(BJ.Blume for J. Hendricks), 2002
Bernhard Johannes Blume
There are some artists whose prime concern is to produce objects for a market; intellectual ideas might also be engendered in the process, but they are secondary. And there are others who primarily produce views and insights, while the accompanying aesthetic by-products tend to be less marketable; at any rate their communicative and intellectual merit far exceeds their market value. This also applies to the artistic »value-added« chain produced by ›concept artist‹ Jochem Hendricks who lives in Frankfurt/Main between the financial center and Degussa. And it is not simply that the quiet, thoughtful man is specifically conscious of the service and commercial nature of his artistic aspirations and activity, say in the sense of Theodor Adorno, namely that in the course of the 20th century, theories and works of art have become commercial goods and services that must abide by the prevailing market and communication conditions. His work also reflects the fact that he has made the conditions of the art and communication market the topic and subject of his artistic method. To use today’s vocabulary, his work is context and system-related in an express, and simultaneously critical sense.
Naturally, you can reasonably argue: what art that reflects on its loss of aura through adherence to the system is not? Certainly as regards Jochem Hendricks’ art work you can argue that the leftovers of his aesthetic subversion clearly resist transformation into a fetish by both asserting their aesthetic quality and – ironically – undermining it. And paradoxically, it is this very aesthetic and reflective treatment that lends his art its value-added, and gives it a social service character.
One possible consequence of his art’s merit in the above sense is that various, generally dysfunctional interventions the artist makes in the ›everyday world‹ immediately lose their intended aesthetic and communicative value outside their normative context.
This strongly echoes the artistic concepts that prevailed in the 1970s. All too rapidly the aesthetic strategies that embraced the everyday were marginalized by the flood of painting engineered in the 1980s. In Hendricks’ work that spirit of aesthetic provocation and subversion is transformed into a new intelligent, much less nervous, you might say nonchalant version which is generation-related: Allow me to provide evidence of this through four examples of his work:
The work »Flash«, for instance, represents more than the attempt to provoke police observation, recorded in dreamlike photos and videos. Hendricks drove through across various intersections when the lights were on red, the sensor of the respective traffic light flash system was ›provoked‹ into taking a flash photo. But then the artist shot a series of photos almost simultaneously by pointing his own camera through his car’s windscreen at the traffic light flash. However, given the provoked, coincidental simultaneity of flash and counter-flash, it was not only possible to outwit the authorities’ visual objectivization; another essential achievement was to enjoy at least for a few seconds the status of an anarcho-illusionary person, despite the measures taken by the law enforcers to achieve objectivity. If that is not also an ironic reply to the ›freedom of art ‹ I do not know what is.
Another ambivalent aspect of the aesthetic quality previously referred to is demonstrated by the two works »Tax« and »Locker«, which I wish to mention since they illustrate even more clearly the specific ironic approach Hendricks employs. The small sculpture ensemble »Tax« consists of three gold bars in »variable sizes«. In fact, the numinous gold in this sculpture is »the artist’s remaining profit for the year after deduction of all tax-deductible items and operating costs for tax year 2000«. This artistic-magical ›transubstantiation‹ of the taxable profit into sculptural gold also saves it from the hands of the tax authorities: And of course the ambivalent value of the sculpture and thus its provocative nature only remains as long as the work of art retains its alchemic-aesthetic aura, in other words, as long as nobody avails themselves of the possibility of changing it back into cash: If it were converted to cash, not only would the profit for the year liable to tax be considerably reduced, but the sculpture’s value as criticism of the system and money supply – in other words, its communicative merit would vanish into secular air …
»Locker« from 1998 is a similar work. Not only was the motive behind it aesthetic and in – Kantian terms –»disinterested pleasure «, it also plays with the interest in the real money value represented by the small amount of money visibly deposited in the locker. Accordingly, the ›ideal recipient‹ of this installation was the locker burglar, who not only had an aesthetic interest in the ambivalence of aura and monetary value, but who ultimately settled this ambivalence in favor of the monetary value, in other words emptied the locker of its contents. The artist tolerated his action since the ›recipient‹ was doing nothing more than realizing an ›aesthetic‹ concept.
Needless to say, there are an increasing number of works in which Jochem Hendricks employs ambivalence and irony as a successful means of making us reconsider our habitual perception. One example of this is his multiple with the so-called »eye tracker«. This sophisticated machinery employed in neurological clinics utilizes an infra-red video camera to follow a patient’s eye movements in observing and perceiving various situations, and documents them as a graphic line to various peripherals. The neurologist used the sequence, structure and density of the recorded eye movements to say detect the inactivity of certain brain regions in what are referred to as »neglect« patients. However, in deploying this objectivization game, the artist not only confronts the user of his »active eye tracker« with their own eyes, but also with the existential paradox inherent in the principle impossibility of altering a subjective view to an objective one.