Berlin-based artist Piotr Nathan caused a stir when he announced the selling of his monumental mural “Rituale des Verschwindens (Rituals Of Disappearance)”, designed for and displayed at the Berlin Techno club Berghain.
Making way for a new dance floor near the club’s entrance area, the piece was “dissolved” in April 2017. Perceived by many as an integral part of the club, Piotr Nathan’s “Rituale des Verschwindens (Rituals Of Disappearance)”, consists of 171 lacquered square aluminum panels. It was sold not as a whole, but as individual pieces via a purpose-built website that bypassed the regular distribution channels of the art market. IC talks to Piotr Nathan about the site-specificity of his work, its distinct collectors audience, the role that Berghain played in his artistic career, and his idea of a “Gesamtkunstwerk”.
Mr. Nathan, in a statement on Resident Advisor you said that it is your wish that every panel that is sold finds a new home with someone that has a strong connection to Berghain. Is it important to you who collects your work?PIOTR NATHAN
This statement deals with the wish of a dreamer – which I am. Other than that I find it more important that my work doesn’t go straight into storage after it’s sold but that it is displayed and can interact with its surroundings. But that’s the dreamer talking again now…
Edvard Munch regarded his work as if it were his children. I relate to this sentiment when it comes to my art. Like Munch, my works are rarely created out of a serial work process.
Your approach to sell the piece not as a whole but as individual parts – at a price of 500 Euros for each panel — follows the democratic ideals that also mirror the philosophy of the club. Do you believe that by selling the works through a purpose-built website you have reached the collector audience you wished for?PIOTR NATHAN
The selling of the work through a website defies all forms of control. The unpredictability of the outcome of this decision is comparable to that of the natural phenomena that inspired the work in the first place: the eruption of a volcano, the sand and sea storm and the sudden appearance of the northern lights.
Maybe I reached the “ideal collectors audience“ – as you referred to the buyers of my panels – through the website and the unpredictability of this democratic approach has worked in my favor.
And if not, the people who bought the panels still became part of the entire artistic process. The artistic action does not end with the acquisition of a panel. Now the work starts to unfold itself. The “museum“ in which the work will be displayed does not only consist of walls on which the panel is hung. One possible way of displaying the work might be on the screen of an iPhone for example, onto which the image of a panel is transferred. In my fantasy the work is still in one piece.
Out of all the people who acquired individual panels not everyone would consider themselves an art collector. Do you believe that the decision to buy a piece of art is intertwined with the context it is presented in?PIOTR NATHAN
When I buy a piece of art, the only thing that influences my decision is the reaction the work triggers in me. But a big, professional art collector also takes different things into account, for example: how important is the gallery that represents the artist? So it is hard to make a general statement on the topic.
In regard to my work and Berghain I find it difficult to talk about art and the context it is presented in. The artwork wasn’t just displayed in the club — it was a part of it and helped to shape its aura. Its “dissolution” is a form of metamorphosis, and “Rituale des Verschwindens “ remains integral to the club.
Since its beginning, many things at Berghain have changed. The club has gained enormous popularity, which is why relicts of the club have been sold as “collectors items” on the internet. Amongst them a banana that resident Ben Klock supposedly left at the DJ booth, as well as a drinks menu from Panorama Bar. Of course it is possible that someone bought a panel from “Rituale des Verschwindens” as a mere investment. What do you make of that?PIOTR NATHAN
I’d rather not think about the answer to this question. I’ll just go back to being a hopeless dreamer…
Many of the artists exhibiting their work in Berghain or in its related exhibitions and events have a strong connection to the club and are often associated with it. What role does Berghain play in the course of your career as an artist?PIOTR NATHAN
The opportunity to realize “Rituale des Verschwindens” at Berghain played an important role. The work is one of my key pieces and its commission did indeed shape me. Initially it was a major artistic challenge, but of course it was also a chance to work on a monumental piece of art. In addition to that, the work was supposed to be a long-term installation as opposed to a shorter exhibition in a gallery or museum. “Rituale des Verschwindens” was unveiled with a performance by Inga Busch, almost simultaneously to the opening of the club on November 26, 2004. It had been on display for thirteen years and viewed by thousands of people, most of them young and not the regular art industry type. I realized that it gave those people something special when they voiced their appreciation after hearing that I was the artist – often from friends I went to the club with. Mostly their gestures of gratitude made me feel somewhat uncomfortable but of course I was flattered every time. Being a hopeless dreamer, I am convinced that art has the power to make us better people, even if the encounter with art takes place on an unconscious level.
As you mentioned “Rituale des Verschwindens” became an integral part of the clubs architecture, meaning that many visitors regarded the work and the cultural institution that is Berghain as somewhat of a *Gesamtkunstwerk*. What exactly is it that you like about this way of reading your work?PIOTR NATHAN
That is exactly what I wanted, so your reading is very much to my liking!
Creating work places that are free of any typical artistic background has always been a fruitful breeding ground for me and my work. The piece for Berghain originates from that very same place.
My site-specific works are part of the architecture they are surrounded by. Again and again, the history of a place influenced the concept of a piece. That is also true for the history of a cultural institution, the one of Haus der Kunst in Munich, for example.
One of the first installations of this kind I made in an empty flat during my studies back in 1985. Every room of the upper-middle class flat displayed our artistic interpretation of it. The exhibition was titled “An Empty House Left in a Hurry”. I created many site-specific works after that, mostly drawings of spaces that were applied directly to a wall using charcoal and later painted over after the presentation. That way they stay in the rooms forever.
What are you currently working on?PIOTR NATHAN
Now that the “dissolution” of “Rituale des Verschwindens” is almost complete and all your questions have been answered, I’ll return to a subject I have been trying to address by way of drawing but sadly haven’t had enough time to work on so far. It deals with the relation of a picture’s frame to its center. Even though I was able to solve the questions it raises in my drawing, I still want to address it from a philosophical, existentialist point of view.