Collective Wishdream of Upper Class Possibilities as an Individual Experience

Jan Winkelmann

The first time I held the April/May 2002 edition of Flash Art in my hands, I was somewhat amazed. The cover showed an aerial picture of a new office building in downtown Berlin, over which floated a logo in the form of a futurist-style comic-strip bubble with the following wording: "New Address: Plamen Dejanoff, Hackescher Markt 2-3, 10119 Berlin". What was curious was that on the one hand it was a highly unusual and interesting piece of architecture, and that it was not entirely clear whether this was just a whimsical fiction or whether this was really Dejanoff’s new abode in Berlin. On the other hand the cover looked very like an advert, which could hardly be the case, as this was after all the front cover of an art magazine. A look inside the magazine provided an explanation. The text by Nicolas Bourriaud, and further photographs of the building, adorned in the same way with the same logo, showed and described the most recent long-term project by Plamen Dejanoff entitled Collective Wishdream of Upper Class Possibilities.  At that moment I was not fully aware of the project’s complexity, nor that I was to become involved in it.

But we should really start at the beginning, in spring 2001. Dejanoff moved into a duplex in Hackescher Markt 2-3, in Berlin’s "Mitte" district. The mixed-use building had been designed by Berlin architects Armand Grüntuch and Almut Ernst, and it is considered one of the most interesting and most successful examples of contemporary architecture in Berlin. Sited carefully in a void surrounded by late-nineteenth century edifices, the building soon attracted international attention and commendations.

Dejanoff used his apartment as studio, and, with his own artworks, designer items and the works of other artists, created in it a space that wavered between advertising surface and "three-dimensional still life" (Dirk Luckow). Thus for example a table-tennis table was used as a desk, its blue surface thus taking on the colour of the light filling the imposing lobby and stairwell. The muted shine of the Tolomeo table-lamps, made of pale aluminium, echoed, almost unnoticed, the vast curved windows’ aluminium frames. To these were added the Marc Newson’s green Felt Chair, more a sculpture than an armchair, lamps by Jorge Pardo and much more. Thus functional, creative and sculptural factors were considered at each step of the well thought-out, economical arrangement process.

Dejanoff advertised the moving to and inhabiting of Hackescher Markt with a series of ads and magazine covers, which he produced in collaboration with various international art magazines. Over a year, the artist published only photographs of various views of the house, all furnished with the aforementioned "New Address" logo. Dejanoff had commissioned the logo from French design agency M/M, and it provided the project with a unique, unmistakeable corporate image.

In the months after setting-up his studio, Dejanoff carried out a variety of projects and held exhibitions there. In collaboration with JRP Editions, a selection of their editions was shown, with the studio partly turning into a presentation and sales area for the Swiss publishing firm. At the same time Dejanoff’s one-man show in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris was taking place. Instead of presenting his work in Paris, he shifted the exhibition to his Berlin studio. In this extraordinary project the artist challenged many of the parameters of institutional exhibition practice; it was unusual for a French museum to finance a project that could not be seen in the institution itself, but only in a foreign city. The artist’s studio, usually a place of production, not accessible to the outside audience, became a public exhibition space. Not only this, its opening times were the same as those of the Palais de Tokyo, the invitation cards and the labels of the works imitated its corporate design, the visitor was met by French-speaking staff, and so on. In short, the entire framework resembled that of the Palais de Tokyo. During the project, Dejanoff’s studio turned into a temporary annex of the Paris museum.

In one of the following projects, which began in September 2002, Dejanoff was for a year an employee of the Swiss firm Tomato Financial – Treasury Services S.A. As an employee of this firm, he signed a contract, received a salary and had the right to paid leave, but it is true that he did not, as is usually the case, have to render productive services to the firm. The only task given him was to represent the firm to the outside world. Above all it was his studio which allowed this, with its impressive interior, looking more like an advertising agency or a start-up business premises.

These examples show how Plamen Dejanoff discerningly illuminates and explores the systems "art" and "economics", and the interface between the two. In his projects their individual structural parameters are tested out and their aesthetic codes are adapted, the integral components of the systems being purposefully transmuted from one to the other.

Dejanoff created one piece for each project. Thus he transmuted, as it were, the M/M logo into a wall sculpture of acrylic glass coated with cream paint. The high-gloss surfaces, and the convex letters with the mirror in the background, reflected their surroundings and helped the sculpture to attract attention in the space. Dejanoff rearranged the existing sculptures and objects at irregular intervals and/or supplemented them with works from other artists from his collection. The studio was less a place of production than a living presentation environment, which was constantly being changed and which at each visit offered the opportunity to discover something new, to experience the space in a new way. Hence the studio constituted a spatial embodiment of the so-called "platforms" which Dejanoff made his name with in the mid-1990s – architecture as arena for the artist’s very diverse sculptural interventions.

