The Limitless Elasticity of Cartoon Physics

In the past Chris Fitzpatrick has gained recognition for developing unconventional exhibition formats, often experimenting with the temporality of exhibitions. Since January 2015 he has been director of Kunstverein Munich. In context of  "curated by_vienna: Tomorrow Today" he conceived the show at Kerstin Engholm Gallery. Under the title "Cartoon Physics" he offers a more fluid way of thinking about speculative finance today and whether or not today is even still a relevant temporal coordinate.
 Liudvikas Buklys,  Reprogrammed iRobot Roomba® Vacuum Cleaning Robot,  2015. Installation view  Cartoon Physics,  Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.

Liudvikas Buklys, Reprogrammed iRobot Roomba® Vacuum Cleaning Robot, 2015. Installation view Cartoon Physics, Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.


Accelerationism and speculative realism are the two relatively new philosophic tendencies, which serve as theoretical basis for this year’s curated by_vienna project. With regard to them philosopher Armen Avanessian has written an essay titled "Tomorrow Today" that reflects on the interaction between art and capital, present and future. What was your first impulse after reading Avanessian's text?

I am not an accelerationist myself, but I appreciated having a strong position to respond to – especially one that resonates with the complex economic structure of the whole curated_by-project. Economics factored heavily into my curatorial decisions. In some cases, the works relate topically. Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven's sequence of nine carpet samples painted with text and image outline various strategies and psychologies that exist when selling something. In other cases, the works relate more demonstratively. Angie Keefer's prints on canvas are, for another example, priced at the average market value of all of the other works in the exhibition.

The exhibition you curated for Kerstin Engholm Gallery is entitled "Cartoon Physics". What is its plot?

It's a cartoon. Its plot is pretty undetermined, but the interest behind using this title has a lot to do with the elasticity of cartoon physics and how this absence of fundamental laws offered a way to think through Armen's concepts. I mean if we look at the world we live in, its governing properties are not so different from the more slippery properties of cartoons. This can be seen in the works, though in some cases more obliquely than in others.

 Annie-Mie Van Kerckhoven,  Untitled,  1995. Acrylpaint and marker on fabric. Post Brothers,  Memories Found in a Bathtub, or What Entropy Means to Me.  Found book collection, 2006 – 2015 (tbc). Installation view  Cartoon Physics,  Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.

Annie-Mie Van Kerckhoven, Untitled, 1995. Acrylpaint and marker on fabric. Post Brothers, Memories Found in a Bathtub, or What Entropy Means to Me. Found book collection, 2006 – 2015 (tbc). Installation view Cartoon Physics, Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.

 Post Brothers,  Memories Found in a Bathtub, or What Entropy Means to Me.  Found book collection, 2006 – 2015 (tbc). Installation view  Cartoon Physics,  Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.

Post Brothers, Memories Found in a Bathtub, or What Entropy Means to Me. Found book collection, 2006 – 2015 (tbc). Installation view Cartoon Physics, Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.


The gallery space appears like a time machine, in which past, present and future seem to be interwoven. There are seemingly archaic elements like the snails leaving slimy traces on the front window of the gallery; there are references to future conditions like science fiction novels and robotic vacuum cleaners, hacked with artificial intelligence. In which sense do these elements describe a current living condition?

Part of all this is that the destabilization of time one might feel in "Cartoon Physics" is, to me at least, one of our current living conditions. I guess the main thing to consider is that this exhibition comprises works by living artists, who are therefore living in our current condition. Their work is the product of that condition, but it is also an extension and truncation of that condition. For example, on one hand, Nina Beier's series of posters were produced by parroting the language of stock photography, and in them, she serially warps a familiar motif into a cartoonish realm; but on the other hand, the casual placement of the poster on the glass of the gallery's front door relates to a very local massage parlour around the corner, and by extension, to every other massage parlour donning posters with this motif in Vienna. Plus another of today's conditions is the proliferation of images, so Nina tells us something about images demonstratively, as an embedded operative.
So do Liudvikas Buklys' lightboxes, which extend a certain aesthetic approach to representation – from the cobbler to the secondary school, so to speak. Nicholas Matranga's teleprompter glass offers various views on all the other works, adding a sort of holographic doubling to the exhibition in real time, but these vantages are more interesting when we move and change our view, and this participatory nature makes it absolutely current. Nick Bastis' snails are living creatures and turn the gallery team into caretakers of another sort.

 Angie Keefer,  Horses,  2015. Print on canvas. Post Brothers,  Memories Found in a Bathtub, or What Entropy Means to Me.  Installation view  Cartoon Physics,  Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.

Angie Keefer, Horses, 2015. Print on canvas. Post Brothers, Memories Found in a Bathtub, or What Entropy Means to Me. Installation view Cartoon Physics, Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.


