The MMK Museum fuer Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main presents works from its collection at the MMK2 in a way visitors have never seen before. For this purpose young director and scenographer Ersan Mondtag, shooting star of the German theatre scene, was invited to develop a concept for an exhibition which can be considered as alternative draft to the white cube. Marcel Duchamp who had enshrouded the exhibiton rooms of the International Surrealism Exhibition in Paris in 1938 with black coal sacks would have liked the presentation by Ersan Mondtag.
For the temporary presentation of the collection of the MMK Ersan Mondtag has turned the space at the Taunustor into a gloomy organism the visitors have to go through like in a maze. The staging by Mondtag is inspired by a myth about opera singer Maria Callas. To achieve her ideal body measurements Callas was said to have determinded to go on a bizarre diet. A tapeworm was meant to help her to achieve her ideal figure, in proper style the diva was said to have swallowed it with a glas of champaign. Legend has it that the parasite in her body made a good job of it which resulted in a remarkable weight loss after only few weeks. The borderline between the indomitable will to optimize oneself and self-destruction is what makes this myth so fascinating and provides the story for Mondtag’s staging.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Installation Plastique Fantastique
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Bettina Rheims, 16 Mars Paris / Karen Mulder with a very small Chanel bra
The tapeworm which directs the visitors through the inside of Maria Callas was created by the artists’ collective Plastique Fantastique. The plastic monster wriggles through the mazelike exhibition tour leaving overpowering chemical fumes. The walls, floor and ceiling are enveloped in black and yellow plastic panels, the artificiality of this hermetic spatial structure leaves the disquieting feeling of being locked-in with the visitor. The giant worm meanders past a selection of works from the collection of the MMK, among them works by Marlene Dumas, On Kawara, Bruca Nauman and Andy Warhol which correspond with each other through the walkable installation by Ersan Mondtag and appear in a completely different light. Based on the myth about Maria Callas to form respectively deform the own body in order to comply with social ideals the exhibition I AM A PROBLEM focuses on the self-optimization craze running rampant.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Martin Honert, Photo, 1993
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Georg Herold, Lost Act of Creation
Ersan Mondtag’s stage productions are inspired by art history.
The only 30 years old director and scenograph Ersan Mondtag can already look back on productions at the Thalia Theatre, the Schauspiel Frankfurt and the Maxim Gorki Theatre. Mondtag’s work combines the fields of theatre, music, dance, performance and installation, which enables him to conjure up an impressive world of imagery and sound. His cross-genre approach virtually does without any speech, with putting man and his existential desires and fears in the focus. Mondtag’s associative stages root in the recent art history which predestines him for the curational staging of a museum exhibition. In I AM A PROBLEM he explores the multifaceted social identity drafts of the present and the abysmal depths of humanity which appear on the way to the perfect body. For the ideology of bizarre self-optimization fitness craze, plastic surgery and selfie-hype aren’t the end of the rope, as it reveals a society that is in disintegration.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – John de Andrea, Seated Woman, Black Chair, 1978
The body becomes malleable material, the own identity turns into an exchangeable mask and finally the inexorable pursuit of perfection ends in anti-social behaviour, extremism and violence. “Who is willing to sacrifice himself is also willing to sacrifice others.“ declares Ersan Mondtag. For him the craze to transform oneself and one’s environment according to an ideal is the expression of an archaic primal fear of the own impernanence and the inescapability of fate. Mondtag sees the current dealing with transience as a war against the own body which is by no means a private affair but also discriminates other fellow human beings, as somebody who wants to look perfect stigmatizes others as imperfect at the same time. The ideology of this mindset tends to bear paranoid and fascist markings, creating more and more morbid excesses of body deformations.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Bernhard Johannes Blume, Text Image from “Instruction for Blessed Life“ / Chair
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Will Benedict, Comparison leads to Violence
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Miriam Cahn, Beauty
Mondtag tries to get to the bottom of this phenomenon by blending the exhibition with the stage. While theatre is based on performing arts are fine arts exhibiting, the balancing act between these two poles was the exciting thing about this exhibition project for him. Therefore Ersan Mondtag has refrained from a linear exhibition space, the tour has no start and no end, soon the visitor loses his orientation. While he is being misled by Callas’ tapeworm, he finally becomes a parasite himself in this isolated inner world, when he has to squeeze through deliberately narrow corridors like through an intestinal tract. Also here the ostracizing ideology of self-optimization is reflected, as fat people don’t fit through here.
By means of dramaturgical effects Ersan Mondtag makes the works enter into a dialogue.
