Fly Robin Fly

Jan Winkelmann

A grey railway station somewhere in the former GDR, now FRG, on a wintry Sunday morning in the year after the Y2K bug was supposed to break out. The view out of the window of the local trains empty open-plan carriage (with its harmonious beige colour scheme) possesses a remarkable, three-quarter depression potential. The acoustic accompaniment of Thievery Corporations The Mirror Conspiracy playing from the notebook is all that offers some degree of comfort. Reminiscences of more colourful times arise, the misty grey landscape sweeps by the window like a projection screen, also resembling an empty stage with an expansive wasteland of artificial fog. Remembering a recent performance, the writer imagines what it would look like if 200 half-naked go-go dancers, standing in the middle of a field covered in morning dew, were to slowly undress to the rhythm of ABBAs Dancing Queen. A chubby waitress from the Mitropa onboard restaurant stumbles along the aisle offering passengers the inimitable instant coffee typically served on trains, each cup equipped with a wooden stick that gives the coffee a further matchless flavour. Change trains. Wittenberge, the railway station no less dreary than the other human void already experienced this morning. The metallic steel blue nail polish of the conductor, mindlessly cancelling tickets with a punch, brings to mind an episode from a recently seen trash movie: the hero, wearing a pair of metallic blue latex pants (in perfect harmony with the conductors nail varnish) dragged his evening prey home to his two-storey loft, to experience, in the moment of most intense erotic entanglement, its turning into more than the opposite of what it had appeared to be: the slightly plump blonde (whom he had picked up in the first place only because he was drunk) was suddenly quiet, proceeding to explain that she unfortunately had to give herself her daily collagen injection to freshen up the shape of her lips, but that this operation neednt disturb matters and that they can then continue on from where they left off before. But Something Slightly Different/From the Beginning After the End, to mention the title of an exhibition addressing aspects of reality, its making and its artificiality with reference to Lolo Ferrari, displays human beings not only as the subject of their own self-constitution but primarily as increasingly artificial products formed by multifarious factors – in turn determined by socio-cultural relationships, i.e. patterns of behaviour/representation mechanisms – as reflected on a daily basis by the mass media, consumerism, its brands and glossy magazines. In this connection, the words of the late silicon beauty mentioned above seem exemplary: There are moments when I disconnect from reality. Then I can do anything, absolutely anything. I swallow pills. I throw myself out of the windows. Dying seems very easy then. I really hate reality. I want to be wholly artificial. I adore being operated on. Welcome to total degeneration. May artificiality deliver us from the evils of reality! You will see where that leads us.

The powdered landscape beyond the greenish tainted window (now of the intercity express) brought back to memory the nocturnal odyssey he had just recently experienced, on the way home from a feudal dinner party in the aristocratic setting of a palace on the banks of the Elbe, which he had spent between an incessantly babbling intellectual to his left and a cheery yet exceedingly shy PR manageress to his right, although on this day he wasnt at the height of his charming small talk abilities. Anyway, he began to imagine that the blanket of fresh snow now covering the motorway was in fact of Bolivian marching powder, greedily inhaled by thousands of kneeling or lying people through assorted pipes and hoses protruding from their noses. He was particularly pleased at the thought that this audience was recruited from the (innately garrulous) art mob that not rarely indulges in such hedonistic practices, and how metaphorical its abandoning itself out of sheer greed, as if worshipping an idol, to the powers of the white powder would appear. Similarly, he was enchanted by the idea of a mass hallucination whilst collecting magic mushrooms in the Czech woods. Presumably heralded from better times or whatever, the slogan I love drugs – written in the sky in coloured smoke by a squadron of aircraft from a nearby military airport – gradually becomes visible through the sparse foliage. Yet it ultimately likens an unsuccessful attempt at applying the I love ( Heidelberg, NY, Kufstein) caption, originally derived from tourist merchandising, to indicate how normal and carefree our use of external stimulants is. As we already know, this is particularly but not exclusively, true of the generation of approximately twenty-year-olds, consistently seeking (as techno culture gradually degenerated into dull mainstream since the early 1990s) to satisfy its uncritical longing for genuinely authentic moments through music with a compelling bass line, ecstatic dance and ultimately through the amplifying effect of synthetic drugs, to – thus transfigured – subsequently surrender to the fictitious inebriation of a more immediate sense of reality. Each pill of Ecstasy should be accompanied by an information sheet with the following words: Welcome to the frequent-flyer programme Higher and Higher. Unfortunately you alone are responsible for your illusions. The probability that you will feel like shit tomorrow is relatively high. However, we wish you a lot of fun and a safe landing.

