the sun will
alway rise

Annette Tietenberg, 2009
Translated by Jacqueline Todd

“While we’re waiting we write scripts on the wall. How that goes through you.”
Jörg Fauser, Tophane

The solo entertainer. Sounds like the title of a book by Thomas Bernhard. Like: The Voice Imitator. Or: The Loser. There, we read: “I would have had to play better than Glenn, but that wasn’t possible, was out of the question, and therefore I gave up playing the piano. (…) I will now devote myself to philosophical matters, I thought as I walked to the teacher’s house, even though of course I didn’t have the faintest idea what these philosophical matters might be. I am absolutely not a piano virtuoso, I said to myself, I am not an interpreter, I am not a reproducing artist. (…) When we meet the very best, we have to give up.”1 We meet “the very best” always and everywhere, and have been doing so for as long as there have been recording media. It began with letterpress printing. Ever since then they’ve had their place on our shelves, spine to spine: the literary giants – whether alphabetically organized or dialectically arranged (the method favoured by Bertolt Brecht when he placed the writings of conflicting spirits next to one another). Be a better writer than Shakespeare, Schiller, Sterne, Büchner, Brontë, Kafka or Bradbury? But how? Then came gramophone records, photography, film, DVD and podcasts. Conserved in this way, everything is similarly accessible; it can be listened to or watched at any time and be compared with a minimum of effort – in a reproduced form. Be a better composer than Bach, Beethoven, the Beatles or John Cage? Conjure up better images than Piero della Francesca, Pablo Picasso, Barnett Newman or Blinky Palermo? Make better music than The Velvet Underground, John Lee Hooker or Nick Cave? Shoot better films than Kubrick, Godard or Jarmusch? That’s absurd! For anyone with access to multimedia resources and the World Wide Web, where the cultural achievements of the past and present day are allpervasive, it is almost impossible to believe that the world ever waited impatiently for what a single person produced. It’s all been done already.

The imitation of external reality

In 2005 Roland Schappert devoted an installation to someone who wants nothing more than to be a reproducing artist: the solo entertainer. His (or of course her) job is to provide the musical backdrop for social rituals. He is a showman who can be booked for weddings, office dos, birthday parties or any event where you want to link arms, sing along and dance the conga with a close circle of colleagues, family or friends. As a walking jukebox, his repertoire had better include all the stuff the invited guests already know off by heart: songs by the likes of Abba, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra and Elton John. The less he strays from the “original” version, the one sung by “the very best”, the more chance he has of achieving his objective, which is to give his audience “the infantile fun of imitating external reality”2 it so badly wants.

Roland Schappert has an abiding and genuine interest in finding signs of such imitations of external reality. He is therefore not content with just gathering together Mr Smiley on keyboard, the pseudo-ship’s captain with his accordion and the flirty blonde behind the Hammond organ – depicted in a variety of media such as drawing, photo and video – in one room. There is no doubt about the status of the images upon which they are based: even if they are so pixelated that paint erly effects are generated, they are all reproductions of reproductions – gathered from the Internet using a specific search term. Roland Schappert need have no fears about eschewing original creations, as the art audience also prefers the joy of recognizing, rehearing and retelling what it already knows. And it will respond accordingly to any troublemaker who insists on performing his own material: a solo entertainer who sets out to entertain not just others but also himself by singing his own compositions will simply not get any bookings.3

Real emotions

“People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television – you don’t feel anything.”4 Real feelings? Do they exist? Or are they borrowed from those fantasy figures we encounter in literature, cinema or in our dreams? In the pictures of him shown in history books, he doesn’t really come across as a fairytale prince: Wilhelm I, King of Prussia and German Emperor. With his spiked helmet, uniform and sideburns, his appearance could easily be taken for the invention of an imaginative designer whose job it was to create the costumes for a lavish historical film. Wilhelm I didn’t cut much of a figure in other respects, either: leaving aside the inglorious role he played in crushing the 1848 Revolution, he always had to make do with second place behind Bismarck, the Prime Minister and Imperial Chancellor who shaped the country’s fate with force and determination. Wilhelm I – a staffage figure on the stage of history? Not just. As Roland Schappert discovered in the course of his research, Wilhelm was also a tragic figure on the stage of life, because for reasons of state he wasn‘t able to marry the woman he loved, the Polish Princess Elisa Radziwill. Instead he married Princess Augusta in 1829.

Through his exploration of the material available to him for the reconstruction of this long-forgotten episode of “forbidden love”,* the artist opens up a story in which mental aspects and mediabased elements are intertwined and mutually dependent.5 He begins by gathering traces of the ménage à trois between Elisa, Wilhelm and Augusta – which Schappert shortens to “EWA” – in newspaper articles, antiquarian books, photographs and correspondence. He emphasizes the heterogeneity of these 19th-century fragments by replicating the portraits he found of those involved, from the youthful likeness to the portrait as a ruler, in the form of drawings and paintings – and in this way brings them into the present as “cover versions”. What it was really like? Who can say? The intention here is to decipher the narrative code – reduced to its basic framework and media-based components – not in order to break the spell of the romantic tale but rather to translate it into a contemporary aesthetic form. After all, even the fairy tale requires a home – which is why Roland Schappert augments “EWA” with a series of paintings of stereotypical fairytale castles, based on images he found with the aid of a search engine in the romantic regions of the Internet. And what do we find? Not only does the dream of the fateful, never-ending love live on, so does the fairytale castle – in the guise of Neuschwanstein, various romantic-themed hotels and Barbie Castles.

Do you remember?

