1970 - not a particularly good year, but it did bring forth two undeniably top wines, the Latour and the Petrus, as the wine guru René Gabriel noted in one of his bibliophile works under the heading "The Old Testament". His eternal competitor for the post of the supreme wine connoisseur, Robert Parker, had no problem in catching up; indulging himself while tasting the 1970 Petrus: "Its strong bouquet contains cedar wood, caramel, vanilla, tobacco, fruit loaf and a black cherry marmalade pervaded by licorice". He attests that this top wine will reach its optimal maturity after 35 years. Gabriel's succinct commentary is: "drink up".
And Ralf Tekaat, who was born in 1970, also makes prognoses, however not about the optimal maturity or the peak of top wines, but about the achievement potential of various professional groups instead. A diagram provides the information. The results of the output curve - somewhat awkward and crackly, and drawn with a colored crayon on squared paper - are relentless. The artists with the soccer balls have already passed their zenith by the age of 35, but the real artist heads towards his first professional peak at the age of 35. True: After all, Tekaat won his first advancement prize this year. The diagram is a detail from his site-specific wall installations and will in all probability provide the 35-year-old with added security for his future existence as an artist.
Newspaper clippings, pieces of paper with notes, photos, commentaries, pages from telephone books, details from sketch books and the like are the materials from which his stagings are produced. The wall is turned into a large piece of paper; a spontaneous insert here, a fully thought out intervention there. The objects are sometimes affixed in a haphazard manner; sometimes they are properly framed. Is something casually placed here that appears like the result of strenuous deliberations, or is something planned and strenuously thought through in advance here, which the viewer only casually faces? Thank God Tekaat abstains from superficial irritation strategies. He succeeds in leaving things up in the air instead.
Tekaat culls material from sources such as literature, cinema, and television, but he is just as inspired by science fiction, soccer and - last but not least - by art history too. His dealings with this rich hoard are by no means simply limited to quotations. He undertakes a formal and contextual re-evaluation of this material instead. In Tekaat's genre-spanning works, drawings, installations, and texts stand as equals next to each other. As is often the case, a glance at the title offers an initial approach to the works. The titles lay tracks; the viewer can catch the scent, but also lose it again over time. "Superman kommt zu spät (und Real gewinnt 1:0)" [Superman comes too late (and Real wins 1:0)]", "Mars needs Women", "Superman ist übermütig dreht aber trotzdem wieder um" [Superman is arrogant but turns around anyway], just to name a few. His titles play with associations and ambivalences and they irritate the viewer on the one hand, but they also provide orientation by pointing out possible interpretations on the other hand. Serious and cheerful, concise and ambiguous: the titles insist on being noticed. The ambiguity already planted in the works' titles is the thread of Ariadne that traverses his oeuvre and characterizes it.
His projects and investigations do not take on politically controversial subject matters, nor do they scale the theoretical heights of artistic discourses. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, his works do not communicate art historical boredom or insipid political correctness. They touch upon various levels and oscillate between the found and the discovered, between fact and fiction, between journalistic documentation and artistic freedom. The real seems fictional, the fictional seems to become real; form becomes content and content becomes form. To be and to seem, reality and invention intermingle with each other. Sometimes these different levels seem to balance the scale, and then they fight each other over dominance. Sometimes one of them wins, sometimes the other. He produces artfully interwoven networks that provide enough material for associations and continuing reflections which appear serious and absurd at the same time.
