warehouse warehouse

I don’t do big thoughts very well at the moment.

by Max Grau

I’ve been meaning to write about emails.

About the emotional texture and it’s very charming almost obsoleteness.

About how I used email ca. 2000/2001 to tell another person that I was in love with them.

About aporias and continuities.

About this project that I’ve started a year ago.

Where I write emails about friendship to my friends and everybody who wishes to receive them.

But it feels somehow pointless.

I’ve been struggling with that before. Sitting down, eager to work on whatever is on your list/mind/agenda… Looking forward to it. That’s one of the main perks of being an artist. Work is fun. Sort of. It’s still hard. Sometimes. But often, I actually look forward to it. The two days of writing in between working for money. The days of research. The days of going to the studio. Well, back when I still had a studio.

I’ve been looking forward to write about emails. I have prepared a list of things to research on Monday, when the library opens again 1, of things that I’ll finally have the time to read/continue to read 2.

I even already started writing.

Like I usually do.

Very messy.

Very un-usable so far.

But there are little notes, words linked together that at the time, seemed to be able to map out an idea, an anecdote or a connection, that hasn’t really been thought about yet. Only noticed. Glimpsed at. To revisit those is as fun as writing gets for me. No empty-page-ism. No anxiety about wether there will be ideas. No feeling silly because s/b you like calls writer’s block bourgeois and you still aren’t sure what that means exactly.

Today is Sunday and I’ve been looking forward to write.

But now I don’t.

All the plans and ideas I had, seem obsolete.

It was a pretty strange weekend.

The last couple of days, before work, after work, sometimes during – I get stuck on facebook. Reading up on Charlottesville. On Bannon. On Barcelona. On the Neo-Nazis who tried to hijack the attacks for their bullshit. On the protesters who countered them, yelling ¡No pasarán! – a slogan when used by non-Spanish speaking European lefties always seemed to me a little… I don’t know… tacky? Now I stare at my 5 year old Mac Book and the shitty youtube videos of shouting crowds and I get the chills. I read up on the attacks in Surgut and Turku. I read up on the arrest of Doğan Akhanlı. I read up on the Neo-Nazi gathering that happened yesterday in Berlin. How the protesters managed to block their route. And how some of my facebook friends who where there, posted – less euphoric – that almost 800 Neo-Nazis showed up. Facing maybe twice the amount of protesters. Which isn’t a lot. 1500 people who manage to get off their ass on a sunny Saturday morning in Berlin?

I think about how I didn’t go either.

The night before something pretty strange happened. I went to the opening of a terrible show at a gallery I don’t even like and on the way home I got into a sort of fight with one of my best friends wether to go left or right.

Not like… politically or anything.

This was literally about directions.

Which route to take.

Some kind of massive misunderstanding, shattered nerves and at some point we just split in different directions, sneering at each other.

I still don’t really understand what happened.

Leaving the gallery, I had tried to describe to her the workshop I attended, organized by Shama and the other warehouse people. How I thought I would only drop by for a day, since there was so much other stuff going on that week. How I saw the list of readings and was wildly interested, because they dealt with all those issues that had me sitting in front of the screen, endlessly scrolling, ⌘D-ing page after page faster than I could read, mind-meltingly confused. LD50, Hannah Black, Dana Schutz, Whitney, Greenfell, Adam Curtis, Mark Fisher…

I tried to talk to my friend about something, or rather some thing, that seems to be slowly creeping up on me. Something that manifests in weird ways. Something I’m still not quite sure how to frame.

How I feel a rather – I don’t know how else to say it – existential confusion… nope, not the right word.

Uncertainty?

Disconcertion?

Doubt?

Wether this art thing is still… working for me.

There’s an uncertainty about belonging into the art world. Or why I would even want that. If my practice really has to take place there. If it wouldn’t make much more sense to say: fuck it and fuck you.

Look for a job that isn’t (as) terrible and do things on the weekend just for fun and a few friends. Which feels almost like what I do at the moment. But I still… hmm. Aim at the art world? Hope to somehow gain access? Get paid once in a while? Meet interesting, nice people? Get to travel? Against all better knowledge, believe in this weird linear promise of success?

Believe in what exactly?

It’s been a while since I was really… moved/challenged/intrigued/left speechless by an artwork. Was it seeing Kerry James Marshall’s show at MOCA? For this art thing to supposedly be my life, this happens pretty rarely these days.