“I sort of reset the space to zero and paint it over with a character, an atmosphere, a plot.“ Mondtag explains his disrespectful handling of the museum architecture. For I AM A PROBLEM he is seeking a total work of art as it can be only realized in theatre. In doing so the displayed works of art become protagonists on a stage who act in a play about the lows of human existence. Mondtag’s goal was to make the 30 works that were selected by director Peter Gorschlueter talk in the newly created Yellow-Black Cube. I AM A PROBLEM is a theatric parcours which interconnects the exhibits by means of sound installations, light effects, spoken texts and dramaturgy. From huge black loudspeakers that are hanging at the ceiling gargling and smacking sounds of the guts can be heard, they mingle with bits and pieces of a conversation, the visitors are downright exposed to an overkill of sound which is boosted to an apocalyptic crescendo with war sound setting in and excerpts from Puccini’s opera Tosca.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Marlene Dumas, Dark Blue, The Insect / Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled (Woman without Lower Body)
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Vanessa Beecroft, vb68
Will Benedict’s music video was the spark for the exhibition I AM A PROBLEM.
Comparison leads to Violence is a music video by artist Will Benedict who born in Los Angeles in 1978 which he created for the Noise band Wolf Eyes from Detroit. An alien-like creature who could have originated from the Mos Eisley Cantina on the Star Wars planet Tattoine is discussing social topics such as assimilation with TV talk show host Charlie Rose. During the chat surreal video footage is shown from time to time which conjures up the global crisis of the 21st century and confronts the human species with aliens and cyborgs.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Will Benedict, Comparison leads to Violence
In his series Repair Analysis Kader Attia has patched up broken mirrors with chunky strings. If the viewer looks in the mirrors his face is disfigured by scars, with this effect Attia alludes to irreparable individual and social wounds. In some non-western societies the word repair has a different meaning, namely not to conceal scars but to show them and to attach an aesthetic value to them.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Kader Attia, Repair Analysis
In his portrait series Thomas Ruff blends photos of artists together he is close friends with. In the resulting pictures the borderline between male and female is blurred as well as the identities of the portrayed persons. Through the anonymization of the faces they become hybrid prototypes that remind of mugshots or photos of missing people due to the black and white appearance.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Thomas Ruff, other Portraits
Bruce Nauman’s work Perfect Balance shows the head of a man with his tongue stuck out hanging head first from the ceiling above a monitor where a held up middle finger is displayed. The aesthetics of the seemingly perfect balance contrast with the obvious violent context. The waxen head ironically reflects the truth of media images, as it is only virtually balancing on the middle finger that is shown in the video. The video loop freezes the motion and the gesture and creates a permanent state of suspension.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Bruce Nauman, Perfect Balance
In his series Cadaveri Arnulf Rainer explores the transformation of the human face of dead people. In doing so he uses photographs of death masks of important personalities and paints them over specifically either to emphasize the state of death or to confront it by animating the faces of the dead. The images strongly express the evanescence of life and inescapable transience.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Arnulf Rainer, Cadaveri
Oliviero Toscani’s poster of an AIDS victim with family which he created for the fashion brand Benetton caused a public scandal in 1992. It shows 33 years old AIDS activist David Kirby in the deathbed together with his mourning family. The intimicy of the scene is in stark contrast to the purpose of the poster which was part of an advertising campaign by Benetton. Including Christian iconography Toscani uses means of advertising in a well-directed way to call the attention to the AIDS epidemic.
Catafalco by Teresa Margolles consists of the plaster casts of two male corpses. Margolles used to work as a forensic pathologist in a morgue in Mexico City, where she was frequently confronted with young victims of violence and traffic accidents. Often an identification was impossible, that’s why they were buried in anonymous graves. The two plaster casts remind of sarcophagi and visualize the loss of human lives through their negative shape.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Teresa Margolles, Catafalco / Oliviero Toscani, AIDS Victim and Family
Robert Gober’s work is dominated by the subjects of sexuality and physicality. The figure of the lower part of a male body that is covered with human hair sticks out from a wall, the legs are perforated with sanitary drain holes. On the one hand the ambiguity of this work addresses the AIDS epidemic in the USA in the 1990s, on the other hand the obsessive cleanliness that is deeply rooted there. The drain holes represent the exculpation from guilt, whereas the upper part of the body that obviously sticks in the wall symbolizes the repression of individual and social problems.
Ersan Mondtag, I AM A PROBLEM, MMK2 Frankfurt – Robert Gober, Untitled
23.09.17 – 18.02.18 MMK2 Museum fuer Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main