(gb) Someone has to do the dirty job
Wolf-Günther ThielI would like to start with a digression in order to prepare you for Kristian Hornsleth appropriately. A digression is the part of a speech or an article that avoids dealing with the protagonist and is only indirectly connected to the main topic of a story, a description or a memory. Denis Diderot wrote in 1771: "Each and every century has its own spirit, our spirit seems to be freedom." This freedom is a freedom of thought and a freedom of the way somebody sees himself and the own doing. This freedom is one of the central topics and a driving power behind Kristian Hornsleths artistic work.
Michelangelo Merisi, known as "Caravaggio", who probably lived between 1573 and 1610, was a famous artist and a fugitive, accused of several offences. His intense and passionate character evoked a clash with the laws and ideas of his time. Nevertheless or therefore, he is considered as one of the masters of the beginning baroque and the strongest naturalist of his era. He was notorious for opposing to holy traditions and represented the common naturalism, which missed out on the basic requirements of arts and suited well his self-conscious yet brusque personality. Nevertheless or therefore he became one of the most important initiators for the baroque painting and influenced among many others Annibale Caracci as well as Peter Paul Rubens. He became an advocate for personal freedom and his artistical conviction that went beyond all social and cultural conventions.
The literary work of the Marquis Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade (1740-1814) depicts a delicate problem: Does the materialistic philosophy of the enlightenment mislead to immoralism and crime? De Sade's heroes can not accept their inherent submission to nature, just as the notion of nature as a beneficial element is unfamiliar to him. Social life and crime are more the result of a conscious decision and less a question of moral. De Sade is regarded as an eccentric exponent of the French materialism and therefore sees in materials the reason and the substance of all truth and includes not only the material, but also the mental and intellectual truth. Naturalism can be considered as a characteristic trait of materialism. He does not grant the human species any special position in nature and is accompanied by the instrumental ratio promoted by natural sciences and technology. Materialism can also be considered a foundation for the philosophy of Marxism. At this point we encounter ethical materialism which aspires only to goods that are use- and enjoyable and rejects to acknowledge values that are autonomous and immaterial.
As Marx said: "The production of the material life accounts for the social, political and intellectual process of life. It is not the consciousness, which determines the human being, but vice versa the social way of being, that determines consciousness." Materialism leads to a new definition of ethics and morals and exposes the latter as conservative virtues of the empowered class in order to protect itself socially and materially.
The Sex Pistols were one of the most famous and well-known punk bands in the second half of the 1970ies. They are generally named the "grandfathers of Punk". Their common cultural background were the students disturbances in Paris in the year 1968 and the situationism as well as the New York underground centered around the Ramones, Richard Hell (whose outfits consisting of torn-up t-shirts and safety pins would later be copied by Johnny Rotten), Johnny Thunders and their musical idols like the Stooges with Iggy Pop, MC5 and the New York Dolls. Besides the music it was especially due to the provocative lyrics and the shocking performance of the Sex Pistols that Punk became one of the most influential musical and cultural movements of the late 1970ies. And the Sex Pistols themselves became the first icons of Punk. In May 1977 they released their single "God Save the Queen". The single became No. 1 of the English charts, but never appeared in any official chart, presumably because of royalistic loyalty among those who were responsable. As the Sex Pistols were forbidden to perform, they rarely appeared on stage except on a tour in Sweden in 1977. At the end of 1977 the first (and actually the only) LP "Never Mind The Bollocks" was released. As a consequence of the provocative title of the album, they were sued for being obscene. In the beginning of 1978 the Sex Pistols went on tour in the USA that finished with Johnny Rotten quitting the band wrecked by intrigues triggered by their own manager. Sid Vicious started his own career as a solo artist, but soon became part of the New York heroine scene. His version of the Frank-Sinatra-Classic "My Way" went straight into the charts. At the end of 1978 he was accused of murder in the case of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, but died on February, 2 1979 of heroin overdose.
