until she suddenly realizes that it was precisely this moment of unexpected astonishment that had earlier motivated her to become involved with Andreas Slominki's works despite the annoyance, despite the feeling of being lured into a trap. And so, she decides to write about astonishment.
For thinkers of antiquity, astonishment—that moment of wonder that is always accompanied by the frustration of not knowing—was the source of philosophy. Astonishment therefore meant wanting to know, wanting to know more. Medieval man, by contrast, remained fixed in an almost childlike state of astonishment which he countered with religious rituals. This childlike aspect led the modern, enlightened person to adopt a critical attitude towards astonishment. In the Modern Age, anyone who still found the world astonishing was considered unenlightened. In time, the art of astonishment was lost. Is there anyone left today who can look at the world with a sense of wonder characterized by childlike curiosity and also a certain frustration? The loss of the faculty of wonder has made people poorer today, for astonishment leads us to ask questions that touch upon the essence of appearances.
Not only is Andreas Slominski still capable of being astonished, he can also convey his astonishment and infect others with it. The author caught the infection in 1991, when the artist purportedly concealed a human hand severed from its body in the wall of the Cabinet for Recent Art in Bremerhaven. Having sealed the spot with masonry, he smoothed, plastered, and painted it. What remained for viewers to see was an empty, white exhibition space. But the room was not entirely empty for it was filled with the knowledge of the walled-in hand, of an incredible, albeit unprovable deed. It was a room that had been changed through the artist's act and had thus become an art object. But had the artist really made this change or was it only a rumored one? And if it was a mere rumor, then was the space really an art space? And what made the artist choose to hide a human hand, especially in an age in which no on believes in relics anymore?
In the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art, Slominski propped a bicycle against a wall, laden with bulging plastic bags, as if a city dweller had happened to park it there, with all his worldly possessions. Why not? Decades ago we learned to accept the invasion of readymades in the hallowed halls of museums. And the fact that art may refer to social issues has also been given the seal of approval. But in this particular case, the bicycle propped up against the wall in the exhibition space is not a real bicycle belonging to a real person but rather a replica of a real bicycle belonging to a real person, which has been meticulously reproduced from a photograph. But why does the artist make a copy of it? And why does he reduce the scale so that what we see in the museum is a child's bicycle?
In his last show at the Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany, Andreas Slominski asked a golfer from the neighborhood to hit a ball over the top of Haus Lange onto the tray of a truck parked behind the building. The golfer actually hit the tray that was tipped up against a window of the building so that the ball rolled into one of the rooms of the exhibition. During the show, visitors were able to see the ball which was being guarded exactly where it had come to rest. Astonishment at this deed rippled through the rooms of the exhibition during the opening—astonishment at the golfer's skill. But was this art?
A sense of wonder overcomes the author every time she recalls the opening in Krefeld. If the "note-in-one" is not an art, then why does the artist reserve the right to bear witness to it in an art museum? On the other hand, if striking the golf ball over the roof of the building was an artist's idea, then it must be art, but then, since it was executed by a nonartist, it can't be art. The author is getting annoyed again. She has fallen into another trap. And suddenly she understands why Andreas Slominski also builds genuine traps and puts them on display in exhibition spaces. For hasn't she just let herself be lured into a trap like an unwitting animal?
She's been caught, and this makes her angry. What is she supposed to write about Andreas Slominski's art if he keeps setting traps? If she avoids the traps he has set, she misses the artist; if she submits, she is inevitably faced with the question: What makes art? She gives up. She is tired of all these snares. Actually, Andreas Slominsksi made and exception once and did not set a trap when he was asked what he was looking for in art. He gave a direct answer: "Life." So perhaps he is not a trapper after all but merely one who is still capable of being astonished at the very idea that there is something called art.
(Translation by: Catherine Schellebert)