And then there is this other issue. The one that gets in the way of even feeling able to work. Instead of writing about myself, of doing those silly self-indulgent art projects, maybe it’s time for actual politics. Or activism. Or… I don’t know. One of my various jobs is teaching in an art class for people who had to flee their home countries. Who are refugees now. Who face structural and every other form of racism there is. Who, besides all the shit they went through, still want to go to art school. Somehow this job used to be… enough. In terms of looking back at how I spend my time and feeling… I don’t know? Useful? Good about myself? Like contributing?

But recently, the number of days where this job feels insufficient – a lame excuse I tell myself to keep sitting on my ass – is drastically increasing.

I could join one of those crazy new leftist organizations like Diem25 or whatever else is out there. I know people who do stuff like that. I could start doing Krav Maga and stop being so fucking afraid all the time. Instead of yammering in hip bars in Neukölln, I could try to meet people who have found ways to work on actual propositions.

Practice instead of theory.

Or just… burn shit.

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Just a few weeks ago I was obsessively watching all those G20 videos, thinking… damn, maybe there’s something to it after all.

To become truly ungovernable?

This is bullshit.

Of course.

I think.

Is it?

I mean…

I don’t know.

It seems like there are enough angry men around without me.

I do actually believe in softness and being gentle with each other and…. It just… Seems so fucking useless sometimes.

This opening made me somehow angry and nervous and thin-skinned and tense and jumpy.


Fußnoten

  1. Mail Art, Diego Rivera, Aurora Reyes, Ukrainian Mosaiks in public space – not sure yet how those things connect, but that’s the joy of open-ended research.

  2. the new e-flux thing, SdB’s letters to Sartre, Kafka’s letters to Felice, Rosa Luxemburg’s letters to Leo Jogiches,…

  3. and the rest of my life

  4. although I did end up straight, for years everybody just assumed I was gay. For a while I did too.

  5. who left school when he was fourteen to become an apprentice in his father’s butcher shop, who worked as a carpenter for years without any formal training, at some point growing tired of the prejudices he faced as a handyman (being uneducated, being stupid, being a drunk), trained to become a social worker, worked with homeless people for years, recently switched jobs one more time, feeling burned out by the ineffectiveness of his work, now acquiring and managing buildings for a social service organisation. Being 62 now, he wears a suit to work for the first time in his life when he meets real estate owners, trying to negotiate whatever with them. It’s funny. He doesn’t really understand what I do, and at this point I also don’t really understand what he does.

  6. Uncool. Feminist/feminie/queer. Marginal.

  7. say: Ficken 3000 on a Sunday morning

  8. which I was and I was

  9. like selfies and facebook and insta and you know… that whole useless generation. It’s still mildly entertaining to me, when Gen-X’ers try to call out today’s kids on their jadedness and political inefficiency.

  10. If you google the long and beautiful text Mark Fisher’s friend Jeremy Gilbert wrote about their friendship, there’s a little passage were he talks about what could have become MF’s next book. ⌘F the PDF for ›hippyphobia‹. To have us sneer ironically at concepts like ›hope‹ or ›utopia‹ could surely only serve those who due their being well-off aren’t in need of such silly concepts.

  11. David Smail – The Origins Of Unhappiness, Constable London, 1993; p.46

  12. assuming a very lose community of people who care, who are troubled by what’s going on, who share a certain set of interests and sensibilities

Stills from GET RID OF YOURSELF by Bernadette Corporation 2002 / 71 minutes / DV / color / sound

It had been a rough day.

At the moment I work in a wood workshop to finance my quasi-hobby art practice 3. It’s pretty exhausting. Physically and emotionally. Because it’s heavy-lifting work. Because people are really harsh with each other. Because I’m neither skilled at using big scary machines nor at the casually sexist/racist chit-chat that goes on in such an environment. I used to work in places like that before: at the post office sorting parcels during the graveyard shift. At the super market filling up shelfs for a subcontractor getting paid 5 cents per item. I worked in a factory for urinal cakes. And I was an actual dish washer in a canteen kitchen where coked up chefs had meltdowns and threw pans at people. But it’s been a while and to be honest, I never grew accustomed to the roughness. To the jokes about migrants. To the stereotyping and the name calling. To the raunchy remarks about big tis and perky asses and to the actual inappropriateness of standing too close and looking too long. And while in general, I think that shit like this isn’t per se a sign of being a terrible person, but also one of those weird things having vaguely to do with neoliberlism, where people under social pressure turn onto each other and/or people even more vulnerable then themselves, instead of picking a fight with the ones who keep them in that precarious spot. But I don’t know. I don’t have a very thick skin, when it comes to stuff like that. Also, it doesn’t make it any less troubling that things we are building there are designed by former artists for a very hip fashion show. The high-low/bougy-hipster-working-class relationships are all over the place and I get confused where I fit in.