The early death of Sid Vicious made him a legend, young, furious, brave and fighting. As Public Enemy said shortly after his death: "You have to fight for your right to party" or as Ian Dury sings "sex and drugs and rock'n'roll". All of this was an expression of an absolute need for freedom, beyond all social conventions. I remember a friend of Kristian and mine: Nicolas Powell or "Dicky Nicky", as Kristian called him. Nicolas was a friend, who died too early. He was one of the last British snobs who lived in Paris. As we were driving in a black Mercedes on the "Straße des 17. Juni" in Berlin, we wanted to introduce him to the world of Ice Cube. Him, the bourgeoise aristocrat listend to "Givin' up the Nappy Dug out" for the first time. The album, called "Death Certificate" was labelled "Parental Advisory / Explicit Lyrics" and was therefore not available in the shops. For the last five years of his life, Nicolas was a fan of Ice Cube, Eminem and Snoop Doggy Dogg. Later he told us, that it was a feeling of liberation to listen to this music that opposed all educational values he had learned. It was his kind of "Punk" and became a constant attitude towards the bourgeoise expectations. Thanks to Nicolas we could read an article in the "Spectator" telling us the truth about Lady Di stealing cuff links with the slogan "Kill the Bitch" from Prince Charles, and how Hornsleth stole them back. Nicolas had a greater influence on us than the photos of Ronnie Biggs in Rio, Rotten in Jamaika or Vicious in the "body bag".
Eminem was born on October 17, 1972 named Marshall Bruce Mathers III. He grew up in a predominantly Afro-American part of Detroit. His familiar surrounding was never one of harmony, his father left the family when he was 3 months old. His mother was a drug addict and beat Eminem frequently. Today, his mother works as a taxi driver and the two are at odds with each other. At a very young age he already was fascinated by rap songs, that his uncle Ronnie, who was about his age, let him listen to. Beastie Boys and N.W.A. were the idols of the young Eminem. His lyrics address and reach a young audience. Eminems topics are among other things women or gay men who he presents always in a quite aggressive manner. He himself often emphasizes that he is tolerant concerning different sexual orientations. Critics often state, that his lyrics contain surreal and exaggerated violent fantasies. In October 2004, Eminem released his musicvideo "Mosh", that expressed his critical opinion concerning President Bushs re-election. Quotations from the mentioned song are: "Fuck Bush" and "this weapon of mass destruction that we call our president". The videoclip ends with the election announcement: "VOTE Tuesday November 2" Internationally, the videoclip was widely approved, even Moby, who offended Eminem a couple of years before, stated that this amazing video was the best video of the year. After Bush had won the election, the end of the clip got changed: The citizens appearing in the video don't go to the elections but are up in arms against the senate.
Even though his fans expect a certain kind of lyrics and a special way of aggression, Eminem is always serious about his lyrics. He is the white answer to the Afro-American Hip Hop. The slogan-like lyrics written by Eminem surely influenced Hornsleth and encouraged him to further cultivate his kind of humour. They both like, by the way, the story of "gay dad". To learn from Eminem means to accept your own rage, your aggression, to value opinion and to become famous and still stay the same person, even though the labels have expectations on the market and the fans expect a specific style. It is the same in Hornsleths as in Eminems case: To be successful means to be loved for what you do and not for what others expect of you. Always new and always different, but still they are true to themselves. What do Caravaggio, de Sade, the Sexpistols, Eminem and Hornsleth have in common? Where do they have their "common ground"? Those four types are exemplary and Henry Rollins or Black Flag could be considered as an example for Hardcore and Punk of the 70ies and 80ies. Melvin van Peebles and his "Blaxploitation films, pimp culture, reclamation, racism directly adressed", produced in the early 1970ies or some other pioneers of the hardcore subculture could also serve as examples. Only in the field of fine arts it appears to be difficult to find relevant examples. All that we can see in the art scene has a market value and is sanctioned by museums and specialist magazines. It has to fulfil specific criteria and, sometimes, follows conventions developed by the artist himself.
