Luxus is a visual and verbal collaboration by Victor Sloan and writer Glenn Patterson, originally exhibited in the Millenium Court Arts Centre, Portadown in 2007.
Glasses (Luxus), 2006
The following are a selection of text and images from the exhibition and book:
Berlin Wall (Luxury), 2006
Luxus m – luxury
MC5, Kick Out the Jams
‘You’ve never been more beautiful/ your eyes like two full moons/ than here in this poor old dancehall/ among the dreadful tunes/ the awful songs we don’t even hear…’
Magnetic Fields, ‘Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing’
A dead goldfish can be revived with a drop of whiskey or, if that fails, by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Some of what you know you wish you didn’t.
I know a metaphor when I hear one. I know a fishy tale. I know enough not to mix them up. I do. I know I do
Last night I sat until the stars blurred, over the shoulders of the Teacher Who Fell Off a Chair and the Diplomat’s Son Who Sat On Che Guevara’s Lap, and one for the road became two, became three, became drink and pray there is still ground beneath you when rise from your seat.
This afternoon, though, I am not looking at but beyond, to the crane lowering klieg lights from the penthouse across the way. Prenzlauer Berg – for that is where we are, the Artist, the Owner, the goldfish doo-wopping at the waterline, and me, the Writer – Prenzlauer Berg is the German film industry’s backdrop of choice just now. Prenzlauer Berg is an estate agent’s wet dream. If it is luxury you are after you will find it in spades in Prenzlauer Berg.
Just don’t come looking for it in here.
It is held together by Polyfilla and gaffer tape. You don’t even want to think about the wiring. A bulb blows, that’s it, gone, and who knows when it will be replaced. If.
It is Warhol. It is Dada. A whole fountain of inverted meaning. It drags luxury down from the penthouses, back through that little twisted tube hanging in the window. Think about this, it says. Think again.
Jesus, in some medieval versions of the nativity, was born in a penthouse. The ‘house’ is a red herring; it is the ‘pent’ you need to focus on. The Middle English word is pentis: a lean-to, an add-on, an appendix.
When I first went to Berlin in 1991 it was like a wall coming down in my understanding of Europe. It was like a wall coming down in my understanding of home. The city’s own wall had been dismantled almost two years before, although in places it looked more like half an hour ago. Actually, never mind the Cold War, in places it looked like the Second World War had just ended. On the day I arrived I walked with the friend I was staying with across the no-man’s-land of Potsdamer Platz, Hitler’s bunker to our left, the Brandenburg gate beyond, and on out east, past buildings that were more bullet-hole than brick, to her flat in Prenzlauer Berg.
I was living in Lisburn at the time and running a weekly writing group in Portadown Library. The group finished at nine o’clock. The last train to Lisburn came through at a quarter to ten, suspicious objects on the line outside Newry permitting. For half an hour or more every Wednesday I would sit in Portadown station, on the border between the Protestant and Catholic ends of town, alert to every footfall, and curse the place for a god-bothering dump. I cursed Lisburn too. I cursed Belfast. I cursed them twice as roundly when I had to come back from Berlin.
Perhaps because (it didn’t occur to me to think it back then) the citizens of Berlin hadn’t asked in the first place for their wall to be put up, extended, reinforced by petrol bombs – or worse – and by injunctions and judicial reviews over who could do what where and when.
Fifteen years on, Prenzlauer Berg has lost some of its old identity. No longer a borough in its own right, it was recently re-designated one of thirteen ‘localities’ of Pankow. The word on the street, and in the bars, these days is improvement, not improvisation. Or at least that is the official word, but there is still dissent, if you keep your eyes and ears open. On Schönhauser Allee someone has taken the trouble to climb to the top of the scaffolding around a building under renovation and write, ‘Fuck the Free World’.
Luxus is Latin for dislocated. You can find a bit of it in ineluctable, that which cannot be escaped.
He is hollering now as I write this, ‘I’m at my borderline, I’m at my borderline...’ and for a moment I’m at Portadown station all those Wednesday nights ago, on edge.
