Sherrine Azab on Christian Jankowski

Christian Jankowski (b. 1968) is a German multimedia artist and performance-maker, based in Berlin.  The piece Rooftop Routine, included in this exhibition, was originally commissioned for Performa 07 and was performed live in front of an audience assembled on a rooftop in New York.  The video on display here features the talents of a mysterious rooftop hula-hooper Jankowski discovered one morning while looking down out of his Chinatown apartment’s window.  For the artist, the rhythm of the hula-hoop moving in circles around the figure was an intriguing juxtaposition to the boxes and squares of the architecture of his lower Manhattan view.  Witnessing this unusual sight propelled Jankowski on a mission to find his hula-hooping muse, Suat Ling Chua.  For the original performance, Jankowski positioned Chua on a nearby rooftop with a series of other hula-hoopers on ever more distant rooftops following her every move.  The video cuts between panoramic shots of Jankowski’s collection of rooftop hula-hoopers, close-ups of the individuals, and subtitled explications of the practice of hula-hooping given by Chua.

Collaboration, in many forms, is at the center of much of Jankowski’s work.  These collaborative relationships range from chance bystanders to longer-term, formal collaborations.  In The Hunt Jankowski committed to eating only products he shot with a bow and arrow while in a supermarket.  Jankowski considers the cashiers his collaborators in the making of the piece as their participation is crucial to the realization of the work.

These collaborators, or sometimes co-conspirators, are also used by Jankowki to blur the lines between objects, commerce, and performance. In his 2009 piece, Strip the Auctioneer, Jankowski persuaded a Christie’s auctioneer to wear Jankowski’s clothes and then auction those clothes off to the highest bidder while removing each item as it sold.  This resulted in the simultaneous lowering of status of the auctioneer while the value of the clothes increased, now re-contextualized as artworks.  In Jankowski’s piece The Finest Art on Water at the 2011 Frieze Art Fair, he conspired with a super luxury yacht company to create a situation in which the decision to bestow the status of art object on the yacht is in the hands of the buyer.  The buyer has the choice to purchase the yacht as a boat for 65 million euro or as a piece of art for 75 million euro.  If the decision is made to buy the yacht as art the sale is accompanied by paperwork certifying the piece as a work of art by Christian Jankowski.   The collector then has another decision to make: do they use the artwork as a boat or place it in a gallery?  If they choose to use it, is that then a performance?

Lines continue to be blurred. Hula hoops accompany the video of Rooftop Routines in this exhibition, giving the audience the chance to use them, or not.  What happens if they do so?  Is that a performance?  Are the hula hoops artifacts of the “original”?  Or sculptures?   These are the types of wry questions that are exposed throughout the body of Jankowski’s work.  They are questions that move beyond the surface of his constructed situations, at times playful or absurd, to challenge the viewer to rethink the value—economic, social, and aesthetic—of their lived experience.