At last, all art will be put in the common routine of private views and exhibitions, in the end, it will be categorized. An artist, who defended himself against adsorption for a long time, was Andy Warhol. He was not only an icon of the art market, but also a considerable driving power behind punk music and the experimental film underground in New York in the 60ies. The idea of the Factory and the popular images have a lot in common with Hornsleth and have been a role model to him. Warhol was an outsider, did not want to fit into any mole and nevertheless was a celebrity, a darling of the international jet-set society. He was bribable and made a lot of money, that gave him the power to stay independent. This attitude is understandable for somebody who considers himself a social parvenu and an eternal entrepreneur. All those people have something in common: the absolute freedom and the right to represent their conviction. Freedom equals freedom of will. One basic problem of our definition of freedom is that too many thinkers and philosophers link freedom with responsibility, ethics and morals. Kant's categorical Imperative determines this connection sustainably. Materialism recognized the forces of nature and stressed the instrumental ratio in context with the sciences. Recently, neurologists claim that free will is not more than an illusion. But they let us live with this illusion and not to collapse in a final agony. Similar to the latest neurological research, Marxism believes that freedom is only an invention. But in contrast to neurology, that is mostly based on chemistry and electronic processes, Marxism pinpoints that actions taken by human beings are determined by their social environment. If that is the case –welcome to running in the hamsters wheel.
Hornsleth, who came from the Beverly Hills of Copenhagen and should have followed an economical carefree career as an architect after an education on elite schools and universities, became the star of his own cult of freedom in the past years. This cult uses cultural codes that are close to those of Punk, Hip Hop, Hardcore and Hardcore Pornography. He is totally aware of impeding social expectations and attacking personalities of public interest. He uses this PR-quirk consciously to generate publicity, but simultaneously as an expression of antipathy and disgust for social conventions and expectations. The bourgeoisie is sickening and their guards are the gravediggers of creative freedom. Those social opportunists and pseudo-intellectuals are fast on the spot, when success sets in. Well-known examples as Lars von Trier, Aki Kaurismäki, Franz West and many others had a belated success among the cultural elite. Hornsleth attacks this dirty trick. Solely Kaurismäki did not appear at the Oscars in order to use his time on stage to oppose Bush in a film. "Get a job Sucker" and "Fuck you Artlovers" are expressions of this awareness.
"Fun, Fame, Fortune"
"Fun, Fame, Fortune" was our slogan back in the days of "permanent vacation". Permanent vacation was an anarchical group that we founded in Berlin years ago, and which we reactivate from time to time, when it comes to projects that are beyond our own framework of behavior. Permanent Vacation was sometimes similar to a terroristic group, conspiratorially forcing creative strategies that undermined common expectations or the social set of rules. "No artificial limits on Permanent Vacation". Our collaboration started earlier, it began with a misunderstanding and a Rolex watch. The misunderstanding was, that a Danish painter called "the Malerfreak – the painterfreak" gave me a call in order to show me his pictures. I did not take great interest in his pictures. To be polite, I asked what he was up to. He showed me his Rolex. Not suspecting any affront, I took a closer look at the watch. "Fuck You Artlovers" was written on it. I like that, as it got to the heart of my tiredness concerning the art market and the underground culture with a mixture of sarcasm and irony. Kristian Hornsleth had more to offer, a "Smith and Wesson", a tanners knife, a pair of Loyds-shoes, all provided with the slogan "Fuck You Artlovers. Hornsleth" and some pictures that truly touched me, like the two paintings with photos taken in World War 2 showing hanged and executed people titled "Fuck You Artlovers" and "Kill the Bitch", which still hang besides my bed. Somebody was willing to try something new that hurt himself and, above all, the others. This was the beginning of a collaboration and an enduring friendship.
When Hornsleth moved to Berlin, we began to think how to market this artistic mindset and its products. We both had a network of advertising- and communication agencies and had a deep knowledge of how to set up a campaign. Hornsleth worked in a small flat in Neukölln, that "Big A1" Alexander Laurisch had provided and produced mostly paintings. He followed his idea "Practice Hard, All Time.". Each painting had its stories, like for example the one of Helena Christensen which was titled "Go To School. Hornsleth". An enthusiast bought it even before the exhibition started. Another painting showed the sons of the royal family. Hornsleth wrote "Poor Motherfucker. Hornsleth" or "Incest Royal. Hornsleth" on them. "God save the Queen" – that was his personal opinion and he made it a statement. They were a bestseller. Nevertheless, he had to sell quite a lot of pictures in order to survive, and so I helped him building up a company manufacturing products wearing the brand Hornsleth. Each and every work of art was ought to be a product on the one hand and an advertisement for the brand Hornsleth on the other. A few months later, we had a small community of fans, that consisted of art lovers and media professionals. All together we tried to help Kristian to generate publicity and to establish a small business.
