A reflection on the exhibition ‚waiting for the bus‘
by Birgit Jensen at KunstBüdchen in Lintorf
Beatriz V. Toscano
Those who stay: Bus Stop Am Löken
We see a painting with the continuous line of a horizon and a machine which makes a QR code visible at a certain moment. A landscape drenched in light, pink, perhaps orange, artificial in its beauty and strange serenity, at the same time desolate, over a dark field. In the middle of nowhere and suspended in the air, the ghost of a ring, closing to the beat of a countdown which, with each waning second, suggests that something imminent, something serious is about to happen. End of the countdown. There are no explosions, no great fractures, no relief. As tiny spaceships, eager not to miss their chance, soar into the air and disappear while the passer-by and spectator of this clip looks up, sighs tediously and gets on the bus. New passengers gather to wait. The bus arrives on time. The clip repeats again and again. From the eternal return of the bus, nothing ever happens; the travellers turn trapped in a time loop. Meanwhile the spaceships continue to leave from what has now become the place of destruction. Waiting for the bus, the candid travellers, clearly oblivious to the escaping saucers (we assume them to be absorbed in their smartphone screens), are helplessly left behind.
Within these sequences, which include cuts of the spaceships fleeing apocalyptic wastelands and the meaningless scenes of the bus stop by the corner store, Birgit Jensen´s installation for the KunstBüdchen in Lintorf can be seen as a jolt: wake up! When the different episodes (namely the bus sending the signal to the kiosk, the digital access code to the video, the urgent scene of something ending in a countdown) are considered, the intention of the work becomes clearer in terms of a contrast between the urgency of the clip and the boredom of a bus that always arrives. One may remember here the 'metamatic' chains with which Jean Tinguely amused himself by turning us into mischievous spectators of the cosmic laws of causality and movement; the installation, this time, in a sombre way, also alludes to the system of signals by which the buses warn the transport network system of their immediate arrival. In doing so, the installation reproduces that kind of cyborg-semiotics by which the urban environment converses with the processes and objects in it. The installation outlines this same chain reaction: the bus is approaching the Am Löken point. Just one minute before it arrives, the bus sends a radio signal to the bus stop where a kiosk, the Kunstbüdchen, is located, with a sophisticated radio receiver. The alarm is triggered and synchronised with a turning sign that drops slowly, and on which a QR-Code appears. Driven by the 1 automatism of a flat and meaningless curiosity that we have arrived at through the virtual, the passengers, apathetic, connect through this code to a video. That takes just the same time as the bus takes to arrive: The countdown, the fleeing ships, anonymous travellers getting on and off. Nothing ever happens, the bus always comes again. But this bus, the bus stop, Godot, we already know, is just another name we have found to name, or rather, to avoid naming Death.
The video interweaves with scenes of real, everyday life, ‘Waiting for the Bus’ wants to slip through the cracks of our blind spots, those comfortable, shadowy places where our consciousness rests and from where we choose to do nothing. But as I said before, this work only reveals its pressing content subtly and in stages. A brief survey of Birgit Jensen's artistic vocabulary reveals an ulterior message that at first glance remains hidden. Think, for example, of her screen-printed canvases, where an insistent motif, a diffuse urban landscape, is barely glimpsed through a kind of numerical and pixelated veil that prevents us from being able to fix the image at all. The city is offered to us, not from its comprehensible, clear and tectonic contours, but from the fleeting impression left on our retina by its ephemeral existence as a flash of light.
Faithful to the purest craftsmanship that is the origin of art, Birgit Jensen nevertheless does not abandon the materialistic and direct logic of printing colour on canvas, by which the image is returned to its purest and most direct carnality. Her canvases emerge as an indexed tracings and by virtue of the same digital techniques which, conversely, are capable of returning reality to the numerical matrix of the QR code. Also in ‘Waiting for the Bus' the key, the trigger is in the code, that kind of great threshold and entrance to a tunnel through which video, the digital environment, the mobile device and, of course, the consciousness of the traveller on which the work wants to act, finally manage to connect. They succeed in listening to each other. This is the opening of a language beyond the figurative; the opening of a channel of
communication, no less direct and effective for being digital. With the pixel as an irreducible unit through which reality speaks to us in numerical code and with the QR code as its virtual instance, we sense that what we are dealing with here is something important to be deciphered.
And how can we ignore the constant of the circle? The disc, the sphere, the ring; a ubiquitous and spectral presence in her works and, I understand, another of the keys to understanding what ‘Waiting for the Bus’ means to us: maybe a nimbus in a light installation against a wall of a building in Flensburg (an oversized ring-shaped fluorescent tube, an installation on the entrance facade of the Fridtjof-Nansen-School, Flensburg, 2000) or in a painting of the moon in a clearing of a forest, which seems to float in the background, or as here in Lintorf, on the pressing dial of the Time, which is running down. Divorced from all scenography and beyond the figurative, the circle, disc and dial appear imbued with that enigmatic grandeur which is characteristic of the apotropaic (the avoidance of evil influences). The circle, the absolute geometric figure, almost imposing itself with its presence on a canvas that struggles to erase it, is
partly reminiscent of that radical impulse by which Malevich decided with a black square in the middle of a canvas to return painting, and therefore figuration, to its most categorical and irrefutable degree zero (the painting ‘Black Square’ from 1915 is today in the Tretyakov-Gallery in Moscow). In the title of the exhibition in Petrograd where it is seen for the first time - the title was ‚0.10‘ - the geometric figure of the painting, in its pregnancy and universality, finally begins to reveal its message. Yes, also in code and cipher.