Saussure was the father of structuralism. What I know about structuralism could be scratched on the short end of a brick: signifier and signified, binary oppositions…
When I ask the Owner later that night what he was thinking, opening a bar whose upkeep he occasionally seems indifferent, even hostile, to, he shrugs and says, ‘I just wanted there to be a place where I could go.’ It doesn’t seem that extravagant a luxury in a city of three and a half million, in a neighbourhood of a couple of hundred thousand. And I remember how after my first visit to Berlin I became obsessed with the idea of opening a bar in Belfast. A friend and I had it all planned. We would take over the down-at-heel Du Barry’s Saloon Bar near the Albert Clock. The Humanist, we were going to call it, for the four weeks it would have lasted before we went bankrupt. We wouldn’t do an awful lot to it. There was too much being done to bars as it was. (Du Barry’s was comprehensively done to a few years later.) Still, we might have changed a light bulb.
The opposite of all that went before is not this.
White Panther Party 10-Point Program
1. Full endorsement and support of Black Panther Party's 10-Point Program.
2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock ’n’ roll, dope and fucking in the streets.
4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care — everything free for everybody!
5. Free access to information media — free the technology from the greed creeps!
6. Free time and space for all humans — dissolve all unnatural boundaries.
7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule — turn the buildings over to the people at once!
8. Free all prisoners everywhere — they are our brothers.
9. Free all soldiers at once — no more conscripted armies.
10. Free the people from their “leaders” — leaders suck — all power to all the people! Freedom means free everyone!
— John Sinclair, Minister of Information, White Panther Party. November 1st, 1968
(John Sinclair managed the MC5 until 1969, when he was sentenced to ten years for possession of two joints. The band subsequently distanced themselves from his statements urging violence.)
69 Love Songs
1. "Absolutely Cuckoo" – 1:34
2. "I Don't Believe in the Sun" – 4:16
3. "All My Little Words" – 2:46
4. "A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off" – 2:41
5. "Reno Dakota" – 1:05
6. "I Don't Want to Get Over You" – 2:22
7. "Come Back from San Francisco" – 2:48
8. "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" – 3:43
9. "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits" – 2:25
10. "The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be" – 1:11
11. "I Think I Need a New Heart" – 2:32
12. "The Book of Love" – 2:42
13. "Fido, Your Leash is Too Long" – 2:33
14. "How Fucking Romantic" – 0:58
15. "The One You Really Love" – 2:53
16. "Punk Love" – 0:58
17. "Parades Go By" – 2:56
18. "Boa Constrictor" – 0:58
19. "A Pretty Girl is Like..." – 1:50
20. "My Sentimental Melody" – 3:07
21. "Nothing Matters When We're Dancing" – 2:27
22. "Sweet-Lovin' Man" – 4:59
23. "The Things We Did and Didn't Do" – 2:11
24. "Roses" – 0:27
25. "Love is Like Jazz" – 2:56
26. "When My Boy Walks Down the Street" – 2:38
27. "Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old" – 2:03
28. "Very Funny" – 1:26
29. "Grand Canyon" – 2:28
30. "No One Will Ever Love You" – 3:14
31. "If You Don't Cry" – 3:06
32. "You're My Only Home" – 2:17
33. "My Only Friend" – 2:01
34. "(Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy" – 2:18
35. "Promises of Eternity" – 3:46
36. "World Love" – 3:07
37. "Washington, D.C." – 1:53
38. "Long-Forgotten Fairytale" – 3:37
39. "Kiss Me Like You Mean It" – 2:00
40. "Papa Was a Rodeo" – 5:01
41. "Epitaph for My Heart" – 2:50
42. "Asleep and Dreaming" – 1:53
43. "The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing" – 2:46
44. "The Way You Say Good-Night" – 2:44
45. "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan" – 2:00
46. "I Shatter" – 3:09
47. "Underwear" – 2:49
48. "It's a Crime" – 3:54
49. "Busby Berkeley Dreams" – 3:36
50. "I'm Sorry I Love You" – 3:06
51. "Acoustic Guitar" – 2:37
52. "The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure" – 3:10
53. "Love in the Shadows" – 2:54
54. "Bitter Tears" – 2:51
55. "Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget" – 1:55
56. "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!" – 2:19
