The East is Black
Arnd Christian Müller
Sunday 10th March 2019 – 2 pm
with a special performance by the percussion duet
Adilia Yip & Ricardo Lievano
Albus Lux Contemporary
Plantagebaan 232, 4 725 AG Wouwse-Plantage, Noord-Brabant,
“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible”. (Paul Klee)
First exhibition in Holland by the German artist Arnd Christian Müller, who has been living in China for many years, presenting a series of works which are the result of his research in the world of work, entitled “The East is Black”.
Today’s artists express the interior torment that derives partly from the identity crisis that is the result of globalization and the lack of social certainties. Contemporary art is the mirror of a feeling of new social aims often reached at high cost, not only economic but above all in uniformity and conformity. The message the artist expresses is no longer told through a work of art but by a philosophical concept. The artist manifests himself and lives through art, he who reflects every doubt and discomfort in his work, revealing it via the language chosen for his artistic research.
He is an intellectual and political subject that contributes to social progress through the aesthetic instrument. His activity is not collateral or subordinated to political theory but must be considered on the same level: either to understand the world or to inevitably modify it. Perhaps the artistic experience is the only means we have today to renew the feeling of wonder almost indefinitely.
By nature, aesthetics tends to explore the possible ways of constructing and establishing human relationships amid ideas in non-visible terms.
For this reason, he approaches different subjects which play with an inner strength, as if to develop all possible expressive variations, since ultimately no-one will have the definitive point of view.
Arnd Christian Müller’s artistic research begins with a social study on today’s Chinese workers who go to work carrying the personal tools that they themselves have readapted and reworked according to their intended use.
One of these basic tools is the “hammer”, which Arnd uses as a metaphor that is set in space, arriving at a modular art where the symbol is repeated in different ways to create a chain that defines the horizon of the visual space. It contains no concept but perhaps only an archaic form that infinitely repeats, offering a different rhythm each time, in turn becoming a story, like music.
Just as the word is the basis of the page in which the symbol/hammer forms its aesthetic and expressive relationships, so too the images of the workers are inserted in the exhibition space.
In this way the story evolves of those who lend their experience and description in the use of this instrument. The element of human nature shines through their faces even in the harshness of their everyday reality, conveying the dignity of man in a way that approaches poetry.
In the installation “The East is Black”, Arnd uses an ordinary work tool like a “broom” in order to visually recreate a group of people that looks all the same, to denounce anonymity and homologation, involving us emotionally in the alienation of working practices in our society.
Arnd’s — Arnd Christian Müller’s work could only sprout from the deep of China.
Not the funny China, the sweet China of the teacups and the smiling mandarins, no: the enormous and severe China with its deep catastrophes and its Great Leaps Forward. Where some 1.300 million Chinese live who all of them have black eyes and black hair, save the very old, bald and white-haired.
“When I arrived in China in 2000,” Arnd says, “I needed a couple of years before I could define what precisely were, in daily life, the big differences with Europe for me. There were so many different things… But all of a sudden I realised the effect on me of everybody’s having black eyes and black hair. To wit, that superficially there are much less grand differences here, in biological diversity, than we in the West are used to.”
This uniformity forms the background for his recent installation “The East is Black”: an army — or at least a battalion — of identical, black, mops.
“The mop,” Arnd says, “is one of the least satisfactory cleaning tools that ever were invented. In fact the only thing they do is the dirt from left to right and from back to front. You see them everywhere in China. New in the shop they come in various colours, but that makes no difference: when they have been used a few times they are uniformly grey-black.”
Ineffective, primitive, dirty: was that the China Arnd Müller found on arrival? Let’s say, that also. China at that moment, partly because of its uncontrolled industrial development, was one of the world’s dirtiest countries. The cleaning up is under way, but there is still a lot of work to do. But there was more than just that.
When Arnd Müller came to China in 2000 he did not, with his very practical background of designer and planner, have the idea to go and make art.
With his practiced eye for concrete things he could not but see the appalling amounts of scrap metal and other unrecycled remnants that were, in fact, the almost direct result of the generalised deep poverty of many millions of people, the country was dragging itself out of.
His first reaction would have been to have a look at articles nobody looks at. Like drain covers. And to make a picture of them.
A second, maybe a third reaction, was when strolling over a scrap heap to pick up a self-made hammer, what can be more practical than a hammer, and to see that there were hammers like that lying all over the place. And to pick them up. There were no two hammers the same.
In that way the project was born that would generate the “Hammer” series of works of art. It was the start of an artistic eye that would graft itself on recycling.
In the initial stages of his artistic evolution Arnd would let recycling help; recycling and what one could call “improper use” of objects. Of beer bottles maybe, that got a new, unhoped for function.
And of course the hammers.
These hammers, and a lot of other scrap heaps, were children of the Great Leap Forwards that came over China in the years 1957-’58. The Great Wastage it brought was as enormous as the enthusiasm itself of the population. People were called upon to carry whatever they had in the house of metal objects to the often improvised melting furnaces of the village or town. There everything was molten and the result reused for impure and useless new products. This, and the great famine that resulted from it with its toll of millions of victims, is probably what broke the immense revolutionary euphoria of the People’s Republic. After that came the train of political disasters like the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.
A strange world it must have been.
It was a China where, as a result of all this, it became normal that workers on a wharf first would knock together the equipment they needed, weld together two pieces of iron to have a hammer, that once the job done they threw away. These are the hammers that built the New China. Arnd found them and picked them up, and gave them a new, deeply Chinese purpose.
Extremely Chinese is the row of bronze bells, hung on a rack from large to small, that form a xylophone. They figure in many Chinese museums, the oldest examples date from the Shang- or Yin-dynasty, around 2000 before Christ.
In Arnd’s hands the installation carries no bronze bells, but rude iron hammers hung from light to heavy, from long to short, that, why not in a circle, tap of tick each other and play xylophone. Or that, placed in a rack, form a “hammer harp”.
Arnd Müller is farther ahead now. His work, that was never very abstract but rather concrete and practical, is getting contents. A comment that never is verbally formulated. In China comments are not spoken. But they can be brought visually: Arnd is giving his hammers back to their rightful owners, the workers who made them, literally. Now they pose for the cameras, hammer in hand as an alien artefact found back out of a time nobody would ever have found possible.
In a new project, Arnd cast the anonymous workers, the migrating workers who, chased from their villages by the new economy, build the new China in the cities. He says: “Anonymous workers” is very much a socially engaged work, which touched me emotionally more than any of my previous works.”
He is only just started, Arnd, and China is big.
Sus van Elzen
Albus Lux Contemporary
Plantagebaan 232, 4 725 AG – Wouwse-Plantage, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands
Opening hours: Wednesday – Saturday 1pm – 5pm by appointment
firstname.lastname@example.org – www.albuslux.com
0031 (0)6 14952679
Arnd Christian Müller