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Letter to Wild Wings

A small plate of chicken wings against a yellow backdrop.

Helene Hollandt
Villa Salve Hospes
Lessingplatz 12
38100 Braunschweig, Deutschland

President Sally Smith
 Buffalo Wild Wings Headquarters
5500 Wayzata Blvd. Ste. 1600
 Minneapolis, MN 55416

Hello Sally and Helene,

I imagine you’re both wondering why you’re here. Helene—since 1996 Sally has been the president and chief executive officer of Buffalo Wild Wings, a sports bar/stadium-themed chicken chain restaurant with over a thousand locations in ten different countries. Sally—Helene was the adopted daughter of a wealthy German hop and grain merchant, born in 1816, who lived her adult life as a mother and homemaker. Though she died in 1866, her ghost allegedly haunts her home, the Villa Salve Hospes, which is now a Kunstverein (kind of like a sports stadium but for art). I’m aware this must all seem like nonsense, but I promise we’ll be on the same page by the end.

I make videos. Sometimes they play in theaters, sometimes they play in galleries. Sometimes people watch them on their laptops, and some probably even watch them on their phones. I live in Pasadena, California, one block east of Orange Grove Boulevard where the Rose Bowl Parade takes place each January. A block to the west of my house there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings. Sometimes I’ll see it and think “B-Dubs” to myself, just like you all down at headquarters. I’ve always been drawn to it because there are six TVs on the front patio that all point in different directions while facing the same thing: the chicken chain restaurant consumer-subject. While I’m tempted to avoid philosophical jargon like “subject,” I think it will be a useful term for the purposes of this letter. You may already know this, but it’s a word used to indicate an observer of an object. So at B-Dubs, the primary objects are your menus and whatever’s on TV—Fox Sports Racing last time I passed by.

The Buffalo Wild Wings in Pasadena. | Photo courtesy the author.

I find myself in Germany again. I travel here more often than any other country to make and show my work. I think we “get” each other, and I can’t complain. It seems like German art institutions always have some old D-marks hidden underneath their sofakissen. Ask, and the curators will most likely find the means through which you can receive. 

I used to have this problem with Germany, though. Not the Germans’ profoundly economical demeanor, nor the cuisine, which I’m able to thoroughly appreciate. The problem I had was with the buildings. It wasn’t a matter of aesthetics; I love me a Zimmermann and adore the Frederician. The problem was rather an atmospheric fear that I often felt while jogging into previously unknown territory. Provoked by the geist of certain buildings and monuments, I was overcome by an incomprehensible terror while running by the Berlin Victory Column on my first trip to Germany in 2013. Goldelse (Golden Lizzy) is a sixty-seven-meter cylindrical stone column atop a round base thrusting above the middle of a traffic circle that, like the earlier Alexander Column in Saint Petersburg, is topped with an angel. In this case it’s a gilded statue of the Ancient Roman Goddess Victoria to commemorate the Prussian victory of 1864 in the Danish-Prussian War. Helene, I’m sure you’re familiar, and Sally, Wikipedia has more information on all of the above if you’re interested; I had no clue what it was when I first encountered it. 

In the center of the photograph, a tall memorial column with a gold statue at the top. In the background, clouds drift by.
Berlin Victory Column. | Wikimedia Commons

In the ten minutes prior I had also unknowingly trotted past the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, and the Memorial to the Victims of National Socialist “Euthanasia” Killings, all abstract forms that I had barely cognized as someone’s conceptual art. These rectangles, scaled for human bodies, may have induced a mostly subconscious anxiety, but my threshold wasn’t pierced until I lifted my head to realize the full scale of the Victory Column. 