The bald-headed bodybuilders in their black beanies sitting diagonally opposite do not look as if they indulge in any of the above-mentioned habits, yet they do appear to have consumed (either orally or intravenously) certain other substances – combined with serious weight training – to visibly change their bodies. They are amusing themselves about the story of a guy whom they visited a few days ago to tell him, politely yet emphatically, that the bird he picked up recently in the groovy setting of a luxury disco is unfortunately their bosss girlfriend. Therefore it would really be a pity if the smart guys current ignorance of their bosss growing ill tempers would result in unpredictable risks. Whether or not influenced by similar scenes in movies or on television that had left a lasting impression, the good chap decided to forthwith avoid the young woman - who was indeed likeable, yet not that important and scintillating as to justify such a risk. Recounting such unspeakable anecdotes makes the beanie-wearers seem like future guests of an afternoon TV talk show. Real life and media reality seem to intermingle to an increasingly impressive blend. Andy Warhols oft-cited vision In the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes has already long become the curse for a whole generation of obsessively sensation-seeking simpletons. The liberal, educated citizen might expect Andy to turn in his grave at the thought of such excesses. Not at all! He would probably shout with joy in front of the TV, and declare watching television as the definitive experience of reality, for this is the resulting reality of his prophecies. Until now, nobody could have imagined what this pitiable form of fifteen-minute fame would ultimately look like. Another example of heightened exhibitionism coupled with the TV-presenters gesture of consternation (well-rehearsed yet not genuine) is now flickering on one of the eight monitors in the Business Lounge at Frankfurt airport: a young woman recounts an unbelievable odyssey starting with a flirt whilst on vacation in southern Europe upon which she had been maltreated most inhumanely, the resulting martyrdom of which she was only able to escape from with a great deal of luck. The story itself was already shocking enough, yet the casual, gossipy style of her account and the feigned, protestant consternation of her hosts responses to it made the whole show unbearable, turning it into a prime example of perverted TV culture, which – very much like the pursuits of the bacchanal hedonists cited earlier – is based on a longing for genuine experiences of reality and thereby aptly reflects the chronic deficiency symptoms of an entire generation lost in the labyrinths of the present.

The tension between personal and social identity, the ambivalence of self-addiction and a sense of social belonging occasionally bring forth decidedly strange fruit. This happened to acquaintances of mine who (unsuccessfully) tried to get together for years on end, because the girl – trapped in the conventions of her upbringing and in the corset of her flattering social status (in the form of an albeit not really happy, yet still supporting and thus comfortable relationship) – was pathologically incapable of deciding in favour of the guy who had conquered her heart by sending her a self-composed ringing tone based on Boney Ms ancient hit Sunny via SMS in commemoration of their first kiss during this song. The purely speculative wish of a common future along the lines of they lived happily ever after ultimately imploded like a tiny universe when the girl unintentionally found herself with a bun in the oven (mind you, this ill was not caused by the one who had waited so patiently for her). In the decisive moment, his plan to kill himself by drinking a test-tube (stolen from the university clinic) of cholera bacteria seemed to him as being too introverted and not really spectacular enough. Instead, he bought himself a new pair of Gucci sunglasses and screwed the girls sister. Once again, the realm of purportedly profound, honest and genuine emotion was splendidly revealed as a set of constructs representing a reality primarily formed by external influences. Unfortunately, one seldom questions the perception one has of oneself and reality in relation to ones immediate social surroundings. Similarly, the various different mechanisms and strategies that mark the world at the turn of the millennium, determining socio-cultural opinions and values, are rarely the object of substantial reflection. Both the uncritical affirmation of the assorted input of pre-packaged experiences through advertising, television and movies, as well as the bits and pieces of pop culture, obsessively celebrated in consumerist excesses in a world of mental prisons and mindsets, have become more important than contemplation and the reflection of inner values. Unfortunately, this often results in such tragic situations as the one described above. Amen.