It was harder than we thought, even if we often had magazines that would help us. We made an advent calendar for a "Leonce" (Karl Heinz Lubojanski) in a edition of 10.000. We reached our assumed target group: "Forget Christmas and Fuck 2000". The calendar was an DIN A2-scale advertisement for several things, that Hornsleth had made in the meantime. The "Fabulous Bulgarian Girls" Milena, Kalina and Tanja helped us (and Hornsleth dedicated to them the sound bite "Big in Bulgaria"). Thanks to Tanja and Kalina Hornsleth created a Bikini with the slogan "Fuck me Daddy" that got photographed with a beautiful, Afro-American girl and caused a lot of trouble in the periodical Flashart.
Later on, this photo was an element of a campaign of whole-page announcements that Hornsleth put in Flashart for one year and that has probably lead to the high profile he had at that time. His publicity increased through such actions and other magazines like Style and the Family Tunes helped by writing some articles. Gradually, Hornsleth got well established. But "Fuck me Daddy" or "Fuck Christmas" did certainly not attract ambitious art collectors yet freaks and people from the local scene. Hornsleth became a cult, a brand that still not enough people wanted to buy, even if some surely did. One day, and in connection with some cuff links, a contact to Bucherer Jewellery in Berlin emerged. The chairman Kate Merkle seemed to be very interested. Generally she showed interest – she already had launched some first class campaigns in Berlin – and was especially interested in Kristian. It did not take long until they were a couple. Kristian began to think about creating some jewellery together with her. I remember us sitting in a Berlin restaurant called "Manzini", where Kristian was showing me about twenty pieces as sketches. I was quite surprised when he told me how expensive the material would be, that he wanted to use. That was Hornsleths style. I heard myself talking, mentioning marketing, the marketing of cult objects and other things, but everybody around must have noticed my perplexity. Why should a company like the distinguished and conservative jewellery invest 100.000 D-Mark in Hornsleth? I still can not understand how Kristian had convinced them. Why would Bucherer produce a rapper-style silver necklace with an engraving saying "Rape, Kill, Steal, Burn" or a cigar case with the words "Get a Job Sucker"? But all our friends loved Kristians work and we could present the jewellery in exhibitions in Hamburg (Peter Lony), Munich (Jörg Heitsch), Cologne (Mirko Mayer). Once, we even sold one piece – we felt like we were kings. It is hardly possible to tell all the stories that I could tell about those events. I remember a spectacular fashion show with a beautiful Swedish girl, that I met, just once, and who I never ever met again. Thuwe.
At this time, Roberto and Tiziana, who were close friends of us for a long time already, established a contact with the widow of Giorgio Strehler, whose name I have forgotten, unfortunately. So we went to Milan to visit this lady for dinner. At that time, she had a showroom called "Bureau des Esprits", and she wanted to buy Kristians jewellery. We arrived late for dinner, so that we almost thought that we had missed our chance – but somehow Kristian managed to get along quite well with the lady for a few months. Anyhow, who would intentionally pick an argument with the Strehler clan in Milan? Even if, as we found out later, the lady had only been the concubine and not the wife of the maestro. Actually we wanted to go to a private view of Heinrich Nikolaus in Venice, which became a memorable event: I still remember the paintings, because of the catalogue I bought, but the incidents of that night were unforgettable: Sergio Risalitti, Inge Feltrinelli and representatives of the military in uniforms at a dinner in a palazzo in Venice. And Hornsleth, taking seat in front of the piano, playing one of his improvised pieces without being asked. And he earned a lot of applause for that. I was the only one to know, that the title of the composition was "Fuck Off". I was stunned by the scenery: those degenerated, highly decorated Fellini-like people, applauding and clapping when Hornsleth bowed. I was stunned. Beside this event, I spent the evening in admiration for the wife of Feltrinelli (now it was the real Misses Feltrinelli). Feltrinelli was exemplary. Later that night, outside, it came to a fight with Sergio "Risotto" Risaliti, who tried, at first charmingly, later on in begging, then out of nervous exhaustion, to go to sleep. I think it was Roberto, who in the end had to fight with him. The trip was also important because Hornsleth was invited to Albizola by Roberto and Tiziana, in order to work with clay. This led to a direction in Hornsleths work, that I still consider one of Hornsleth's best.