Something about the horizontal expanse around the column, compressing into escalating concentric circles, seemed to violate my intuitions of inside and outside, left and right, center and periphery, like the column was the tip of a sublime iceberg, or a baby rattle, waiting to be grappled by a demonic infant. Or maybe it just seemed to deliver its symbolic referent, German Militarism, with force.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I nearly shit myself while turning to sprint in the opposite direction, head down, trying not to look at the upscaled Wagner memorial in the barrel vault on my way out of Tiergarten. A few days later, the Reichstag similarly sent me running, and then the Park at Gleisdreieck a few days after that. I’ve had similar reactions when jogging alongside the Mediterranean; in each instance a crippling fear that the seemingly static sea would fold up and over the land, the horizon denoting the upper edge of a flat, flexible earth, the stuff of neo-baroque nightmares from movies like Inception, 2012, and Interstellar. Or was it the wave of Poseidon?

Sally, I assume you’re familiar with Adolf Hitler. Helene, I’m not sure what sort of informational access you have in the ghost world, but bear with me. Wikipedia reminded me that Hitler wasn’t even really German; he was born in Austria and snaked his way into the Bavarian Army, the German Workers Party, and eventually that job as Führer. But at the beginning of 1932, Hitler wasn’t a German citizen, and this guy named Dietrich Klagges was in the process of appointing him Regierungsrat (some bullshit administrator position) that would officially naturalize him. And while that was happening, Hitler couch surfed in the same neighborhood as an art institution called the Kunstverein Braunschweig, which was later occupied by the Nazis during their moment in the early 1940s. And that very Kunstverein—the same one Helene has haunted for over a century—is where my next art show is. 

The ornate white facade of a museum in Germany. Above the entrance, gold text: "Salve Hospes."
The Kunstverein Braunschweig in Germany. | Frank Sperling

So you’d think I’d be kind of freaked out by the neighborhood; there’s even a twenty-two-meter black and gold war memorial obelisk right down the street. To be honest—not really. Since 2013 I’ve seen a lot of gilded obelisks, a lot of apologetic monuments, and stained, chunky stone buildings. I’ve traveled to the City of the Brothers Grimm, wound down the double helix spiral of the Mercedes Benz Museum—which is more like a twentieth-century German history museum through the lens of its most colossal brand—and twice I’ve visited the Haus Der Kunst—what was originally the Nazi’s showcase for what they believed was Germany’s finest art. I even lived in a rococo schloss in the middle of a forest in Baden-Württemberg for six months. I guess the technical term for my desensitization is “exposure therapy.” The only way out seemed to be through the entrance to the Victory Column and up its 285 steps.

While this fear of architectural geist has faded, no amount of exposure will ever prepare me for the experience of being alone in a dark interior. Within each building are rooms, within each room are closets, and within each closet are cabinets. Surfaces pierced by holes that allude to shadowy volumes and walls perforated by windows which, at night, become opaque. I’m always somewhere, and I can only ever be wherever that is, so I can never know what’s behind a door. Or behind me. In the dark, every building becomes a baroque entanglement of containers containing the stuff of nightmares. I can recall bouts of supernatural terror as far back as age four: ghosts, witches, the serial killers of the dream world. Fast forward three decades, and while the more imaginative forms have dissolved, an invisible force still pervades whenever I find myself alone in a space at night. Consistent as the sun setting, and even more intense after exposure to the genre of psychological horror. An effective scary movie will keep me out of the kitchen or bathroom at night unless absolutely necessary, as my mind projects fictional filmic characters onto my nocturnal reality. Ask me if I want to watch Poltergeist and my response will be a terse “no.” I would prefer to not be exposed to the trailer for V/H/S again. It’s even hard for me to read the plot synopsis of The Ring on Wikipedia. 

So you see, Sally, this former villa, the Kunstverein, which is haunted by Helene, puts me in a bit of a pickle. Firstly, it’s a heavily authored neoclassical monstrosity, one of those spaces that artists describe as “tricky.” While the institution has some cred, it would be so much easier to do a show beneath your backlit black-and gold-winged buffalo because I’ve been thinking about it for two years, and the patio seems designed for such an intervention. For now, the most pressing issue is that it’s just me and Helene here at the Kunstverein every night for a whole month. I can’t imagine an adequate description of how awful that feels. But I’ll try.

