Grandits for All

Fahim Amir⁠⁠

Let us spare ourselves this whole transcendental nonsense,
since the whole is so unequivocal as a hook to the chin.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

A good joke, not matter how politically incorrect it may appear at first, is characterized by its capacity to make everyone laugh. That’s the difference to the average joke whose fundamental function according to Sigmund Freud consists of a double group formation: the joke creates one laughing group thus creating another one – of those who are being ridiculed.

The good joke, on the other hand, transcends this effect by mixing both groups (the laughing and the ridiculed) and making the joke’s conditions of possibility themselves the subject of the joke. For example: ‘What’s the difference between racism and Asians? Racism has many faces.’ Under the joke’s obvious and shallow stupidity a democratic promise is lurking: No one gets out of here clean. Neither the person telling the joke, nor those who laugh, and definitely not the joke itself. Because the good joke breathes the same universal air as the egalitarian and rude battle rap. The message is the same: either against everyone or against no one.

⁠Martin Grandit’s artworks, animated by a shrewdness reminiscent of Kippenberger, in their best moments show that kind of quality. Through the suspension of their humor we learn something about ourselves. Even more: in the stroboscopic flash light of their masterly punch-lines the present world is being transfigured to a point where we can deal with it and becomes legible in a fragmentary way.

The liver grows with its tasks

Grandit’s Austrian meat loaf role made of plaster may make us smile. But its material esthetics pose the question of what is really going on here. Perhaps vulnerability and help, since not only broken bones are being plastered, damaged works of art are also being put back into respectable shape by using painted plaster. Furthermore, plaster is an integral part of ornamental interior design. Real estate ads love to empasize ‘old building with high ceilings and stucco.’ Grandit’s Divine Comedies are bringing down the stucco from heaven to earth and arrange it in a Socratic manner as an earthly piece of happiness.

The glamour of Grandit’s Austrian meat loaf role mirrors a whole world: From Marco Polo’s late-medieval reports on strange and precious Chinese, well, china to the European reinvention of fine ceramics (‘white gold’) by the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger at the beginning of the 18th century to the founding of rich-in-tradition-porcelain manufactures, the advent of collectors of figurines and the association with the rituals of a higher living world of the past. Last but not least, it refers to creatures in the wrong place and the graphic power of destructive movements: the bull in the china shop. At the same time the decision to cast a profane piece of food in porcelain the routines of distinguishing between high and lowbrow culture: Who decides what’s worth to be porcelain?

It’s the small gestures which refer to great energies. For Grandit’s a profane gas station is not only habitat and sociotope but also a seismographic space: the passion of an impressively stout gentleman biting into an Austrian meat loaf role at a gas station at Vienna’s Gürtel made, according to the artist, the people surrounding him fall silent, indicating boss-like authority and inspiring the artification of the plebeian gourmand dish. 

Philosophers and Near-Eastern Neo-Austrians would detect another resonance space: For Aristotle the liver was where the emotions are, the inside of the liver being the hottest spot in the human body, after all, responsible for the warming of the blood and thus the entire body. In many countries of the Near and Middle East one still addresses one’s lover as ‘my liver!’ Grandits transforms the indigenous inhabitants of Planet Gas Station into philosophical Orientals, blending love and liver.

Liver Day

Grandit’s work on the material semiotic mythopoetics of the present is not characterized by a social-distinctive perspective ‘from the top’ discrediting a lack of consumer sophistication ‘further down’: the almost religious zeal of the everyday cultural worship of the Austrian meat loaf role as ‘Steak of the man in the street’ is not some kind of false awareness (bad food quality, unbalanced diet, deficient subtlety of taste nuances etc.). Instead Grandits focuses on the true power of worldly spirituality.

Sketch ‘Tram Station to Leberkäse’, Photoshop collage 2014

This approach might become more comprehensible with Marx’s dictum regarding religion as the people’s opium in mind. The problem with the widespread yet false quotation as opium for the people is its reducing religion to a mere instrumental machinery of manipulation for those who just do not know any better.

⁠⁠A more promising approach to the subtle and poetic shades of Grandit’s multi-layered and striking works might be Marx’s original quote from his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.’ The atheist Marx’s thought about religion as the people’s opium, like a heart in a heartless world, views religion not only as something blinding and oppressive--one also gets something out of it: consolation, for instance (no matter how questionable it may seem to some people). Religion does not only manipulate the subjects from the outside--religion, to a certain degree, is also ownend by the subjects or being experienced by them, respectively. The Austrian meatloaf roll does not only satisfy the hunger of mortal bodies--its steamy sweaty softness gives warmth in a cold and hard world, even if it does not really fit to an ideology of unblemished bodies and lean states. At the same time Grandit’s sculpture is asking, in a subversive way, which desires a non-edible meat loaf roll satisfies and for whom?

