Chasm in Time – interview with GODsDOGs Art Collective

Vortex Back - R. Helbig

Chasm in Time
GODsDOGs Art Collective on Reality and the Grapple for Artistic Authenticity

It’s a hot and sweaty August afternoon in a former shop front in Neukolln. Smooth biomorphic forms resembling human musculature hang from the ceiling. A collision of objects and architecture-like structures cluster around the room. Everywhere there are constructions of cardboard and glue in various stages of completion. Shocks of colour, painted and printed, intersperse the frenetic collection of objects. Graphic novels, artist’s monographs, DVD’s, posters, and collections of images line the walls further back into the space. This is the studio of GODsDOGs art collective, the artistic pairing of Ron and Britta Helbig, and things are brewing.

“We were part of a collective called Artists Anonymous,” says Britta, “It was a very successful group, and good to be a part of. But around 2008 the time came to move on to something new. We both left and went our own ways for a while. Though we understood each other so well, and had got so much out of working collaboratively that it was always likely we would work together again,” she says.  The pair started exhibiting together as ‘Britta and Ron Helbig’, though that title didn’t last long. “It sounded too much like a folk duo or something. The association with that kind of cheesy, kitsch music was too strong. I thought ‘No fucking way!’ and so we came up with GODsDOGs,” says Ron. The pair has a background in dance and physical theatre, which influenced their desire to work under a collective moniker. “It’s like a company name for a dance or theatre collective. We really ‘dance’ this stuff into being. It comes out of a physical approach,” says Ron, gesturing to the artworks. Britta elaborates further, “We are the driving force, though other people are also involved. Various artists join in and lend their skills to the resolution of a project. GODsDOGs is more than just the two of us,” she says.

“I’m looking for these ports. You know, weak points where different realities intersect. Looking to the past, looking to the future, trying to make sense of it and unpack it somehow.

Feuerbox - photo by EricTschernow

Feuerbox – photo by EricTschernow

GODsDOGs are preparing for an exhibition in Joachimsthal, an hour or so by train from Berlin. Their work will be installed in the freshly redeveloped Weiße Villa, a 19th Century building converted into a contemporary art space. Their installation is titled Riss in der Zeit (Chasm in Time), which alludes to the thinking underlying their project. “At the moment something is going on. You read what’s happening in contemporary physics concerning time, matter, and the nature of reality. Then you check what’s going on in contemporary cinema and culture in general. It seems like our conceptions of reality are really changing,” says Ron. He riffs on themes from comic books and superhero movies; parallel worlds, realities behind realities, wormholes in space and time. “I’m looking for these ports. You know, weak points where different realities intersect. Looking to the past, looking to the future, trying to make sense of it and unpack it somehow. It’s like when you look at an old painting and there’s a crack revealing another painting underneath. I’m trying to open a crack into some other space, something transcendent or otherworldly. But the only point I know is here, right now. Maybe this is part of dealing with getting older, dealing with death. Asking that age-old question, what happens after that?”

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Britta offers another perspective on similar territory, “To me there’s a psychological aspect to this. We’re here in the present and we can examine the past. My parents were the post-war generation, but you can’t talk to them about Nazism and so on. There were Nazis in my family, definitely, but nobody talks about it. They just say something like, “Why do you want to warm up the past?” But I think if you’re prepared to open up and actually look at what has lead to the present, your personal and family history, you make the space to be able to create something out of it. If you don’t look at history you’re doomed to repeat it. You see it in the bigger picture. At the moment there’s a lot of racism and ugliness directed at refugees that carries an uncomfortable echo of the past. We have an incredibly brief cultural memory,” she says.

The intertwining of the psychological and the physical arises as a matter of course from the kind of deep engagement with the psyche that GODsDOGs explore.

There is an inherent difference between art that comes out of an authentic grapple with the existential, and that stems from a surface engagement with image, commerce, or fashion. The intertwining of the psychological and the physical arises as a matter of course from the kind of deep engagement with the psyche that GODsDOGs explore. Although there’s something inherently subjective in that distinction – what some find profound others may find trite – in an age when art’s value is generally gauged by auction prices alone, it’s refreshing to encounter this kind of openness to the strange alchemy art-making can bring about.

“Authentic art comes out of that struggle to make sense of the world, with all of its complexities and fucked-upness”

Zeigenturm - photo by EricTschernow

Zeigenturm – photo by EricTschernow

“You don’t want to make art that’s political or psychological, and yet that’s inevitable, because authentic art comes out of that struggle to make sense of the world, with all of its complexities and fucked-upness,” says Ron. “You see some political art and it seems a lot like finger pointing, a lot of singling out the flaws of governments or corporations. There’s no real risk in making that kind of work. You’re not putting your inner being into it, so it’s an easy comfortable commentary on the external. But the thing is we’re all a part of the machinations of the world. I keep coming back to those universal questions, why is there evil? Why is there death? Why do people kill? Why do people rape? How the fuck does any of that make sense? Through all of that horror you have to try to find meaning. It turns into this internal pressure pushing outward. Making art is how I release that,” he says. Though his motivation goes beyond a means of personal catharsis, “In the end, when you die, you’re alone. But in the meantime you want to connect. When you see an authentic piece of art, whether its music or film or whatever, you know that you are not alone in the world. I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s such a hardcore book, but it made me think, ‘thank god, I’m not fucking alone.’ I think if someone somewhere gets that from what we do then we’ve succeeded.”

