Jochem Hendricks

“Reality, without dimensions”, 2012
Doris Krystof

Text for the catalogue Jochem Hendricks”, Distanz Verlag, 2012 / Doris Krystof is a curator at Kunstsammlung NRW, Dusseldorf

“Jochem Hendricks / Realität, 1995 / Projektion / Ohne Maße” / (Reality / 1995 / Projection / Without dimensions) it reads in print on a plain card, which is in a file-card box along with many others. Five such tightly-packed wooden boxes each placed on a table form the basis of the installation Ausstellung I-V (Exhibition I-V) from 1995 with which Jochem Hendricks created something like an archives, or better a store of artworks. A chair in front of every table invites visitors to study the file cards. Over four hundred titles are listed here, an immense, extremely disparate body of work is suggested, and yet each individual item is ascribed to a single artist: Jochem Hendricks.

Ausstellung I-V is a megalomaniac show that is not an exhibition at all. All its works exist solely on paper – apart from the one comprising the administrative recording and presentation of it on library file-card boxes. For all the dry look typical of Concept art in the 1970s and 1980s, which Benjamin Buchloh once fittingly referred as an “aesthetics of administration” if you go through the boxes title by title Hendricks’ creation reveals a veritable cavalcade of media, techniques and topics. “Jochem Hendricks, Wahrheit, Schönheit, Freiheit, 1995 / Bronze, Marmor, Satin / 340 x 300 x 300 cm” (Jochem Hendricks, Truth, Beauty, Liberty, 1995 / bronze, marble, satin) conjures up an almost cubist large sculpture in an eclectic mix of materials. “Verschwendung der Ressourcen, 1995 / Öl und Kohle auf Holz / 3-teilig, jeweils 180 x 100 cm,” (Waste of resources, 1995 / oil and charcoal on wood / 3 parts, each 180 x 100 cm), which could be a large-format drawn triptych. “Realität, 1995 / Projektion / Ohne Maße evokes another medium, alludes to those cinematographic installations that have with their extensive, flickering images become increasingly popular in the contemporary art business. Produced in 1995 “Reality” can claim to be a truly early example of this genre created just a few years after the pioneering video art works by say Douglas Gordon or Eija-Liisa Ahtila.

The unexpected juxtaposition of techniques and media Jochem Hendricks created in the mid-1990s with Ausstellung I-V may be a fiction yet it continues to characterize the artist’s oeuvre up until today. More strongly guided by an interest in topics concepts, processes and research than by the continual occupation with artistic material, medium or profession, Hendricks marks a position, which is described using terms such as neo- or post-conceptual. So as not – like some approaches to Concept Art around 1970 – to get stuck in the literary-linguistic-philosophical-journalistic or – to use Duchamp’s words – the non-retinal, a younger generation of artists recognized the necessity for topics, ideas and concepts to take on shape again and show themselves as works that could be physically experienced in space. As such, the early installation Ausstellung I-V is almost an exception in Hendricks’ oeuvre, it is after all relatively alone in its strict imitation of Concept Art and ant-institution stance. By contrast, in many other less conceptional works by Hendricks a series of aesthetic and formal decisions is made resulting in works that are more than the entry of a title on a file card.
Formally very differing works such as Zimmer im Sack / Room in a bag (1997–1999), Tax (2000), Maxisockel / Maxi Base (2002), Figurine (sans bras avec police au téléphone) (1956–2002), Meute (2003–2006) or Cold Birds (2002–2005) address acute social and economic situations in the real world. For all their difference the works are comparable in that a transformation into real substances takes place in them, truth and illusion play a role and, sometimes what is done borders on the illegal. More or less intensively processed the works are finally smuggled into the art cycle as if the intention were to test them. Namely, at first sight what Hendricks does, might not always look like art – nor like a readymade or objet trouvé. Frames, display cases or pedestals, in other words a more or less museum presentation context are indispensible to place the objects in the right light. A real gold ingot, a pair of pyjamas that was actually stolen, the perfect imitation of a Giacometti sculpture, snarling, real-looking, but luckily prepared fighting dogs, dead canary birds processed in Russian labs: In order to appreciate what Hendricks’ artifacts are about you must know the respecting stories attached to them and can never be sure whether they are really true.3.281.579 Sandkörner / 3,281,578 grains of sand (1999–2000), who would want to count them? Especially as to do so you would have to destroy the glass ball containing the grains of sand and thus destroy the work of art. As in Ausstellung I-V, Hendricks juggles with the production of art but equally with its reception and has, as artist Bernhard J. Blume expressed it “made the conditions of the art- and communication market the topic and subject of his artistic approach.”

