– Autumn/Winter 2008

Pictures from a Damaged Life

Alexandra Heimes

Although the spectrum of Kai Althoff's work is broad, certain themes recur throughout and form the basis of his artistic project. One of these, as demonstrated in his recent exhibition 'Ich meine es auf jeden Fall schlecht mit Ihnen' ('In Any Case I Wish You Ill') at the Kunsthalle in Zürich, is the individual and his or her relationship to the world, as well as the hopes and conflicts that result from that relationship.1 Programmatically, the title of the exhibition hints at this tension, and it strikes a more melancholic tone in the small, boudoir like room with the installation Solo für eine befallene Trompete (Solo for an Afflicted Trumpet, 2005): a nearly messy collection of found objects such as bibelots and draperies, paintings by Althoff, some pieces of furniture and several life-size dummies dressed in the style of the nineteenth century. This environment on the one hand, could be the inanimate testimony of a private seclusion, filled with discarded dreams and memories. On the other hand, it has the quality of a glimmering demi-monde that attracts with its mysterious, androgynous figures and the appeal of decadence. In its stage-like character, the installation points to a fundamental issue in Althoff's work - the intricacies of individual desire when exposed to the perception of the world outside.

But while invested in the construction of individual subjectivity, Althoff's works do not adopt a general, universalising perspective; they instead offer idiosyncratic, and often extreme visions of the human condition. In his renderings he makes his figures highly expressive, and in so doing looks at the particular forms and mechanisms through which the individual subject comes into being, as

  1. Kai Althoff, 'Ich meine es auf jeden Fall schlecht mit Ihnen', Kunsthalle Zürich, 2007-08. The exhibition included works made between 1994 and 2007, shown in non-chronological order.

  2. Pierre Klossowski, 'Ist die Körpersprache ein Kommunikationsmedium?', Die Ähnlichkeit (trans. W. Seitter), Bern: Gachnang und Springer, 1986, pp.59-60. See also A. Kempkes, 'Passion und Dilemma', op. cit., pp.23ff.

  3. P. Klossowski, 'Vom Gebrauch der Stereotypen und von der Zensur durch die klassische Syntax', Die Ähnlichkeit, op. cit., pp.11-22.

  4. Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (trans. M. Lester and C. Stivale), London: Athlone, 1990, p.366.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. P. Klossowski, 'Die Dekadenz des Aktes', Die Ähnlichkeit, op. cit., p.77.

  8. The term 'Burschenschaftler' originally refers to members of fraternities in German universities. Since World War II these institutions have come to represent right-wing and extreme right politics.

  9. Kai Althoff, 'Hau ab, Du Scheusal', Galerie Neu, Berlin, 2000-01.

  10. Armin Krämer, Sie suchen uns. Eine Geschichte von Armin Krämer zu Bildern von Kai Althoff, Berlin: Galerie Neu, 2001, n.p.

  11. P. Klossowski, 'Vom Gebrauch der Stereotypen', op. cit., p.11.

  12. Michaela Eichwald, 'Seligkeit ist nichts Verheißenes', in Nicolaus Schafhausen (ed.), Kai Althoff: Gebärden und Ausdruck, Berlin and New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2002, p.37.

  13. T. Holert, 'Band of Outsiders', op. cit., p.125.

  14. See Alyce Mahon, 'Pierre Klossowski, Theo-pornologer', in Pierre Klossowski and Maurice Blanchot, The Decadence of the Nude, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2002, p.67.

  15. P. Klossowski, 'Vom Gemälde als Simulakrum', Die Ähnlichkeit, op. cit., p.83.

  16. Ibid., pp.83ff.

  17. Ibid., p.83.

  18. K. Althoff, 'Reflux Lux', op. cit., p.17.

  19. See Anke Kempkes, 'Passion und Dilemma', in N. Schafhausen (ed.), Kai Althoff, op. cit., pp.19ff.

  20. The original German expression is also awkward: '…die eigentliche Möglichkeit mit dem guten Nachvollziehen'. Kai Althoff, 'Reflux Lux', Kai Althoff, Lothar Hempel, Manfred Pernice, Torsten Slama, Sean Snyder. Ars viva 98/99 - Installationen (exh. cat.), Cologne: Kulturpreis der Deutschen Industrie, 1999, p.17.

  21. Walter Benjamin, 'Erfahrung und Armut', Gesammelte Schriften, vol.II.1, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1977, p.216.

  22. The expression 'damaged life' was used by Theodor W. Adorno in the subtitle of his book Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (1951). Adorno also talks about the loss of balance in modernity: 'Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility. [...] The movements machines demand from their users already have the violent hard-hitting, unresting jerkiness of fascist maltreatment. Not least to blame for the withering of experience is the fact that things under the law of pure functionality assume a form that limits contact with them to mere operation and tolerates no surplus.' Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1998, pp.40ff.

  23. K. Althoff, 'Reflux Lux', op. cit., p.17.

  24. Pierre Klossowski, 'On the Simulacrum in George Bataille's Communication', in Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons (ed.), On Bataille: Critical Essays, Albany: SUNY Press, 1995, p.149.

  25. Tom Holert, 'Band of Outsiders: The Art of Kai Althoff', Artforum, October 2002, p.127.