10,000 HORSEPOWER

a guest piece by Martin Martin Schlesinger / Institute for Contemporaneity

Editor’s note: this article was first published on december 12th 2015.
At that time there existed the first one hundred Akte mit Pferd.
translation by
Tim Whelan

The oldest of the drawings made by mankind depict horses—as do the most recent. The long-term art project Akt mit Pferd launched by Benjamin von Alemann and Jens Ole Mayer joins a stable steeped in artistic tradition, from the horse heads in the Chauvet Caves to the series of equine photography by Eadweard Muybridge which attempts to fulfill the desire for a precise rendering of the continuous, repetitive motion of horses, a motif which has kept a litany of artists busy for thousands of years. Akt mit Pferd however does not depict a galloping animal, but rather a pars pro equo—a head on a stick, a hobbyhorse if you will.

This toy may be understood by way of a humourous double meaning as a hint as to the attitude towards the underlying undertaking as a whole: Firstly as a play on the genre of Dadaism, which in its formative history was allegedly named after the French slang “dada” (=hobbyhorse)—also (in the mouths of less childish French speakers) a reference to positions of the sex act; secondly, in the sense of the metaphor as the artists’ hobbyhorse itself, that is to say a solitary pursuit, which is quite undoubtedly the case in the making of Akt mit Pferd. Since this picture does not exist in just one iteration, but is created anew, across the 10,000 examples of an almost record-worthy edition. In this limited seriality of eternal sameness von Alemann and Mayer succeed in doing that which Barbara Wittmann describes as being actually impossible: “to turn a hobbyhorse into a life’s work.”

“The professional Modernist artist was and is subject to a ban on automimesis. He may not repeat himself, whereby this duty is grounded both aesthetically and economically, when it concerns the avoidance of solidifying individual methods in a manner, an imitable style; economically as the artist is directly and indirectly challenged to react to the moods and changes in the art market.”
Barbara Wittmann

Akt mit Pferd bucks this kind of restrictive artistry and flexible adjustment to the art market. On the one hand via an extravagant echo of that which we see in mass reproduction, presented in the stream of self-reference on the internet, on the other hand—and more on this shortly—through an own economy, which shows its heels to the common logic of the market.

Despite the very exacting procedure of duplication, one has to describe each picture on its own merit in order to do each detail, each subtle difference between artworks due justice. What Claude Monet sought to achieve in a series of 33 paintings with his Rouen Cathedral (1892-1894) becomes evident here, both on a medial level and in the impressionism of an idea. But only after the very last picture will Akt mit Pferd reach completion as a conceptual whole, gradually one will learn more and more about this image, and be better able to understand its implications. Now, in the very early stages of the project only fragile traces allow us to guess—traces which appear to the untrained eye as if errors—but furthermore prophecise future transformation: sometimes the hobbyhorse is in a vase, sometimes its head faces right, sometimes left, then upwards – or hangs as a trophy on the wall; in a picture, the nude, a lady, possibly a lover, mother and/or prostitute, who is perhaps waiting for a lover (will he ever turn up?) legs crossed in an unusual pose, in another she doesn’t wear a bun, her hair untied; then: part of the curtain, which skirts the composition like a theatre stage, on the floor.

Minimal changes of this sort awaken expectations and lend the series, which first gains its imposing fullness upon scrolling through the online tumblr gallery, the flair of a laconic flick-book which tells a story which remains perpetually the same without actually ever physically existing. At the same time, minute changes one after another may be understood as a comment on meme culture: and also the style of the pictures, black marker on canvas (20 x 20 cm) which makes the structure and materiality of the subsurface sometimes more and sometimes less visible and refers with thick lines, strong contours and a canvas aesthetic of the tools of graphics software as well as the visual basis of digitally reproducible pictures.

The more originals there are, the more expensive they become. With every new published edition via blog entry, the Economic program of this peculiar collection is exposed, which equals a showjump through the Gaußian summation formula: the first picture costs 1€, the second 2€, number 33 is to be had for 33€. In that each Akt mit Pferd picture is declared to be worth more than the last and with each quantative increase in the number of artworks, a financial advancement is proclaimed, the current rules of appreciation of the art market are bypassed. The consecutively numbered and increasing “crowdbuying” seems to have originated from the spirit of crowdfunding whereby different sums are paid for the completion of the same product and more generous benefactors are given the promise of more thanks, more value, more product.

“Good art is that which is expensive. The price defines the worth.”
Dr. Magnus Resch

What art expert Dr. Magnus Resch declares in the compendium “The 100 most important things” also applies to Akt mit Pferd in two ways: firstly for the individual artworks, which become ever better, ever more valuable and secondly for the totality of 10,000 originals. With a value of 50.005.000€, set by the sales price alone, Akt mit Pferd is currently worth more than Picassos cubist painting Femme assise dans un jardin (1938)—a proud sum for such a new artwork, and one these two—as of yet—relatively unknown artists can be thoroughly proud of.

 

Martin Martin Schlesinger
Institute for Contemporaneity

translation: Tim Whelan

References:

  • Barbara Wittmann: “Das Steckenpferd als Lebenswerk”, in: Safia Azzouni und Uwe Wirth (Hrsg.): “Dilletantismus als Beruf”, Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2009, P. 181-199, here: P. 198.
  • Magnus Resch: “Wert. Anlage. Galerie.”, in: Schlesinger, Kaleyta, Mühlenberg, El Ouassil, Lorenz (Hrsg.): “Die 100 wichtigsten Dinge”, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2016, P. 130-133, here: P. 133.