Seen from one angle, an artwork could scarcely be simpler than Morag Keil’s contribution to the group exhibition, universe, at Life Sport’s new temporary gallery space in Berlin. The work consists of the words “Money should move at the speed of life” written in ink on a piece of paper placed inside a frame and hung on a wall. Keil’s work, however, with its low-fi production values, belies a much more complex set of social and economic factors than either the lexical content or the display format would suggest. The words that partially constitute Keil’s work could easily be imagined as some forward-thinking bank’s slogan circa 1996. Indeed, the phrase “speed of life”, which may well be referencing the David Bowie song of that title from his Berlin-era masterpiece, Low, would seem to imply that life moves pretty fast; money had better catch up. In the post-human economics of the twenty-first century, characterised by micro-profits, dark pools and high frequency trades, the suggestion that money should move at the speed of life is now more likely to be interpreted as a statement of protest. Life these days is only ever catching up to money, never the other way around. When considered in the context of Life Sport’s larger project, the work can also be understood as a statement of intent.
Life Sport is an intriguing attempt at subverting the historic economics of the gallery model. Instead of relying on the sale of artworks to fund a space and its staff, Life Sport is relying on the humble tracksuit bottom to create a sustainable capital base from which to stage exhibitions and fund artists. Produced in Athens, a place where money and life have been moving a different, hyper-disruptive speeds for more than half a decade now, the trousers are both a subversion of the dynamics of financial capitalism and a manifestation of its inscription in every corner of contemporary culture. The jury is out on whether the model will thrive in an increasingly unstable global economy, but from the perspective of the space’s debut exhibition in Berlin, there is much to hope for.
Along with “Money Should Move at the Speed of Life” there is another work by Keil in the exhibition, a group of cereal boxes with letters spelling “REVENGE” painted on them. To any resident of London in the last few years, this work can’t help but recall the vandalising of a Brick Lane hipster cafe called Cereal Killers by a group calling itself Fuck Parade. Revenge, the cliche runs, is a dish best served cold, perhaps with milk in the morning, and the boxes have an unhinged quality that both memorialises a strange act of resistance and evokes a deeper terrain of psychological derangement: these look like the cereal boxes of an actual serial killer. Among the other notable works in the show, Puppies Puppies’ “Trash Strike, Hulk (Anatomy)” and “Get out of My Mind. Get Out of this Room” provide similarly frenzied mental terrain. Again, real world events are hard to separate from these works. The recent sanitation workers strike in Athens looms in the background of both works, which integrate bin bags as a kind of foregrounding device—the works are notable, too, for their deft product placement of a certain brand of track suit bottoms. Despite the overt, confrontational politics, the Puppies manage to carry off these works with a surprisingly light touch which, oddly, is enhanced rather than undermined by the presence of active commercial imperatives of the gallery itself. I would also mention being struck by Bonnie Camplin’s “Semantic-capture-device at Zero-point”, a painted cut-out of a faceless female figure displaying the word “is” on an upturned open palm. Camplin’s works are always eloquent in their quiet determination to open the complex impasses between, language, mind and power to investigation, and “Semantic-capture-device at Zero point” stands as a kind of sentinel over the landscape of marginalisations this exhibition addresses. universe at Life Sport may only be in it its current space near Viktoria-Luise Platz temporarily, but it leaves a lasting impression.