Korpys/Löffler: Personen, Institutionen, Objekte, Sachen 06/2018, Camera Austria International 142

On a trip to the US in 1996, the German duo Korpys/Löffler created a visionary film trilogy. On Super 8 they captured the United Nations Building in New York, and the soon-to-be-attacked architectures of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The camera curiously palpates the concrete, steel, and glass structures and focuses on what is to be seen in the periphery of the buildings: security staff, passersby in suits and sunglasses (some carrying briefcases), police cars. Observed through Korpys/Löffler’s investigative lens and cinematically framed, the figures could just as well be suspects in a fictional crime scene. Twenty years later, we all have become suspects in a panoptical, thoroughly controlled public space. And the global entanglements of neocolonial capitalism represented by these buildings have been accelerated to a dizzying velocity.

The “Amerika-Filme” (America Films, 1997) and corresponding photographs also on display in Braunschweig on small prints are key to understanding the body of work that has since evolved. It unfolds in a continuous interest in state power, representative architectures, and anti-capitalist uprisings and through an analytical working routine with a variety of visual media. Exploring the oeuvre in this comprehensive retrospective—performed in three institutional shows with varying selections, starting with a first chapter in Tübingen, then on view in Braunschweig and later in Dortmund—not only serves to trace the artistic development of Korpys/Löffler, but also that of the media that inform our political and social spaces today.

The works, accordingly, become more complex with the years. The European Central Bank Building is the subject of the video installation “Verwisch die Spuren! Transparenz, Kommunikation, Effizienz, Stabilität” (Erase the Traces! Transparency, Communication, Efficiency, Stability, 2016). Here, we are catapulted from the “end of history”-nineties to post-democratic crisis capitalism. Conceptualized by the avant-garde architects Coop Himmelb(l)au, the building with its generous glass façades and welcoming foyer conveys values in stark contrast to the protectionism and austerity policies of an ailing West: transparency and openness. HD architecture shots are confronted with grainy Super 8 material depicting the Blockupy protests in March 2015 on the occasion of the opening of the then just finished building. Also cut in are anti-capitalist graffiti in an urban landscape that has become a battle zone, a fact that is also grippingly illustrated in the catalogue, in a personal report by artist and writer Steffen Zillig on his experiences in Hamburg during the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit.

Called into question here is the “authenticity” of which the analogue material depicting the protests is suggestive, as is generally the case in the work of the duo, who constantly self-referentially point at the technologies behind the simulacra. In “Verwisch die Spuren!,” the omnipresent mobile phone makes an appearance as object as if being presented in a product commercial; also, the Super 8 camera itself is filmed, or the microphone that serves to capture all kinds of atmospheric sounds. In other works, cyanotypes or drawings are added to illustrate narratives that oscillate between fact and fiction. An ink drawing accompanying the video work “The Nuclear Football” (2004), for example, in which the artists try to track a black briefcase—usually kept near leaders with access to nuclear weapons so as to be able to authorize a strike anytime, in this case during a visit by George W. Bush to Berlin in 2002—displays the results of investigations the duo carried out for the piece. Another crucial element in their works is sound, serving to illustrate what is seen, but also adding more layers to the whole. In “Verwisch die Spuren!,” for example, text messages and telephone calls are inserted that quote from Bertolt Brecht’s “Lesebuch für Städtebewohner” (1926–27).

Korpys/Löffler also apply their interest in architecture to the spaces in which their works are exhibited. In Braunschweig, “Verwisch die Spuren!” was screened in a historical mirror cabinet and reflected in two mirrors the size of the confronting screens, a setup suggestive of the simulacrum and Plato’s Cave. “Personen, Institutionen, Objekte, Sachen” (People, Institutions, Objects, Things, 2014), a video work that revolves around the headquarters of the BND (Federal Intelligence Service) in Berlin at the time when it was being built, was allegorically installed in the Braunschweig basement, which is normally not used as an exhibition space. Everything stored here—water bottles, building materials, and other objects—was transferred to the entrance area.

The work references today’s surveillance culture and traces it back to Horst Herold, a former president of Germany’s Federal Crime Office (BKA), who, when trying to track down members of the Red Army Faction, equipped the institution with computers and started collecting all kinds of data, focusing on peripheral phenomena and secondary matters. In 1975, he thus created the computer-operated database PIOS (Personen, Institutionen, Objekte, Sachen) that lent the piece its name. Korpys/Löffler circled the BND building and observed it from an apartment in the vicinity. Additionally, they recorded random found objects, like a cigarette butt or a rubber glove. They then researched and called telephone numbers of several sub-departments of the BND, and as soon as someone picked up gave a brief description of one of the found objects as if they were evidence in a crime case. Later, the artists superimposed the recordings onto the images of the objects. Political power today, it seems, is primarily being executed through obfuscation and concealment of truths. What is actually shown and why is a question that should surely be posed more frequently.