A rack with three shelves that looks like an oversized wall unit contains no fewer than 128 monitors. The integrated VHS players do not show the daily news or soap operas but rather intimate glimpses of Dieter Roth’s ordinary life. We see him reading and sleeping, sitting at his desk doing nothing, writing, naked in the shower, on the
toilet. This kaleidoscopic self-surveillance of the aging artist’s daily life is, as Roth pragmatically argues, a time-saving form of documentation. Solo Szenen was meant to be Roth’s legacy; he died in June 1998, before the work premiered at the Venice Biennale.
The self, the ego, and aging have long been a concern for this universal artist, as illustrated by P.O.TH.A.A.VFB. Roth was 38 when he exposed himself to gradual decay as an aging man in his Portrait of the Artist as Vogelfutterbüste, a cast object in an edition of 30 copies, made out of milk chocolate and bird feed. The title of the work, which he modified several times, alludes to James Joyce’s novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which Roth considered to be kitsch. His aversion to artificiality and histrionics as well as performances on TV motivated Solo Szenen. Lying in bed awake, restlessly active, watching television, he was, in fact, so enervated by what he saw that he decided to create an alternative to the artificial reality on screen by filming his unembellished daily life as is. However, Solo Szenen not only testifies to Roth’s battle with addictive television; having fought alcoholism and depression for some time, he had just managed to pull himself together and concentrate on a project. He had to go through this critical phase alone, solo. Solo Szenen is essentially the sequel to A Diary (1982), Roth’s first contribution to the Venice Biennale. It, too, is a consecutive series of films that subverts the art public’s expectations of the eternally creative artist. He filmed Solo Szenen in Iceland, Hamburg, and Basel.
The country in the far north had been his lifelong homeport. Having fallen in love as a young man, he moved there and started a family. He wanted to be a vital and above all sober grandfather to his grandchildren; he found peace and a sense of balance in Iceland. Born in Hanover in 1930, the artist led a lifelong nomadic existence. At the age of 14, he was sent to Switzerland to live with a foster family during the Second World War, after which he traveled via Denmark to Iceland. Following several stays in the United States, he set up studios in such cities as Vienna, Hamburg, and Stuttgart, also living in them at times. He actually had three studios in Basel and even a fourth space next to the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart where Selbstturm; Löwenturm has been installed since 1990. P.O.TH.A.A.VFB. was the predecessor of the monumental installation with its two imposing towers containing busts of chocolate and sugar. The Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation acquired Selbstturm; Löwenturm as a work in progress and, like Solo Szenen, its ongoing development came to a halt when the artist died.
As an early time-based media work, Solo Szenen clearly merits a place in OUT OF THE BOX. This installation and other works by Roth recall the exhibition that launched Schaulager 20 years ago: “Roth Time. A Dieter Roth Retrospective“.
Dieter Roth (*1930 Hannover, Deutschland, †1998 Basel, Schweiz) wurde 1943, auf dem Höhepunkt des Zweiten Weltkriegs, von Hannover nach Zürich in eine Gastfamilie geschickt. Nach einer Grafikerlehre in Bern (1947–1951) wanderte er 1957 nach Island aus, wo er heiratete und eine Familie gründete. Roth war Zeit seines Lebens rastlos: Nicht nur arbeitete er intensiv in unterschiedlichen Medien – er malte, schrieb, druckte, fotografierte, zeichnete, dichtete, fertigte Skulpturen, Multiples und Schmuck, ging künstlerische Kollaborationen ein und machte Musik –, sondern auch in verschiedenen Ländern. Ab 1960 reiste er zum Arbeiten und Ausstellen in die USA (u.a. Philadelphia, Providence und New York) und nach Europa (u.a. Stuttgart, Wien, London, Basel, Hamburg); seit den 1980er-Jahren war die Schweiz sein bevorzugter Aufenthaltsort. Immer aber zog er sich nach einiger Zeit wieder zu seiner Familie und seinen Arbeitsorten nach Island zurück.
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