Montse Badia

THORSTEN GOLDBERG. Things are generally different behind closed doors (ENG)

Espai 13, Fundación Joan Miró, Barcelona, 2005

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The work of Thorsten Goldberg (Dinslaken, Germany, 1960) is characterised by minute detail, discipline and meticulous execution. Taking everyday points of reference, he produces comments that are light-hearted only in appearance, for underneath they are criticisms and precise observations of our times. His videos and installations often make use of ordinary bits and pieces transformed into objects of art. In his playful and very lucid way, the artist confronts the viewer with subtle displacements or differences that invite us to change our perception of things and to question the world in which we live and our relationship with it.

Created specifically for the Espai 13, Things are generally different behind closed doors is an installation in which two rather strange figures discuss their lives. A pad of cotton-wool (of the sort used for removing make-up) and a Smart car talk about their experiences, their ideals and their personal conflicts. The conversation is in words and also in images that are projected onto a kind of stage. The subjects talked about vary widely: city life as opposed to country life, relations with other people, different lifestyles and their implications, dress and appearances as indicators of belonging to different communities or social groups, the welfare state and its more specific personal implications, reality shows, the awareness and acceptance of belonging to a mediatised society.

All the dialogues are taken from conversations that the artist has overheard in trains, restaurants and other public places. So the two figures are certainly not exotic but merely two specimens of the present day. One of them is more homely and balanced, modest and disciplined, realistic and practical, and more or less satisfied with its situation in life. The other is more complex, unstable, over-the-top, sociable and with a tendency to make quick value judgements.

This is not the first time that Goldberg has created an apparently innocent story that as a public statement achieves the category of a diagnosis. As the artist himself says, “Simplicity or playfulness does not mean that a work is irrelevant. The fact that it uses simple symbols makes it universally comprehensible. (…) I feel that art has to have different levels. And the first level, or introduction, should, at least in my work, always have this atmosphere of playfulness, of harmlessness. I don’t want my art to be somehow awe-inspiring .” In his earlier work, Goldberg used a children’s game (Stone, paper, scissors) to make an intervention in the public space at Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin (the former frontier that separated East and West Germany), reducing the rivalry and political tensions to playground level. Curtain.mov was a red curtain (and the curtain round the stage inThings are generally different behind closed doors is a clear reference to it) that moved almost imperceptibly along a 60-metre-long transparent corridor linking two parts of the Martin Gropius building in Eberswalde. More recently, in Next Destination, Milk & Honey, he installed a bus stop in the centre of Heidenheim which each day announced one of the 2,000 destinations on the map of Schlaraffendland, the Accurata Utopia Tabula (c.1720) in which the cartographer Johann Baptist Homann reproduced in painstaking detail all the place names in the land of milk and honey, the Land of Cockaigne or the Land of Plenty.

Curtains that move, imaginary maps, children’s games, cars and cotton-wool pads that speak – Goldberg uses objects and situations from real life and transforms them into direct, punchy questions. He is never provocative or dogmatic but in an understated, humorous and seemingly naïve way he points to the subtle displacements or “differences” that put some fundamental values to the test.

Montse Badia
January 2005



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