Two panels: on the top, a projector projects an image of a monster; on the bottom, the interior components of the projector.
A page of Willem’s Gravesande’s Physices Elementa Mathematica with Jan van Musschenbroek’s magic lantern. | Wikimedia Commons

Do you know this German guy named Immanuel Kant? He used this term hirngespenster, which translates to “brain ghosts” in English, to expose spiritual visions as a sensory delusion. To build his argument he compared the hirngespenster of an inflamed, enthusiastic imagination to an optical spectrum (spectre) created by means of a concave mirror projection. I’ll spare you the details, but just know that this skeptical account of ghostly apparitions anticipates his doctrine of transcendental illusion. He repeatedly draws on the optical media of his day in order to describe the fallacies of speculative reason, so speculative metaphysics are a “magic lantern of brain phantoms.” With this simple act of transferred implication, the optical instrument becomes a model for the limits of philosophical knowledge. Kant’s critical theory of knowledge presumes that our senses are affiziert (affected) by a principally unknowable thing-in-itself.

Helene, despite all my efforts to keep my mind off of your phantom presence, I’m acutely aware of it as the sun sets each night. I push open doors, some that seem paper thin, some industrially heavy, and I imagine you behind each one. I find myself hoping it will snow so that the dry leaves will stop snickering across the cobblestone. As I scan the room from my feather bed before turning out the light, I feel like you’re poised in the padlocked closet. I fear that if something behind that door falls, like an Isa Genzken artist edition, the trauma will rouse my hirngespenster. So how to deal with this gap between what I know—that I probably won’t encounter you, Helene—and what I feel—that you’re right beside me? Again, the only way out seems to be “through,” only then can I make peace with you. Or my idea of you. 

Legend has it that your trips to Sanssouci in Potsdam and Charlottenburg in Berlin left you with a preference for the rococo over neoclassical nods like the villa we’re in right now. I know how it is, even for artists like you and I, Helen. We grow up imagining a certain kind of world for ourselves and then realize there are rules to the game. Historical weight has a way of consigning us to what we call fate, and I wonder if the factors that determine our course here in earth—family lineage, tradition, and the era into which one is born—carry into the afterlife. Out here in meatspace, the classical keeps coming back with a highly rationalized vengeance, whether it be the Italian Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, or Nazi Germany. As I am sure you observed, these cyclical returns tend to “smooth out” and “regulate,” to “correct” and “restore” the monuments of Greece. Sometimes it’s subconscious. The Pantheon was built around 125 AD, which inspired Brunelleschi’s forty-two-meter dome over the Saint Maria del Fiore completed in 1436. Then the printing press was invented and, over the next few centuries, domes appeared in Arricia and England, and on the University of Virginia campus, to name just a few. Villa Capra was finished in 1592, which inspired the Villa Salve Hospes you’re floating in right now. Following these lines forward through history, the buildings start to look more and more like theme environments.

The Pantheon in Rome surrounded by ancient buildings. In the foreground, a  small fountain.
The Pantheon in Rome. | Wikimedia Commons
A round brick building with tall white columns at the front.
The rotunda at the University of Virginia. | Wikimedia Commons

I’m realizing each neoclassicism selects some models among the range of possible classics that are available to its particular draft of modernity, and ignores others. For your father, a merchant, the Caduceus was chosen, and two of these staffs of Hermes adorn the exterior as bas-reliefs. As god of the high-road and the marketplace, Hermes was above all else the patron of commerce and special protector of the traveling salesman. But he was also the god of roads, thieves, travelers, and sports—Sally, this might even extend his provenance to the sports bar. He mastered rhetorical persuasion and special pleading, and the myths are full of instances where Hermes outwits the other gods for the sake of humankind. He knew the boundaries of society well and would transgress their borders in order to confuse their definitions. His symbols include the herma, the rooster, the tortoise, a satchel or pouch, winged sandals, and a winged cap. 