One work embodying important dimensions of his art in an exemplary way is ‘Station to Leberkäse’: It’s a model for the roof design of the tramway stop Arbeitergasse (Workers’ Street), shaped like a gigantic piece of Austrian meat loaf ‘in the style of Franz West’ (Grandits), which, mounted on a pole, collects the waiting people und protects them from the weather. If there ever was an Austrian architectural sculpture deserving the attribute ‘surreal’, it’s that one. It’s art in public space. Still, the object also has a high degree of everyday practicality that one immediately comprehends. At the same time an unreal image is being created, which possesses the power to seduce the waiting people and the viewers to a dreamy kind of thinking. Grandits doesn’t let the workers stand in the rain. He doesn’t make fun of them either. No one should be homeless. Art exists for everybody.

⁠⁠Too hot to cool

In some ways the mentioned works and sketches can be viewed as local backsides or downsides of his globalist works (and vice versa). They, too, inspite of their shoot-from-the-hip-casualness, suprisingly hit the bull’s eye and do find an international audience: one example being all those eager people--eager for ironic sophistication, that is -- displaying Grandits’ flattering ‘Chanel pour Clochard’ on their bodies (among them Courtney Love). This leaves us with three questions: How is the esthetic power and the symbolic capital of the world of brands implementing itself through the material and the design? Is it really possible to install traps or barricades into language? Last but not least: Who are the real bums here?

Grandits’ countless works dealing with global and local identity offerings of sought-after fetish objects are not only questioning the fine differences of consumer practices regarding their inherent class dimensions, but also explore the shapes of the world of objects’ promises of happiness. Why are certain social affects and energies in particular moments being aimed at specific material and immaterial objects? And: What happens with us and the others during that process?

The writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge in his Chronicle of Emotions (2000) explains that the primordial ocean had a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius and that we archived that operating temperature of a gone planet (also thanks to the liver) in our body. One can experience this through the works of Martin Grandits: If we hold our hand in a urine stream we feel the warm rippling of the very ocean which generated all life. Like the volatile joint of a multi-limbed monster or an intoxicated stuttering woman their are articulating many things simultaneously: one of them (and not the least) being the proof, fueled by serious play, that dives into the seas of contemporary subjectivity can be rewarding. A shipwreck is, after all, a place where a treasure might be waiting. But if Grandits’ works are also shells, what do we hear, when put them to our ear? (Except the rush of our own blood.)

One continued interest extends through Grandits’ large oeuvre: the correlation between the imagined community (of the nation, the art-minded, the fashion-conscious etc.) and the artefacts which cater to and encourage these imagined communities, that animate, texturize, outline, irritate and subvert them. Consequently, for instance, Grandits declares to reawake Austrian national consciousness through precise yet paradox interventions, thereby immunizing it against political Pied Pipers.

Psychohistories of bulging sausages

In the context of the historical dispute between the Austrian and Slovenian governments over the legal protection of the name ‘Krainer’ for sausages by the latter Grandits suggested to build a Käsekrainer monument at Stephansplatz. As a member of Käsekrainerfraktion (KKF) Grandits moreover presented a design for a fortress made of over-sized Krainer sausages at Austria’s Southern border. By consistently and ludicrously thinking hegemonial logics and desires through to their end his art contains treacherous loyalty.

On a poster from 2010 the KKF appears to be the organizer of a lecture on the subject of Käsekrainer. It’s hard not to recognize the sneering tribute to the now famous event poster on ‘Art and Revolution’ by the Viennese Actionists (Valie Export had refused to be part of the event, referring to her little child) from June 7, 1968. That lecture was actually a performance happening making art history, while the yellow press compared it to a pigsty and the police pursued prosecution. The prosecuted escaped to Berlin, where they opened a restaurant to make ends meet. Since then ‘Vienna Cuisine’ is a household word in Berlin. But what is Vienna Cuisine, really?

⁠‘Vienna Cuisine, the dishes collected under that headline ... came to full power during the First Republic ... as a souvenir ... of the monarchy and its diverse ethno cuisines ... in the following decades this construct of Vienna Cuisine, depicting not a geographical region but a psychohistorical space, moved back further into the past through invention of tradition, the various dishes along with it.’

