M+M: Sampling and Simulation. The Art of Intervening
Jean Baudrillard describes the essence of simulation increasingly in a melancholic perspective of loss. Where reality loses itself in sign systems, moral values and categories are also lost: "The space between true and false is no longer a space for a mutual relationship, but rather a space of random distribution. (...) The uncertainty drags us into a mad cycle, a race between verification and falsification, of viruses and protective measures: in art, in the financial world, in computer science, in the world of ideas, but also in sexuality, where we are all subject today to the serologic test, an extension of a general testing mania." Deterministically and all-inclusively, Baudrillard states: "Our curse consists in the impossibility of having to decide between good and evil, true and false. (...) Our powerlessness in the face of the fractal and fatal dissipation of values is much worse, much more disastrous than the old responsibility that accompanied conscience and consciousness."
The artist pair M+M (Marc Weis, born 1965; Martin De Mattia, born 1963) have been known to the public since 1989 with exhibitions and projects. The works of M+M are centered on the area of activity described by Baudrillard. They process the realities created by technical media through the use of technical media. They use the cultural background of reality simulation to place artistic simulations. This article intends to discuss the methods of intervening in existing (sign) systems.
By forming an artificial name from the initials of their first names, they emphasize artistically that they do not wish to personalize the creative process: the works of M+M are also more concerned with collective sign processes and not with the question about the individual, not even the individual artist, who remains anonymous behind the initials M+M. It also seems that the very variable media strategies with which M+M react to a mass culture characterized by technical images are systematically aiming to avoid a personal signature, a so-called unmistakable style that stabilizes art in the market. It is not the means of expression and the aesthetic gesture, but rather the themes and problems they address, that make the work of M+M recognizable over the years.
The most varied arrangements, such as videotape, video installation and sculptural appearances outside museums, photograph and video still, radio play and techno-tracks or actions such as blood and semen donations, open wide the field of artistic processes. With regard to the statements made, however, substantive-strategic associations become evident which, simplified, can be described in three phases, or rather structure levels, which, although they outline a chronological sequence, are present in many M+M projects with varying weight: 1. Adaptation/Confrontation; 2. Quotation/Fragmentation; 3. Sampling/Simulation.
In the early video works, pictorial scenes from art history are translated into the new video medium and thus broken up. Under a different aspect, one could describe it as an appropriation of the video medium by means of a strict, art-historical reference system. The video installation "Giotto" (1989), consisting of a row of seven monitors set up like statues, showing very reduced play-scenes "oriented to compositional examples from the early modern era" (artist's statement), brings together historical form and gesture language with the recording and presentation techniques of video. The artists themselves are presenters of the silent scenes, and the sample images from the early modern era do not appear direct but rather adjusted. In another example, the video installation "Lukas" of 1990, the confrontation arises through the double adaptation of a pictorial example: Rogier van der Weyden's "St. Luke Painting The Virgin" appears in a black and white version produced with rough brushstrokes in oil, divided into 16 square panels which, lying on the floor, produce the overall picture. One of the panels is replaced by a monochrome monitor that substitutes projections of the faces of the artists, the complete Lukasmadonna or screen noise for the face of the painting Lukas. The video technique extends the picture space by several levels. Both "Giotto" and "Lukas" center on the subject of artistic production. The pictures refer to models, but the picture material itself is not quoted, but rather communicated.
In the succeeding video works of M+M, the quotation comes to the fore. In an autonomous picture language, dissected trivial culture, isolated and alienated picture sequences from the history of cinema and television compete against the stream of mass media and bring it into our consciousness through its contrast and its staging simultaneously. Narrative structures and linear narrations are rare here. Fragmentary picture sequences, torn from their context, manipulated by magnifying glasses, repetition, partial enlargement and color processing focus elements of popular culture. Again and again, the subject is sexuality, violence, pornography, the eternal fall, as in the video sculpture "Monet" of 1992. The altar-like construction of the video monitors on three-meter high pedestals ironically emphasizes the fetish character of pictures that feign intimacy but are really instruments of seduction of a voyeuristic mass culture. The viewer is compromised by the concentration on a single aspect, on the "regular rhythmical movement of two human bodies" (artist's statement) to the extent that the strong alienation of the pictures presented requires them to be completed in the viewer's own imagination. Just as with the work "Monet", whose color nuances are inspired by Claude Monet's "Rouen Cathedral" and which should be considered provisionally as the last of M+M's works to aim at an art-historical reference, the video images in the installation "Tubes" (1992) are presented in a very specific spatial way. The viewer bends down to look into a tube covered with a skin-like cloth and sees not the person at the other end, who is also looking into the tube, but a monitor built into the tube showing images of increasing depth and an approaching movement, of intimacy and destruction. These pictures are taken from feature films, and use for their part the spectrum of television culture. Fragmented and placed in a new context however, they establish a space for experience and reflection radically different from the culture of television. The simulation is interrupted and commented on by the quotation from the discourse on simulation. The works of this phase are a meta-discourse on simulation culture: they attack the matter-of-factness of the construction of the world by the narrations of the media.
It appears to be only logically consistent that M+M in their next step want to intervene themselves in the construction of the world with their sign processes. And it also appears consistent that this is not directed towards the closed system of television but rather at different existing systems of our day-to-day world. Thus the movement of direction of the work of M+M would be one that can be traced from the artistic certainty of modern picture techniques, through the analytical commentary of popular culture put together from quotations, up to intervention in cultural subsystems. "Intervention" here can also be taken to refer to the activity of a disk jockey in the mixing of similar or suitably rhythmical sequences from other sources. The longing of the avant-garde to unite art and life appears again here, and the question about the function of art is asked yet again: does art 'only' describe, and does it make itself comfortable in the elite ghetto of art institutions, or does art intervene in life and have an effect on it, become part of the reality of life?. With their sampling projects, M+M have definitely reached the most radical stage of their work. Sampling is meant to be understood here not as a montage technique as used for videos in phase 2, but far more as the injection of art into the daily routine, with the calculated dissolving of art in everyday life, and, in accordance with the dictum of concept and anti-art, the relinquishment of art is the highest form of art. M+M's infiltrations into such things as the telephone network, the body's interior, the motorway network, an air-conditioning system, meteorological reality, the soundscape of a discotheque, are for their part a special type of simulation.