At this point I became a player. After working for more than a decade as a curator, for almost a half of this time in a museum, the Leipzig Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst (Museum of Contemporary Art), in spring 2003 I decided to quit the institutional world and open my own gallery.

I asked Plamen to come up with a project for an exhibition with which to launch the gallery – one that would reflect the complex structural, intellectual and organisational goings on, the tasks and decisions, involved in the foundation of a new gallery. Instead of an exhibition project, he proposed that his studio and the infrastructure that he had built up at Hackescher Markt be used for half a year, before the gallery opened officially, elsewhere, in autumn 2004. This enabled me to get down to my work even before the official opening and, like an overture, to give an insight into the future work of the gallery. This led to the project "Collective Wishdream of Upper Class Possibilities" being extended to an additional level – the structure which had been created and to date exclusively inhabited and used by the artist, was handed over to the gallery owner, who filled it with new material, emancipating it one more time from its original role.

The long-term project entered its final phase with Plamen moving out and me moving in, in September 2003. I moved into the apartment with little more than a single suitcase, and left the original arrangement untouched, the artist’s various works in their places, as relicts of the previous projects. In this sense, then, the setting served not only as a presentation platform, but at the same time as archive of the projects that had been created here in the previous two years.

The launch exhibition in October 2003 brought together for the first time the various parts of the "Collective Wishdream of Upper Class Possibilities" project. Alongside the complexity and multiplicity of the ideas, the visitor is made aware of the various parallels and overlapping functions of the one space – studio, apartment and office for Plamen Dejanoff, short-term showroom for JRP Editions, temporary annex of the Palais de Tokyo, as well as Berlin branch of Tomato, then gallery and apartment for Jan Winkelmann, and archive for the "Collective Wishdream of Upper Class Possibilities".

Before moving into Hackescher Markt, I wondered what life in such an artificial and tightly coded setting would be like. Naturally, and above all else, I thought that it would be wonderful to live in such a spacious and well-furnished apartment, surrounded by numerous works of art. This, by way of compensation for the absence of everything that surrounded me every day in my Leipzig apartment, my furniture, books, personal memories and so on, promised to be an exciting experiment. Many questions came forward out of my abstract thoughts, to be answered every day – questions such as, "To what extent does one surrender to such a clearly defined alien structure?", "To what extent does it take away one’s sense of self possession?", "What is it like to live as part of a complex art project in an alien environment?"

The answers to these questions were extremely interesting to me, and I have to say that it is much easier than one first thinks to live without all the things we believe are indispensable. At the same time, new questions came from the visitors: "Do you really live here?", "What’s it like to be part of an art project?", "Doesn’t it bother you that every day complete strangers stomp through your bedroom?" Interesting enough, I never considered this a problem, because the diverse functions of the premises were allocated into particular times of day. Outside opening hours, it was just my apartment. From 11am to 6pm it became a gallery, and everything private vanished into the great fitted cupboards. The borders between private and public were not the entrance door or the (non-existent) door to the bedroom, they were the doors of the fitted wardrobe. The space became a surface that disengaged from me as a person, like a stage on which private matters do not belong. Accordingly, it did not seem unusual when the visitors stood in the middle of my bedroom looking at the Plamen work "Made in Bulgaria" – a vast floor-work consisting of 17 oval blue lamps of blown glass.  Grouped all over the floor, their long white cables wound like the line of a drawing on the floor between the lamps. During the day a sculptural installation, at night it plunged the whole area into a blue light.

An exciting new challenge was given to me by the further presentations of works and projects of other artists whom I represent. Following Dejanoff’s additive principle, by the time I moved out I had realised three projects – with Tilo Schulz, Stéphane Dafflon and Katarina Löfström. In this manner a further interplay with the location was once more achieved, and its boundaries further expanded. For me, looking back, as well as the many aforementioned levels of meaning in the project "Collective Wishdream of Upper Class Possibilities", the most interesting aspect was the simultaneity of the various functions of a single space. In this sense, Dejanoff’s most recent long term project "Planets of Comparison" represents an immediate continuation of the Berlin project. During the years to come, in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, the artist’s home town, a new studio will come into existence. A complex of several buildings is in fact envisaged, consisting of new buildings and conversions of existing houses. The building project which Dejanoff, in collaboration with young architects, has initiated and planned, seems certain to become a unique meeting place of contemporary art and architecture, its reputation certain to spread well beyond the borders of Bulgaria.

(Translation: transparent, Berlin)

This essay has been published in: Dejanoff, Cat. MUMOK, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Lufwig, Vienna (JRP Ringier) 2007.

© 2005 Jan Winkelmann

GERMAN version