It might also be worth noting that the entire perimeter of the gallery has been lined in a topography of science fiction novels, titled "Memoirs found in a bathtub, or what entropy means to me". This collection is a project by Post Brothers, which he acquired from a bathtub in the basement of a former information scientist in Berkeley, California. They have since been alphabetized by the last name of the author, and arranged the same way. If there is more than one title by an author they are stacked. In this way, we are surrounded by a conflation of disparate times – real, as in the time spent by the authors, or the time of publishing, or the time apparent on their yellowing pages, but also more fantastical, as in the imaginative temporal concepts contained in those authors' books. Some of the futures the authors predicted are already in the past. Others could be encroaching. Certain technologies were invented in these books, or at least in the genre the collection invokes. Some remain seemingly impossible. It's a monument to a certain side of the brain. Cultural production is an interdisciplinary tidal wave.
Time is also demonstrated. Liudvikas Buklys' robots have been reprogrammed to perform a series of seven new moves, triggered by the white noise in the air – an invisible element. But here, the robots have been again specially reprogrammed to operate slower for "Cartoon Physics". Liudvikas chose to let them wander the back showroom and the storage room – areas typically not accessible and unseen, but which are just as integral to running the business of the gallery. To mention Nick Bastis' snails yet again, they operate even slower than the robots. The snails lay their slime on the glass, which creates a visible trail, and gets more complex over the duration of the exhibition. It is a registration of movement, but then they go to sleep. They hibernate in their own efficiency. Then they are replaced every few days, so they can eat and survive. The gallery keeps them alive, which has a bearing on the appearance of the work, as that care is of course part of the work – the collision of various economies from different species.

The exhibition title seems to be derived from the video work by Post Brothers, which is as well part of the show. Would you please give an insight to this piece?

The video is called "The Hole Idea" and is a video version of a lecture Post Brothers performs. We produced this video version for the Shanghai Biennale in 2012. A man reads this text in Post Brothers' place, superimposed onto the cartoons he elaborates. He was chosen to play the role because he looks like the cartoon character Calvin Q. Calculus – the inventor of  "the portable hole". The portable hole is a flat black disc, which can be attached to any surface. Once applied, you can reach into this hole. When finished, it can be removed and carried away. Post Brothers' video makes correlations between the portable hole in cartoons and things that resemble it in the so-called "real world" we inhabit. A good example is the black American Express credit card – a worthless piece of plastic that becomes invaluable once it is agreed upon that it represents an unlimited credit line. In other words, this flat black plastic rectangle is a bottomless hole.

 Nick Basist,  When you don't find what you're looking for, sleep,  2014. Vinyl bags. Installation view  Cartoon Physics , Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.

Nick Basist, When you don't find what you're looking for, sleep, 2014. Vinyl bags. Installation view Cartoon Physics, Kerstin Engholm Gallery, 2015. Photo: Stefan Lux.


How does the series of vinyl objects by Nick Bastis thematically fit into the show? What is this work about?

Hopefully it doesn't fit thematically, as I tend to find themes constrictive to artists. That is in part why all the works on view already existed. There were no new commissions. I have exhibited all of these works previously someplace else. Yet each work, in proximity, does amplify the next to create a certain frequency, or resonance. Nick Bastis created vinyl covers for certain designer chairs, and there are four in "Cartoon Physics". Kerstin Engholm Gallery has nice chairs. I think some are by Eames, some are probably Scandinavian, but the gallery did not have the chairs these vinyl forms were made for. So in such a case as this, Nick hangs them on the wall, rather than on the chair they would otherwise match. The slime on the vinyl forms is from the snails, though all of these forms were hung behind the wall so that viewers cannot see the snails and the vinyl forms at the same time.

Are you a fan of science fiction stories or of cartoons?
I like both, but what I most appreciate about them is the elongated and elastic thinking that goes into them. I like that they offer another dimension to think through, and I enjoy when that dimension catches up and imposes actual tangible effects on "our" dimension, and vice versa. Of course that can be positive or negative. For example, the mobile phone and web conferencing were born in science fiction, just like the concept of traveling to the moon. But after 9/11, the Bush Administration was recruiting science fiction writers to envision future weapons and warfare scenarios. That is a very different and much darker example. Artists, whatever their disciplinary compartmentalization, are still the "antennae" they've always been.

Which projects are you currently working on?

Well, at Kunstverein München we currently have exhibitions on view by Dexter Sinister and Willem Oorebeek. Oorebeek is presenting a series of massive posters every two weeks in our Schaufenster window space. They are blown up from his "Vertikal Klub" book, which extended from his "Vertical Club" series. Meanwhile, Dexter Sinister have produced three publications, one of which is a USB stick containing a micro version of their exhibition upstairs in the four exhibition rooms. The exhibition is a survey spanning 2008-2015, centered on four projects circuitously orbited by other corresponding objects. Next year we'll open a Kino.

Chris Fitzpatrick


Cartoon Physics
curated by_Chris Fitzpatrick
Artists: Nick Bastis, Nina Beier, Liudvikas Buklys, Angie Keefer, Nicholas Matranga, Post Brothers, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven
Duration: 11.09.–07.11.2015
Kerstin Engholm Gallery, Schleifmühlgasse 3, 1040 Wien
More information www.kerstinengholm.com 

Read the text written by Armen Avanessian, which has been serving as theoretical basis for the curators and galleries involved in "curated by_vienna: Tomorrow Today".

curated by_vienna is supported by Vienna Business Agency and its creative center departure. The project aims to intensify the networks between selected Viennese galleries and internationally renowned curators.