The Catechisms and Hymns of Time: “Aufs Maul geschaut”

Conceptual fatigue is the malaise of the contemporary art patron. This fatigue, the contemporary artist combats, ironically, by inflating the already putrid conceptual grounds in which their art lies. Not so for Aufs Maul geschaut, an exhibition at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, where history, language, and design unite for a modern art faux pas, that is, creating concretely beautiful and meaningful work. The divided space is a constellation of disparate elements derived from Martin Luther’s ideas on work, language, and time, but instead of drowning the spectators with their theoretical nature, the concepts receive a tangible treatment, in forms of sound, light, and material that interact with the audience. The space is cleverly separated by acoustics rather than walls, speakers reverberate parts of speech; wooden logs that, once one nears them (or sits on them), begin talking; a large light installation combined with motion sensors that quietly recite Martin Luther’s text; pages of poetry one is encouraged to tear off from a large stack, that one can then read while roaming between the different acoustic areas, and so on.

The interaction of the art with the audience is not at the center of the experience, and for that matter, no center exists within the space, this lack of center amalgamates the different parts into a unified whole, and the path that one takes within the space makes for the unique participatory adventure of the installation, one that successfully revolts against the dull white walls of the common gallery. These are all combined in a modern design aesthetic in direct link with classical theology, philosophy, and art, and they manage doing so without pretension. This lack of pretension is an achievement that deserves particular accolades, as the exhibition renders religious and metaphysical ideas by implementing them; it shows, rather than tells, the theory wasn’t glued as an afterthought, but instead it is an underlying coherent entity, a daring feat, considering our intellectually opaque climate, one of name-dropping and idea-dropping, in order to receive an affirmation that our works are clever, but here, exactly, is where Aufs succeeds, and does so without appearing to try too hard, without the affectation or superficiality of an academic setting, in a word: Art.

Martin Luther, in his time, held the controversial view that German, the language of the people, should be the language of Mass and prayer, rather than Latin, then the language of the establishment. His catechisms (a form of questions and answers that introduces us to theological ideas), and his hymns, (a musical form of divine praise), were likewise written in and for his time’s common language, which makes for a deep historical parallel with this exhibition, that resounds his concepts on our wandering bodies as we move about the space, making it into a sort of modern catechism, one that makes use of the universal language of our times: design and technology, one that turns the gallery into a cathedral, making its collection of sounds into a present-day hymn.