Looking for Thomas
Tekaat was awarded the "Bremer Förderpreis für Bildende Kunst" [Bremen Advancement Prize for the Visual Arts] for his installation "Auf der Suche nach Thomas R. Pynchon" [Looking for Thomas R. Pynchon]. He left for New York in November 2002 to look for the writer Thomas Pynchon, who was born on May 8, 1937 and was apparently seen there for the last time in 1997. Very little is known about Pynchon. Even the author's existence has been called into question and it has been claimed that he is only a fictional character himself, a pseudonym for J.D. Salinger or even for an entire writers' collective. But his novels and short stories exist. Stylistic virtuosity and an incredible abundance of information are characteristic for the work of this prize-winning author. Pynchon is at just home in the world of comics and animated films as in joining technology and physics with psychology and cultural history into one context. Tekaat's installation from that time reflects this search for clues. He deployed a seemingly baroque-like collection of materials: 300 photographs, found items, commentaries, notes, and drawings as well as about 140 newspaper articles from the last 35 years. Especially conspicuous in this project is the successful intertwining and overlapping of various levels. With time, Tekaat brought his research and their formal realization into line with the structures of Pynchon's novels. The plot strands interweave with each other. Individual bits of information free themselves and start to opulently proliferate. Traditional narrative structures dissolve into a labyrinth of actions and into a variety of meanings. For Tekaat, the search is stylized into an "idée fixe" that becomes autonomous in accordance with the motto: the search is everything - the goal means nothing. Reversals occur: the searcher becomes the searched, the hunter becomes the hunted. He seems to slip into the role of every person opposite him. He assumes their identity in order to hold fast onto his own, so that he can "be close to Pynchon, but also to rid myself of him". Role assignments begin to totter. Nimbly und practiced, Tekaat changes roles, and the identities of author and artist convincingly overlap each other. Ultimately, the question about who is the author and who is the artist remains unanswered.
The Round and the Rectangle
Ralf Tekaat is not only interested in soccer; he is also a confessed and practicing fan of Bayern Munich. Against this background, it is not surprising that he calls himself a "ball artist" for his project "Das Runde und das Eckige" [The Round and the Rectangle] which deals with an important role model, namely the Bayern player Mehmet Scholl. Tekaat asked people, who were to remain anonymous, to name three role models after being allowed to think about the question for 12 seconds. The exception proves the rule. Tekaat's other favorites are James Joyce and Harald Schmidt. Tekaat playfully assembles material on the wall about his heroes. This colorfully lumped together mixture of photos, notes, and drawings seems to overflow. As always, the first glance is a poor counselor because Tekaat easily succeeds in domesticating this rich abundance of material.
Like Ralf Tekaat, Mehmet Scholl was born in 1970. Although Scholl has been prone to injury over the last years, this filigree technician is still a virtuoso player whose tricky free kicks are almost unreadable for the defense and the goalie alike. Ralf Tekaat is also a virtuoso, especially when it comes to working with graphite. And like Scholl, his works are not automatically legible, but full of surprises and esprit. The brand of soccer boots worn by Tekaat is incidentally the same one favored by Mehmet Scholl. One can read on a piece of paper affixed to the exhibition wall: "For players in amateur clubs, they are showoff boots, for hobby players, they are a complete waste of money".
And the answers of the other participants? They can be read on small cards placed in a row on the wall. A wide spectrum has come about: From pop stars, philosophers, soccer players, writers, and scientists up to an including family members were suited to be ennobled as a role model. Among the named include: Franz Kafka, Robert de Niro, Martin Luther King; Robert Musil, Jim Morrison, Madonna; Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Michael Jordan; Bach, Donald Duck, Odysseus; Hölderlin, Mark E. Smith, Ailton; Albert Einstein, Freddy Mercury, Eric Clapton. The privilege of being named more than once can be claimed by: Sophie Calle, Albert Einstein, Jim Morrison, James Joyce, Oskar Schindler, Douglas Adams, Joseph Beuys, Sophie Scholl, and Martin Luther King.
Pictures from the Recession
For his installation "Bilder aus der Rezession" [Pictures from the Recession], Tekaat entered a terrain that draughtsmen seldom toil in and posed questions that are too intellectual for many and are therefore considered suspicious. He is interested in the context in which his works are produced and questions the conditions of his own work. His results make nonsense of these prejudices. This piece also draws from an enormous stock of material ranging from photos, sketches on newspaper articles to sales slips.
