Rupert Goldsworthy’s recent paintings on brown paper loom over the viewer from fourteen feet above. His renderings feature juxtapositions of imagery--some taken from signage around where he lives and works in Berlin; others borrowed from the international histories of radical and decorative image making; and others invented with the history of fine art image making in mind. Other works are collaborations which allow Goldsworthy’s work to expand his investigations--towards digital photography, towards even more fervent text making.
Goldsworthy’s large works on paper include “Mindfucker,” “Circus Berlin,” and “Leather Angel.” In “Leather Angel” the juxtapositions are quite clear if not easily understood. Set into an Islamic design crowning the painting is the text “Mai 1968.” A burly, hairy chested man is depicted mostly nude from the waist up except for a pair of gauntlet style gloves, some leather straps, a small leather hat, and a pair of angel wings. Blue lines radiate from behind him. He is flanked by Chinese characters and arabic text runs along the bottom of the work.
“Mindfucker” is the most visually complex of Goldsworthy’s large paintings. As he describes below it features a representation of a German military grave for “heroes” of African wars juxtaposed with signage from an Arabic bakery in Berlin. This work also feature Benday dot-like passages which also figure prominently in his smaller works (on Masonite and canvas) in this show. Among these are “Atz” which features a dachshund in silhouette framed by a decorative leaf element set against a field of Benday dots and a ground of horizontal colors fading one into the other. In the other small works featuring the dot patterning, “Peacocks” and “Fes Rococo” Goldsworthy’s spot-on sense of design, patterning and color are also foregrounded.
The presence of deeply layered content and hand created work that is neither facile nor unconsidered pervades the exhibition.
This sensibility continues into the collaborative work. For the exhibition Goldsworthy collaborates with Christopher Brooks, Dennis Kardon, Hunter Reynolds, BOMBart, Angie Reed, and Mark Stewart.
Goldsworthy’s collaboration with BOMBart “BOMBart 1” is another large work on brown paper. Creating an internal frame and creating a central image are rococo patternings. Texts are hand written in multiple colors. Some are connected by lines. Others are scattered here and there. In one area near the top right written in blue caps is “GHOSTS OF THE FUTURE,” “LILITH,” and “LUCIFERIAN CONSCIOUSNESS.” Nearby in red caps is written “MOZART” and “BOHEMEAN GROVE” (where it looks like the “i” in “bohemian” has been turned to an “e” to make a pun or perhaps an “e” was turned to an “i” as a correction). In another section appears the phrase “I am chaos I shall be given form." Among the numerous texts connected by lines is “Moscow” (which holds a central position with many connections fanning out from it) leading to “Encounter Group” leading to “Secret Vaults of the Vatican Pasolini” with this string of connections ending with “Council of Nicea.” The references run the gamut from myth (“Hermes Trismegistus”) to modern mysticism (Theosophists Madame Blavatsky Steiner”) to modern crime (“Carlos the Jackal”). The galaxy of references in this work at once echo the concerns Goldsworthy makes clear in each of his paintings and, further, helps define the parameters of his project by putting it amid a wider terrain of sympathetic considerations.
Unusual to most artists--but not to Goldsworthy, as those familiar with his projects know--his recent exhibition takes place in his eponymously named artist-run gallery in Berlin. Those familiar with his work and his artist gallery projects will remember the New York incarnation of his gallery which was in Chelsea from 1998 to 2002 or even its original inception in Berlin in 1995. The gallery has a long record of supporting artists who swim against the tide. Goldsworthy’s own research into imagery, logos and signs--the basis of the research for his PhD from NYU and of his recent book published by DMV “CONSUMING//TERROR: Images of the Baader-Meinhof" (now available on Amazon)--has focused on such categories as “Radical and Terror Group Signs from the 1920s to the Present;” “Imagery Associated with Black Power in the U.S., from the 1960s and 1970s;” “Imagery related to black U.S. radical Angela Davis, from the 1970s;” “Imagery Related to West German Terrorists and Radicals, from the 1960s to the 1980s;” “Imagery Featuring the Raised Fist Pose, from the 1960s to the 1980s;” “A Comparison of Political and Non-Political Imagery Using the Star Logo, 1920s to the Present;” and among many other categories “Icons Associated with, Political Activism, Radicalism and Terror, from the 1800s to the Present.” It is useful in thinking about Goldsworthy’s work to consider that he is far from a casual borrower of radical and commercial imagery.
Following are excerpts from an interview with Goldsworthy that took place this month.
