Penny Rafferty

A culture of anarchy comes to a close with Ying Colosseum, by Penny Rafferty

5 January 2017

Penny Rafferty is founder of Ying Colosseum, alongside key players Silas Parry, Kyle Joseph and Alex Chalmers. The artist and writer marks the end of the 13 month-long programme of site-specific ‘happenings’, running from 2015 to 2016, with a reflection on its strengths and weaknesses:

Every last Sunday of every month, for 13 volumes since December 2015, the shape-shifting Ying Colosseum collective had been descending on “sites of interest” to stage art happenings across Berlin. Ying’s focus has always been at odds with the art world. Enabling artists to show their work in a Turkish bakery, a supermarket car park and at the centre of the German city’s infamous May 1 political demonstration, it has always attempted to incorporate a horizontal viewing economy for the shared optical nerve of the ever-expanding mass of young, Berlin-based and visiting artists. However, on November 27, 2016, Ying staged its so-called “final offering” inside its own email account,, giving out the password to artists and viewers alike. This was at the heart of its network, where all announcements were passed between its participants and their nodes over the course of Ying’s 13-month life-cycle.

Volume 3: Late-night lullaby (2016) @ Blacklands. Installation view. Courtesy Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

Ying Colosseum acted as an algorithm, it had a set of rules and components that manifested in a final outcome, but unlike the associated digital code, it had set spaces for human error by way of eschewing curation in favour of mass participation. It was created as a critical approach to the problems faced by present-day cultural platforms and workers who lack space and funds for experimentation. It used accessible communication technology available online —  such as a Facebook events, or Instagram hashtags, or email invites — to transfer art information from viewer-to-viewer, enabling engagement with the work and community. Ying hacked away at the traditions and tools of the artist by eschewing press releases, floor plans, install dates and curated legal space. In doing so, it opened and installed exhibitions on top of a post-industrial bridge, inside a Korean restaurant and in a Renaissance-designed Prussian park, creating an anonymous culture of anarchy comparable to the Situationists playing Pokemon Go.  Artists would cautiously appear on site, lugging IKEA bags (an up-and-coming artwork transporter of choice) or apologetically announcing they were unsure of the location. Then the negotiations would begin. With only 15 minutes before commencing, there is no curator, no authority to direct installs or programme line-ups for performers. Together, a conversation begins and a beer is opened, gaffer tape is found and Ying Colosseum opens.

Volume 5: Y646 (2016) @ Berlin Hauptbahnhof Lockers. Installation view. Courtesy Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

Each Ying event was decided by the same systematic unit. Whoever was interested or was invited by previous participants met at 21:00 hours on the first Monday of each month at Landsburger Allee Station. They boarded the Ringbahn subway route, which traces a looping route around Berlin — one full circle. Always travelling in the front carriage, participants decided on the site of the next Ying Colosseum gathering by presenting mobile phones photos of potential places they’d come across already. Weighing up the pros and cons of spaces, from politically ambiguous grey-zone metal bars to the Hauptbanhopf central train station in the midst of a city-wide terror warning, even abandoned swimming pools with locks that needed to be cut. All sites had their unique points of interest, as well as problems but as Ying never acts as a permission-seeker to the venue or site used (with exception), the decision would have to be made on that single loop. It’s not only that a title needed to be chosen and conveyed to Ying’s exhibiting artists during that journey but that if the deciding party ran out of time, minority ruled. This information was then passed on to all earlier contributing artists via email so they could take part again, or invite someone else by forwarding the correspondence and a pdf of recommended reading for Ying. Those who confirmed by replying with a name were told simply to meet on the chosen site at 18:45. The show would open at 19:00.

Volume 6: Blackcore Reborn (2016) @ May Day demonstration at Moritzplatz. Installation view. Courtesy Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

Ying Colosseum hosted events that presented from five to over 20 artists, poets, singers. Crowd numbers could reach as high as 350 people in the course of the roughly three hours or so the show stayed open, often closing when the police showed up. Not just a reaction to the art scene and its all-too-common cliques, Ying also drew attention to the burden of gentrification and its effects on young art communities. As rent prices soar for housing and studio space in the German capital, cultural producers find solace and cost-effective answers to finding exposure via their Instagram accounts, but that’s at the cost of a safe, unburdened place to critique and congregate.

