Eight Hours don't Make a Day

Michael Kunze's pictorial and textual Systems about Work, Time, History and Art

—Doris Krystof

"An unemployed idealist who has fallen into an absent-minded dream, regains consciousness in the employment office and proceeds to decorate the space of his gratuitous existence with illusionistic wall-paintings. In order to survey his work afterwards, he builds a high-seat - from there the perspective centre of the space appears as a bend in the horizon. This bend is the centre of the picture, and the man as his own best friend would like to fly there, according to the motto: L'état c'est moi (...)" This laconic description of an extraordinary artistic initiation begins "And Today", one of the many texts which in typical convoluted and distanced manner accompany Michael Kunze's paintings. Kunze's texts are certainly in no way a written formulation of artistic programs which can be read as a theoretical supplement to the painterly act. The texts are in fact artistically equal to the paintings, are written parallel to the paintings and deal in part with the same motifs. Like the paintings they confront unimpeachable positions by way of far reaching associations. They are in this way fundamentally interpretable and resem- ble the paintings with their wealth of vivid detail. To read the texts is therefore important for a supplementary understanding of the paintings. Themes and motifs, but most of all intentions can be distilled from them which are important for Michael Kunze's consciously enigmatic pictorial work. Thus, "And Today", considering the viewer who is slightly confused because of the hermetic disposition of the pictures, recommends to the naive observer: "If he becomes stuck and cannot proceed because he actually would like to fly, he must at least attempt to jump." This is the clear expression of the demand for a readiness to take a mental leap, for flexible thinking, for free association, and as such is the same demand art has made of its public for a long time with increasing intendimensional interpretations, but instead operate in a scintillating zone between definite meanings and the denial of meaning. Michael Kunze's paintings, with their attendant surplus of information, demand a high degree of agility changing perspectives. If one does not want to miss the forest for the trees, it is recommended that one takes a look at the entire body of work of pictures and texts from the aforementioned high-seat in order to see the connections between the whole and its parts, between the paintings and the texts in their complex totality. For example, the "unemployed idealist", easily recognizable as an artist, who in an utopian way is saved by the social safety net of the employment office, is on the one hand a reference to basic strategies of the artistic work which are more markedly existential than Kunze's nostalgic, playful, surreal and often cryptic seeming paintings would lead us to believe. On the other hand the text, through the abrupt juxtaposition of, to put it simply, dream (the idealist in his absent-minded dream) and reality (employment office) reaches exactly that mixture of crypto-surreal and blunt trivial-quotidian grace which defines the paintings. Meaning is therefore generated prior to the interpretation of the individual pictorial elements out of the texture of the whole. "A hermetic world of sketches and virtual manoeuvres confronts a hermetic reality", as it is formulated in Kunze's as yet unpublished text, "Plato and Pop in the Eye of the Needle".

Michael Kunze's work, with its demand for perfection of the virtual seems like a manoeuvre to establish an art after the disenchantment of art. Kunze's disenchantment does not take the beaten path of the sixties by way of abandoning the picture. Instead, it takes the opposite approach of a deeper involvement in the history of western art. Kunze carefully analyses the available material and above all, he carefully examines the history of pre-modern painting, ignored by modern art with its predilection for autonomy and self-reference, testing its usefulness. The almost anachronistic recourse to an old master-look in painting is closely associated with the technical possibilities of the newest 30 programs for creating realistic virtual settings on the computer. The "illusionistic wall paintings" the "unemployed idealist" surrounds himself with are these kinds of "orbits of fantasy". They sketch out a panorama of non-self-referential painting enriched with pictorial data which looks to its roots and at the same time is oriented towards the future. As Kunze writes elsewhere, he is undertaking a "pantheistic attempt at reanimation" in which the strains of illusionistic, narrative, rhetorical quality and theatrical presence in painting left behind by modern art can be taken up again and further developed. If we look at Michael Kunze's paintings not as possible representations of the real but instead as structured systems of signs, then we can say of them that they make apparent things we are not familiar with quite the way they appear, but at the same time constantly give us a feeling of deja vu. Kunze's method is therefore similar to the attempt by some contemporary artists of a critical revision of historical material. As with Ivan Morley, Corinne Wasmuth, Jan van Imschoot or John Currin, just to name a few of the current positions in painting, Michael Kunze is concerned with utilizing supposedly conventio- nal techniques and pictorial elements, with questioning their current meaning. This means that almost the entire critical vocabulary developed for understanding modern art has lost its relevance for painting today. A continuing expansion of the understanding of painting is the necessary conclusion and it is not surprising that criteria subsequently offer themselves for an adequate description of this painting from other artistic fields such as photography, film, installation and performance art, as well as the criteria for digital technologies, literature, linguistics, archaeology and philosophy. To speak of painting in categories not reserved for painting is as such a necessary step towards an understanding of pictures that is free of myth and which therefore allows an approach towards understanding its subjects.

