“Blue”, an Artistic Response

The following piece by the artist group MEHL (Claude Schötz, Hannes Bröcker, Jonas Loh, and Marian Kaiser) is first published as prose here, though it debuted under the “The Discrete Charm of the Alphabet” exhibition segment at Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s long-term project “The New Alphabet” (taking place from 2019 to 2021). From conversations with Sybille Krämer and an ongoing experimental involvement with her books through fictional forms and various media, the artist group MEHL has distilled a digestible and rather indiscrete “Geist,” with Sybille Krämer’s DNA as core ingredient. The audience will be served a kind of high-tech madeleine, strictly in line with the Deleuzian dictum, that the speaking machine is an eating machine. The madeleine will enable non-binary forms of communication, while digging for repressed situations and technological desires in the subconscious of European media history and theory. Its aftertaste will stay with the audience during the following three lectures. MEHL is an artist collective and dinner service specialized in concrete fabulation and synthetic theory.

Lock of Sybille Krämer‘s hair, from which DNA was extracted by MEHL

What if desire is a machine? What machine would it be? There are 13,731 weather stations around the globe, 8,341 of which do not only constantly monitor temperature, humidity, and air pressure, but also measure emission levels, particles, and industrial residuals the air contains. Last year, the German Meteorological Service developed an algorithm for the Air Force’s new drone program. It determines the prospected visibility in a specific area at a specific time, one day in advance, by correlating the measurements of every weather station on the planet. The program communicates its findings in a set of data and an image of the sky expected the next day. The color of this screen image is mixed according to the meteorological measurements, the blend of particles in the air, in relation to a HEX color code. The woman searching for the color of her lost lover’s eyes is looking for a blue somewhere around Hex Code #009ACD, but with dots of green and a touch of red close to classic Rose Madder. Every time, the algorithm presents her with an image of one of tomorrow’s skies close to this specific color, somewhere in the world, she has one day to get there, to see it.

She had met her lover on a bench near a factory. A foundry in the town of Kettenbach, casting iron and steel into gully covers and shower drains. 7 km down the road is Zollhaus. Zollhaus consists of a church, a butcher, a brothel, a park bench, and 17 brown houses. According to geologists, there used to be an ocean. The rocks, plants, dead fish, and mythic creatures have rotten into all kinds of resources that are dug up everywhere in the area. Coal, chalk, metals. The ocean has retreated into a small river, swerving through the hills and forests of the Taunus. You can see it from the bench. And I once found it in a photographic volume of romantic German landscapes. It is called the ‘Aar’, old German for eagle. It was named ‘Aar’ in 1938, when the factory was built. 50 years later, 2000 people from 50 countries work in the factory, mostly man, that’s why, as the day shift’s foreman always joked, they needed the brothel.

Her lover worked in the factory. She was the only woman on her shift. She worked the big magnet. Picking up scrap metal sorted in piles by chemical composition and dumping it into the furnace. The magnet had a weight build in, so she could get the alloy just right. Once a year, the filters in the chimneys would burst, usually in summer, when it was hot anyway. 35 degrees and a white coat of ashy debris covers the hills and forests, cars, and houses. Beautiful. Like the famous sunsets in the French Provence reddened by the exhaust fumes of the German coal industry. They sat on a bench and her lover told her that she had added more cadmium than usual to the steel in the last weeks and pointed to that spot, where blue sky turned red. She looked stunning in her work overall, her Blaumann, her eyes gleaming in the color of her dress. She would later remember the sound the zipper made, when pulled open. An element at a time, tooth by tooth by tooth. The next day, she was gone.

She looked in every part of the world, checking foreign skies and their reflections in lakes and seas, connecting data, simulating coming days and new mornings. She found nothing, but she killed two women and severely injured one man in a car accident near a cobalt mine on some Pacific island, where she had arrived minutes too late. She had driven the car against a solid wall, three times, after the older of the two women had asked her, how she integrated the emissions of flights she took into her calculations and predictions. She got away by paying a bribe to a policeman, a judge, and various witnesses.

She told me all this, when we met in the German camp in Kundus. She looked gorgeous in that uniform. She had the strangest job. She stared at a wall of 12 times 12 monitors, screening the desert, recorded by cameras, set up in circles 3 and 5 kms outside the camp. 17 were black, when no drones were flying. Every morning, she saw the sun rise over the desert in 127 variations. A common friend called and told her that she had sighted the blue on 8 January 21, 2015 in a cobalt mine outside of Kokkola in Finland. Not in the sky, but on a tree at the rim of a gaping hole in the ground. Another friend reported a sighting on January, 26, but couldn’t name his exact whereabouts somewhere near another cobalt mine in the Ituri region of Eastern Congo.

She spent days in front of the screen, zooming in on mines around the globe, following the spread of the blue, until she found out, it belonged to a blue bark fungus. The fungus was near extinct 20 years ago, but satellite images show that its mold-shaped blue fruiting body has since spread over vast new territories due to changing climate conditions and altered landscapes, making green forests look like small blue lakes. The deep blue color of the fungus stams from terphenyls it produces. Terphenyl is commonly used in laser technologies to cut the circuit boards of electronic devices. Engineers call the sprawling mycelium “cobalt crust fungus”, due to its color, use, and habitat.

Dear Sybille,

We met you in Vienna and we asked you for a lock of your hair.

Thank you for your hair.

What if we had grown a blue bark fungus on it?

A gleaming blue mycelium, a sprawling non-binary communication network?

Absorbing the nutrient’s from your hair, incorporating and processing your DNA.

And what if we had distilled this fungus into a “Geist”, a “Spirit” — and made a Madeleine from it?

What if something insisted,
an aftertaste,
somewhere in the back of the gum,
where the speaking machine becomes an eating machine?

And what if we had not made one, but hundreds of Madeleines containing your innermost alphabet?

What if we packed them into shiny, golden boxes?

What if these boxes are under your seats now?

What if I told you to look under your seats?

Look under your seats, now.

What if I told you to open the box.

Open the box.

Take it out.

Put the Madeleine in your mouth.

Put it in your mouth.

(Look into camera, until it hurts).