How Zandmann’s art objects confront the viewer mercilessly
At first sight the sculptures of the artist ZANDMANN seem quite harmless. While strolling past, I noticed striking forms of concrete and steel and my instinctive turning in the direction of these objects, I attributed to my affinity for clear, contemporary architecture. Exposed concrete and rusty steel, in combination with fine woods and polished surfaces, have long since become part of our living culture. I had not yet fully deciphered the mechanics or the functionality of the exhibited objects when I read the words „individual suicide tools for a better world“ on a wall print. I must have stood there for some time with a somewhat stupid expression on my face. While a part of my brain kept trying to understand how it worked, my limbic system confronted me with an undertow. In front of my inner eye I suddenly sat in these machines, already exposed to the immediate danger of death, while I was just beginning to understand what or in what way I was threatened. A light touch of panic in the face of this uncontrollable threat situation gave me back control of my facial muscles.
It doesn’t happen too often in an exhibition that I first walk away from all the objects, only to return again and again to the individual objects, to persevere in order to listen to my inner restlessness.
What you can expect from art
Before I rebel, before I ask myself the question of dignity or morality, before I consider what art is allowed or not, I would like to report on the pure level of experience. I don’t want to talk about what art should achieve, but about what Zandmann’s art actually achieves. Because what is so readily attributed to art in general, namely that it is capable of stimulating debate, I have not yet experienced in this intensity. All too often one remains a passive observer. Of course, one is moved by beauty, authenticity, and even by the conceptual intellect. But it is brutal that you cannot resist becoming part of the exhibited object, that your own imagination forces you into this situation. Where else can I, as a visitor, become part of a work of art in this intensity – regardless of education, intellect, cultural or social background? Because anyone who becomes aware of its functionality becomes part of the sculpture at that moment. Zandmann’s art objects literally go beyond what one can expect from a work of art.
Beyond the trivial taboo of a suicide machine
We must not make the mistake of looking for the quality of Zandmann art objects in their trivial and conceptual function of suicide. The world has already experienced pure suicide machines and the excitement of their mere existence. Be it in the form of the intravenous suicide machine „Thanatron“ by Jack „Dr. Death“ Kevorkian, or in a more sober form, the box reminiscent of the „Futurama Suicidchamber“ by the Australian doctor Philip Nietschke. In fact, the true quality does not lie in the loud bang of the taboo-breaking „suicide“. The quality of the objects lies in their confrontational quality.
The actual confrontation is then also far more contemplative than one would first suspect. Sandmann’s intention is to enter into a dialogue. It is not necessarily about the amount of adrenaline, but rather about a means of relativizing one’s own longings, fears and motivations. Thus Zandmann recommends to confront oneself daily in one’s own „individual“ machine. Only the hands on the triggers create the awareness to relativize one’s own life to a zero point. Or to put it differently: in the face of death, we begin to live.
The need for an individual Suicide Tool
It is no coincidence, it is part of the concept that Zandmann markets its objects like products. There is a website with product descriptions and storylines, a marketing campaign with provocative slogans and the possibility of customizing his own personal tool.
We react immediately and impulsively to the banality of his marketing slogans: „Save the planet, kill yourself“ is as simple as it is threatening, as it seems to reflect the attitude towards life of an entire generation. In general, the Sandmann slogans reflect almost the entire spectrum of what seems to occupy people substantially and defines their idea of the world and their own lives. With a few slogans, Zandmann strikes a collective nerve and provides the answer with his objects.
I am not sure whether it is a sign of good powers of observation or a cynical spirit that Zandmann makes even the confrontation with one’s own existence configurable and consumable in a narcissistic, capitalist world.
But what Zandmann works out precisely in his objects is the confrontation with one’s very own fears. For it is quite astonishing how clearly visitors develop an affinity to one or the other machine and have a very precise idea for themselves of the form in which suicide would or would not be conceivable.
The configurability of suicide machines thus serves two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, the narcissistic desire for individuality and, on the other hand, the actual, original idea about the act of suicide.
Loud and vulgar or contemplative and gentle?
If one looks at the objects independently of their function, as if they were abstract room installations, they follow classical design patterns. Each object has a completely clear structure, materials and surfaces are coordinated, the constructions have a clean, almost monumental structure. In their pure appearance they are confrontational and take a dominant position in the room. Thus they are at least not quiet, not adapted, but also not vulgar. Only through the implied function and the associated taboo-breaking of suicide do they seem to become vulgar, vain and effective.
If we overcome this taboo break in our minds, we are able to see the contemplative gentleness of the installations. Because the confrontations are gradual and the function is in dialogue with the construction and the materials. There is a spectrum from fast to slow, from soft to hard. If we take the machines as pure contemplation machines, in which we imagine their function only as a means, we experience that they react amazingly sensitively to our own limitations.
One thing is definitely great about the Zandmann Suicide Tools: they have stimulated me to engage at all levels of my being – and that is more than I ever hoped for from an art object.
About the author:
Tobias Vetter is a German author writing about contemporary artists, but also about important artistic personalities of the 20th century.
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