After working 9 hours I went home, took a shower, tried to dress up a little, failed because all my pretty clothes are dirty and biked over to the gallery. Since most galleries are still on summer break, it was totally packed. The crowd was a little over the top even for Berlin. I guess people were dying to show off the new stuff they bought on vacation. Crazy hip. Supposedly crazy rich. None of this is big news. It hasn’t bothered me in a while. Sometimes – depending on my mood – I feel a little alienated. But it normally passes. I thought I was over that. Something about the transition from the wood workshop to the gallery… Somehow I couldn’t handle it that day.

I found myself thinking about my relationship to class a lot recently. I guess in a broader context this also relates to how I fit into what is called the art world.

Economically speaking I grew up working class. Yet it is a little more complicated than that. My mother, while going from being a nurse to being unemployed to working as a sort of secretary and working in an office these days, was autodidactically interested in literature. She went to university for one or two semesters until she and my father got separated. When I was a teenager she gave me books by Simone De Beauvoir, Kafka and Isabel Allende. While contemporary art wasn’t exactly part of her field of interest, she did like Picasso and I know some of his blue period paintings very well from posters that were up in our kitchen. I inherited her tendency to hoard books. To somehow associate their physical presence with comfortableness. Culture was… cherished at home. There was a sort of discourse. But it was very much anecdotal. About how Sartre slept with his students and that, although technically he and SdB had a type of open-marriage, he seemed to have caught the better deal and she suffered from his arseholery and how Brecht was a bit of a misogynist and how Orlando is all about Vita Sackville-West – besides books, my mother is really into gardening – and how the Viennese went berserk after Bernhadt’s ›Heldenplatz‹ was staged and… Always from an outside perspective, as a reader, listener, viewer, a fan…

I grew up in a part of Germany that used to have a pretty intact middle-class. It didn’t take much to realize that all my friends in high-school came from a background with more… income. It didn’t really bother me. If all, it established a weird sense of pride, because I also felt that those homes where more boring or depressing than the one I grew up in. Most of the actually didn’t house as many books as our place Nobody had as many records as my step-dad. However, I did feel pretty out of place growing up. But I always thought this was more about… I don’t know, music, style, sensibilities, sexuality 4. Which might or might not be related to class. I don’t know. But the feeling of not-belonging just seems very… essential to me.

After sven years of art school at some point I begann to realize that I’m not really sure I ever felt like I belonged there either. If I ever really felt… comfortable there. Like most people unfamiliar with contemporary art, I assumed that you would have to paint to be an artist, when I applied. I picked a school where photography was taught because that was the only thing I felt even a tiny bit competent in. I remember asking if ›one had to draw‹ when being invited to the interview. Because my art teachers in high school had made it very clear that I’m a a rather hopeless case when it comes to figurative depiction.

This was a first moment charged with fear of ›not-belonging‹. But the more I learned about contemporary art the more relaxed I got. Skill seemed to be a naive concept. With the typical studiousness of the social/class-climber, I worked a lot and read even more. Although feeling highly uncomfortable when speaking up in group crits, I learned that, if I could work up the courage and didn’t let myself be slowed down by blushing and having my voice turning a little trembly, I had things to say, that seemed interesting to other people. That weren’t wrong. So this speaking and arguing for an art work became very central. Visual practice (as opposed to say conceptual work) always seemed to rely on a certain… comfortableness. Being okay with not-being-able to explain certain things about what you did, what you had in mind, what the work’s supposed to do etc. This seemed totally out of question for me. For a long time I thereby – self-defense-style – considered these practices, that didn’t rely on (highly informed) language, as somehow naive, inferior, decorative etc. How could I be sure a painting was ›good‹ if there was no smart explanation? Only recently I realized that basically – despite all the training – my idea of art, was fed by fear of not ›understanding‹, of liking the ›wrong‹ type, of making a fool of myself by not being able to defend my point of view – which seems the prototypical working class relation towards high culture.