The author Linda Boersma, who has documented this first exhibition of a movement that would later be 2 called Suprematism, offers a quote from Malevich's idea* : ‚The zero (which is a circle, after 1 all) is a figure of thought and signifies that Suprematist painting recognises itself to be on the threshold of an imminent
destruction of the world‘ (1914 Russia had already entered the First World War).
We can deduce or at least speculate that, behind the zero, behind the ring, behind the code, Lintorf's bus stop warns of imminent destruction. Destruction that, in this case, could only be climatic emergency and planetary catastrophe.
Those who are leaving: Mission SpaceX
Not far from Austin, in the state of Texas, Elon Musk bought an enormous plot of land to build a settlement called Snailbrook to house his Tesla workforce as well as SpaceX and now the recently founded company Boring. Musk's idyllic Snailbrook is part of the desire of so many magnats throughout history to reform the social body, lazy and depraved, around the utopia of ora et labora. Historiography reports that in most of these workers' colonies, there were no pubs, clubs or any other facilities suspected of promoting conscientious activities beyond the rational control of their founders. Speaking of their more distant references in the Jesuit missions of Latin America, Michel Foucault points out how the ideal of human perfection was achieved there. They sought to re-found civilisation as ex-nihilo, beyond outside, one might say, civilisation itself; corrupt, worn out and libertine. But these sorts of colonies 'outside civilisation' with communities created as ex-nihilo are the tectonic materialisation of the very concept of flight. It is not surprising that in German, they are called ‘Drop-outs’ or Aussteiger communities; those who have had enough and 'dropped down from the world' or even dropped the world down.
With Boring dedicated to the excavation of underground tunnels, and seen in the light of SpaceX, dedicated to the manufacture of spaceships to one day (the day 0.1 after planetary destruction) arrive at colonising Mars, it could be said that Musk's entrepreneurial activity is marked by the same impulse of a delirious, narcissistic and infantile desire to hide or to escape and colonise the unknown sidereal prairies.
With tunnels and spaceships as two recurring architectural motifs, it is an alternating return from the warm protection of the uterine hollow to that total and terrifying openness that is the world, driven by the unbearable tension of two contradictory emotions: fear and grandiosity.
With its rows of square-cut houses and its ramshackle facilities and green spaces, Snailbrook is a clumsy rehearsal of that other one, the incredible EPCOT by which Walt Disney undertook to guarantee the continuity of the American dream on the day of 0.1 under the protection of enormous and peaceful domes (or blisters). Like Noah's Ark, the unmistakable symbol for the denialist, the ‘flat earthers’ and the members of the so-called Bible Belt represent the escape and salvation of the few selected ones, EPCOT is also inscribed with the ineffable seal of destruction. To flee is a privilege and the tiny pitiful spaceships in Birgit Jensen's video know that they are deserters from an end without end, because today we already know that, sadly, the planet will continue to exist, coagulated in time like an enormous brownish rock with orange sunsets and a poisonous atmosphere. That is why, in explaining his SpaceX project, Musk links planetary destruction with the need to flee to colonise Mars (Ref.: SXSW).
Architecture, along with other forms of technology, has cooperated to make this privilege viable. Similarly within the walls of an impressive Florentine mansion, time seems to have stood still for a group of jovialand well-adjusted young people who have taken refuge there, fleeing from the plague ravaging the city, as Boccaccio writes (1353). To kill time, they entertain themselves by recounting spicy and amorous events which are collected in The Decameron. Meanwhile, the Florentine population falls victim to the Black Death.
And those who leave are also trapped in a time loop. Recalling Luís Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962), the apparent comfort of shelter reminds us that there is no way out. In fact, in No Exit by Sartre (1944) too, the three guests in a room have no way out, a nihilistic portrait of a resolution that never materializes, they do not know that they are already dead.
The planet is destroyed. Those who remain choose to ignore it and return repetitively to their daily chores, adjusting to the rigours of an increasingly diminishing world. Those who leave, infatuated by the delirium of the super-ego, do not know that they, too, are already dead. While renouncing the obscene and moralistic explicitness of these contents, the gravity of this message must be communicated in what is already present in Birgit Jensen's work. In order not to be confused with the cacophony of fake news, the artist knows that her language must be different. A language that is experiential and surprising, where the spectators attend a theatrical piece where the transcript is their own awakening. Among the mostdisturbing consequences of global warming and the subsequent incorporation of fresh water into theoceans will be the dissolution of the calicifying protection of crustaceans. Suffocated in a toxic soup, they will begin to dissolve, liquefied like transparent whitish shadows, as if reversing that fan of time could reshape the first organisms from the density of marine waters. The bus always arrives. The signal bellrings, the QR code appears. The countdown. The fleeing spaceships. Wake up! Wake up!
*Linda Boersma, 0,10. The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1994.