They no longer exist, the sorrows of young words* They have all been used, spoken and written umpteen times already. Occasionally they’ll get a good clean and soon be ready to be used again. The sentences Roland Schappert commits to paper and records on canvas in a palimpsest-like manner are derived from songs. Or they are the product of his own imagination. Applied with chalk, shellac and varnish to art in pictorial form, they oscillate between repetition and reformulation. They are barely legible, and then only if you are prepared to fill in the gaps, mentally reconstruct what has been scored through, reassemble the fragments and reverse the separation caused by the split lines. Only then do individual letters and syllables form into sentences – sometimes even complete ones, such as “Hätten wir uns zur Primetime getroffen” (If only we’d met during prime time) or “You can trust me I kiss only singles and remain with you”. They appear when you don’t expect it, when you’re looking at the image out of the corner of your eye, not really concentrating on it, just letting the words come and go without attempting to give them a clear meaning or specific sense. Even here, however, language is not to be trusted, because some times these are translations provided by translation software on the Internet. The resulting phrases are correspondingly awkward and strange. What we hear and what we see is based upon a culture of writing. This also applies to painting. Words are exchanged. Which means we receive them in a used form – a process that in no way devalues them. On the contrary, the more often they appear in different contexts and constellations, the more complex they become, the more experiences and memories become attached to them. Artists, writers and filmmakers have always drawn from this reservoir. In the Pop II era they can happily do without the veneer of authenticity.6 Instead they accept what others have left behind, whether it was many years or just a few moments ago. Jacques Derrida describes this as a gift, part of a structural relationship that takes place outside the regulated economy and the laws of exchange. Sending a text to as many addressees as possible, for example. This is precisely the power of a rhizomatically proliferating structure of reproduction, described by Geoffrey Bennington as a “Derridabase”, a hypertextual database that can call up any text at will.

“Auf Wiedersehen”

Who would want to be “the very best” when he could instead be part of a circular event in which values and symbols are offered, accepted and exchanged, whether consciously or unconsciously? Surely it is better to be as “gifted” as possible, to acquire as many images, texts and songs as possible – and to feed these back into the “Derridabase”. In “Black”, Roland Schappert shows what this could look like in an exhibition space. The pictures on show have the gleaming black surface of shellac records, Amy Winehouse, James Brown and Johnny Cash are present in outlined form, and an old disco ball stands on the floor. But the silver rain that spreads over the walls like a net is not produced by this remnant of the disco age. That would be too simple. The lighting effects, reminiscent of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Space Modulator”, are created using an ingenious combination of a rotating piece of mirror, a spotlight – and chance. Here, one thing leads to another. Nothing stands alone; nothing has a single cause. Roland Schappert produces a network of connections between elements he found and those he made himself, between taking and giving. His celebration of reproduc tion culminates in the presentation of a video clip from the 1931 film “Der Kongress tanzt” he has borrowed from the Internet. The loop can be viewed only indirectly and in fragmented form – in the mirror and in a symmetrical duplication of the lefthand side of the image. It’s not possible to hear what Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch are singing; this can only be deciphered with some difficulty: “Das gibt’s nur einmal, das kommt nicht wieder.” (That only happens once, it won’t happen again.) It’s true: only once, that won’t happen again.

In “Black”, Roland Schappert also touches on the metaphorics of a counterculture that is just as much subject to the rules of the entertainment industry as anything pop culture has to offer. It relates to the colour black, which plays a pivotal role in blues music, the Black Panther movement and punk. Black is the distinguishing mark of outlaws and indicates those who have found their place on the darker side of life, including the “white negroes” who scream “black music” in order to feed their outsider fantasies. Deleuze and Guattari have already shown how “unique problems of ‘faciality’ were posed when whites in ‘blackface’ appropriated the words and songs and blacks responded by darkening their faces another hue, taking back their dances and songs, even transforming or translating those of the whites.”7 It is precisely this practice that Roland Schappert adopts. As an artist, interpreter and philosopher rolled into one, he knows all about applying that additional coat of paint, but also about modifying and translating images, rituals, songs and writing. Augmented in this way, art becomes a flicker machine, showing old and new images, texts, memories and premonitions indiscriminately.

1 Thomas Bernhard, The Loser, trans. Jack Dawson, new york, 1991, pp. 8 – 9.
2 Theodor W. Adorno, “Small sorrows, great songs”, in idem, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, trans. e. F. n. Jephcott, London, 2005, p. 214.
3 But is reflected by Roland Schappert within the context of art: a jukebox installed in the exhibition space enabled visitors to listen to the original material composed by the unsuccessful solo entertainer.
4 Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), San Diego: Harvest Books, 1977, p. 93.
* translator’s note: “Forbidden Love” (Verbotene Liebe) is also the title of a soap opera on German television.
5 the installation was shown in summer 2007 at Galerie Martina Detterer, Frankfurt am Main.
* translator’s note: this is a play on the title of Goethe’s famous novel “Die Leiden des jungen Werther” (the Sorrows of young Werther).
6 The term Pop II was coined by Diedrich Diederichsen, who asserted that since the 1990s Pop has been used as a temporally diagnostic dummy term. Diedrich Diederichsen, “Alles ist Pop. Was bleibt von einer Gegenkultur”, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8th August 1998.
7 Gilles Deleuze / Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis, 1988, p. 137.

Reflect me the light, Künstlerbuch, Hardcover, 96 Seiten mit 113 Abb. und Texten von Stefanie Kreuzer, Annette Tietenberg, Thomas Wulffen und Arne Zerbst, deutsch/engl., Salon Verlag, Köln 2009. ISBN 978-3-89770-318-6