What can be seen? A newspaper clipping entitled "Der Wall ist rund" [The Wall is Round] about the Allianz Arena in Munich along with an illustration of this soccer stadium designed by Herzog/deMeuron that resembles a life-vest or a flying saucer. A further article from the "Süddeusche Zeitung" carries the title "Einer flog übers Falkennest - Reise in den gedachten Krieg" [One Flew Over the Falcon's Nest - Journey to the Imaginary War]. The writer Wolfgang Kemp spoke with Paul N. Sinkiewicz, who is considered a supporter of a hi-tech war and draws parallels to Kubrick's film "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love the Bomb". We also see itsy-bitsy drawings - probably a network of observation cameras, images from a television documentary about the Columbia shuttle catastrophe underscored with the desperate call from NASA "Columbia, come in please". Or a sales slip from a large retail chain with the slogan "Hier schlägt das Herz" [The Heart Beats Here]. Tekaat is enthusiastic about this slogan. For me, on the other hand, the position on the receipt reading "Grana Padano 1,59" remains in my culinary memory. In addition, a page from a mail-order company catalog offers inflatable church for a price 31500 Euro.
The media often transport his subject matters, sometimes his own experiences come into the open, and then he also takes up suggestions from friends. Associations are thereby made clear, where the motifs come from, and what the subject matters are. Tekaat has constantly recurring preferences here: Star Wars, architecture, weapons system, observation and control mechanisms, conquest and defense scenarios, conspiracy theories. By no means do these works focus solely on a contextual background, but something apart is produced from this abundance of information. It almost seems as if Tekaat spread out his studio in the exhibition space. His own working method is dealt with here in an extremely subtle manner: He neither shies away from visualizations, nor does he didactically present the viewer with the results on a silver platter.
Along with his installative works, drawings form a further central group of works, although the measurements of the paper often go well beyond the usual formats. His largest work measures 3 x 6 meters. Tekaat crosshatches enigmatic objects with pencil and colored crayon which often have a blocky and static character. These things have form and volume, but they do not betray real measurements or real weights. They create their own pictorial reality, lead a life of their own, and remain enigmatic and ambivalent. They are neither illustrations of familiar everyday occurrences, nor are they classic sculptors' drawings that await transformation into the third dimension. The things remain drawings and ideas.
His drawings are abstract enough to prevent direct legibility, and concrete enough to allow the viewer access at the illustrative level. Not the fleeting, filigree line is at the foreground, but the painterly and the sculptural. Areas sometimes seem hermetically sealed, sometimes lower-lying levels attain lucidity. A structure remains constantly recognizable. The drawings change their appearance depending on the light and the viewer's standpoint; the viewer is forced to move. The drawings approach the viewer laconically and humorously, nightmarishly and cheerfully, threateningly and playfully.
Tekaat skillfully plays with the viewer's associations. The drawing "Grünfell" [Greenfur] recalls a bearskin, a hunting trophy, or a wall hanging. "Black Moby" simultaneously seems like a minimalist sculpture and a bunker, or is an indefinable creatures opening its mouth? A small white circle causes some irritation - is it the opening of a loop-hole, is it a tiny lens that moves into position and peers at the viewer, or is it the eye of Moby Dick, the legendary whale? The drawing entitled "Vieh" [cattle] contains - in German - wide associative potentials: U-Boots, flying objects and poultry. That is the question, and who would want to risk an answer right now. Every drawing has many faces and tells many stories.
Recurring themes traverse his entire oeuvre and they are realized in various media. A cosmos of condensations and overlappings are formed. His works neither fulfill Modernism's yearning for pathos and beauty, nor are his works typical of the now fashionable and often hackneyed political moralizing. His strategies neither insist on continuity in a traditional sense, nor do they hold on to the ideal of an individual image. His work is determined by ambivalences, enigmas, and interleavings. Is Ralf Tekaat a virtuoso draughtsman, is he a detective or a tracklayer, does he want to be Superman, Thomas R. Pynchon or Mehmet Scholl? I believe that he has something of all of them in him. And especially this enigma decisively points out the tension field and presence of his works.