Medieval allegory constructed a systemic ballast for meaning, yet at the same time opened the gates for the proliferation of possible meanings for any given emblem. As long as allegory could be restricted, as in Dante, to an airtight hierarchy, maddening riddles could be repressed and the abyss of Western though kept at bay in its bad infinity. But by the seventeenth century, that hierarchy had ceased to be manageable. The harmony and proportion governing the strata of meaning began to fall apart. Proliferating resemblances, metamorphoses, symbolizations, connotations; the Baroque rushed toward the brink of a void where any sign could signify anything. 

I get the sense that you know this, Helene. And I imagine weekends when your Mann was out of town in which your own personal heaven touched down to earth, and these hierarchies collapsed. Suspending paintings from the ceiling fixtures to watch them spin and disturb the symmetry of villa. Ornamentation poking out from blank space, refusing to respect the limits of the classical frame that contained the illusion. Composing forts in the bedrooms with your most arousing fabrics. Bringing an ostrich in from the garden and hotboxing the frauleinzimmer. Reaching for exotic image banks stuffed with Pierrots, rhinos, and apogees that extended beyond the catalog that European art had relied upon for the best part of three millennia. Indulging your lesesucht (reading addiction), on those occasions when you had the study to yourself, with Gothic novels from the booming print market. An enveloping suspension of disbelief. 

Before leaving Los Angeles for Braunschweig, I visited Universal Studios Hollywood to ride Harry Potter’s “The Forbidden Journey.” I would use the industry term “ghost train,” which would apply for Universal’s recently closed “Jurassic Park: The Ride,” but it’s actually an advanced “dark ride” with vehicles mounted on robotic arms. Both proscenium and track are absent. Suddenly I was thrust into the rising action as a central character. Immersion seemed likely as long as I accepted my new role as narrative participant. This kind of environmental design doesn’t reproduce the story of the literary works insomuch as it evokes their atmosphere. Indeed, it seemed that every texture, every sound, every turn in the road reinforced the Harry Potter Universe. But the Forbidden Journey expands on this principle by using projection screen technology alongside the physical props, augmenting the physical sensation of movement through themed space with the representation of magic on screens. A holographic Hagrid asked me if I had seen a dragon. A video image of my face was projected onto a cloud of fog, blasting me with cold air, as a Dementor tried to suck my soul out of my body. The cliffs outside the Chamber of Secrets, perspectivally corrected across a video dome that wrapped around my ventral portion, nearly caved in on me. As with many theme park rides, the story is a bit muddled. Amid all of the chaos, it’s hard to follow the narrative. But for a few glorious moments, the Floo Network, flying benches, and Whomping Willows seemed not just possible, but actual.

The presence of the supernatural at this point in our current day is a puzzle, as it appears to have been for the first Baroque. Judging from his ceiling at San Ignazio in Rome, Pozzo entertained the faith of his Jesuit Order in the miraculous deification of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Order who would lead the Counter-Reformation. Pietro da Cortona, the artist of the equally mesmerizing quadratura ceiling for the Palazzo Barberini, must have been aware that the papal family of the Barberini was entangled in hypocrisy. On both ceilings, the distorted projection of anamorphosis presents the appearance of a viewpoint that doesn’t exist, a column of atmosphere extending to infinity, a trompe l’oeil dome on a flat surface. The epiphany of divine truth was produced through cutting-edge techniques of painterly deception, as with realist techniques in filmmaking. Faith and the lack thereof are indistinguishable when both are grounded in illusion. The flaunting of abundance, the layering of allegory upon allegory, the withdrawal of the actual: these conditions return in the epoch of Harry Potter’s “The Forbidden Journey,” with its mixture of real sets, animatronics, and domed projection screens. In the Baroque, the supernatural wasn’t a matter of life after death but of an imminent realm just beyond the earthly facade of the mundane. It was habitable; it graced the quotidian at every turn. Perhaps at its most palpable, the mundane expresses the immanent (if perpetually deferred) sublime through a technology which is itself an object of awe. This technically mediated beyond both exists and does not exist, whether it be an allegory of redemption via immense trompe l’oeil ceilings or basking in the glow of immersive screen spectacles.