A few years ago my father 5 started going to the theater. He got season tickets. He sees almost every production in the big theater in his city, it’s a pretty good one, they are quite avantgarde, he is obviously interested. But he can’t talk to me about it. He mostly knows if he did or didn’t like a play, but he either doesn’t have the language to talk to me about it or he’s intimidated by his own son, because he assumes that due to my going-to-art school I might have a better understanding of aesthetics and will judge him, if he were to say something wrong.

I don’t know.

In a way I have the same thing the other way round. Sometimes I wonder, when I see a work of art, that I don’t have words for, which I can’t describe via language, which I don’t understand, like… how would I explain this to my parents? I’m supposed to be an expert. I went to art school for 7 (s-e-v-e-n!) years. I won scholarships and grants. I have a CV and had work shown in exhibitions in different countries. How could I not find words to talk to them about a piece of art?

It’s pretty weird.

But so are most father-son relationships.

I am sort of surprised that I was able to go through art school without ever having this fear-driven approach challenged. Aesthetically speaking this turned out to be a dead end. I’d rather be caught dead than to become a conceptual artist. I sorta self educated in… what to myself I call visual-visual art. I like Mary Heilmann and Agnes Marten now. Helen Frankenthaler and Raoul De Keyser and Forrest Bess and Julian Martin and Paul Klee and Thomas Nozkowski and Tomma Abts and Elijah Burgher. And of course after seeing this big show in spring: Kerry James Marshall. These are painters whose work I like from looking at it. I’m skilled enough in discourse and art-criticism to know where to look for painting that could be enjoyable to me. Whom to look at. What’s supposedly cool. In my/the slackerish interpretation of cool 6. But I feel – visually speaking – I’m still pretty unsophisticated when it comes to ›looking‹ at art. Helen Frankenthaler might be a little… I don’t know.

While most of my close artist-friends, aren’t exactly… you know rich kids – most of them come from ›weird‹ families – over time I realized that almost everybody has had some connection to art or even more specific: to the art world. There’s some aunt or uncle or a parent or distant whatever who’s a curator, or an artist or an architect or an art dealer or an art historian or a theater whatever. Obviously this formal resemblance doesn’t account for congruent experiences. And I don’t know… I worry that I’m scratching bitterness territory here, but sometimes I can’t help but… of course I feel like I don’t belong into the art world. My grandfather who was a butcher, started painting by numbers after he retired. He went on to try some still lifes and two or three wooden sculptures. I remember my grandmother’s apartment being crammed with those paintings. He died only a few years into his new found hobby and the results of it fulfilled the job of memorabilia and were thereby valued. My step-dad is a self tought hobby painter who likes Dali. I think he even tried to apply to art school at some point. But the story is very messy. So what I know from family background is the very clumsy desire of wanting to be an artist or create things that look like art without the proper knowledge how to proceed with that. And sometimes, during the self-pity periods, I feel that’s exactly where I’m at these days…

Okay, so now you get a glimpse of what was going on in my head as I attended the opening.

It’s a big mess. It’s anger and a lot of feeling sorry for myself. It’s thoughts that might lead somewhere but aren’t thought through properly. There’s a lot of guessing, a lot of making things fit my narrative, there’s a lot of judgment and sometimes… yeah, bitterness. All this turns into self-pity pretty fast. Combine that with the apocalyptic news I’ve been sponging up the last few days and this is were I got into a fight with S. about nothing. Because I was agitated. And I get really confused when I’m angry.

I tried to talk to her. Tried to explain how I feel, that I think there are people who look at the political crises at the moment, sigh but just deep down know that it will never affect them personally and there’s people (assuming: like me) who get so frightened an scared that they can’t keep doing what they do. This is a terribly self-righteous thing to say. As a straight-white-man I am the last person to ever by effected by all this shit that’s going on. Nobody’s beating me up, because they can tell by my skin color or the person I’m holding hands with, that they hate me. I won’t be sexually harassed unless I specifically chose to frequent an establishment that is all about that 7. Nobody’s trying to regulate decisions about my body. Nobody’s trying to make money or gain political-power by publicly shaming me. Denouncing my right to be anywhere. To use a toilette. To work with children. To adopt.

