Von Disko zu Disko – Harry Hachmeister's chosen title for his exhibition at the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig was borrowed from the song From: Disco To: Disco by Whirlpool Productions1 in which the Cologne based group tells of promising encounters at a nightclub. The music video for the song shows the interplay of glances, bodies and gender identities at the bar and on the dance floor. Harry Hachmeister incorporates a similar playfulness into his work, yet he is less interested in the nighttime theatricals and the stylised looks of the dancers that dwell in the colourful half-light of the party. He is more concerned with the physical particularities and desires that reveal themselves in the bright light of day. Hachmeister takes a close look at what is merely hinted at with the prepositions von and zu in the title: instances of transformation. In doing so he engages in an exploration of the bodies of people and animals, of the transformability of your own body and he offers us a peek at fitness studios, nature and building sites.
At the Mdbk Harry Hachmeister presents dumbbells, weights and cats made of ceramics alongside paintings on canvas and reverse glass paintings. The works are installed by the artist at a construction site within the museum. Technically every exhibition is a construction site prior to the opening, when solemn calm replaces the noise of labour and spectators change shifts with the construction team. Once the exhibition begins, what was before an open space of possibility, where relations could form between objects has now become a site for the observation of fixed constellations. The way in which Harry Hachmeister has set the scene confounds this dualism between construction and exhibition. I'm wondering, as I'm writing this text, and the construction of the exhibition at Mdbk still lies in the future, and the works have not yet been arranged in an environment prepared for the spectators, what this could mean for the perception of the pieces and the exhibition as a whole.
In regard to his most recent exhibitions it has been apparent that Hachmeister plays with great subtlety and humour with the shifts in meaning of objects when hey enter the exhibition space and are presented in changing relations. He integrates undignified objects and scenarios into his exhibitions and understands these as temporary constellations. He grants his works a life of their own and views them as "nothing solid"2. Rarely a picture will hang on a wall by itself. Rather there is usually an interesting juxtaposition, where photographs, paintings, drawings and objects appear in changing combinations that have them contrast, supplement or question each other. Part of the exhibition at ASPN Gallery in Leipzig was furnished with a wallpaper that featured a self-portrait in endless repetition to create an ornamental backdrop for further portraits. Hachmeister has shown the dumbbells and weights in a fitness-studio atmosphere several times already, for instance in 2019 in Nothing Always Body at the gallery of the Braunschweig University of Art (HBK) or in 2020 in Fragile Subjekte at the Center for Contemporary Art (ZAK) Berlin. There they were placed on the floor, sat on padded stools or propped up on a bespoke dumbbell rack, ready to be used for training. A mirror wall gave the opportunity to look at yourself with the "training equipment". In the same year Hachmeister's ceramics were seen lounging on a beanbag and an ironing board at Warte für Kunst in Kassel, while a painting casually leaned on a ladder. In 2020 the artist showed Berlin street scenes on wall covering prints at fiebach, minninger art gallery in Cologne (Straße im Sonnenlicht). Life-sized people could be seen carrying dumbbells and weights through the streets. It was here that Hachmeister used materials from a building site in an exhibition for the first time some bricks, a wheelbarrow and a mobile scaffold served as pedestals or backdrops for the works.
At the MdbK, Harry Hachmeister includes building site elements much more consistently than in any of his former shows. The space has become a building site itself, where elements you would find at a construction site in the street are combined with the typical tools used for installing artworks in museums and galleries. The abundance of materials emphasises the moment of transformation that is inherent to all building sites. Their established function is led ad absurdum, because nothing of any substance is ever created, apart from that which is on view. Instead, the objects inside the exhibition space undergo a change. Work materials become objects to be observed, oscillating between readymades and pedestals. With their sheer presence the building materials undermine the artificial and timeless solemnity of the white cube.This is the setting for Hachmeister's artworks, all of them of certified strong character. His dumbbells and weights, unlike their relatives in fitness studios, are not made from cast iron and come in a pale silver-grey finish. Instead, they are shaped by the artist from ceramics and glazed in an array of colours. Much like the building site, the fitness studio is a place with masculine connotations. It is a space where another transformation occurs: instead of materials, here the body is altered. The name of Hachmeister's line of sports equipment, Hard Softies, is a reference to their production process. Soft clay is moulded and glazed by hand before the shapes and colours are fixed in the process of burning. This approach thwarts the rigour of fitness training with a circus-like travesty and puts a spotlight on the sensitive beings that might be hiding behind a strong façade. The amusing waywardness of Hachmeister's sports equipment pieces informs their shapes as well as a dumbbell might look like a teapot, others are similar to platform shoes and a weight might resemble a shopping bag. All of them bear traces of fictional use; some hang around seemingly exhausted, or bend forward with concern. Others pose confidently with their dents and seem to ask us, with a slight touch of irony, what's up with our own body shapes.
