10 Top Spots for Contemporary Culture in Cologne

Having spent a year in Cologne Germany here is a list that I have compiled of the city’s top spots for contemporary culture, as featured on The Local Germany:

http://www.thelocal.de/20150819/fake-your-way-to-being-a-cologne-culture-vulture

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Nina Beier at The Kölnischer Kunstverein

Last night mixed-media artist of the moment Nina Beier spoke about her practice at The Kölnischer Kunstverein. Born in 1975, the Dane began her career in London and is now based in Berlin. Since 2010 her work has been lauded for it’s aesthetically fluent yet thought-provoking nature.

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A fan of the found object Beier has employed everything from Persian rugs to banknote beach towels in order to confront the theme of time in her work. Beier eloquently spoke about taking inspiration from internet stock images, the anonymity and agelessness of which have prompted her to realise them in her art, giving physical substance to things that might have otherwise been lost or forgotten in our self-deleting digital age.

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Beier reproduces these stock images in various formats. In her earlier work she printed them as large, simplistic images, dipped them in glue and draped them across everyday objects such as radiators, to dry. Recently she has taken a more 3D approach, using real items to recreate the images themselves and then dropping them into water. Suspending a mundane object such as a white mug with copper coins pouring out of it, in an oversized, apparently full, cocktail glass, she creates a sense of movement, a trait employed by stock image creators in order to set their image apart from competitors.

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The artist explained how her fascination for the history of the object and the image is something that she continues to explore in her latest work. We were given a brief preview of a piece from ‘Cash For Gold’, which opens at the Kunstverein Hamburg next week. A painted porcelain figure of a dog is positioned next to a to a vase. Whilst both are made from the same material and in a similar style one was produced in China and the other in Italy. Each of the items have bite-shaped sections removed from them. The missing pieces create visual threads that link the two together.

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The work of Nina Beier is in many ways difficult to fault. Carefully conceived and elegantly executed it is bolstered by philosophical thought and critical social comment that strive to make it relevant in a disorientated era. An archetype of the art of our time: whilst the work looks and sounds theoretically good, the repeated use of readymade aspects make it ultimately feel anonymous.

Are you series?

Last week ‘Are you series?’ opened at Philara Düsseldorf, displaying over a hundred works from 28 artists all in one room, the exhibition is aptly named. The featured artists are students of Professor Johannes Wohnseifer at the Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM.) Together they have created a show that turns the notion of serial art on its head.

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Whilst each of the artists have produced a series of works these are displayed in a far from traditional manner. Rather than showing each series as a unit the works have been separated and spread across the room to intermingle with one another.Treating the output of 28 artists as a uniform series could have gone seriously wrong, especially when such a range of techniques and materials have been used. However ‘Are you series?’ skilfully juxtaposes a huge variety of works in order to highlight their individual strengths.

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Take the work of Lukas Johannes Heerich’s who has stretched large pieces of beige fabric over frames so that they each feature a single fold. Whilst their minimal elegance allows them to stand alone they are surrounded by other works that add to their aesthetic appeal. The grafitti-inspired pictures of Severin Humboldt which flank one of Heerich’s canvases could not be further from their neighbour’s simplistic style; created from a mix of digital mediums Humbodt’s colourful inkjet-printed pictures feature images of brick walls with slogans such as ‘Smoke some weed’ sprayed upon them. Although the juxtaposition is obvious it is not intrusive, the contrast in styles serves to highlight the strong points of each.

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Looking about the room one is confronted by a conscious interruption of artistic techniques, this frenetic display is nonetheless united by the high-quality of the pieces on show as well as the overriding sense of humour that accompanies them. The show’s irony is summed up by the decision to place one of Julius Metzger’s sloganized doormats which reads ‘Calm down all these years’ parallel to Hermes Villena’s photograph of a debauched man swinging around a pole over which is written: ‘The only thing that is going to survive in a depression is a good time.’

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‘Are you series? avoids over-crowding by establishing key focal points throughout the room. The gallery space is a white-washed warehouse whose pillars, rather than obstructing the perspective have been incorporated into the layout in order to orientate the viewer. At the centre of the room are Roman Hahlbrock’s ‘Shritte’, a set of see-through, 3D-printed steps which suspended from the ceiling, act as an abstract view-finder through which the rest of the exhibition can be observed.

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By challenging visitors to piece together the deconstructed series themselves ‘Are you series?’ demands  engagement. The show overcomes its size with an arresting layout and a sharp sense of wit that leave the viewer feeling refreshed rather than overwhelmed.

‘Are you series?’ is on at Philara Düsseldorf until 10th May.

Photographs courtesy of Jan Höhe

‘Inside Surface’ A project by Johanna Von Monkiewitsch and Hila Laviv at Jagla Ausstellungsraum

‘Inside Surface’ is the outcome of a collaborative project between Cologne-based artist Johanna Von Monkiewitsch and Israeli artist Hila Laviv. The pair first came together last year in Tel Aviv where they worked on a joint exhibition for ‘Fresh Paint 7’ art fair. It was this shared creative experience that led them to produce ‘Inside Surface’ a show now on at Jagla Ausstellungsraum, Köln (January 17 – February 27, 2015.)

Whilst both artists describe themselves as sculptors it is their mutual interest in working with ‘non-materials’ that forms the crux of the exhibition. ‘Inside Surface’ focuses on how gently altering the interplay between space, light and surface can transform our perception of everyday objects.

