Fritz Bornstück - NEONGRAU

09.06 – 13.08.2022

Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022
Installation view, Fritz Bornstück, NEONGRAU, Galerie Mikael Andersen, 2022

Opening: 9 June, 17:00-19:00

Essay by Kristian Vistrup Madsen, 2022

Marie Kondo is a Japanese woman who loves to throw things out. On Netflix she helps people clean up their homes by a single commandment: joy. In her mouth it sounds almost like a threat. If an object does not “spark joy”, she thanks it, always politely, and that’s the end. The positivistic line of thinking she promotes resembles that of a Chicago-school economist, and as a character she would not be out of place in the novels of the libertarian ideologue Ayn Rand. Yes, Marie Kondo may look sweet—or even, as she often exclaims at the sight of children, wedding photographs or decorative pillows, kawaii: cute—but she means no joke.

Kondo recommends dealing with items of the “sentimental” order last, when your “sensitivity to joy has been sharpened”—or, I should rather think, you are so tired and grossed out by the obscene reality of your hoarding that you simply have no strength left for any emotion, least of all joy. This is a clever trick. Still, her embrace of the emotional side of our belongings remains a risky endeavour. Since she understands the objects on animist terms—addressing them directly, and also thanking the house first, for containing them—it seems logical that the objects would feel something in return. Does joy necessarily spark both ways? And what kind of life follows for the things that fall prey to Kondo’s knife skills?

Fritz Bornstück’s new group of paintings presents an encounter with the dark side of kawaii; a return of the komono—Kondo’s name for the troubling miscellaneous items that drive her clients to despair. We are looking at old hats, defunct television sets, oil barrels, a pair of skis, and, bizarrely, the lower part of a donkey’s jawbone. Things that failed to spark joy, but left their owner with some other, more complex emotion. A piano might instead have recalled a frustrating lack of ability, or tortured hours spent with a cruel instructor in childhood. Or a potted plant you neglected to care for now speaks to a dangerous lack of compassion in human relations more broadly, a conversation you’d prefer not to have. All these things remain in Bornstück’s strange, neon-grey world, stubbornly resisting your attempts to wash them away. In Repeater they’re feebly bridled by two leather belts strapped to no stable structure at all, and in Ein Turm von Unmöglichkeiten [Tower of Impossibilities] we see them stacked at impossible precarity. But in these paintings, rules of gravity are suspended; the tower never collapses. The works are portraits of the parts of life that evade order and the things that refuse to fall neatly on the side of joy or sorrow, present or past.

Other works are less piqued for drama than they are cheekily tranquil. In Satellite of Love, this is, to a great extent, due to the smiley faced satellite dish that dominates the composition. There’s something almost provocative about the ease with which this junk sits before us, sheltered, as if at a bus stop, by an upside-down rowboat. In a series of small paintings, Bornstück has made use of Kondo’s recommendation that boxes be used to isolate the komono that don’t go well together. A drain pipe, a megaphone, a cardboard box. These items laugh in the face of utility and harmony and the flatness of a sensation like “joy”, which Kondo describes as the feeling of holding a puppy. But what about a turtle? In Nummer 5 one such emerges from a heap of drink cans, billiard balls, and cigarette butts.

Kawaii is often used to describe objects, that accidentally or by design, appear to have human traits. Like vacuum cleaners with faces on them, such as Britain’s popular Henry Hoover, always smiling as he, or his conveniently heterosexual partner, Hetty, ingests your dirt. Or the many trash cans Bornstück began to photograph on his travels in East Asia and elsewhere. Penguins, frogs, teddybears, pigs and kittens are popular, but so are non-animal agents with particularly strong cultural connotations, such as strawberries, daisies and hearts. I suspect there must be to kawaii—as there is in European culture to the figures of the clown and the court jester, and to the concept of the carnivalesque as theorised by Mikhail Bakhtin—a strong relationship to power and subversion. To Bornstück, the odd pairing of the abject and the sweet occasioned a series of ceramic sculptures such as Tuxedomoon and Antarctica, a penguin wearing a wrecked TV for a helmet. And in the paintings, too, I think, we come to a head with kawaii’s tactic of deceit. For if the cute bins were meant to hide our banality as made visible by the mirror-image of our waste, here Bornstück removes the mask. But as Freud knew, repressions are in place for a reason, the same reason Marie Kondo has millions of fans. Trash stinks. Where do we go from there?

The basis of the Chinese discipline of Feng Shui is always the site; that’s where you begin. (The precise relation between this and Kondo’s method of achieving home-serenity is for another essay). In Bornstück’s paintings, where are we? A foggy dream world, a landscape, lost underwater? These dense, petroleum-tinged atmospheres of nothingness, and substances, like steam or smoke, issuing from trumpets and other horn-like objects, are the elegant ways in which the artist creates space inside paintings that might otherwise seem claustrophobic. But they are also difficult and nebulous features in their own right, which, alongside the other cast-away items, have found a home in Bornstück’s limbo-land.

In Feng Shui, the ideal placement for a house is on a gentle and well-drained slope, preferably in proximity to a watercourse—though only under the right circumstances. In her book The Undercurrents, Kirsty Bell applies the principles of Feng Shui to Berlin, the city where not only she, but Bornstück and also I live. The River Spree “is very close to stagnation”, she writes, at one point, “it was even reported to be flowing backwards”—and this not to mention the menace of the unusually high groundwater level. Bell concludes: “In Feng Shui terms this is a terrible place to plant a city.” This makes so much sense to me. And it also makes the messy marshlands of Bornstück’s paintings, their dark grey skies, restlessness and eclecticism, seem suddenly much more familiar. Aren’t they just so Berlin?

In Basel, people jump into the Rhine, with its great force of intention, to get a ride to work, plastic bags tied to their bodies. But in Berlin, writes Bell, “relative stasis allows for a lethargic pace that both detracts and enables. No longer a financial or trading capital, other paths may be followed than those determined by growth or success measured in economic terms alone.” As water stagnates, the waste of your life will not flow so readily downstream, and the past is not, as they say, just water under the bridge. In Berlin, as in Bornstück’s paintings, things float upwards and flip over, and what appears to be weak or useless stays around long enough for other potentials to reveal themselves. Berlin is trash—that’s why we, too, are still here. Let’s hope Marie Kondo does not come anywhere near it.

The essay is available in the catalogue printed on the occasion of the exhibition.

For more information on the exhibition and for press photographs please contact the gallery on tel. 33 33 05 12 or email: The exhibition ends 13 August 2022. Daily opening hours: Tuesday–Friday 12–18, Saturday 11–15.