Seemingly unimpressed by the whole scene some cats are idling about the exhibition space. Unlike the other works and objects featured in the exhibition Hachmeister's cats are not embodiments of an active element, they appear more like distanced observers, adding a playful sense of ease to the installation. On close inspection it turns out that the cats are in fact a spatial trompe-l'œil. The clay animals pretend to be three-dimensional. Apart from their tail and paws they are actually completely flat, like a backdrop in a film set. This idea highlights the staginess of the entire scene. Many elements show signs of wear, thus revealing their potential as objects of use. And yet it remains a performance staged by Harry Hachmeister in the heterotopic space3 of the museum, because the process of transformation, inherent to any real building site, here is frozen in an in-between state of permanent refurbishment,
The action on the building site is flanked with paintings of volcanoes. In the exhibition space they form windows to far-away landscapes. The painted volcanoes do what real volcanoes tend to do once in a while: they violently erupt. Hachmeister's volcano craters spew their lava exaggeratedly high into the air, or at each other, or they simply gleam in a conspiratorial red, yellow or blue. The chosen artistic medium of painting, a rather slow and non-kinetic technique, is used by Harry Hachmeister to provide a contrast to the instantaneous natural events depicted: the volcanoes are shown as frozen in a permanent fiery eruption (or right before it). As with the building site and the ceramic objects it is up to ourselves to imagine what could be going on with the volcanoes and whether it is more appropriate to consider them in reference to their models in nature or to ponder the dispositions of Hachmeister's variants.
Von Disko zu Disko also includes a small retrospective. In a space within the space Harry Hachmeister arranges more than twenty reverse glass paintings that continue the artist's work in drawing and painting. In these works the artist abandons the notion of tradition in the sense of religious or folk art, as he makes copies of his own works and reinterprets them. Some of the subjects have accompanied him for a long time, The Masochist for example. The figure, whose tongue is nailed to a two-legged table, holds the tabletop in the horizontal on his knees. On other sheets of glass we see people and animals. In both their appearance and actions, they undermine the cis-heteronormative conventions that are still considered the rarely challenged norm by vast parts of society. A fluffy bunny dives into the water; two figures floating on clouds are connected by their penises; a naked boy, a cow and a dachshund pose together; a blue figure sits on the edge of a high-rise building; a small character is obscured under the skirt of someone who cannot easily be categorised in terms of gender. Small or sometimes large shifts in colour and shape between the original images and their new version alter the mood and meaning of the pictures in a more or less subtle way and it's worth the effort to take a look at Hachmeister's previous publication grit, published in 2015 by Spector Books as well. for reference.
All the aspects mentioned so far take place within the actual space of Harry Hachmeister's special exhibition. Yet from this hub he casts anchors into the permanent collection of the Mdbk, and expands the scope with his self-portraits. For years, Hachmeister has been taking photographs of himself that show him gazing back at us with a focused inquisitive expression. Set against the painted portraits by Anton Graff (1736-1813 from the permanent collection of the MdbK an intriguing contrast emerges. As a classicist painter Graff sought to distil the social status, profession and character of his 18th and 19th century protagonists in a single painting; Hachmeister challenges the idea of the single valid portrait by representing various emotional states and situations. His self-portraits reveal the different ways in which inner and outer conditions can manifest and at the same time how much we tend to project onto portraits as spectators.
There is a bench inside the exhibition at Mdbk. In our conversation about his plans for the installation Harry Hachmeister told me that he wants people to be able to sit down in the exhibition, in fact on an actual, used bench. As outside the museum, we can come and settle down inside the exhibition so as to calmly observe our surroundings or because we are tired or to have a chat with someone. Right now, when the bench is not yet accessible to me, or perhaps not anymore for you, because you are no longer inside the exhibition space and I am sitting in front of my computer, typing, we can only imagine how it would be like to take a seat on that bench and let our thoughts wander through the exhibition staged by Harry Hachmeister.
My conclusion is this: many of Harry Hachmeister's figures are rather likeable to me and they stir my imagination because they present themselves very boldly in their waywardness. They submit themselves to my and your gaze. Often they look back with a sense of tragicomic seriousness. The fact that all of this occurs on an artistic building site takes the solemnity out of the museum context. At the same time it makes me effortlessly realise that we as observers might as well get to work on our own conceptions of people and bodies, sexuality, identity and intimacy here.
1 ↩ Whirpool Productions, From: Disco To: Disco, on Dense Music, Ladomat 2000, 1996.
2 ↩ Harry Hachmeister in conversation with Luisa Schlotterbeck, accessed 9 September 2021. https://fiebach-minninger.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2020_Harry-Hachmeister_Pressetext_DE.pdf
3 ↩ Michel Foucault has proposed the term heterotopia to describe so-called other places. He uses it for spaces that are characterised by a shift in function. These are sites that follow other rules and which reflect conditions in society by representing, negating or inverting them. See: Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces, 1st english translation by Jay Miskowiec, in: Diacritics, Vol. 16, No. 1, Baltimore 1986, pp. 22-27.