Wolf Vostell (1932-1998) was a a German painter, installation artist, performer. He was the inventor, in 1954, of the word ‘Dé-coll/age‘ (and of the homonimous magazine ‘Dé-coll/age: Bulletin aktueller Ideen‘, founded in 1962), used to describe the simultaneous take-off and crash of an aeroplane. In his performances the creative and destructive processes of natural, cultural and social systems coexist, getting assembled or juxtaposed. As co-founder of the Fluxus movement, he realised the first happening in Europe and collaborated with Allan Kaprow, Alison Knowles, George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, George Brecht and Nam June Paik, in an artistic practice inscribed in the dadaism tradition (“All is Art”).
Interested in audio-visual and electro-acoustic experimentation, he was the first artist to introduce a television set in a work of art (in 1958).
Vostell’s ‘Endogen Depression’ was originally started in 1975 for the Hannover Art Museum in Germany and later shown in Europe and in the USA in nine different versions. The installation consisted of about forty pieces, among which: tv sets half embedded in concrete, tables, dressers, referencing a domestic environment. In the original version a group of dogs was left roaming the space, accompanied by the very low sounds emitted by the sets. In a 1980 version in Los Angeles LAICA museum, the dogs were replaced by live turkeys, an animal strictly tied to the North-American folklore. The result of the interaction between animals, objects and sounds is an allegory of contemporary society, passive and asleep under a flood of images, patterns and events.
The title Endogène Depression is particularly telling. Endogenous substances are those that originate from within an organism, tissue, or cell.Endogenous viral elements are DNA sequences derived from viruses that are ancestrally inserted into the genomes of germ cells. These sequences, whichmay be fragments of viruses, or entire viral genomes (proviruses), can persist in the germline, being passed on from one generation to the next ashost alleles. Endogenous processes include senescence, the menstrual cycle and the self-sustained circadian rhythms of plants and animals. Thus the installation delightfully calls forth broadcast media as a viral entity within a conjugal host. This metaphor is achieved by mixing old cathode rayvacuum tube televisions, that have been encased or dumped in wet concrete,with funky old tables and dressers that evoke traditional family dwelling. Excerpt from ‘Endogen Depression‘, a short essay by Joseph Nechvatal, on Academia.edu
Although related to another work (the 1973 Berlin Fever happening), this quote from Kaprow’s essay ‘Nontheatrical Performance’ (1976): “Although Vostell was a participant too, he viewed his piece as a consciousness-raising device, as teaching, as behavior changing” perfectly outlines Endogen Depression’s complexity, as convincingly argued by the curator of “The Box” gallery in LA (that recently hosted a version of Endogen Depression).
French page dedicated to Wolf Vostell
Press kit from the retrospective held at the Carré d’Art – Musée d’art contemporain de Nîmes (2008) Curators: Françoise Cohen & Inge Baecker. This press kit contains the essay by Michel Giroud: “Wolf Vostell – L’épopée transmedia d’un utopien” and by Jean-Paul Fargier: “Extension du domaine du direct – Vostell et l’art vidéo”
Endogen Depression, at THE BOX LA
‘Endogen Depression‘, a short essay by Joseph Nechvatal, on Academia.edu
Paris : Wolf Vostell, «Endogen Depression» on People Act Magazine
All images copyright © Wolf Vostell, unless otherwise specified.