"Beggars can't be choosers"
With hindsight this all sounds like a relatively amusing and funny movie. But it surely was not. Everything that happened seemed to be exaggerated and we definitely had a lot of fun. But still we had to struggle with shortages of money every day. We suffered seeing the others making their way through the galleries and slowly making at least some money. We absolutely wanted to do the right thing. I remember a drive back home in a van. Kristian had, no matter how broke he was, always a small van. As Jay Babcock quotes Dez Cadena (third Black Flag vocalist, later guitarist): "When the Ramones first came to L.A., we knew that they were a punk rock band, but because they were on a big record label, we expected them to be in a big Winnebago and traveling like rock stars. Instead they're coming out in this old beat-up '69 Ford van, with all their equipment cramped together in the same vehicle. To us it was just very impressive." Kristian has not changed his opinion until today: After an exposition by Yuan Shun we drove from Schloß Wiepersdorf, a castler, that was owned by Bettina von Arnim at the time of romanticism, sitting on the backseat of Kristians van together with a woman called Heidi Fichtner, who had several art-related jobs in New York. We drove quite fast on one of those narrow avenues that are typical for Brandenburg, a region in eastern Germany. All of a sudden, Hornsleth switched off the lights and went faster and faster. Heidi was scared and began to scream. Hornsleth and me were laughing hysterically. We proclaimed that we will now die, if fate wants us to die, or live, if fate wants us to arrive at home in Berlin safely. In that very moment, I knew what he meant and I had the same conviction. Heidi, who from that moment on had an ambiguous relationship with us, survived, but sweared at us badly. That was our understanding of Buddhism in those years.
There are a lot of stories like this one to tell. It was a great time and Hornsleth got, through incidents like this one, more and more famous and notorious. I would not want to miss this time, even if we later on had a lot of arguments about art. Kristian went back to Copenhagen and became famous there. I stayed in Berlin and remained what I always was – a manic depressive.
We stayed good friends, even though it sometimes hurt me to see, that Hornsleth had a level of communication, with Dildo Jill and with others, that I could not relate to as an artist and an aesthetic of art. But it was the right way for him and he remains the punkrocker that he always was and obviously will be. Some years later we worked together in Berlin again. For the DKR (German Society for Recycling of Synthetic Materials) we had to fill a fifty meter wide, two meter high display case with plastic litter and to illuminate the object from inside. The story began with the Danish shelf manufacturer Montana Meubles and its chair man Peter Lassen, who wanted to build huge shelves in a subway station. The DKR built the display case. My idea was to declare the project as a work by Hornsleth by making Hornleth write a slogan on the vitrine: "Improving Perfection". This was one of the most monumental pieces, that Hornsleth has ever produced. He was in the center of attention. What we always had tried to achieve in all those years – had happened en passant.
The story of Kristian Hornsleth went to Berlin and many of those people who had encountered Hornsleth, have similar stories to tell. I was lucky to have developed the strategy and the ideology from the beginning onwards. We never intended to chum up on anybody, "if you be nice to the right people on the way up, you sooner or later meet them on the way down". Looking back, we were always proud of what we had achieved, even though we know that we will probably never do such things again. It was important to us to be recognized by the people, we considered to be the right people. If we drink champagne today, it will not taste like shit like in the case of all those opportunists who have kissed too many asses on their way up. We were naïve enough to convince with our concepts and our actions. We were interested in our freedom of thoughts, our social independence and Never Mind The Bollocks. To say it with Greg Ginn, songwriter and guitarist of Black Flag in the lyrics of Babcock: "The beginning and end of it was always working on the music". For us, it was all about art!
Wolf-Günther Thiel, German art historian and cultural engineer based in Berlin, 2005
This text was published the first time in the book Fuck You Art Lovers Forever
Kristian von Hornsleth, Futilistic Publishing, Copenhagen 2005.
You can buy the book on www.hornsleth.com