57. "Experimental Music Love" – 0:29
58. "Meaningless" – 2:08
59. "Love is Like a Bottle of Gin" – 1:46
60. "Queen of the Savages" – 2:12
61. "Blue You" – 3:03
62. "I Can't Touch You Anymore" – 3:05
63. "Two Kinds of People" – 1:10
64. "How to Say Goodbye" – 2:48
65. "The Night You Can't Remember" – 2:17
66. "For We Are the King of the Boudoir" – 1:14
67. "Strange Eyes" – 2:01
68. "Xylophone Track" – 2:47
69. "Zebra" – 2:15
Localities of Pankow
49% - M
51% - F
AB - 34%
C1 - 37%
C2 - 18%
DE - 11%
Employed - 70%
Student - 17%
Housewife - 3%
Other - 10%
Frequency of use
Daily - 43%
Weekly - 29%
Less Often - 28%
Copyright Onscreen Solutions
24 November 2006
The slogan on the posters might have come straight from my early Nineties nightmares. ‘Don’t Cross the Line,’ it reads, above a graphic of a car trapped on a level crossing. The view across the line from platform one appears little changed: same ferns, same row of rooftops, same aerials angled towards the distant Denny factory sign, around which the same inexplicable steam billows. But the waiting room now has a plasma screen above the ticket booths with ads for Rushmere Shopping Centre, Craigavon Borough Council, Chestnut Lodge. The straplines bleed into one another: ‘something for – something to suit – everyone… no one feels left out.’ Inclusiveness is the new exclusiveness. Second-class has been written off, or at least written out of the script. In this world of Passenger’s Charters and Independent Monitoring Results on reliability, punctuality, and speed in picking up the phone, of leaf-fall leaflets and improved cross-border service, we are none of us lower than enterprise class, even if those that were first are not now last, but just first plus.
In a break between the ads the plasma screen treats us in our percentages (see Appendix Four) to archive footage of a Model T Ford with DIY propellers on the roof. The blades turn silently, furiously, but the Model T never leaves the ground. All the while a news-bar rolls across the bottom of the screen, ‘Assembly to meet’, ‘Baghdad bomb victims buried’; ‘Wagon Wheels firm for sale’.
Plough and stars http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Sparta/1648/ceacht_e.htm
A Persisting Anachronism
Luxus, Latin for luxury, is also the name of a bar in Berlin. Victor Sloan’s collaboration with Glenn Patterson celebrates the recalcitrant ironies of Luxus, and its owner’s refusal to blow with the prevailing winds of change in Germany. Before the fall of the Berlin wall Luxus was a subcultural refuge in the GDR. After reunification Luxus has remained the same dowdy, unreconstituted remnant of a butcher’s shop, while all around it ‘luxury’ has sprung up in the form of new apartment living. Luxus, Latin for luxury, is also the name of a bar in Berlin. Victor Sloan’s collaboration with Glenn Patterson celebrates the recalcitrant ironies of Luxus, and its owner’s refusal to blow with the prevailing winds of change in Germany. Before the fall of the Berlin wall Luxus was a subcultural refuge in the GDR. After reunification Luxus has remained the same dowdy, unreconstituted remnant of a butcher’s shop, while all around it ‘luxury’ has sprung up in the form of new apartment living.
Sloan is, of course, well-known for his signature method of marking, scoring and altering his negatives and prints, and for his Northern Irish subject matter, which he treats with a mixture of tenderness and anger. In the Luxus exhibition it is refreshing and exciting to see him transfer and alter his modes of working into digital photography. In some of the images the markings that were once Sloan’s are now subtly reflected in evidence which time leaves on materials; for example the (enhanced) cracking in the veneer on a wall tile. The large size of the images means that their pixilation is visible and grainy, creating a surface to the photograph which is akin to effects Sloan previously achieved manually. Another characteristic of Sloan’s work, a combination of light sources as focal points and an off-centring of these focal points, is similarly repeated and transformed, eerily enhanced, and in some images, such as Untitled V (Luxus), placed on the uppermost edge of the frame. The effects here are not just technical – they lead the viewer towards an understanding of a nostalgia and a defiance embodied in the subject matter, an attitude which is also out of kilter and off-centre.
