Article and Photos by Cate Smierciak in Berlin; Thursday, Sep. 22, 2011
For the first time in Germany, Chicks on Speed, with the support of the Hauptstadtkulturfonds, are showing a large-scale retrospective, representing everything from early projects from the 90’s to current work. The opening week also featured four performances in conjunction with the exhibition held at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/ Bethanien.
Cultural Workship Now! kicked off on September 9th, with the Vernissage of their exhibition of decades of pioneering, innovative, interdisciplinary work. The title is meant to combine the words workshop and worship, a fitting wink to the fetishization of all things Chicks that this show entails. Melissa Logan, one of the core members of the group, later said that the name was now unofficially shortened to “Cult Now,” further driving the point.
Known to some as an artsy electroclash band, to others as an amorphous group of interdisciplinary artists who happen to list music among the media in which they work, Chicks on Speed have had a colorful career over the decades. The exhibition’s frantic, high-meets-low-meets-your-senses tone holds nothing back.
From the moment visitors walk through the doors, a fast-motion performance video projected onto a sheer surface simultaneously draws attention and allows a glimpse of the sumptuous, richly colored “boob tent” that lies behind it, setting the tone for the sensory overload that follows.
The tent itself, a cozy and, whether intended or not, interactive centerpiece, sits in a room adorned with “boob-prints“ and accompanied by the hanging “Theremin Tapestry,” a project woven by collaborators at the Melbourne based Victorian Tapestry Workshop and fitted with electronic musical elements to create one huge, beautiful, multi-tonal wall-mounted theremin. This was also the centerpiece of the first performance held in conjunction with the show, and made cameos in following performances as well.
A pedestal of three “e-shoes,” in an adjoining chamber are appropriately lit like the fetish objects that they are. COS debuted the wireless guitar-heels last summer in a performance, adding to their collection of playable objects and costumes. The hats are around the corner.
Five large video projections are supplemented by a number of additional videos on monitors with accompanying headphones pulls visitors down a pink and green lit hallway, into a room filled with circuit bending cigar boxes. Here, visitors can actually play the object instruments themselves, creating a cacophony of sound on a table shared with yet another monitor with the image of a bottom being spanked, a very strong motif throughout the show. The cigar boxes were also featured in the final performance last Saturday, “Wrecktangle: Sometimes a Cigar Box is Not Just a Cigar Box” along with the theremin tapestry, Jasmina Machina on bass, Anat Ben David, and many other collaborators and guests.
At the end of the hall, visitors are greeted by an entire wing of Voodoo Chanel artifacts, a commentary, or critique, or celebration, or mix of all of these things, of luxury and brand fetishism. The cove is complete with a chickenwire Voodoo Chanel shrine, glowing molds of floating body parts, and a pleasant, pond-side room where visitors can sit, chat, relax, and enjoy the disco “blob” that spins above, one of the many, stuffed textile pieces found in the show.
Unfortunately, the performances have come and gone, but the show is still definitely worth a visit.
Additional designers involved in the exhibition and performances:
Costume: Kathi Glas
Lighting: Beda Mulzer
Sound: Jasmina Maschina
Cate Smierciak creates and writes about film, video, and photography in Berlin. She received her BA in Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University, participated in the FAMU International program in Prague, and spent a year at the HFF Potsdam-Babelsberg on a DAAD Artist Study Grant.