(English Version)

Text by Iris Musolf:


“[...], please do not ask me what is good and what is evil, we have always known, when blindness was not the exception, right and wrong not merely different ways to understand our relationships with others, as opposed to our relationship to ourselves, which we cannot trust, [...]”.1

Two naked young men climb out of the cold water of a swimming pool on all fours. One sees the cold on their skin. Both have white circles in front of their faces. It is the cover picture. The circles could be ping-pong balls. Ping-pong balls are made of celluloid, a blind material good for watching movies on. Are the circles blind or me? What stories are hidden behind them?

Initial euphoria: King for a day, kings for three months. What would I do if I were king, had a residency, was an artist in residency? Clemens Wilhelm and Claudio Wichert had a residency for three months in the Netherlands at Buitenwerkplaats, a rural farmbuilding in a polder that was recently transformed into a workplace. Every single day of the 90-day-residency they made a work in a ping-pong process. A question-and-answer game of two parallel storylines, out of which this book grew. Each double page shows how the game unfolds like a rally over a table-tennis table: a ping and a pong. To be in a residency offers an artist the greatest possible freedom, while at the same time it requires the highest degree of discipline. The artists must psych themselves to get up every day, to organize their time to work on the project, not to let the time pass by idly, to keep going. Clemens Wilhelm and Claudio Wichert took on this challenge, to share their habitat with each other, to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to love them, to curse them, but to still create a joint project and to mutually endure. They kept true to the game and to its rules.

Ping-pong, according to Wikipedia, can be played offensively, defensively, or allround. The book begins with a doodle by Claudio Wichert. Pencil and red ink: King for a day. The “i” is a red crown and at the same time a Christian cross or a scepter. Below it is written a little smaller: Fool for a lifetime. Wichert and Wilhelm build their personal kingdom at Buitenwerkplaats, not far from Amsterdam. Only rarely must one go to the big city. Clemens Wilhelm develops Claudio Wichert’s serve photographically, a plastic crown on his head and a skull mask over his face, stripped to the waist, the arm on a shovel, barefoot in the garden as if he wants to say “Death is the gigolo of us all.” 2 Here we go: memento mori!

What will they dig out, experience, discover as kings for a time, as rulers of their own heterotopia, free of criticism, under the self-imposed rules of mutual creation of a work of art every day and the daily question and answer to the work of the other?

Discipline: Keep ball contact. Some of the pages appear as descriptions of states of being. Others seem like a motivational attempt to avoid going insane in the residency. The joy to at once have sufficient time and money – which is also celebrated in style – is followed by the excessive demands of the luxurious conditions in isolation. There is a lot of time to think. Doubt, anxiety, failed relationships, the desire for sex and love, security and confidence all doused with alcohol: “if you woke up like me today, follow these steps! one: wait at least twenty minutes before you get out of your bed and listen carefully to the sounds of the neighbours. two: imitate bird sounds while making tea.[...]”. “Learning To Love You More” is a book written by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July, where work assignments are given such as: “Take a picture of your parents kissing”, much like the above quote from day 6. “Interview someone who has experienced war” or “Make an encouraging banner” are further instructions from Fletcher and July. Both projects have something in common. A passage of the text “Many People Doing Simple Things Well” brings it beautifully to the point: “What it asks is just this: push yourself, think deeply, take yourself seriously. These are by no means insignificant acts. And even if the project assigns more ambitious tasks, it leaves room for failure.” 3 It is the little things, the little touches and actions, attitudes that are important in dealing with oneself and others, in order to make life liveable – and loveable, like answering another person every day on a drawing, a text or a photo.

After about a month, the first indications of exhaustion from the game of pingpong start to show. Now it looks more like runaround ping-pong for two, where you always keep moving in circles and chase after the ball to get it. “I survive by squandering energy,” Joseph Beuys is supposed to have said. But this is a difficult undertaking. Also for artists today. Clemens Wilhelm and Claudio Wichert are honest and ironic about their dwindling forces. They do not allow it to tear
down the symbolic rally. Formal analogies are combined with substantive differences. On one book page is written, “Ich habe keinen Bock mehr!” (meaning: “I’m tired of this”; literal translation: “I don’t have a goat anymore”) The answer, a black rectangle with the sentence: “Auf dieser Seite sehen Sie keinen Bock.” (“On this page you can’t see a goat.”) The common phrase “Ich habe keinen Bock mehr” is turned upside down by a linguistic trick and the “not-seeing” is visually represented. Symbolically, I see the desperate farmer, whose only goat has just run away.

Subliminal or direct violence, anger? Today, it is day 31, we are obviously witnessing offensive play. “Not letting others drive you crazy is the greatest art”, says Andreas Bee. I sense aggression, a heated game. The photo shows Claudio, as he sits on a stool with a bottle of whiskey. In front of him the sketchbook. He is unshaved and wears a muscle shirt, so that his widespread tattoos can be seen particularly well. “Plan A is fucked up.” So he concocts Plan B, as the drawn mind map shows under the photo: “getting boring”, “getting super crazy”, “destroy myself ”, “finally getting married” are some circled parts of the plan. Clemens’ response to the photo and the mind map is a clenched fist, very close to the lens. Penned on each finger is a letter. It spells: Plan B.

“The ‘reality’ was gone - that is, because reality is simply what influenced me, even if I do not like it, just like that, which I must influence, even if it is not wanted,”4 wrote Dietmar Dath. “Reality is more kitsch than anyone can handle” is written on the page of day 85 over a panorama of a beach with a blurry rose in the foreground and a lonely walker in the background. The answer reads: “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, a song title of the band Joy Division. I look up the lyrics of the song on the Internet. It begins: “When routine bites hard and ambitions are low / And resentment rides high but emotions won’t grow / And we’re changing our ways, taking different roads / Then love, love will tear us apart again / Love, love will tear us apart again.” 5

Maybe it is about continuing to play, to become, to love who one is.

1 José Saramago: Die Stadt der Blinden. 20. Aufl. Reinbek bei Hamburg 2009, p 335.
2 Erich Maria Remarque: Der Himmel kennt keine Günstlinge. München, Zürich 1963, p 154.
3 Julia Byran Wilson: A Modest Collective: Many People Doing Simple Things Well. In: Learning To Love You More.
Harrell Fletcher & Miranda July. München, Berlin, London, New York, p 145.
4 Dietmar Dath: Die salzweißen Augen. Vierzehn Briefe über Drastik und Deutlichkeit. Frankfurt am Main 2005, p 53.
5 http://www.songtexte.com/songtext/joy-division/love-will-tear-us-apart-43d5a767.html. Viewed on 13.04.2012.

Translation: Thomas Abrams