GO AWAY SORROW OF THE WORLD. 2014/2018
In 2015 F&R R&F built a small wooden suitcase that can be activated as a performance in public space: they unpack a hidden accordeon system revealing a large signpost that reads: GO AWAY SORROW OF THE WORLD. The unpacking itself looks a little clumsy, as the two artists are both too short to unfold the sign. Only by lifting up one another, the artists can succeed. Afterwards they shake hands.
Contemplation on friendship, collaboration, and human interaction is a key investigation in their performative art. R&F F&R share the believe that GO AWAY SORROW OF THE WORLD becomes a mantra. By repeating the action in various public spaces around the world, locals are confronted with the sign in their own language. Subconsciously, they contribute to the resonation of a powerful and naive message.
Every performance is documented through photos, video, and postcards. Using only a small portable printer and a smartphone, postcards are published on the spot. The postcards are regarded as a certificate of the performance taking place. They mail one postcard to themselves, dozens of others are sent to people they’ve met at previous locations — creating a network spreading the mantra. The collection of video documentations is edited and published online, in a form that can never be finalized. F&R are continuously visiting new places. The perpetual labor of Sisyfus is reflected herein. A never-ending statement of ambiguous meaning.
Power at Play, Play the Game (Text by Laura Herman, concepttext that guides the GUNS installation and the F&R R&F oeuvre)
‘To play safe, I prefer to accept only one type of
power: the power of art over trash, the
triumph of magic over the brute.’
In a rapid and sharp succession of moves, a small, white ball, loaded with compressed energy, plunges back and forth. The bat meets the plastic and renewed ardor is fed into the shot. Ping-pong, a game that paved a way to a visit to the People’s Republic of China by President Richard Nixon in the seventies, might well be the only sport that was ever so deeply entrenched in politics and ideology. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the artist’s duo Robbert&Frank/Frank&Robbert employ ping-pong (besides ‘flim-flam’, whiff-whaff’, and Gossima, the other names the sport went by)
as an apt metaphor to convey the way their artistic practice comes into being. Not only does it refer to a dynamic and spontaneous mode of exchange between two players, it also alludes, more indirectly, to politics in disguise, the American battle for power, and the pursuit of knowledge of mutual importance—themes that lie at the heart of F&R R&F’s multidisciplinary art.
This preoccupation with power structures and the hegemony of American culture is demonstrated in a 13-minute video What about American History (2012). Featuring both the artists, the film comprises a random compilation of documentary footage shot during their multiple travels through the United States. Masked and seemingly alienated by the American construction of enhanced identities, no longer aspiring to reveal their true selves, the artists hint at a global generational malaise akin to the identitarian concerns expressed through identity politics since the 1970s. In a similar vein, The Gilded Child (2012), a video piece encompassing many intertwining layers, addresses the human in search of salvation in an atomized society of disengaged individuals. Flooded by images and symbols of the past, the film suggests we have arrived at a time when humans have cultivated illiteracy to the possibilities the world’s physical realm still has to offer.
F&R R&F’s fascination for the obscure, the secluded, the conspiratorial, the enigmatical, the forgotten, the occult, and the unknown constitutes the driving force that propels further their artistic practice, marked by considerable charm and wit. More light-hearted and gleeful, than the themes explored might suggest, performances, installations and objects burgeon a universe of their own, where F&R R&F’s films, impossibilities become possibilities, and unknowns become knowns. In this world, shaped by idiosyncratic logics, rules and structures, it might not always be apparent, which is ping, or what is pong, but perhaps ideas, thoughts and concepts become more compelling when they stop making sense, when the thrill of the game wins over the
conditions of our present day’s visual world the absurd and the nonsensical reign. One can of course not disavow that there are some very odd parts to the American culture and histories the artists eagerly tap into. Shaped by bizarre historical discrepancies, mesmerized by cultural short-circuits, and enthralled by the unexplainable events that seep through the cracks of history, the work considers these contingencies as openings.
In F&R R&F for inquiry. While disclosing how cultural assumptions, anxieties and desires can be graciously debunked by virtue of a clever brew of art and gag; the work offers humorous blueprints for counter-hegemonic scenarios. Google mural (2013) illustrates this strategy: with a simple artistic gesture the feudal, all-knowing lord of mass computation is neutered and dethroned from its authority and power. In Hito Steyerl’s essay Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead, the artist advocates the possibility of an internet moving offline, asking “If images can be shared and circulated, why can’t everything else
be too? (…) If one can share a restaurant dish JPEG on Facebook, why not the real meal?”