Ying’s final offering was the toolkit it created to stage these one-off events and the open-source license to use it alongside its name and mythology, created over the period it was initially activated. Ying Colosseum aimed to reveal the status quo and shield its users from it. One could argue that the project was never really interested in the artwork itself but the aesthetic discourse it generated through its human interactions; the behaviours and community it formed.**

The Ying Colosseum programme ran in venues across Berlin, running from December, 2015, to November, 2016.

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Ying Colosseum Vol. 11: Inter-Material-Subject, Oct 2

30 September 2016

Ying Colosseum is presenting its latest ‘volume’, called Inter-Material-Subject at an underground carpark in Berlin (Paul-Heyse-straße 29, 10407 Berlin) on October 2.

The Sunday evening event is the eleventh in a series of one-night-only pop-up exhibitions and happenings organised by Penny Rafferty that have surfaced across the German city. Previous locations include Moritzplatz Roundabout in Kreuzberg, as well as a bakery near Kottbusser Tor and a heavy metal bar called Blackland in Prenzlauer Berg that aqnb reviewed here.

Typical to the nomadic event announcements, there is little information on the themes of the show, other than a reference to its”spectacle”, a title that points to possibly some kind of object-oriented engagement and a list of artists involved, including Milos Trakilovic, Jack Randol, Anya Enot, Tine Günther, Jacob Eriksen, Cleo Kempe Towers, Felix Amerbacher, and Xs=Codien, among others.

See the FB event page for details.**

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Marianne Vlaschits @ DUVE, Sep 16 – Oct 29

15 September 2016

Marianne Vlaschits‘ solo exhibition *a disturbance travelling through a medium* is on at Berlin’s DUVE, opening September 16 and running to October 29.

Curated by Karim Crippa, the exhibition press release, written by Penny Rafferty, describes a speculative future where life on mars is ruled by a matriarchal system that respects the arts and leaves behind “the macho matter and their binary tech gadgets” of patriarchal earth.

For*a disturbance travelling through a medium*  the Austrian artist will transform the DUVE gallery space into a woman-run futuristic spaceship, based on the theory that women are engineered for cosmic travel, based on a cosmic bias towards the assumption that they are lighter and consume less calories than men.

See the DUVE website for details.**

Marianne Vlaschits, Malibu Moonrise (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + KN Berlin.
Marianne Vlaschits, Malibu Moonrise (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + KW, Berlin.
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OnCurating Issue 31 launch @ Motto Berlin, Jul 23

20 July 2016

OnCurating Issue 31: Spheres of Estrangement: Art, Politics and Curating is launching with a party at Motto Berlin on July 23.

The evening includes presentations and introductions by publisher Dorothee Richter  and editor Paul Stewart (on behalf of the editorial team). Penny Rafferty will read from ‘Vampires: Aesthetics to Ethics 1922-to the present day and there will be a performance lecture by Milos Trakilovic.

The issue includes contributions from Joesphine Baker-Heaslip, Jonas Becker, Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi, Carson Chan, Anke Hennig, and others. It was born out of the Saas-fee summer institute of art and focuses on “estrangement the five editors have applied the thematic approaches from the school back into their own worlds”.

The issue asks “what artistic, architectural and curatorial approaches to estrangement offer current discourse in organisation, aesthetics and activism. The articles unpack estrangement for the political, social and cultural sprint of our time”.

See the FB event page for more details.**

Launch OnCurating issue 31 @ Motto, Jul 23

Joesphine Baker-Heaslip, ‘Let it all come down’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist.

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Ying Colosseum @ Blackland reviewed

29 February 2016

Aided by Google image search, a depicted figure lies sleeping on a torn piece of white paper. The dreaming body is an orthopaedic marvel, a digital beauty, its skeleton inside and muscular outside rendered perfectly in x-ray and 3D. Drawn in by this edited image, a work by Kyle Joseph, and Ying Colosseum, I click attend to a one-night-only event, Late Nite Lullaby at heavy metal bar Blackland, on February 7. The motivations and processes leading up to Ying Colosseum’s ‘collisions’, a term used by Ying collective member Penny Rafferty, are perhaps as interesting as Ying’s adverse exhibitions. The recently born artist group, for instance, make all of their planning decisions in the front passenger carriage of the Ringbahn, an overland train that circles Berlin 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Nina Kettiger, 'Highlighting highlights (part 2)' (2016). Courtesy the artist + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.
Nina Kettiger, ‘Highlighting highlights (part 2)’ (2016). Courtesy the artist + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