An elaborate fresco depicting a tangle of heavenly figures.
From the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power by Pietro da Cortona in the the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. | Wikimedia Commons

And so, Sally, we find ourselves again in a “lively sports-bar chain dishing up wings and other American pub grub amid lots of large-screen TVs.” I counted thirty-six on my last visit, including the six outside on the patio. Empowering us to manifest “legendary experiences between friends,” the interior design incorporates locker room-style waiting benches, furniture made from recycled basketball courts, and faux-concrete booth dividers numbered like bleachers. The idea being that you’re at the stadium, whether you’re watching the game from the bleachers or waiting to be put in play. In your response to my last letter, you wrote that my videos “aren’t the right fit” for a sports bar. Sadly, this was not a surprise. 

Do you all ever throw the term “brand gremlin” around at meetings? I was reading a white paper recently that defined brand gremlins as “people, processes and other entities that are out of alignment with the organization’s overall brand strategy.” The term “gremlin” emerged out of Royal Air Force slang to describe a mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft, automobiles, and other machinery. While the brand sabotage is symbolic rather than technological, both create friction in what is meant to be smooth colonial expansion. 

You’re probably familiar with the movie Gremlins. The setting is “Kingston Falls,” one of those white-bread American towns with a refined Main Street charm. It is within this setting that the gremlins are able to function as gremlins—cute little mogwai sourced from a mystical Chinese sorcerer that transform into evil monsters who eat fried chicken and breakdance. A year later Kingston Falls would serve as the set for “Hill Valley” in Back to the Future, a simulacrum it would reprise in the rest of the trilogy, delineating the years 1955, 1985, and 2015. The plutonium necessary for this time travel was originally stolen from “terrorists,” or as Doc yells before they murder him: “the Libyans!” Leaping into Doc’s augmented DeLorean, this otherwise average American teenage boy named Marty McFly outruns the terrorists’ antique Volkswagen Transporter and finds himself in the right place at the wrong time: 1955.

I get the sense, Sally, that you think my videos would behave like brand gremlins if installed at B-Dubs—antagonists from some perceived “outside” hellbent on eroding your bottom line. Would there be a way to script this scenario so that the resolution offers the same kind of aesthetic pleasure that the arc of gremlins invading Kingston Falls offers over 106 minutes? Or would there be a way to think of the videos on the patio in relation to the Fox Sports Racing broadcast inside? There’s a formal bridge—my videos are infinite loops, and Fox Sports Racing runs twenty-four hours a day. Further along, would this bridge then be a bridge for an artistic community? Because to be honest, whenever my friends and I hold our water aerobics and B-Dubs nights, we prefer to bring our glistening wings back to my friend’s grandmother’s pool instead of dining in. We feel a bit out of joint with the environment, and not in a generative way. The good news is that we’ve consumed your “Hackables”—the chipotle BBQ dry seasoned wings smothered in creamy queso, the teriyaki sauce tenders topped with Cajun spices—and we can taste subtle hints towards what we like to call “heterogeneity.” Xfinity is expansive; there are over one-hundred twenty-four-hour sports networks alone. But what I’m offering you is the infinite. 

A plate of nachos, with celery and carrots.
Water aerobics and B-Dubs night. | Photo courtesy the author

A fifteen-minute drive from the Pasadena B-Dubs, and holding a Yelp rating that’s one whole star higher, is Uncle Yu’s Indian Theme Restaurant. It has everything it needs to be one of many “authentic” Taiwanese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley—namely, Taiwanese ownership, staff, and food. You see an illustrated portrait of a suspendered Uncle Yu on the sign, and then usually Uncle Yu himself sitting in those same suspenders near the register when you walk in. But then you start to notice the “Indian Theme”—dreamcatchers, wooden tribal chiefs, and servers (all Taiwanese) wearing beaded headbands and synthetic feathers. In another imaginative leap, the seating seems to have been lifted from German beer hall design and, in lieu of indigenous programming, the televisions play Fox Sports Racing.

