Most of us at one time in our lives have been ruled by the velocity of power whether it be from a physical state, psychological, or unseen force. When one is subjected to a state of power it can leave the body in a trance-like state of endurance, battling through the hours, somewhere between the lived and the living; Anne Imhof’s Angst II reenacts this moment. It’s the second part of a series, also called Angst and spanning three institutions throughout 2016 —including Kunsthalle Basel in June 2016 and La Biennale de Montréal on October 18 and 19. The multifaceted production consists of three modern operatic acts linguistically and spatially linked to each other through endurance performances that last for hours.
On entering the smoke-filled hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof on September 14, one’s eyes start to adjust through the smog, smartphones and crowds. The architecture of the room is long and cascading, it seems unnaturally never ending; dotted with spiral staircases. Long boxing bags of luxurious white leather droop down from the ceiling with illustrations of people engaged in oral sex in soft articulated lines. In the enclave of each entrance are two raised stages that look like a communal living spaces. They’re strewn with sleeping bags, Pepsi cans, Red Bull, alternative medicine bloodletting devices, bongs, and miscellaneous modern-day teen occult detritus. A boy crawls over the floor, head down, he moves army style but in slow motion, his t-shirt catches on his Adidas tracksuit knees, the words “Sardonic Wrath” written out in a black metal font on his back — the text rests on his shoulder blades. He makes his way through the crowd to the first staircase. Two other performers hang off the top rung of one of the staircases that are placed through the room — vaping, almost kissing and with their arms limply hanging, with glazed eyes they stare into the aura of their own existence. For anyone who’s ever experimented with drugs, this gateway performance allows the rushes, highs and lows, to flood back into your body from the dense air, that clouds your spacial judgement to your dry dehydrated tongue and the ability to feel people but not see them as succinct to your own existence as they move in laps around you. An incredibly physical nihilistic trance overcomes you — Imhof manages to cognitively remap clubs kids gone introspective in the early hours of the morning onto the streams of people that wander around this space.
A deep organ sound strikes up over the Hamburger Bahnhof PA, mixed with electro synths and the industrial sounds of drone helicopters. An army of performers emerge, aggressively striding through the crowd, like a catwalk of amphetamine addicts. They strut and pace, jaw lines jut through the spectators who have their smartphones clasped to their sweaty palms as their mouths and eyes start to clog with smoke from the smoke machines. White sports socks and Hood by Air, Adidas and New Balance sneakers bounce off the cold floor of the museum screaming “Bite me, bitch!” as the group move towards and apart from each other in some manic flight plan that tears through the viewers. The crowd starts to feel the tension. The models-cum-performers run, slip and crack their bones on the floor in choreographed but realistic movements. Suddenly it stops, and a flying drone hovers like a mechanically-operated Guardian Angel above one performer, as they, along with the rest of the performers stand, hung up and strung out, searching for their crew who have now seated and entwined themselves into one another’s bodies against the far wall — vaping and motionless.
The whole four hours peak and dip in this way through the fifteen or so performers and their props. There is even a tightrope walker hovering overhead in a long-sleeved shirt that reads “DEATH Rotting whilst you breath” over her back. However, these special-effect traits to the piece seem cheap and stylistic in comparison to the vivid beauty of these untouchable bodies on the ground — hurting but euphoric from sensory overload, the mind swells trying to get closer to the action, only to realise it is merely a viewer, a voyeur. Like the mass of other looking bodies around you, you cannot enter this space, even if you’re physically there.
Angst II offers the general public a chance to see why generations of youths are lost in their own tribes; exhausted by themselves, their lives, and their anxieties. They drape smoke or vape into the Hamburger Bahnhof, flick their eyes, or limbs, offering a temporary visual gesture or at least an imitation of one. Hurling them out into the crowd these speculative actions of today’s world are beautiful and timely, but are they for real or just a mime? You only ever gain a rushed glimpse of a gesticulation and then it’s gone -vaped. Perhaps the most interesting realisation of Imhof’s performance is that we live in a world dominated by power and angst, where there is no end or beginning. In a perpetual state of flux, we feed and devour it as our bodies endure the domination and our deaths rapidly become us — trance-like, we sink into our own mortality, even in mass death we all die alone.**
Exhibition photos top right.
Anne Imhof’s ‘Angst II‘ was on at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof on September 14. ‘Angst III’ will be on at La Biennale de Montréal opening October 18 and 19, 2016.
Header Image: Eliza Douglas in Anne Imhof’s ‘Angst II’, (2016). Performance documentation. Courtesy the artist + Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin. Photo: Nadine Fraczkowski.