I found myself in this shitty narcissist ramble, blabbering to S. about Trump and Charlottesville and how anybody could just keep on making art in that situation and how – if at all – at least be fucking decent and paint and do pretty stuff and don’t pretend that it has anything to do with politics and also I mean the North-Korea thing and fire and fury and you know, right? RIGHT?

When she implied that I wasn’t exactly making sense, I got angry because I thought she might not follow those things, that she would obviously understand what I was talking about if she only felt as troubled by them, as I do…

I am not very trained at being angry. It frightens me.

I used be very angry as a teenager and the only way I could ever deal with it, was being angry with myself, which…

Before anything else, I guess I grew up scared. Scared of other kids. Scared of being an outsider. Scared of being beaten up for being weird 8. Scared of being the reason for my parents break up. Scared about my mother spending days and days in bed. Later scared of getting lost, scared of failing at whatever I would try, scared of rotting away in the shitty little town I grew up in, scared of ending up with a boring or sad life, ending up broke, either psychologically or financially, always so fucking scared about money… And I don’t know if I can blame class or structural reasons or whatever, or if I just… I don’t know.

It wasn’t that bad. Other people had it worse. I guess that might sound ironic or cynical. It’s not supposed to. These were the ethics (well sort of) I was taught. There’s endless suffering in the world. Get the fuck over yourself. I think it’s an okay thing to be told from time to time.

If you add being afraid to the mix, you end up with a scared angry white man that evening. It’s really disturbing for me to inhabit that category. Even if it’s just for one strange night gone wrong.

There’s a bunch of reasons why I have a complicated relationship towards being angry. But I think the one that’s easiest to address is that I’ve experienced states of depression of varying length and intensity ever since I was a teenager. There were periods of time when this depression manifested itself (amongst other things) in recurring acts of self-harm. These experiences have led me to the believe that – at least in my case – affects and acts of aggression are not usable tools. Not an ingredient of my emotional pallet that’s just… available. While my career (or whatever you wanna call it) could probably benefit from some mild amounts of alpha-male elbow shoving and I can totally see how there’s stuff in the papers and on the facebook feeds everyday, that make aggression seem like the only legit reaction, I guess that’s not for me. All I can think about, once the anger wears off, is that it’s most likely an early indicator for another round of depression of yet unknowable intensity.

Which, you know… is scary.

(start loop here)

“I guess you could call the Ostrich Pillow the Balaclava for the exhausted.”

I started writing about these issues out of somehow selfish reasons. First and foremost because writing helps me to figure stuff out. But also, because I wanted my friends to know certain things. Most texts have been written with specific people in mind. Sometimes I still flinch when somebody calls my work ›confessional‹, I guess because I was taught that all this personal stuff isn’t interesting, doesn’t belong in public or is a mere sign of narcissism 9, but I guess in a way ›confessional‹ is exactly what it is. I do also talk to people about this. And they talk to me. But it’s stunning how long it takes sometimes to feel safe enough to confess your own fucked-up-ness to each other. Which was probably the thing that made you feel comfortable around a person in the first place. And how little language we have, after dealing with all of that for the greater parts of our lives. But also…

For reasons of efficiency and because I think there’s a beauty to his writing’s clarity – and also, because every time I think about the workshop at warehouse, I also somehow think about Mark Fisher – I want to quote this passage from ›Good for Nothing‹:

Writing about one’s own depression is difficult. Depression is partly constituted by a sneering ‘inner’ voice which accuses you of self-indulgence – you aren’t depressed, you’re just feeling sorry for yourself, pull yourself together – and this voice is liable to be triggered by going public about the condition. Of course, this voice isn’t an ‘inner’ voice at all – it is the internalised expression of actual social forces, some of which have a vested interest in denying any connection between depression and politics.

I read this text for the first time, only a few weeks before Mark Fisher committed suicide. Being only vaguely aware of his Hauntology writings, I had filed him under the category of ›middle-aged man, yammering about their fading (pop) cultural relevance‹. For a while it seemed like art school was crawling with those. So I could never be bothered to actually read his work. Until somebody made me promise to check out ›Good for Nothing‹. And this turned out to be… very very important.