Compare this to Jurassic Restaurant—or “Jurassic Restaurant Full Line Tin,” as the sign read—which also held a three-and-a-half star Yelp rating until it closed in 2017 after a tree fell through the roof. Faux cave walls made of shaped foam and a life-size model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton quickly coded the space as an unlicensed Jurassic Park-themed restaurant. But then the details started to chip away at the program: on display were plastic Burger King kids meal Rugrats toys, paper Chinese lanterns, and miniature foam pumpkins. The Taiwanese food was served by Taiwanese waitresses who wore full Native American costumes and accessorized with Uggs, chokers that spelled out their names, and utility belts emblazoned with adhesive pink triangles. The televisions played Fox Sports Racing. 

Or perhaps you’ve heard of Alpine Village, the Bavarian-themed shopping plaza in Los Angeles built by a German immigrant that includes everything from a restaurant/dance hall (where the televisions play Fox Sports Racing) to a dentist’s office to a driving school. One of the most interesting effects afforded by the environment is that I (technically German) become a minority amongst a largely Japanese and Latino clientele. Southern California is thinly veiled here behind Jugendstil decor, thorny old fonts, and an oversized bronze Beethoven bust. While it doesn’t manage to saturate me with the precious romanticism I devour on Bavaria’s own “Romantic Road” theme route, I’m jammed with wunder as I frolic through these gaps. Wonders like: When is Germany authentically German? When is Germany just playing a German-themed version of itself? When I’m in Germany, am I accessing the essence of Germany or inventing my own Germany in my head? Can this essence still be found at the Hooters in Frankfurt, specifically in its themeless, Gewerberegister-compliant kitchen?

I keep going back to Uncle Yu’s to think about his “Indian Theme.” Allegedly, it acknowledges the burial ground beneath the shopping plaza, which also contains a Vietnamese restaurant, a Filipino-owned dentist practice, and some other businesses whose signage I can’t read. The depths of these local peculiarities, as with any, are inexhaustible. Ultimately, I think these strange hybrid environments implicitly acknowledge the idea that humans can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but can never get near enough, as reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. And this embodied artifice is often what I want out of art. I feel as though I’ve gotten somewhere with an artwork when it makes me feel like I’ve landed in a new country, jet-lagged, and odd-looking light switches and plug sockets seem to emanate clown-like parodies of themselves. Unseemly intimacy, mocking my incompetence. An uncanny state where things are strangely familiar and familiarly strange. That’s when I realize the smooth functioning of things is merely an aesthetic effect to which I have grown accustomed. The opposite of exposure therapy, perhaps—a denaturalization that allows me to regain sensitivity. 

In a restaurant, the bones of a dinosaur.
Jurassic Restaurant in California. | Yelp

How does this compare to a streamlined theme restaurant chain like Buffalo Wild Wings? The sports bar/stadium-themed chicken chain restaurant subject is offered an environment of complete narrative control under one preconceived, totalizing theme chosen by its designers. The ideal, according to the criteria of contemporary “lifestyle design” discourse, is that this subject becomes the product by dressing for the occasion, engaging with B-Dubs’ social media accounts, and adopting the franchise as their neighborhood haunt. Abnormal presences or perspectives, while not impossible, are severely curtailed, if not through direct prescription, then simply by being intrinsically dismissed as unthematic anomalies—“brand gremlins.” 