As far as Michael Kunze is concerned, these themes are not evident at first glance. However, with the concepts of work, time and history we have a cycle of motifs around which the paintings, the texts and the photography are arranged. The frozen actions of the figures in the landscapes that often appear as excavation sites, the many references to construction sites in the form of cranes, warning tape, concrete mixers etc., create the impression of a world in which a once dynamic narrative has come to a halt. In this sense a conceptual construct is superimposed on the construed nature of the scenes, nearly completely obscuring the artistic starting point and everything that follows from it, whereby we return to the recommendation to take a look from the high-seat. Michael Kunze himself calls his artistic project the "description (Germ: Schilderung) of an idealized lifelong workday". Prominent among the paintings are the large format pictures with titles like "Morning", "Forenoon" or "Noon", paintings that have a definite programmatic character for Kunze. Characteristically, the originally Dutch word "schildern" (Engl: describe, tell) means "painting", and indeed the very mimetic descriptive painting developed to perfection in Dutch art of the seventeenth century. By relying on the Dutch "Schildern", Michael Kunze's painting moves toward description and reporting. This is easy to understand in light of the detailed execution of the paintings, even when reality is not the subject of the narrative, but instead an imagined reality that is additionally a part of a complex system. The development of the paintings follows an independent and preconceived plan in which one picture after the other is gradually assimilated on the way towards, perhaps, for we cannot know this until the completion of the workday, complete conjunction with the plan. The division of the continuing production into times of the day runs parallel to the life of the artist, parallel to his time in history and at the same time is wholly resistant to the prevailing trends in painting: From 1989 through 1992 Kunze produced the six meter by six meter, monumental, ornamental, as if finely embossed, "Morning" (see p. 179), a decided counter-proposal to the at that time still relevant neo-expressionist painting. After that came "Forenoon" (see p. 155) with its three panels, completed in 1995 at a time when narrative in art was beginning to make a comeback. The series of scenic "Noon" pictures was begun in 1997 and completed in 2001 with the "Eighth Noon" (see p. 19), as the artist reached in his life cycle something like the zenith with his fortieth birthday. According to the concept of the plan, "Afternoon" and "Evening" should follow. "Night" will not be integrated, because the night is contained virtually in all of the other times of day. The artist consistently distances himself from the biological model of development, of growth, maturity and decay, which has established itself since the renaissance and instead conducts himself and his work with strict self-discipline while at the same time surrendering himself wholly to the objective march of time. Self-empowerment and self-distance are in perfect balance. Additionally: The development of the paintings runs not only parallel to the development in his own life, it also reveals itself as the reconstruction of developments in the history of painting as taught by western art history. A Byzantine decorative "Morning" is the beginning of the cycle. With "Forenoon" we have a panel demonstrating the achievements of the Renaissance such as perspective and illusionism and the eight "Noon" paintings quote from the entire spectrum of historical painting from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries with all their concomitant forms like interiors, night scenes, and Genre. Michael Kunze compliments this model of a trans-historic journey through the history of painting by incorporating decidedly contemporary elements into his work, mainly evident in the clothing of the figures, the inclusion of a quote from a Frank Zappa song (see p. 115) or in the same shabby white garden tents that appeared in epidemic numbers in the nineteen nineties (see p. 103).

Michael Kunze's editing of his own history against the background of the past is not intended as a post-modern dissolution of subject and object but instead looks to newly conceived autonomous forms of self-determination and self-reflection: "Although, the demand to understand the whole can only be playfully represented, the question of the intention behind everything the concentrated present allows to dissolve into pieces poses itself that much more persistently. Because the suspected intention initially can't tell us anything about the comprehensibility of the given, scenic constellations emerge where speech rests, forgets itself, is born again(...)." Seen in this way, Kunze's pictures are like descriptions of artificially conjured periods of rest in the history of art in which the potential energy of artistic work is restructured by independent position-taking. "The less a concept can be associated with a trite gesture, the closer, more hermetic and total, through the entire scope of mannerisms, the truly intended element of an action will be. It is because of the net, which is not accidentally hung beneath the trapeze wire, that the readiness to climb to risky heights apparently without a motive becomes the centrepiece of the entire high-wire act. And nothing, from the arrested drum roll to the lighted emergency exit sign in the auditorium, is thinkable without the net, stretching out knot for knot in all directions." (M. K.) Under the influence of the rhizomatic thinking described by OeleuzelGuattari, but also in the spirit of the systematic plans of the constructivists, new categories for work, time, history and art can gradually develop out of the complexity of the given.

Gibt's mich wirklich, Vier Räume aus der Sammlung Schürmann, K 21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westphalen, 2003

Texts Without Verbs, Cologne 2002, p. 35