Moderna Museet

Joachim Koester

01 Aug - 16 Sep 2007

Joachim Koester, My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points
Moderna Museet 2007
1 August – 16 September 2007

Curator: Fredrik Liew

Exactly two years ago Joachim Koester showed his work Message from Andrée (2005) in the Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Koester often bases his work on other people’s stories and pictures. In this case, it was the remarkable story of S. A. Andrée, who set out for the North Pole in a hot air balloon with Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel in July 1897. After just two days in the air, the expedition was forced to make an emergency landing. The adventure ended in tragedy three months later when the explorers perished on White Island north of Svalbard following a gruelling trek across the drifting icescape. A chance discovery 33 years later found the remains of the expedition preserved in the pack ice. Specially invited to document the exhibition, some of Strindberg’s photographs were surprisingly salvaged from his camera. However, despite the discovery of these photographs, diaries and several other items, there were many gaps in the material and the precise tale of Andrée’s fateful expedition remains a mystery.

Koester’s piece delved into the very gap between that which we can ascertain by the photographs and that which we do not know. Instead of focusing on the salvaged photographs, as most historians have done, Koester dedicated his work to the ruined images which only showed visual noise. These images became the basis for the poetic and abstract 16 mm projection in the Danish Pavilion.

My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points (after the mescaline drawings of Henri Michaux) is an entirely new work by Joachim Koester and may be seen as a sister piece to Message from Andrée. Once again Koester bases his works on the last century’s attempts to chart unknown territories and highlights a poetic ambiguity in the material. This time, however, he does not focus on Andrée’s geographical expedition, but on the inward search by later generations, towards the molecule (Niels Bohr), language (Gertrude Stein), the unconscious (Sigmund Freud) and our senses (Henri Michaux).

From the 1950s onwards, Michaux (1899-1984) made many drawings and paintings under the influence of the hallucinogenic drug mescaline, which opens the gates to the parts of the unconscious that are normally concealed and closed. The result can best be described as an abstract swarm of information. Characterised partly by restless intensity, partly by a lustrous transparency, the images often assume the shapes of squares or grids with which Michaux repetitiously and compulsively filled entire sheets of paper.

Koester photographed a selection of these images and transformed them into the film My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points. In a sense, it seems quite natural that Michaux’s images became a film. Even when static, they possess an optical time-based movement, and the concept of the drawings – messages from an unknown world – has a narrative character. However, the transference to a moving medium not only accentuates existing values but gives rise to new patterns both literally and figuratively, spanning the mental and the physical. In the form of a projection, the drawings dissolve into a kind of chaotic choreography which reflects Michaux’s activities at his drawing-board, directing one’s thoughts to other repetitive states of trance.

Accordingly, we have selected an image from Koester’s film Tarantism for the poster on the back of this text. The film, which is yet to be premiered, shows a group of dancers letting go in manic and spontaneous abandonment on stage. The title refers to a condition which occurs if one is bitten by the poisonous tarantula spider (involving dizziness, slurred speech, fever and restlessness). According to an old South Italian tradition, the only cure was to perform a tarantella, a wild dance of uncontrolled, obsessed movements and cramps. In other words, Koester’s work Tarantism reconstructs a spiritual and psychological transcription via the body, reminiscent of Michaux’s activities as well as the way in which practitioners of contemporary dance cultures – with or without the aid of drugs – relinquish control over their thoughts and embrace a kind of automatic expression.

Interestingly this aspect could also be interpreted as a subtle instruction to the viewers of My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points. The reading of, and interaction with, the film is not primarily meant to be rational or intellectual but rather sensual, just like a dancer’s movements. Watching the film is like making a journey behind one’s eyelids.


Tags: Joachim Koester, Henri Michaux