The expression “reality” featured in the title of Hendricks’ work triggers one of the really major topics in the history of art, literature and painting. Reality in the sense of outside world, in the sense of turning to the concrete and earthly is most certainly valid for the topical orientation of Hendricks’oeuvre. For Hendricks reality is always observed reality and always incorporates the observer as the subject of the perception. “How does reality get into my mind, and what does it do to me?” This question which Hendricks raised in 1993 in an interview to describe his artistic motivation, could serve as a leitmotif for his entire work. Hendricks, who really does often include himself as a person in his work, who operates as a protagonist and guinea pig, is always present as subject of the view of reality in his works. After all, it is his room that is shredded and packed into a bag, it is his income tax from 2000, which he invests in a gold ingot and work of art, and it is a risk to have dead birds transported across several post-Soviet borders. With this reference to himself however, Hendricks is not engaging in self-exploration, self-analysis or inner reflection. The inclusion of his own person, which is repeatedly manifested and is particularly evident in the work begun 2009 and conceived for the duration of his life Luxus Avatar, is done rather for the simple reason that a view of reality without designating an observer perspective that is always subjective is virtually impossible.

Hendricks’ early work Augenzeichnungen / Eye Drawings (since 1992) is a good example of his experimental art, his forms of expression but also for his art of the perception of and awareness of reality, which fuses the result of a neurological procedure with the manifestation of informal line drawings . From the perspective e of the history of art, Hendricks offers a whole arsenal of references, which range from da Vinci’s wall stains through to abstract Expressionism. Here again what is more decisive than the always inherent art tradition is the manner of the depiction, you might say the output format Hendricks lends his observation. Typically, he uses various means to visualize the fusing of neurology and abstract drawing from the simple printout via the one-off print with ink produced to compete with the classic hand drawing. In addition, Hendricks developed a different output medium, one, which added a further topical component to the work, a component with a world reference, and which also runs totally counter to every expectation of art: Namely the individual line compositions were also distributed in the form of a printed daily newspaper, which contains neither text nor images but rather features an eye drawing on every page. Printed in large numbers the newspaper were displayed and distributed, later this was followed by newspaper boxes developed especially for public space in which the eye drawings were offered for a price of DM 5 (or $ 5, or € 5). Accordingly, the art observer becomes a newspaper reader and vice versa. The consumption of daily news, whose objective is to convey reality, and the observation of art are placed on one level. And there is another aspect: When observing the same eye movements are made that the abstract composition of lines produced. Reading and observing are on one level world appropriation and insight. “How does reality enter my mind and what does it do to me?” Hendricks declared with regard to this early body of work, and subsequently continued: “How does information enter me? How does consciousness come about? That is a key topic of the eye movements. They are also a work about reality, the world – and its processing.”

