C.o.C.A. Commission 2019
Exhibition opening on the 6th of February from 18:00 onwards, with a performance by Der menschliche Mottek.
C.o.C.A. Commission 2019 recipient Johannes Büttner makes exuberant and often post-apocalyptic sculptural installations which offer a critical perspective on present-day issues of labour, power and alienation. For his exhibition at A Tale of A Tub, Büttner presents a newly commissioned sculptural installation alongside three recent works that deal with the relationship between human and mechanised labour. In his socially engaged artistic practice Büttner raises questions such as: What role does artistic labour have in our society, and how does it compare to other forms of work? How are aesthetic experiences produced and consumed within capitalism? In what way is the ‘gig economy’ reshaping our ideas about productivity, value and growth?
Büttner often collaborates with people from outside the art world, for example by complicating the role of the audience or by working with body builders, metal thieves, food delivery riders or bakers in order to consider our mutual desires, dreams, fears and prejudices on both an individual and collective level. For his newly commissioned work Büttner employs the digital working class in the collective development of a contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk. Through the creation of a sci-fi narrative, co-authored with ‘workers’ from China, Indonesia, Nigeria and Tunisia, Büttner searches for ways in which labour power carries the potential for transformation in a context where the supply and demand of work is mediated by a digital platform.
The possibility of another life expresses itself directly in a cop car on fire and obliquely in the faces of my friends (2019), commissioned by the 16th Istanbul Biennial, can be seen in A Tale of a Tub’s damp basement. The work comprises seven sculptures formed out of different earths, each of which has the skeleton of a machine underneath. From ancient entombed terracotta soldiers until today, rulers have employed masses whose power lay not in kinetic, but in semiotic force. The sculptures resemble a mixture between sci-fi warriors or riot police and ceramic soldiers turned upside down on their heads. They respond, by starting to vibrate and shake, to a world of algorithms and networks that lost control or turned violent, unleashing a kind of Golem in the form of a machine.
The piece Untitled (Free Energy) (2018), also on view in the basement of the monumental Justus van Effencomplex, is centered around the work of DIY ‘free energy’ engineers, an active community on YouTube, using their alchemy in striving to produce devices like perpetual motion machines, cold-fusion generators, torus-based generators, reverse-engineered extraterrestrial technology, and other generally unproven, low-cost energy sources. The piece contains a Bedini motor, ‘powered’ by crystal batteries made with alum crystals–batteries that are supposed to work for hundreds of years as they— theoretically—charge themselves. Oscillating between truth and fiction, science and myth, and playing on our lack of ability to fact-check assumptions driven by conspiracy theory, this work generates alternative narratives, which can, given the right rhetoric and framing, be as real as any other fictionalised stories we designate as truth.
The exhibition concludes with paying tribute to Rotterdam as a working class city. In the early 1990s, the sound of pounding construction sites and harbour activity inspired the beat of hardcore music: gabber was born. This radical electronic music style soon took over the Rotterdam party scene, with raves being held in legendary venues like the Energiehal and club Parkzicht. The development of gabber music in Rotterdam has often been related to the industrial sounds of pounding ‘heipalen’, the driving of building piles, that characterised the soundscape of the city. The hammering sound of Büttner’s Untitled (Survivalist) (2017)—a collaboration with Bastian Hagedorn—together with city noise and effects from the iconic drum machine Roland TR-909, form the sound track for an installation that is both aggressive and lyrical.
This tenth edition of the C.o.C.A. Commission is curated by Suzanne Wallinga, co-founder and former director of A Tale of a Tub. The C.o.C.A. Foundation is a private initiative that supporting young artists in the Netherlands with a yearly commission. Previous recipients include Kate Cooper, Jay Tan, Rory Pilgrim, Katarina Zdjelar, Christian Friedrich, Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Paul Geelen, Lotte Reimann and Emma van der Put.
Biography Johannes Büttner
Johannes Büttner is working in the tradition of performance and social organisation. He explores the generalised precarity of our age: whether through considerations of energy, urbanity, new agism, esotericism or global and political crises. Questions of authorship and the relationship between labour, craftsmanship and conceptual art in a collaborative work practice are central to his installations and performances. Recently he participated in the 16th Istanbul Biennial (2019) and in exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2018), at La Panacée in Montpellier (2018) and at Basis in Frankfurt am Main (2017), among others. In 2018, he had solo exhibitions at Kunstraum C28 in Hanover and at Simultanhalle in Cologne. He showed performances at the Stedelijk Museum (2017), De Appel Art centre (2017) and the Art Weekend (2017) in Amsterdam. From 2015 – 2017 Büttner was a resident at De Ateliers in Amsterdam.
This exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous support of the City of Rotterdam, the Mondriaan Fund and the C.o.C.A. Foundation.