active competition, or: simply JAK

Dr. Nils Büttner


This phone call came absolutely unexpectedly. We hadn’t heard from each other since JAK had started travelling. Now, after months of complete silence did a flood of words pour down on me out of a clear sky. Only between polite phrases and friendly talking did the real request become slowly evident. The reason of this sudden phone call. The respected art historian who had offered to contribute an article for the new catalogue had backed out. His promised text was supposed to perfect the ambitious publication. Now, a text by me should replace it. It’s quintessential JAK that I was not fooled to be the first choice for this job. However, a text was urgently needed for the book to be published soon for which there was no other more eligible author to be found than me. My short hesitation should only give space to the politely posed question: when would the text be due. JAK already anticipated the question. Tomorrow! – yes, one indeed required the text already tomorrow. Had JAK become mad? I know JAK long and well enough to know that this is not to be put in question.


Is JAK ill? From the time of our first meeting originates a doctor's report that was written when JAK had asked for medical supervision because of the suspicion of a “dissociative identity disorder“. JAK had shown up there for the first time on 26th of November 2010 because “he as an artist was in a constant dialogue and permanently suffered from three different opinions“. Whoever knows JAK longer knows what the diagnosis is based on. It is, beyond all potential disease mongering, the conceivably biggest strength of his artistic plan. It is also reflected in what is presented to us as the actual project under the ambiguous title “active competition/lively competition“.


JAK has travelled. Of this we have to speak in greater detail in this context. As only in the encounter with the other does JAK becomes palpable, while he resolves himself in the other at the same time. The perception of the world as an act of subjective appropriation is scrutinized, as each newly experienced artistic process is “unhooked” from the inventing artist. But, just as JAK is not palpable as an artist and person, the question of authorship insistently pushes itself into the foreground more and more. After all, it dominates the aesthetic discourse in art up to the present day.


Is JAK dead? Already in 1967, had Roland Barthes postulated the “death of the author“, "La mort de l'auteur" in a highly regarded essay about literary theory. Barthes had harshly criticized traditional biographism, which searched for the explanation of any piece of work pressingly in the person of the author. However, unbrokenly active since the Middle Ages is a concept in which the “auctor” of a piece of work does also take up authority for itself, “auctoritas” as an originator and editor at the same time. A comparably long after-life should also be given to the emphatically idealized concept of the author in the 18th century, which immensely contributed to the fact that any sort of judgment of art separated from the person of the artist is, and was, hardly to be considered. However, is only what has been created by a famous artist, art?


What the hell is JAK? JAK ironically plays with a fetish of the modern art market, the name of the artist who is sometimes more important to the art audience than the work itself. We all have quite smiling observed those exhibition tourists in large museums who, in a slightly bent down position, rather creep from one label to the next, rather wading by most pictures without even lifting their heads once, only to suddenly lift their heads if a name appears which is mentioned in their guide books to check off the piece of art off their task list with a quick look. We all know audiences at exhibition openings who try to embarrassingly read the names beside the works in group exhibitions only to stop in front of works by famous names with crossed arms devoutly nodding and one step ahead, two back, simulating expertise. Works of less publicly known figures provoke, after the same shy side-glance onto the nameplate, a different sequence of motion. A short look into the round, speaking: „Do I have to know him?“ Then, with faint general interest, crossing arms, raising the eyebrows and turning away: "Who the fuck is JAK?"


JAK leaves this question open. This guides our view to the artistic work to which the reflection of an artistic action always belongs as well. This also happens when JAK travels and develops artistic work at varying places always in new cultural constellations. Besides that, JAK makes the movements of goods and perceptions, of people and opinions that have become quite normal in a globalized world obvious to us in a unique way. The experiences accumulated on journeys become the ingredients of artistic interventions in which subjectivity and alterity are as reflected as questions of alienation or about ones own cultural identity. A clever critic has, looking at works by JAK, pointed at the fact that his interventions and objects fathom that space, which “the postal-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha called “third space” – the third space between ones own context and the stranger and the exotic, in which the definitions and borders start to disintegrate“.


JAK is art. If one asks JAK whether this is right, one gets no answer but a question. Is JAK only a concept? Is he sometimes incarnated as a human artist? Sometimes a literary figure? One may hope. Not for answers maybe, but one may get new questions, questions about which one would not have known that they existed without JAK. Even if one asked JAK to pick a number between one and ten quite spontaneously, one would presumably have to count on a counter question: “A number that already exists, or a new one?“


JAK is the incarnation of the sense of possibility. It was not invented by JAK, but by Robert Musil who in his novel "The Man without Qualities" published in 1930/32 reflects on: “whether there is, however, a sense of reality, and nobody will doubt that he has his right to exist, then there must also be something that one can call sense of possibility. Whoever owns it, does not say, for example: Here, this or this has happened, will happened, must happen; but he invents: Here it would, could or might be able to happen; and if one explains to him something that is the way it is, then he thinks: Now, probably it could also be different. Thus the sense of possibility could be defined as the ability, everything that could be, to think realistically, and what is really, is not more important, than that what is not.“


JAK shows substantiality. Of the scientistic assertion of an ontological totality that only knows one substantiality, JAK opposes this knowledge with exact observations of everyday phenomena that reality and substantiality are not synonymous. While JAK makes his audience discover in the stranger the familiar and in the putatively familiar the strange, every work becomes the prism for the questions that everybody carries within himself.


A lot could be said about that. But this text is urgently needed. Tomorrow, already. Whether it does fulfill JAK’s expectations? What can one expect from a text that had to be ready in 24 hours? Little.


What may one expect from JAK? A lot, _ a lot more …