A film by Michal Kosakowski

The Killer Deep Down Inside

by Olaf Przybilla | Press review | Sueddeutsche Zeitung, March 31, 2012

Death must be at home in Vienna: At the Erlanger Kunstpalais artists enquire after fantasies of blood and the images in one’s own mind.

The exhibition ‘Töten’ (‘Killing’) at the Erlanger Kunstpalais is best explored backwards, downside up, so to say: first down to the basement of the house, to the last exhibition space of the Palais that was established two years ago, right on the city’s most representative square. An art palace, complete with public library, in a medium-sized town – not exactly the place in which one would expect to be confronted with downright disturbing art. Yet that is precisely what one finds in Erlangen, and nowhere more nightmarish than in the exhibition’s last room in which 12 artists deal with one and the same subject – killing.

Down to the basement then. This is where Michal Kosakowski shows his video installation ‘Do You Have Murder Fantasies?’, less a work in the classic sense than some sort of epic. It takes time to unravel the Viennese artist’s visual conundrum. Those who do are likely to sleep uneasily but not to regret their efforts. It would take six hours to see every single scene of the installation, and at least two hours to form an impression of a work that is a visual maelstrom.

When entering the room, one is at first faced by what looks like utter chaos, a twitching kaleidoscope of 49 films. One immediately suspects that they show terrifying things, yet at first that is all. There is sound, but it takes a while before one realizes that it comes from only one of the films at a time. Successively, one thus concentrates on the soundtrack that goes with one of the squares, while the 48 others display killing in various sorts and manners.

The protagonists on the many screens are obviously non-professional actors. A book that is open to inspection informs visitors just who it is one is watching in their respective acts of killing. Kosakowski asked 49 participants – friends, acquaintances, people encountered by chance – whether they sometimes entertain fantasies of murder. According to the Polish-born artist, nine out of ten interviewees, replied firmly in the negative – no, never! That is, until Kosakowski insisted – are you sure?

Eventually, these fantasies appear… it’s mostly a question of asking in the right way. If your little sister were tortured – what would you do? But Kosakowski took it a step further and asked the interviewees to describe their very personal fantasies. The catch: they would only be part of his art project if they agreed to act out their roles in the film fantasies themselves. Among the participants are people who in real life are site managers, dancers and advertising experts. In the films, they are mass murderers, homicidal maniacs and ritual killers.

In itself this would hardly amount to much more than horror times 49, crime stories enacted by amateur actors. However, ten years after the films, Kosakowski interviewed the 49 participants another time and asked them ten questions: Are you in favour of capital punishment? Do you believe in God? Is one allowed to torture? What would you do if your dearest person were murdered? On ten screens, laterally affixed and equipped with headphones, one can hear what the 49 subjects reply 10 years later – while the video wall continues to display their acts of killing.

None of the 49 has a criminal record – neither dating back before the film nor acquired afterwards. And now one hears these people chatting about their aggressions. The fact that many of them do so with a Viennese accent – Kosakowski mostly asked people from his hometown – somehow makes the whole thing even more fathomless. Yes, sure, a woman says: whenever there’s too much pushing and shoving on the subway, some murder fantasies arise. She states it matter-of-fact, unsmiling. Two different persons reply with the same example: in the post office, by the counter. ‘You’d like to grab a shotgun and blast their heads off.’

Are these people aware of what they are saying, one wonders? And then: don‘t we sometimes have similarly stupid ideas?

One participant, a site manager, ponders the question how he would react to the murder of his dearest person for a long time. Eventually, he replies in Polish, three softly hissing sounds. Pause. Then the same three hissing sounds, very emphatically spoken. This time a translation is inserted: An eye for an eye.

Visitors are likely to exit this installation with their heads spinning. Possibly it might be better not to start one’s tour at the end, after all. Just what is it that art can contribute to the subject of killing, that’s what the exhibition asks, wedged as it is between two phenomena: on one hand the increasingly anonymous deaths as exemplified by CNN that present killing as a clinical procedure that can be watched as if it were a surgical operation. On the other, death in computer games, in which killing is shown with ever-increasing realism and perversion. Doesn’t art risk getting caught in a voyeuristic trap if it joins in the fray?

One possible reply is offered at the beginning of the exhibition, courtesy of Berlin artist Simon Menner. His work consists of photographs of spies, serial killers and terrorists, each in equal numbers. Who the spy is and who the serial killer is not specified, however. A game with clichés, with one’s own mind images: what does a killer look like?

Similarly disturbing as Kosakowski‘s work is the installation ‘No Fun’ by Milan artists Eva and Franco Mattes who, for one week, staged a suicide on an Internet platform. While one half of the screen shows a person apparently taking his own life, the other half displays a random selection of people who witness it. These spectators at their home computers are laughing, yawning, adjusting their bathrobes, writing cynical comments. One in about 100 witnesses calls the police to prevent the suicide.

At the Erlanger Kunstpalais until June 17, 2012.

Read the press review in German
Exhibition ‘Killing’ at the Kunstpalais Erlangen

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