Given the remit of this exhibition and collaboration ( the venture was commissioned under the title ‘ Interrogating Contested Spaces in Post-Conflict Society’) it’s a relief that the images refuse to fall back easily on the obvious analogy linking Germany with Northern Ireland before and during the Peace Process. Glenn Patterson’s prose in the book which accompanies and expands on the exhibited photographs is, to begin with, elliptical and then direct in its comparison of post- Cold War Berlin with post-ceasefire Belfast (and Portadown), but by the end Patterson, like Sloan, politely but firmly delineates the problems with the comparison. Sloan’s images, taken in the sequence in which they are exhibited and appear in the book , move even further away from any anchoring in the paralleling of the two ‘Contested Spaces’ . The interiors (those of the inside of the bar) play on visual reminders of the bar’s history as a butcher’s shop and so create a mystery that is full of a menacing violence. Luxus begins, then, with allusions to something murderous, to a society which has been deracinated and depraved, and yet the accumulative effect will be to praise the persistence of Luxus.
The second part of the exhibition is titled Luxury, and this series takes the same creepy deathliness outside into the areas around Luxus. It’s apparent that these buildings have been gentrified, yuppified, and re-zoned, while Luxus resists such transformation. Though quite what is represents is harder to say. These outdoor images purport to show the ‘regeneration’ of this part of Berlin. Their cleverness is that they at once show this and (by repeating the colour pallet from the first half of the show in the mist of predominate darkness) allow the atmosphere of the bar to spill out into the street, so that the ‘new’ is dependent on, and repeats, the dowdiness of the old without knowing it.
Luxus, the exhibition is unsettling and its conception as a show is beautifully poised. It seems to celebrate the bar’s eccentricity as a political statement. Yet, whether intentionally or otherwise, the scrutiny of Luxus which takes place in Sloan’s images cannot but question the studiedness of the careless minimalism of the bar. By the end of the exhibition, where there is a cumulative critique of bourgeoisification, this questioning unsteadies the authenticity of Luxus as a truly anarchic, anti-establishment establishment. Which is not to doubt the sincerity of the owner’s ethos for the bar. Rather Luxus, the collaborative art project, hinges on convincing us that Luxus the bar is important for its endearing and radical lack of any ethos, its continuing anachronism. Patterson’s pithy final comment is: ‘The opposite of all that went before is not this.’ Sloan and Patterson want Luxus to work as something more than an analogy. They understand it as both a nostalgic past and a forgotten future. Luxus was a place of dissent in a ‘contested space’. Berlin, like Northern Ireland, has become a ‘post-conflict society’ and what this really means is that the processes of economic globalisation have filled both societies rapidly and with rootless vulgarity. Criticism of that new post-conflict society often looks like a guilty longing for the past shrouded in an equally guilty distain for the more prosperous but ideologically empty present. Luxus, as a kind of event in Berlin, may well be an admirable alternative to the dreadfully meaningless present of conflictless living. And this is certainly what attracts Sloan’s eye. His decision to intervene in the images more gently than has been characteristic of his work suggests that he finds the subject matter is partly able to do this work of commentary for him. But, nevertheless, the images are doctored slightly, and the viewer is directed as to what to see and how to see it. And what we are shown is a kind of natural anarchy. The tension between wanting, even needing, Luxus to exist without interferience and wanting to record in an effective way parallels the tension between compromised nostalgia and not quite knowing how to complain about the agreed present of a ‘post-conflict’ society. It is this that is the real analogy at work in the Luxus exhibition, and what makes its words and images so compelling.
Source, Spring 2007, ISSUE 50
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