One of the most recent works seems to suggest Hendricks had again effected the fictional information on the file card of 1995 “Realität / Projektion / Ohne Maße”. Reality is depicted seemingly unfiltered in Revolutionary Archive (1973–2012) in the guise of police recordings of various investigations in the Frankfurt region. The starting point for this multi-part work was finding a collection of film- and photography material from the 1970s and 1980s in a demolition house in Frankfurt, which previously housed a police station. Once again here the output medium, the presentation plays an important, if not a decisive role. For instance the black-and-white photographic material was printed using the silver gelatin technique on precious silver gelatin paper by hand and framed, for which Hendricks could draw on the help of Magdalena Kopp. As a photographer Kopp not only brought her professional abilities to bear in the project, but – as a former member of the revolutionary cells and partner of the legendary terrorist Carlos– she was also an authentic witness to the events back then that shattered the inner security of the Federal Republic of Germany. As regards the films made using a hand camera in a Super 8- and 16mm format, Hendricks first had them digitalized and then made into an expansive, six-channel video installation. In the transformation of concept and material to exhibition and presentation the strangely faded yet vivid silent recordings reinforce and weaken each other. The six films are projected simultaneously onto the walls edge to edge like a continuous strip and visitors are effectively enveloped by the uncut shots of the police intervening at demonstrations, protests or clearing the occupied houses. The content of the individual films indicated in the installation subtitles are kept deliberately vague and general (“Mass Rally , Occupied House, Demonstration, Department Store Fire, Freeing of Prisoners, Uprising ”) and do not specify which police interventions are referred to.
The faded images show an excerpt from West Germany’s history and occasionally convey an almost nostalgic mood. Yet the monotonous flow of images cannot disguise their precarious nature; they always seem to be on the lookout for something and there is something furtive, even threatening about them. For instance, it is in a purely registering manner that the camera follows the course of a large demonstration, which took place in support of the SPD in April 1976 on Frankfurt’r Römer square. Though the camera trains its sights on the crowd, it repeatedly focuses on smaller groups as if attesting to the Communist infiltration of the party. In the sequence entitled “Freeing of Prisoners”, which captures the exchange of terrorists from the June 2 group at Frankfurt Airport, the police camera peers deep down into boxes and travel bags from the prison, skims over book titles and flyers through to addresses on envelopes. Especially striking is the specific perspective and insistent attitude of the camera positioned within the fenced-off areas, when the stones thrown by people demonstrating against the West Runway flight straight towards the camera and the cameramen.

With the video installation Revolutionary Archive Hendricks created a cinematic zone without a center. The images are not arranged in a set order as in a film but simply happen, are simply there, seem almost to happen naturally. The special thing about this cinematic effect becomes evident in comparison with another, earlier video installation in which Hendricks operates in a completely different manner with the relationship of film image and observer. The one-channel piece Front Windows (2008–2009) shows in a single shot the front of an empty warehouse, or more precisely of a wing. Characteristic for the three-storey complex with the high roof are the numerous lattice windows that not only extend across the front of the house in three straight rows but also recur in the roof area as attic windows. Filmed with a static camera you see and hear how the 200 window panes are broken by stones being thrown from the inside. An irregular tinkling sound accompanies the shots of the breaking panes, sometimes you also hear the sound of the stones hitting the floor. The video image, which was found in reality, was edited a great deal and condensed into six minutes claims the observer’s entire attention in its frontal approach. There is something increasingly threatening about the scenery but it also has a musical effect, which is underscored by the windows lined up like the notes in a score.

The two-dimensionality of the perspective in Front Windows emphasized by the breaking of the windows responds to the enveloping film veil in Crime – Terror – Riots: Here the looped video screens produce a continuous strip of film, which seems to cancel out the walls completely. In contrast to the tension of the highly-structured window image, in Revolutionary Archive you experience a calm room filled with light, and are surrounded by images that you remember with differing degrees of clarity depending on your origins and age. What is narrated and shown is a chapter from Germany’s history in the Cold War. The images and scenes connected with this, anchored deep in the collective memory, and which are familiar from television or films rise up in Hendricks’ video installation like shadows from the past. Hendricks lets visitors experience the images as an enveloping installation, offers “cinema like never before” to borrow a catchy phrase from Harun Farocki, who in using it names the reference artistic positions take to film. After all, while film in the cinema or on TV determines the direction of our gaze and thus a certain perspective of the images shown, cinematographic installations require the movement of the observer, selecting a specific vantage point, a view of reality, one which is without dimensions and therefore needs to be repeatedly measured anew.