Ying’s chosen course, an escape hatch from the microsphere of the white cube can be found in recent patterns of internet-addressed art. Their exhibitions are installed and photographed in genre-class situations, effectively retouching and reformatting their respective host, a post-digital reflex, one foot in the romantic real and the other in the social feed. It seems to recall the ‘premiere’ of New Scenario, an artist collaboration, often profiled on aqnb, who launched their first project in early 2015 with a David Cronenberg-inspired exhibition called C R A S H. What is interesting about Ying and their peers, though, is how an understanding of the internet (and the social simulation it so often implies) has created the possibility to re-route viewers offline, riding along the screen’s edge, a psychogeography of sorts.

Perhaps no work in Ying’s recent exhibition better supports the idea of a body wearing the internet out than ‘Untitled, pullover (black)’ (2016) by Alex Chalmers. Inside a display case for Blackland merchandise, a generic black jumper hangs like a shrine to the music occult. More wearable fan paraphernalia is for sale in the background, a 15 euro t-shirt, branding oneself, not as a logo, but as a club culture participant. More interestingly, Chalmers’ performative-based art practice typically relies on the use and effect of social interactions and human negotiations, which produce outcomes that are consciously minimal, while co-opting ready-made services like online shopping, 24-hour printing and door-to-door delivery. Materially assisted in this way, his ‘decision-free’ art reveals the unquestioned assumptions of an all-giving customer helpline and the complications of using a labor force primed for ‘service’.

Alex Chalmers, 'Untitled' (2016). Pullover (black). Courtesy the artist + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.
Alex Chalmers, ‘Untitled, pullover (black)’ (2016). Courtesy the artist + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

“They had to decide”, reads a line by Nina Kettiger, “between pretty and unique”, one of many covered song lyrics she has repurposed for an ongoing series of performances and pop-inspired prints, entitled Highlighting highlights (2016). Delicately pinned to a gaffer-tape wall of concert posters, bands like Doomed, Post Mortem and Fatal Embrace, Kettiger’s glossy tribute to a Britney Spears impersonator called Alejandra Vergara, is a teenage anomaly that sings “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman”. Positioned between Blackland’s public toilets and the cigarette machines, the artist’s account of a young-girl fantasy reveals a latent message about art and music: a play-hard scene, a stage crowded with men, impersonators acting like stars.

Under dimmed lights near double glass doors, Camilla Steinum’s lookalike tablecloth, ‘I’ve stopped eating stuff from the floor’ (2016), is caressed by hand —an unconscious outline of a butt —before the eyes adjust to reveal this visual and textural pleasure for the first time. There, her hand-dyed, hand-stitched carpet is lifted from the floor to chair-height, a plush surface to start conversation as smoothly as the beer bottles, ashtrays, cigarette lighters and mobile phones left on the artwork’s surface.

Camilla Steinum, 'I've stopped eating stuff from the floor' (2016). Courtesy the artist + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.
Camilla Steinum, ‘I’ve stopped eating stuff from the floor’ (2016). Courtesy the artist + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

The late night ends with Inger Lund Wold’s ‘Sleep’ (2016, read below) and the aftereffects of Ying’s collision are remembered like a micro-sleep, dream, or virus, emerging and submerging, a potential that is there but not always felt. A few days later I look online for documentation. Artworks by Alex Turgeon, Claude Eigan and Julian-Jakob Kneer are fresh on my mind, but unlike the post-event habits of many things Ying-esque —the release of high res images —theirs is stalled and decelerated, and Late Nite Lullaby remains imprinted on the body, like smoke on a jacket, and the memory of arriving lingers. 

A few days ago. In an e-mail.

She wrote me that after she had woken up she had fallen back asleep. Then she wrote that she had dreamt that everyone around her fell in love with her. She was like a virus moving among human beings.

I answered that I could not remember what I had dreamt.**

Ying Colosseum’s Late Nite Lullaby was on at Blackland on February 7. Volume 4, Spitzweg’s Stay, is on at Berlin’s Simitdchi, March 6, 2016.

Header image: Late Nite Lullaby (2016). Facebook-event-poster (detail). Courtesy Kyle Joseph + Ying Colosseum, Berlin.

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