The work "Abgabe/Eingabe" of 1994 consists of three pairs of photographs that document actions in the sphere of clinical medicine or at least claim to document them: implanting an artificial hip engraved with M+M, a blood donation, a sperm donation. The claims made here by the series of photographs are concerned with a procedure to smuggle biological components of one's body as anonymous implantations into human organisms or to implant a piece of metal signed by the artist as a prosthesis. The artistic idea of becoming part of a person's blood circulation or having a procreative effect in the reproductive medicine is a modern and at the same time, due to its biological nature, an old-fashioned version of the longing for artistic effect and survival. Anonymous, not reconstructable, as an unverifiable assertion of artistic continuity and presence: M+M make artistic capital from the "curse" quoted by Baudrillard which "consists in the impossibility of having to decide between good and evil". The desire for anonymous involvement with an existing biological world stands right it the foreground. One could also interpret this desire as an attempt to leave the field of art defined by market laws and aesthetic conventions, and employ artistic ideas to dissolve into the world of non-art or biology. In this sense, the numerous attempts of the modern to expand the space of art and confront institutionally "valid" art with new models lead us very consistently into the world of nature: blood and semen cannot be artistically formed, they are not artefacts, the space where they make themselves felt is the human organism. The question of "Abgabe/Eingabe" is therefore not so much whether an artificial hip prepared by M+M was really implanted or whether a blood or semen donation was actually used. The question is rather the extent to which the understanding of pictures in documentary photography in our culture allows and supports M+M's claims. By choosing this medium, which leaves behind only a documentary impression of the clinical actions, M+M can concentrate completely on the actual statement made by these actions, the sampling of M+M's physical and mental heritage with the cycle of life. And the scandal that lurks in the attempt to proclaim the transmission of biological heredity as an artistic intervention in an existing system is alleviated by the simulative character of the work. "Abgabe/Eingabe" occupies a special position among the sampling/simulation works if M+M since two of the three actions are concerned with a purely biological "donation", whose destination is also purely biological. It would be quite possible to think of further extensions of this transmission model towards organ donations, etc., but under the aspect of adding material to existing cycles and systems, the result each time would merely be a reinterpretation of the human organism system as a place of art.
M+M have turned their attention to other more or less closed systems, to which they have given new interpretations with their interventions. The idea is not so much to remain invisible or unnoticed: on the contrary, some of their designs and actions considerably alter the existing environment, the social situation under focus. The integration idea has aesthetic and art-political dimensions. As already stated, M+M They create with their works new spaces and areas of effect for art, for their art, and simultaneously influence this area of effect. Their preoccupation with the iconography of mass culture (e.g.: Batman, television, pornography), with modern music techniques in clubs (e.g.: techno-sampling) or with everyday myths such as telephone, underground garage or motorway, draws the attention away from the still dominant places of art in galleries and museums. But having once arrived in the museum, M+M take the opportunity to create a new mixture out of their works and the works already canonized and made respectable by the museum.
In the installation "Galerien" (1994) in the underground garage of Munich Gasteig, they constructed ventilation ducts so similar to the other pipes in the building that motorists looking for a parking space not only easily overlooked the monitors in the ducts but found those standing puzzled and with craned necks under the pipes a social oddity, a disturbance to the operations of the car park. Suddenly the car park contained sources of unexpected images, meanings that extended the sober space. Simulation with a photo-documentation was unnecessary here: the installation was a real event. Not so with "Autobahnschleife" (1996): again we receive the impression of intervention in existing reality from a pseudo-documentary photo that has been digitally processed. This shows a motorway bridge on high stilts near Vittorio Veneto in Italy, with the special feature of an almost circular loop opening to the side of the motorway and returning to it in the same architectonic structure as a 360-degree loop for drives with a sense of play. The earnestness of the project is backed up by an engineer's drawing as a second part of the work. The picture text mentions the "planned location of the project", i.e., a contradiction is evoked between the photo-documentary description of the motorway loop as if it already existed and the newly projected construction measure. The sphere of simulation would be grossly violated if one could really make a round of honor in such a 360-degree loop in Italy.
One of the latest works of M+M, with Batman as protagonist, consists partly of a series of serial video sequences that playfully destroy the Batman complex. As the other part of the work, M+M published a record for and with a Munich techno-club with the title "A Batman`s Trip" (1997), subtitled "material to be used with techno (140 bpm)". Apart from this "original version", there are already sampled DJ versions in circulation that record, mix and integrate the material as one of several rhythm and sound levels. The radio-play-type story, complexly enriched with cultural quotations, consisting of six two-minute episodes, appears still recognizable in the mix version as an enrichment of techno-music with unexpected semantics. This kind of fusion is perhaps the ideal subject for the system integrators M+M: sampling in electronic music is the purest model for their current artistic process.
Altering and falsifying with an artistic code: in this way, M+M intervene in sign processes to break up their unambiguity and self-containedness, and, on the other hand, to implant art in new contexts. Baudrillard says: "Maybe one should withdraw as a virus, as a terrorist, as a molecular particle, and create a tiny nothingness in order to trigger a few secretive processes, because the environment scene is saturated with information. One has to create some holes of misinformation or counter-information ..."