“Fake it till you make it.”
Akademie Isotrop presentation
Saturday 24 February 2007
Patrick Marcoux, WM Los Angeles
“As much as Ohrt, himself, steered his presentation away from the concept of the spotlight, he couldn't help sprinkling slides of Jonathan Meese (perhaps the most widely-known Isotrop alum) and his artworks, throughout the story.”
In a recent interview, novelist Jonathan Lethem recycled the insight that "the irony of trying to become a writer or a painter or a musician is that you basically have to be a fake first. You have to pretend to be something before you can possibly persuade yourself, or anyone else, that you've got something really interesting to offer." This kind of functionalist take on aspirational energy was at the heart of a presentation, in February, chronicling the German art cooperative, Akademie Isotrop.
The talk, given by German writer and curator Roberto Ohrt, was inspired by a dokumenta 12 magazine project seeking responses to the open-ended question What is to be done?. Ohrt had participated in an exemplary set of events that unfolded as a tiny, temporary exhibition space in one corner of a club in Hamburg, , evolved into a private educational cooperative for art. So he told the story.
The Mandrake bar in Culver City seemed well-suited to host Roberto Ohrt's presentation on Akademie Isotrop. Mandrake is a bar whose placement in Los Angeles draws on Culver City gallery affiliates; and various other creatives, by hosting special "nights" in its back room, for film and video screenings, small art shows, and presentations (though they certainly have the elasticity to project R. Kelly's long form music video "Trapped in the Closet," on the back wall, as well). Among other interested parties, the CalArts-affiliated art journal Afterall has established a relationship with Mandrake, and regularly holds issue-release presentations, there. Roberto Ohrt's presentation was organized by Afterall.
Of course, Mandrake's mod-ish interior is not so humble as the beginnings of Ohrt's story in the Golden Pudel club, Hamburg; where one night a week, a much smaller room (in a much less reserved bar) was converted into an art exhibition space. After developing interest and energy among a group of creatives at the Pudel club “night”; the visual artists, musicians, and writers eventually got together and rented connecting flats on the ground floor of a building, so that they could function as a more tangible organization. In 1996, with their base of operations established, they began developing an experimental learning environment—loosely attempting a kind of direct democracy and collectivity in the construction of classes, student-teacher relationships, magazines, and exhibitions. In a half-serious gesture toward formality, this structure was named Akademie Isotrop.
For a private organization to take on the title of "academy" was particularly unique in , where--keep in mind--higher education art schools had been almost exclusively state-run. While the local Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg considered Akademie Isotrop a joke early on; Isotrop would come to define its own importance. As Ohrt described, within three or four years Isotrop was functioning with the surprising side effect of being a feeder program-- said to practically guarantee acceptance to the state-run art school.
"The irony of trying to become a writer or a painter or a musician is that you basically have to be a fake first. You have to pretend to be something before you can possibly persuade yourself, or anyone else, that you've got something really interesting to offer."
In documenting his experiences in Akademie Isotrop, Ohrt exposed a cooperative acting as if they deserved notability and promotion, before they had actually earned it. Prior to the dissolution of the group, this brashness did result in several Isotrop artists finding themselves in the spotlight. As much as Ohrt, himself, steered his presentation away from the concept of the spotlight, he couldn't help sprinkling slides of Jonathon Meese (perhaps the most widely-known Isotrop alum) and his artworks, throughout the story. But Roberto Ohrt's focus was in producing a model of artists forming a collective, declaring themselves an academy, and making their own waves. In this sense, Isotrop is a fairly uplifting embodiment of what he called "a productive fiction." As a proposal for Dokumenta's What is to be done?, this aspirational energy seems not unlike Lyotard's future anterior description of the postmodern artist paradoxically searching for the ways of working that will have been done. And, well, Lethem's fake it till you make it.
To see an archival website for Akademie Isotrop, visit:
Patrick Marcoux is a birdwatcher in Los Angeles.