„Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt darauf an, sie zu verändern.“ (Karl Marx, Thesen über Feuerbach)
Tilt! or As time goes by
The art of putting reality into the picture
What has a pimped-up family car got to do with the protest culture? Or with all those bizarre “racing animals” in Florian Jenett’s drawings, his gigantic inflatable dome in the midst of a church nave? Or even with the strange garbage skip the artist three years ago took for a spin along the banks of the River Main together with some buddies. Finally, the clock that keeps ticking permanently with such melancholy that the longer one listens, the more one forgets the time? On the face of it: nothing.
That said, we would introduce the artist from a completely different angle if Jenett’s oeuvre wasn’t so coherent and, given his relatively young age, so surprisingly consistent conceptually. At first sight everything in his oeuvre, whether his early works still firmly rooted in the medium of drawing or his increasingly elaborate and complex installations, seems to revolve around mundane objects. Everyday perceptions, if you like, whose appearances and processes can literally be found in the street, presenting to him the material for his eternally surprising art which, in its own right, can sometimes be called funny.
One good example is the worn-out Toyota which Jenett, while still a student, presented jazzed up with a couple of cardboard spoilers as the cheap yet perfect backdrop for any suburban youngster’s macho dreams (“WÜ-ZP-200”, 2003); or the protest posters designed for and against the world and its mother, photos of which he downloaded from the Net (“Adding Up Our Differences”, since 2006) simply so as to be able to exhibit them in isolation and taken out of context as expressions-turned-images of abstract desires, fears, and utopias.
Evidently, key to Jenett’s oeuvre are less the objects themselves but what he does to them, namely his attempt to change the world not in a Marxist sense but, quite on the contrary, by interpreting and reinterpreting it over and over again. And by visualizing it for himself and the beholder. Which then makes it take on a different look altogether. The common denominator to which all his previous works can be reduced is, therefore, purely formal. That said, Jenett’s artistic method, if you so will, balances precisely on the dividing line between, on the one hand, media and social, academic or technical systems (e.g., codings, definitions and functionalities) and, on the other, their being sabotaged between the poles of construction and deconstruction, de- and recontextualization. A concept that has basically applied since his student days. However, the red thread that runs through his creative work has never been accentuated with such convincing and stupendous clarity as in his more recent works, be this “1t ct”, “Phishing At The River Of News” (both 2009) or even “One Perfect Cube” (2010).
When for his ongoing installation “Phishing…” Jenett downloaded the ever so annoying banner ads live and unfiltered from more than 9,000 news portals on the Internet and then made this motley mix of colorful advertising images wander across one or two dozen screens, he not only beat the so-called information society along with all its cheap talk of knowledge, availability and transparency at its own game. For his pleasantly unobtrusive installation highlights the fact that at least there are some interests being expressed. Or that noble goals, commercial or social interests, or even clandestine criminal activities viewed from a neatly abstract perspective are not so different after all – or simply cannot be distinguished.
Jenett’s answer to the dilemma and by extension to the system is, however, as bafflingly simple as it is subversive in an almost anarchic sense. He merely resolves the contents and contradictions. In nothing but pure, ornamentally adorned surfaces that move from one screen to another and another. A softly adulating ad flow, with nothing behind it but – emptiness. In a negative yet equally so in a positive sense which, given the permanent media overkill, can nearly be construed as meditative.
By contrast, “One Perfect Cube” appears as a pure form at first glance, as an animated drawing undergoing a perpetual metamorphosis, whose creator is not quite sure about which shape it is finally going to take. Or, in fact, what it was once before. How is one to know? The image is structured by nine lines, conceived from the hands of three clocks, three lines of which move across the face at one time, tick-tock, according to the same congruent rhythm, as it were, seemingly culminating in clear, minimalist forms before they get condensed into compact bodies, tick-tock, only to disintegrate promptly into particles that are chaotic, or simply light as a feather and somewhat highly poetic. A new image with every second. With each one of these utterly abstract images doubling up as a kind of memento mori.
The very obvious movement of the hands, the never ending metamorphosis of the drawing leaves no doubt about that. Like wilted tulips or a broken glass in a Baroque painting. Only that in Jenett’s originally and formally strict drawing of a garden a new surprising, at times wondrous, flower appears every single moment, no matter how short it may be. Only to disappear again in a flash. Just once, every 12 hours in fact, resembling the precision of clockwork, the original image, the actual motif is depicted in the shape of a cube, a stable geometrical form that as such, one is tempted to say, successfully withstands the metamorphoses of time and also the world. And is, tick-tack, gone.
Admittedly, not 12 hours, not 24 or even 48 sufficed to capture the image as such in its perpetual action of finding and losing itself, of consolidation and dissolution, of growth and decay, which never stops time, but changes with every new moment. Fresh and rather beautiful to behold, something that is graphically inscribed in it, and just like the drawing as a pure form and a self-contained system continues on its daily rounds. And, in so doing, unhinges itself like linear time at the drop of a hat.
It may therefore be concluded that good old Marx was quite right when he argued along the following revolutionary lines in his thesis, again contra Feuerbach: “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and human activity can only be described as artistic practice and understood in an artistic context.” Admittedly, I cheated, Marx never uttered these words as such, and art would not have been the first thing on his mind. That said, they sum up Florian Jenett’s art rather well.