The sausage’s metamorphosis to a psychohistorical indicator of changed conditions (nationalist war of cultures instead of socialrevolutionary art practice) becomes clear: it works just like a sundial, counting only the bright hours. But that time never existed. In its imaginary reflexiveness (such as Venice or Old Vienna) it is a dream of the present, being dreamt with open eyes. Grandits’ Moonwalk (one step forth, two steps back) asks us to take a closer look a the somnambul temporalities of nightmarish realities. It’s like Bauhaus on LSD, when a lampshade by Grandits connects freemason symbolism with KKK references or if one makes the mistake to bend over his ‘Hinduistic Bistro Table for Germanists with a Coke Problem.’

Drawing connecting lines

The downright cultic worship of idols, fashion and brands is one central subject of Grandits’ acrobatic work on form. It sounds out the tactical options of adopting and subverting power through minimal and brutal interventions. Grandits’ multiverses are populated by spooky artificial characters such as as Marin Gita, but also dead and living celebrities such as Oskar Kokoschka, Harald Juhnke, and Udo Jürgens or, on the other hand, Herbert Prohaska, Lady Gaga, and H. C. Strache.

Whereas the former singer celebrity and ‘true’ Austrian Rainhard Fendrich who once confessed his excessive cocaine consumption under the newspaper headline ‘I snorted a sportscar through my nose’ was rehabilitated rather quickly, public media reacted much less forgiving confronted with the ‘mistakes’ of other former Austro celebrities such as Tony Wegas. Grandits does not suffer from this kind of selective amnesia. He appreciates Fendrich with a commemorative design for a memorial along Vienna’s entire Ringstraße. What do we smell when we put our noses on the streets of history?

Ringstraße is located on the Glacis territory, the untilled area in front of the historical city walls which was supposed to allow unhindered fire on attackers.

Sketch for the ‘Herbert Prohaska Memorial’, 2012
Poster of the Exhibition ‘Käsekrainer vom Vortag’ after the Viennese Actionists ‘Kunst & Revolution’, 2012

Vienna’s city walls and the Glacis remained intact until the late 19th century when other comparable European cities had long demolished their fortifications--as protection against uprisings of its own population (outside enemies already had had heavy artillery for a long time which could easily destroy the medieval fortifications). That’s why, to be precise, the Ringstraße doesn’t have any curves but consists of straight connected sections of lines, so, in case of uprisings, there would be straight lines of fire and barricades could be shut down. The Ringstraße transformed a former military architecture designed to defend social order and prevent illegitimate movements to an imperial corridor of urban mobility. What are today’s relations between illegal drugs, the movement of bodies in the public space and the perpetuation of social order?

⁠Easy-peasy pills

Cocaine has been no longer a glamourous drug for quite some time now due to not only decreasing prices but also the increasing social removal of boundaries concerning intoxication and enhancement. Modern disciplinary power (Foucault) effected the body from the outside, through orthopaedic and architectural means, by locking it up in institutions (school, factory, military barracks, hospital etc.) and subjecting it. In contemporary control societies (Gilles Deleuze) the bodies are increasingly being disciplined from the inside through luscious participation. Paul Beatriz Preciado has coined the term pharmapornography for this new form of power ruling subjectivity.

Part of the pharmacological aspect is the full-scale administration and self-medication of biomolecular entities: oestrogens for birth control (or skin management) and Ritalin for the treatment of childen with ‘attention deficit disorder’ (or performance increase before knock out exams) along with changing mass sexuality through Viagra as well as maximum consumption of uppers and downers. The circulation, consumption, and production of sexy images form the pornographic dimension of the contemporary regime of desire production and self-disciplination through fun--ranging from the first magazine cover featuring Marilyn Monroe to the publication of Playboy Magazine to today’s Instagram culture and the pressure to perform milieu-specific sexyness.

The artist’s numerous works dealing with excess and intoxication make us think about the relations between social mobility, illegalized substances and the normal functioning of contemporary market societies. Is the after hour our ontology? Whereas in the past the weekend was a clear dissociation from the logics of gainful employment, nowadays, on free evenings as well as weekends, one increasingly  practices the skills expected in the new work place: enthusiasm and identification with the work process, social skills such as capacity for teamwork and networking, conveying easiness while doing hard work etc. 
In a nutshell: Saturday is the new Monday, instead of Blue Monday it’s ‘awake for three days.’

Grandits’ series of monstrances made of burned pizzas on pedestals reminding the viewer of trophies are displaying, in their window parts, pills as contemporary hosts for worship and adoration. Has God’s body taken on the shape of a pill? If this should be true, then Grandits would not be the priest of this church. Perhaps he is its comical saint, since he is suffering from visions. One often really does not know if one should laugh or cry. The profound recklessness smirking at you from some of his works proofs without a doubt, though: Humor is an infectious weapon of survival.

Helga from Wendy& Jim is holding a MDMA Monstranz, 2015