The juxtaposition of the German soldier grave imagery and text and the Arabic bakery sign in “Mindfucker” sets up a certain opposition. Could you speak about this work and the title a bit more?
The title and gothic font comes from the book cover of “Mindfuckers: A Source Book on the Rise of Acid Fascism in America -Charles Manson, Mel Lyman, Victor Baranco, and Their Followers” by David Felton, Robin Green and David Dalton. I've shortened that name to “Mindfucker,” because I always think there are still lots of lone single mindfuckers out there who aren't so successful at it, or are in retirement but still have that potential, still chipping away with one or two followers/victims, people they can get to.
As painting subjects, I am always interested in male leaders, and in figures who seem wild, open-minded, encouraging, mentor types, but who are actually into pretty serious and dangerous power-tripping cult headgames. Pastor Jim Jones was a fascinating example. His abilities to mirror and psych his congregation were remarkable. And Jones was outspokenly anti-gay but yet simultaneously he was having sex with many of the men in his congregation (and was arrested in a public bathroom in San Francisco right before he left for Guyana). Covert gays in power are very tricky and charismatic. Jorg Haider and Ted Haggard are two recent figures in the press.
The term “Mindfucker” references these types of figures, those from German history and also certain people within Islamic Fundamentalism. Military and religious cults and people like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden, often seem reliant on a headgaming, homoerotic, anti-effeminate subtext.
Their control is based on their skills at understanding and manipulating a certain type of male group bonding, often involving a covert homoeroticism and the explicit public outlawing, excluding, defining and subjugating and partitioning of feminine qualities or performance. Homophobia, or more accurately put, a familiarity with but continual slurring of gay behavior or identity, is part of a policy to present oneself as unquestionably male, as a “male impersonator.” It's a double-play. It can create a hypnotized covertly gay group of followers who are both stimulated and frightened. This type of eroticism can be controlled and then can explode into military violence.
Wilhelm Reich and Klaus Theweleit both wrote about these types of dynamics. Reich in “Mass Psychology of Fascism” and “Function of the Orgasm” and Theweleit in “Male Fantasies: Psychoanalyzing the White Terror.”
In “Mindfucker” and “Leather Angel” I was trying to subliminally lay out some pointers linking the masculinist culture of Fundamental Islam and that of past German military history.
I am interested in the awkward juxtapositions of contemporary Berlin. How on military remembrance days, wreaths are still laid on the tombs for German regiments who died in Africa. The reference at the top of the “Mindfucker” painting is to the “Heldentod” (hero's death) of 41 German soldiers from one regiment in “German” S. W. Africa. They still remain “heroes.” No acknowledgment is made concerning slavery and colonial land rape.
I have recently been intrigued by these interesting juxtapositions in this part of Berlin, the architecture of 19th Century Prussian military era and the new Moslem design sense now emerging here.
A lot of my new work is inspired by an interest in this incongruity, between the old and new communities, in the history of the location where these people live, and also in the style, and the juxtaposition--its awkwardness on many levels and also the link between old German baroque rococo design and many new Arabic and Berber design styles in neighborhood. People talk about Berlin being one of the most interesting cities in the world right now. I would say that this mix is one of the key aspects of what makes contemporary Berlin interesting.
Also could you speak about the issues raised in the work “Leather Angel” a bit further--further than expressed on the video (see gallery Website for Goldsworthy’s video walk-through of the exhibition).
I hope I touched on some of these issues in my last answer. In “Leather Angel” I was specifically interested in how someone might one day try to hijack history and propose that there had also been a militant gay movement in Islamic countries in May 68.
Also in “Leather Angel” I wanted to juxtapose a range of very different, forms of lettering and languages to disorient the viewer. You don’t get the whole story, so immediately one starts to aestheticize, interpret on other levels.
How did you come to the notion of working in collaboration? How do you view the collaborative work with respect to your work that is not collaborative?
Working in collaboration for me is a way to interrupt the public perception of gallerist or artist. I also like that one exchanges skills. One learns new stagecraft and tricks. It interrupts everyone's practice. The artists I choose to collaborate with are people who do things I don’t or can’t. That's the criteria, technically we are not working in the same way or they know about stuff I don’t. I love the craft of certain other artist friends and I really enjoy and learn a lot from the exchange. Some collaborators I worked with really did bat ideas back and forth, others did it instinctually more like “Corpus Delicti” where you give them something, or you both agree on an image they like, and then they complete it or go off on a different tangent.
I've many friends in the music scene and obviously it's very much taken for granted there that people step out of individual composition into collaborative work and group improvisation. There isn’t such a cult around the idea of the lone individual producer.