For Laviv’s ‘My Rainy Day Book’  she has reconstructed a children’s handbook written by her grandmother from cut-outs. Not only does this process change the book’s visual format from 2D to 3D, but by folding pages and cutting-out scenes she alters the object’s very narrative.

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Von Monkiewitsch further plays with form and perception in her prints. She has precisely folded and framed the works to give them the appearance of open books. The strongly coloured prints replicate a books’ exposed pages and it is only on closer inspection that the viewer can discern otherwise.

Through their subtle alterations of ‘non-materials’ Laviv and Von Monkiewitsch lead us to reconsider our relationship to everyday matter. ‘Inside Surface’ not only focuses our perception but it causes us to question the power of the mundane.

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Von Spar at Week-End Festival

Since the October  release of ‘StreetLife’ (Italic Recordings), their long-anticipated fourth album, Von Spar  have been at the centre of much critical acclaim.

The Cologne-based band,  first came on the scene in 2003 and swiftly gained recognition for their heterogeneous style. Sebastian Blume, Jan Philipp Janzen, Christopher Marquez and Phillip Tielsch have been praised for their ability to create catchy tunes from a myriad of musical genres. ‘StreetLife’ skilfully combines elements of Krautrock, synth pop, techno and more. It is a testament to Von Spar’s musical versatility and has already been dubbed one of the ‘albums of the year.’ 

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So it was to an excited home crowd that the band performed at Stadthalle Mulheim’s Week-End festival last Saturday. For the first half of the set they were joined on stage by Canadian singer and co-collaborator Marker Starling (aka Chris Cummings) whose poignant vocals feature on four out of eight tracks on the new album. With the audience fired-up following a punchy delivery of ‘Chain of Command’, two saxophonists joined the stage for a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Breaking Formation.’  A highlight of the evening was the band’s performance of ‘One human minute’ whose moreish beats and epic vocals make it impossible not to dance to.

The night’s set epitomised the musical scope that we have come to expect from Von Spar. With several star album reviews and a host of gigs booked for the new year, Von Spar’s dedication to genre-bending music is clearly paying off.

Chris Hipkiss: ‘For Us My Cuts’ at Galerie Susanne Zander

‘Chris Hipkiss’ is the pseudonym of British creative duo Alpha and Chris Mason. Married since 1986 the two have been collaborating from the moment that they first met at the age of 18. Chris is a self-taught draftsman who claims that ‘4B pencils are the only thing to use’ and Alpha is a writer whose words and ideas form an integral part of her husband’s artistic execution.

The intensely detailed pencil drawings that the couple produce humorously deal with a range of universal and political themes: as self-proclaimed ‘feminists’ gender is often addressed in their work.

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‘For Us My Cuts’, on show at Galerie Susanne Zander until 21. November,  is a series of drawings that depict a warped symbiosis of industrial and rural landscapes, strewn with strange insects, machinery and naked human forms. Whilst to speak of, such subjects seem oblique, there is an undeniable intimacy to the drawings, one that pushes the viewer to crack a smile; it is as if we are allowed in on their own private joke.

The personal warmth of Hipkiss’s work is what makes it so intriguing. ‘For Us My Cuts’ is an outlandish mishmash of words and images that confront global issues whilst offering a refreshing glance into the creative world of this extraordinary couple.

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Ken Okiishi “Screen Presence” at Museum Ludwig

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Arts Foundation of of North Rhine-Westphalia has paired up 25 international artists with 25 art museums in the region. The artists have been asked to interact with the galleries’ permanent collections in order to produce exclusive works that will be shown alongside the originals that inspired them.

On Tuesday night New York artist Ken Okiishi spoke about the installation “Screen Presence” that he has produced in collaboration with Museum Ludwig for the 25/25/25 project.

Inspired by two specific works from the Ludwig’s permanent collection: Yves Klein’s “Blau-Abkommen” and Günther Uecker’s nail relief “weiß-weiß”, Okiishi’s installation consists of four LED monitors that have been carefully positioned at three specific points around the museum. The first monitor rests directly opposite “weiß-weiß” and like a twisted twin sister the flat-screen displays a full-size image of Uecker’s original, the surface of which is disturbed by the real-life nails that have been stuck side-down onto it.

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Whilst this first monitor plays with our perception the second questions our outlook. Positioned in the Haubrich collection opposite a portrait of the collector, it displays a video image of the first monitor, the appearance of which is distorted by the light-refracting translucent oil paint that Okiishi has brushed onto its surface. The reflective paint and careful positioning of the monitor cleverly interact with the surrounding collection and several of the works appear mirrored as a backdrop on the screen’s surface.

The final part of the installation consists of two monitors placed next to one another. Positioned in a room that overlooks the Rhine the two screens are inspired by Yves Klein’s “Blau-Abkommen”, whilst one captures the frantic and ever-changing trajectory of several museum artworks across its flickering screen, the other displays a tranquil Klein blue.

“Screen Presence” is more than just a clever comment on the interface-obsessed interaction of our age. Okiishi’s use of flat-screens as canvases creates a skilful contradiction: whilst physically distancing the viewer from the original work it simultaneously encourages engagement. By displaying the works of Uecker and Klein as if they were on iPad screens, modern-day audiences are forced to reconsider the way in which they have become accustomed to viewing art.

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“Screen Presence “ will be on display at Museum Ludwig until February.