November 23rd, 2009


People in gold suits

Who should I run into at breakfast this morning in the Hotel Metropol, Warsaw, but Kajsa and Benjamin from Abake? Swedish Kajsa is the cover star of my Ocky Milk album, and French Benjamin is also part of music fashion label Kitsune. They told me they'd come to Warsaw to visit the artist Pawel Althamer, and started describing his Common Tasks project to me.

Like Abake (who mount socially-oriented conceptual projects like repairing park benches or setting up plant exchange schemes, and describe it as "design"), Althamer makes social interventions. For Sculpture Munster he made a path leading into the middle of a barley field, for instance. Common Task involves him dressing up a group of his Warsaw neighbours (he lives in a somewhat Stalinist tower block) in sci-fi gold suits and flying them (sometimes in a gold-painted Boeing 737) to various utopian locations: the Atomium in Brussels, Brasilia, or to Mali to meet the Dogon tribe.

Listening to Kajsa and Benjamin describing this over breakfast, I experienced "comparative visit envy". I'd come to Warsaw to sing (dressed up in a pair of spectacles with forecurls attached, as it happens). They'd come for a studio visit with this very interesting artist.

But actually Pawel Althamer had been a part of my visit too. As you'll hear when I post an hour-long podcast of my Warsaw wanderings tomorrow, I spent a while in front of a video of his yesterday at the CSW art museum. In 1997 Althamer selected a group of homeless people and got them to undress, hold hands, and dance naked in a ring in an empty white cube gallery space. I spent a minute or so describing the flabby bodies as they crossed the screen one by one. I didn't realise they were tramps; what interested me was how their middle-aged sag made it difficult to tell men and women apart.

A decade later Althamer would have dressed his tramps in gold foil and sent them on a golden plane to witness wonders.