Departure time. Shit. No wonder that more passengers travelling economy class – as one often reads nowadays – die of sudden thromboses. The guy sitting behind me constantly complains about my reclined seat. What an absolute idiot! Although it is strictly forbidden to phone on board, he turned his mobile on to make an apparently very important call about a text that hasnt yet but urgently needs to be written: Whats all that shit about the text! Ive asked you a thousand times to get the thing finished. Get a move on, we need to publish the book. The charming flight attendants, with furrowed brows and appalled expressions, immediately rush over to the disrespectful young man with a comb in the back pocket of his trousers. I then settle matters by getting the outraged guy a drink at the bar near the emergency exit. As I am occasionally subjected to similar situations with impatient editors and fictitiously urgent deadlines I go about explaining to him the other side of publishing: and after making it to the absolutely final deadline, after storing the final version of the text (written and edited at night under fatigue-induced hallucinations) and sending it off via email, its a bit bewildering that minor changes to the text can still be made three weeks after the date of the publications going to press. But apart from that, dont you also sometimes feel that it would have done many texts a world of good to never have been printed in the first place? In response to my lecture he tells me about his girlfriend, whose name I cant remember, only that it goes back to a guy named Sichem in the Old Testament, after whose lover she was named. Anyway, we order a Mango Madness, a beverage the flight attendant has obviously never heard of. Of course we could be like the others by ordering a tomato juice. Have you ever thought about why so many people drink tomato juice on airplanes? If one were to take this to make a projection of the percentage of tomato juice consumed per capita of the population, one could conceivably come up with a good idea for a start-up: Lets produce tomato juice! Unfortunately, I dont like tomato juice. But I love tomato soup, especially clear tomato soup the way my father makes it. Taste-wise his soup and the thick Campbells tomato soup (served recently by one of Andy Warhols superstars) are worlds apart. A chilly morning. The taxi stops somewhere on 89th Street. The morning was preceded by a long night, somewhere in a cool, very fancy club. Loads of glamorous, extremely sexy girls, lots of drag queens showing off for the sake of showing off, the hottest of house music and assorted, mainly chemical stimulants account for multiple synaesthesia and keep the place alive. In comparison, Studio 54 must have been like an egg-and-spoon race at a childrens birthday party. My companion, with his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, seems to want to make a personal reference to the wild seventies. The evening, the night, the morning: an ongoing study in sociology. The celebrity machine ups the revs, and the consumer roundabout spins with an increasingly breathtaking velocity here comes the Supernova nonverbal sign systems suppress verbal communication, the overpowering life-style codes of the prestigious consumers take over for the night the dance for a thousand golden calves Welcome to the Pleasuredome! Cut. Im ten minutes late. A blood-drenched handkerchief in my hand. Ahoy! The person who organised this meeting is standing shivering in the morning sun, holding a bunch of flowers in the colours of the home country in southwest Europe of the distinguished elderly woman who is expecting us for breakfast. The uniformed doorman phones to say that we have arrived, we then take the lift up to the penthouse boasting a view over frozen Central Park. There is an approximately three-by-three-metre version of Drellas Flowers on the wall; next to it, like everywhere else in the apartment, various, mainly antique knick-knacks. Beyond my personal interest, my eagerness for knowledge (heightened as it was through my preparations for a lecture on the Factory) of details from the legendary time at the legendary Factory around the legendary Warhol was turned down by the superstar – who had indeed aged in the meantime – by referring me to her book published in 1990 as a work that would successfully answer all the questions I had just, and hadnt yet, asked. She wants to talk to us about her art instead. But I dont. My companion, just as unhinged after a long night of drinking, takes over command of the situation. He takes two of the cans of Campbells soup standing in an impeccably tidy row on the kitchen cupboard. After eating their contents, he has the lady sign them in her shaky handwriting. Disillusionment far and wide. She had once been in the midst of the avant-garde, very much with her finger on the pulse of the times, or indeed well ahead of it, and she had actively participated in the world of fame, glitz and glamour: what remains today is more than sobering. A fate to which not only artists entourages and muses are subject, but also one which catches up with the artists themselves in their late work (however, this primarily seems to be a 20th century phenomenon). The visit to Guggenheim Soho a day earlier confirmed this theory yet again. Warhols Last Supper on display in all conceivable – and unbearable – variations: effeminate, commercial, anaemic, boring. The carefully signed soup can ended up in a bin on 88th Street. My companion spent the following night in the emergency room and missed his flight home.

(Translated by Oliver Kossack)

Published in: Martin Eder  – The Return of the Anti-Soft, Cat. St√§dtische Kunstsammlungen Augsburg, 2001

© 2001 Jan Winkelmann

German version