Looking at images of exhibitions past at the Kunstverein, the neoclassical villa weighs heavily on contemporary art, often crushing it. It wasn’t made to nurture ethereal delicacies; rather, it was erected to be filled with noble humans and grand designs. Kind of like in Gremlins, the “superior values” of our “great societies” prevail over the unmonumental, over the alien and abject. The soberly framed ornamentation does violence to the plastic video monitors below. The rolling wood plank floors upstairs quarrel with stretched canvas. Artists tend to give in and center the work according to the neoclassical order. A famous German artist took the doors off their hinges and laid them in the middle of each room. This is an artist who, in other exhibitions, has had the installation team reconstruct walls from a prior exhibition but not finish them, so that—well, it’s too complicated to fully explain here, but showing the studs and drywall is actually a common motif for artists who make Marxist-themed artwork. It demonstrates that they’re aware of the way things work.

Me, I’m just trying to please you, Helene, by finding elegantly disturbing solutions for these riddles. And to sway you through a spell of art and rhetoric because nothing is better equipped to deal with the gaps that you see between sport and art, Sally. Gapsloitation in the form of a pitch. The illusion of a solution, like an insect mimicking a leaf. I don’t sell consumable goods. I peddle perception. But this letter isn’t just for your two pairs of eyes only. I imagine certain individuals will make their way to Braunschweig hoping for a Marxist-themed show. I wonder how many Germans rolled their eyes when Hitler came up at the beginning of this letter. I’d like to think these battles come down to tact, and not law. If I don’t pull it off, perhaps we can agree that I earned it due to all the European artists who come to LA and make wide-eyed videos about cars. But I’m staying in my lane—after all, this is my heritage, my stock, my 23andMe. Regardless, is Germany German-themed? Perhaps in my own displaced mind, through which everything has to be decoded. This allows me to invent my own Germany. Taking fate and making it McFate. Like a buffalo, having grown its gilded wings, gone wild. 

Do you ever think, Helene and Sally, your mind unfit for your era? I find myself muttering “if we only had the technologie” a lot during this install. For now, rectangular images reign and purpose-built structures are, at best, as animated as a cuckoo clock. I keep thinking about what my art would be like if my consciousness could be uploaded to the cloud, eliminating concerns such as budgets, hardware, gravity, and preexisting architecture. No need to default to video rooms shrouded in black fabric, or a sports bar/stadium-themed chicken chain restaurant wrapped in synthetic veneers, or a villa cast from a smoothed and simplified classical imaginary. Around me, a wholly mutable spatial image of the Villa Salve Hospes would float. I blink and scrumptious ornamentation emerges, unbridled, from the walls. A rendered rococo villa that never existed, offering unlimited points of view. Spatial imagery without the mediation of a screen interface. Full immersion in my mind’s eye, for infinity. Besides, I don’t really own anything, or belong anywhere. Though people tell me it seems like I’ve been everywhere, it often feels like nowhere. I’m all exchange and circulation. Might as well don a Caduceus made of pure light. Like the afterlife, this fantasy seems to traffic the same anxieties people have about death, for if ghosts exist, oblivion might not be the end.

An architecturally elaborate, heavily filigreed sitting room with a fireplace.
The Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany. | Library of Congress
At a race track, a row of stools where six men in red jumpsuits sit.
Ferrari Pit Wall. | Paul Williams

Other times I feel grateful that I’m able to walk into the same rooms that you visited at Schloss Sanssouci, Helene, where the gilded woodwork and paintings and mirrors and textiles make me feel as though I’ve walked into a humble heaven (before it gets sucked into a dimensionless vacuum). Objects that retain memory rather than models that orient the future. Sally, I’m sure you’re aware that, already, every Formula One engine has a 3D-modeled doppelgänger of itself, outside the car, to predict when the engine will melt. And the time will soon come when a Formula One driver won’t be able to compete with a self-driven car. Already there is technology that exists in our consumer automobiles, like antilock breaks, that are restricted in Formula One because audiences are invested in the mechanical talent of the drivers and their potential for error. If it was only about the predictive modeling of the engine and the outcome, that twenty-one-week season would be determined in nanoseconds. 

For now, it seems the best I can do is to allow us and our ideas to live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. Is this the only immortality we share?

Yours in good faith,

Villa Salve Hospes
Lessingplatz 12
38100 Braunschweig, Deutschland