One of writing’s qualities, that I probably cherish the most – and this will sound so cheesy that I deleted and re-typed this sentence several times, finally deciding that this hesitancy might be the sneering ‘inner’ voice’s shitty little cousin at work – is to make you feel less alone. And – to even cheese it up a little further – to give hope. 10

A little further into ›Good for Nothing‹ MF quotes British Psychologist David Smail who describes class disadvantage as a sort of injury or trauma, leaving a person without the necessary narratives of ›being worthy‹, to fight off distress when entering a social-sphere where s/he supposedly doesn’t belong:

“…isolated, cut off, surrounded by hostile space, you are suddenly without connections, without stability, with nothing to hold you upright or in place; a dizzying, sickening unreality takes possession of you; you are threatened by a complete loss of identity, a sense of utter fraudulence; you have no right to be here, now, inhabiting this body, dressed in this way; you are a nothing, and ‘nothing’ is quite literally what you feel you are about to become.” 11

The day after the opening, after the fight, I felt like shit. I felt confused and vulnerable and instead of joining the protests against the Neo-Nazis, I stayed in bed.

Luckily, I had company.

Although I probably would have stayed in bed alone as well.

We ate pizza, watched the Simpsons, made out and talked about our parents. Any other day I would have considered this a perfectly adequate response to having a pretty shit day. It felt like taking care of yourself, there was warmth and friendship. Which are things that are really important to me. Not just because they make you feel better, but because conceptually it seems reasonable to respond that way to the rampaging narratives of strength, harshness and force. But looking back, that Saturday it seems like it wasn’t enough. The self care got in the way of a very simple task. If Nazis show up in your city, you show up as well. This left me even more confused…

• •

It’s one week later now, I’ve calmed down, I stayed off facebook for a bit. The hours at the wood workshop went up, which is good b/c I’ll make a little more money, which I really need. But we’re doing 10h shifts now. Which is exhausting. I’ll do half a day on Sunday. Stuff needs to be finished. I’m really tired. I wish this was more polished. I wish there was an actual conclusion to this text. I wish I could take time off to really think things through. But this doesn’t seem to be the way my life works. At least not at the moment.

And in a way, I feel it’s okay.

The urge to be free of contradictions is a silly desire.

Noble but slightly egotistical.

Artists seem to be obsessed with it.

I wonder when that happened.

Maybe I’m making up excuses.

• • •

Most of this was written in a pretty pessimistic place, and I’m not really sure it got you and me anywhere. I decided to keep it intact. In all it’s self-indulgence rambliness. Because for the next upload, I want to write about optimism, friendship and – yes – emails. And I worry that it might come off too hippie-dippie without all the precariousness that feeds these ideas.

But also, because I think it’s okay to be fucked up sometimes. This is a state we 12 find ourselves in pretty frequently these days. Where you have to pull yourself up by your own hair, out of pessimistic stupors and apocalyptic dwelling. Wether you get high or do yoga or meet friends or see a painting – as long as you do pull yourself up. Somebody once pointed out to me that there’s one advance the extreme right will always have over the left, and that’s the ability to thrive on people’s fondness for dystopia and pessimism. I’ll try to take that to heart. And be strategically optimistic when circumstances allow it. For the next piece of writing, I arranged to be somewhere where it’s beautiful and quiet. Let’s hope for the best.

I think I saw a mouse in the kitchen. It’s either that or I’m more exhausted than I thought. When I texted my roommate about it, he replied: ›Cool. Maybe we have to get a cat now.‹

Max Grau (*1988) is a visual artist and writer based in Berlin. His work uses a variety of media such as video, text, email, performance, photography, sound and printed matter. Besides doing things individually, he’s interested in friendship based models of collaboration and forms a part-time duo with Jan Erbelding. He studied Fine Arts in Saarbrücken, Berlin and Los Angeles. Since 2016 he teaches Performance at *foundationClass, an educational project located at Kunsthochschule Weißensee in Berlin, that tries to support refugee artists and art students to gain access to the German art school system. His work has been shown internationally, for example at Galerie La Croix Los Angeles, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Galerie Lily Robert Paris, Pet Projects Perth and Digital Art Centre Taipei.

Recently he picked up painting and has very mixed feelings about where this is going.