However effortless F&R R&F’s artistic act may seem, it actively proposes a world where sharing and the distribution of knowledge can still exist outside of the realm of the Internet. Indeed, the latest episode in F&R R&F’s artistic course is tangible and real. Dealing with killing hardware and all its social, political, economical, cultural and sexual ramifications, the Guns-project (2014), which consists of 400 hand-made wooden weapons, leaves no room for ambiguity. It is distinctly about guns, yet the project offers a productive lead to reflect upon a broad set of issues, from the production and distribution of fire weapons, to the guns’ presence in our everyday lives and social imaginaries. Not only does the Guns-project reflect the global omnipresence of guns (be it in the media, in the film industry or in our direct environment), it equally touches upon some recent questions concerning the DIY-manufacturing of weaponry. The Guns- project comes at a time when designer Cody Wilson has conceived the first 3-D printed gun, now owned by the V&A in London, the world’s largest design museum. In 2014 a New York Times article indicated how the rise of open-source education has smoothed the path for Al-Qaida militants in distant lands to carry out smaller-scale solo attacks by virtue of hand-made artillery.
Guns are the means through which children, for the first time in their lives, learn to enact power dynamics and hierarchies when playing racist Cowboys and Indians games. Guns are the symbols of patriarchy: hard and erected, the guns impertinently point at human flesh, ready to explode. Guns are the tools of oppression and control, the instruments of brutality and domination of the police state.
Why have in F&R R&F devoted one month of their artistic practice to the creation of a wide collection of harmless weapons made of wood? “ The answer is quite simple. “Weakness is provocative”, President Rumsfeld famously observed, “. And one shouldn’t forget how easily child militias living in the Third World craft their homemade guns from scrap metal at junkyards. Yet, for some, guns are closer to home than we’d sometimes want to believe.
Guns are the comfort objects hidden underneath numerous pillows in American homes. merely provocative, but above all the one and only condition to challenge the one who It entices people into doing things that they otherwise would not do.” But what if weakness wasn’t has power, to collapse existing power dynamics by articulating a shrewd and revealing antagonism? When your power is weak, you give power to your weakness. Vulnerability
is the place from which agency arises. Art can be disarming after all. It unmasks and exposes the order of the world. It’s called passion for the world. Using deliberate candor and humor as their weapons, happily play the game—and they play it on target and with a slight twist.
R&F F&R ‘original wooden blood stain’. 2014/2017
The work of Frank&Robbert is playful and… It works as a shadow! How? An artwork is never finished, so the artist duo believes. The concept of an artwork can only land in a temporate fysical form. A perfect example of this, is their ‘R&F F&R original wooden blood stain’.
In 2014 R&F F&R created a performance / theaterplay titled ‘TO BREAK: The Window of Opportunity’. In this silent theaterpiece, Frank and Robbert did not act. They were merely the ‘consierges’ of the theaterfloor: they installed artworks, cleaned the floor, activated installations, etc. One of the scènes was a little bit different then the others. Robbert uncovered his torso and lay half naked on the floor. Frank took a giant white blanket and tucked Robbert up. Thereafter Frank took some self-made christmas trees. The trees had a folding mechanism and were kind of small. Frank placed these trees on the white covered Robbert. Frank lay down a black wooden lake next to the snowy-mountain Robbert… Next the lights went out and the Twin Peaks tune started to play. Frank started to drive around the scenery with a small pink car attached to a stick. The lights of the mini car shined bright. And… When the music grew into climax Frank stopped the car next to the lake, turned the lake upside down. The backside was painted red. Frank uncovered Robbert who was laying directly next to the red puddle and all of a sudden the scène transformed into a crime scene. End of the scène.
Later on, R&F F&R, isolated the ‘blood stain’ and transformed it into an art object, flirting with the unwritten rules of ‘the artworld’. The bloodstain was not a unique piece, it was a multiple… And it ‘behaved’ like it was a design object. The bloodstain itself was nothing more then a piece of red painted wood, without any marks, autographs or signs. Nobody could recognize that this was an artwork. The package however looked like it was ‘made in China’, but, after a closer inspection, one could see that the package was handmade and super unique. The backside of the package even motivated the buyer to use this bloodstain for a performative action, it said: ‘Let your favorite object bleed’. The bloodstain series had succes! F&R R&F made a presentation box for the full collection and kept on flirting with the different possible purposses of the blood stains.
The blood staines work as sculptures, as tools for performances, but… In a new artwork they can even be activated in a whole new way. Frank and Robbert have transformed one of the earliest videogames ever: PONG. This Atari game is easy: two virtual planks can ping pong with an 8 bit ball. R&F ‘hacked’ this game. They have turned the ball into a bullet. The planks use the bullet to kill each other; and after every murder the killed plank bleeds red pixels (until a whole virtual bloodstain has been created), then the game starts over again.
In this way, art as a shadow, the R&F F&R ‘original wooden blood stain’ is only one materialisation of a larger and more powerfull concept.
Note: The text above was written by the Artist. No modification was made by C.O.C.A.
Frank&Robbert Robbert&Frank are visual artists, performers and videographers. Humor, transformation and power are key elements in their visual art practice. Operating as ‚Trojan Horses’, they ‚steal’ recognizable forms from our everyday life. They alter and ‚hack’ these forms to develop artworks that convey a poetic and critical message. Bubbling oil barrels, an arsenal of 400 scrap wooden guns, mutated peace pigeons, a selection of personalized WHEY products, etc. Such are the works that are part of their growing oeuvre.