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There are clusters of twigs woven together with twine, like the ritual fetishistic ‘devil’s trap’ props from the first series of True Detective.

The artworks evolving around the studio space are made up of an amalgam of architecture, forms akin to the biological, and image fragments that resemble dreams or fantasies. There are clusters of twigs woven together with twine, like the ritual fetishistic ‘devil’s trap’ props from the first series of True Detective. “You start with a point and then you add things to it. It’s organic, growth like. Building out of psychology, biology, and philosophy with visual cues from a lot of sources. Contemporary visual culture is inherently multi-faceted,” says Britta. “A lot of this is in a way inspired by Kurt Schwitters. He really used negative space, looking at the connections between the artworks, and making an art form from that. It’s interesting though because we didn’t use Schwitters as a starting point – we’d started working like this and then realized that he had been exploring similar ideas. It interesting how often that happens,” she says. This opens the path for a discussion of the advantages and challenges of working collaboratively. “We know each other very well, over many years. So ideas emerge, and sometimes it’s hard to know where one comes from. I think something is my idea, but it ping-pongs back and forth. If it’s a strong idea it will prevail. Sometimes I don’t have a clue if Ron is on the same wavelength, though other times we just buzz together. I can’t imagine working alone,” says Britta. Ron nods as he responds, “Working alone I wrestle with doubt constantly. It runs back and forth and around and around in my head, so having Britta to help regulate that makes it possible to keep moving forward,” he says.

It’s against the rules of painting in that it wants to be abstract and figurative, free spirited and incredibly controlled at the same time.

Hanging from a wall at one end of the studio is a painting prominently featuring a depiction of a horse. There is an altar in the background. Closer inspection shows frenetic points of detail, moments of abstraction fighting with the overall figurative nature of the work. The artists describe this work as “installation in 2D”. “There are all the elements of spatial relationships that you explore in abstraction, and yet it’s an image. It’s against the rules of painting in that it wants to be abstract and figurative, free spirited and incredibly controlled at the same time. As a viewer you have to move up close to see the mad detail, step back to see the bigger picture. You have to move to see the painting. Knowing the details the big picture changes. It’s a kind of choreography; you are giving the viewer a direction to move around the work,” says Ron. This way of relating to time and space, stemming from the pairs’ dance and theatre background, is never far from their thinking. “We like to think about what we do as sculpture multiplied by painting. You have a relationship between image and object, to time as well as space. It ties in to all that thinking about splitting open the fabric of reality. We’ve known since Einstein proposed special relativity that time and space are inextricably tied. Is it possible find a point of rupture where the past, the present and the extra dimensional all collide, combine and produce something new?” asks Britta.

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“The struggle to make sense of the universe is at the essence of why we do this”

GodsDogs Art Collective

GodsDogs Art Collective

“The struggle to make sense of the universe is at the essence of why we do this. The art is just the outcome of trying to understand,” says Ron. “As you grow up, you inherit a personal history and if you’re inclined to, you examine it and try to do something with it. It’s like a snake shedding its skin, or some part of an evolutionary process. I think of it as being like finding islands in the ocean. There’s chaos, but then you find something that you connect with. Then you find another thing, and you start to try to find a link between them. It’s building a life raft and making sense of your plight at the same time. I see at as trying to break the cycle of everything that’s been passed down to me. I want to teach my kids to live with compassion for others, and hopefully not pass on to them the shit that was handed to me,” he pauses for a moment. “If I could really explain that I would be a writer – art is my language for communicating and expressing that which I don’t have the words for,” he says.

The kind of thin conceptual stuff that’s dominated recently ultimately isn’t that interesting.

The two artists muse on an emerging tendency amongst collectors to buy the work of old masters. “It’s a good trend in my opinion. The kind of thin conceptual stuff that’s dominated recently ultimately isn’t that interesting. Who, in the generations to come, is going to give a shit about some clever albeit vacuous commentary on some briefly buzzing issue of the day? It doesn’t really engage in any depth with the psyche or the human condition,” says Britta. It’s hard not to agree. Future generations will have their own art, their own concerns. Perhaps, if enough cycles get broken, they’ll look back on this age, with all its madness, greed, violence, and horror, and wonder why on Earth we didn’t all just make art instead.

Article by Julian McKinnon

Details for the opening of Riss in der Zeit
Wednesday, September 9 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Weiße Villa
Am Wasserturm 1, 16247 Joachimsthal, Brandenburg
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1664003433813812/1666364756911013/

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