The Cathedral of Erotic Misery (Michael Johansson after Kurt Schwitters)

The Cathedral of Erotic Misery (Michael Johansson after Kurt Schwitters)

“Salomon saith, There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Salomon giveth his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.” Francis Bacon – The Essays    

In July 1920, Berlin was the home of the first International Dada Fair. Among “The Usual Suspects” (Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann, George Grosz, John Heartfield and Sophie Tauber), that exhibition featured also a photo series of a young Kurt Schwitters. Those pictures documented the early stage of his ongoing project “Merzbau”: an ambitious site-specific intervention that the German artist was building in his family house in Hannover. Later, in an essay called “Ich und meine Ziele ” (1933), Schwitters himself would refer at the first column of this work as the “Cathedral of Erotic Misery”. The so-called “Merzbau” was a sculptural environment that Schwitters created transforming gradually 6 rooms located in the Waldhausenstrasse 5. It was a Herculean task spanned over 14 years; a time during which Schwitters would thoroughly collect, assembly, paint and rearrange all sorts of found objects into a kind of ever-shifting and ever-expanding abstract walk-in collage.  

The legacy of this consecrated avant-garde artist includes works that oscillated between the creative imprint of Dadaism, Expressionism, Constructivism and Surrealism conveyed through collage, poetry, sound, sculpture, graphic design, typography and installation art. This cocktail may as well blend some of the current aesthetical flirts and appeals encountered when navigating through the artistic landscape of Berlin. Many of which are echoed in the oeuvre of Swedish artist Michael Johansson.  

Johansson arrived at sculpture and installation art coming from Photography. Despite the apparent gap between these two paths, Johansson’s characteristic way of scrutinizing the world has always laid in the point where the familiar and the unfamiliar meet, in the attempt to blur the limits between the common and the unexpected. There is a similar notion upon which his early photographic works and his sculptural pieces are based: the intrinsic capacity of objects to build contexts themselves, nourishing from all the fragmented narratives they conceal – once they are separated from their background.   Michael (like Schwitters) collects, assemblies and rearranges all sorts of found objects that he camouflages into sculptural-like collages – sometimes autonomous pieces, some others sculptural environments filling architectural gaps. Somehow constructivist in their appearance and minimalistic in their serial-repetitive nature, they also share a common feature with the primitive Surrealists in spirit: the fascination with the object trouvé . The practice of the assemblage denies the industrial nature of most of these objects, in a sort of alchemic operation during which they appear to be handicraft objects instead. It implies a return to the manual, where the artist’s hands-on work encounters the matter-of-factness of the objects, acknowledging their embedded narratives to emerge and, at the same time, revealing a necessity to build new meanings.

Michael Johansson, 'Ghost II'

Michael Johansson, 'Tetris', Witte de with (Rotterdam).

Michael Johansson, 'Self contained'.

Michael Johansson (in his studio)

Both Schwitters and Johansson’s works constitute a chronic themselves of a (wasted) past or present, a trace that can’t be erased by the new homogenized shape containing those displaced objects.  The same paradoxical relationship between denial and remembering can be identified in the troubled way in which a place like Berlin conjugates actions in past or present tense. It is general knowledge that in this city, demolishing, restoring and building conjures up deep political meanings respectively – followed up by big discrepancies between the ones that protest against forgetting and those who choose to let go. Over the years, Berlin turned into a kind of ongoing Merzbau: a huge ever-shifting and ever-expanding walk-in installation where all those fragmented narratives compose different strata layers piled up without the other, assembled in a frame where functionality and the validity of out-dated ideologies are constantly being called into question. Johansson’s art seem to point exactly in this direction, and in the way that most of his works attempt to make coherent aesthetic sense of the world around him incorporating found objects, his installations resemble the ones developed by Schwitters in the 1920s; portraying to some extent, Berlin itself.   A place that continues to have the same enemies of yesteryear: Bourgeois and Philistines; and that still attracts and seduces the same kind of people: Fetishists, object-hunters, bankrupted dreamers, activists (neo-Dadaists), graphic designers, typographers, poets, sound artists, sculptors and installation artists. All assembled in the “psychological collage ” embodied by this city: hopelessly romantic and obsessed with aesthetics. The Cathedral of Erotic Misery.  


Paz Ponce Pérez-Bustamante

Paz Ponce Pérez-Bustamante Spain, 1985   Paz Ponce has a Master’s Degree in Art History from the Complutense University of Madrid. In 2009-2010 she studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin.   In her years as a student she co-founded a curatorial collective: Calipsofacto Projects, devoted to the promotion of emerging Spanish art, specially focused on new channels of distribution and spaces for the art, with a site-specific cross-disciplinary approach. Since September 2012 she is co-director of the Calipsofacto Cultural Association.  For four months, between 2010-2011 she was an intern at the Parra & Romero Contemporary Art Gallery in Madrid.  After graduation, she moved to Berlin, participating in the 2011 Spring Curatorial Residency Program at the Node Center for Curatorial Studies, where she continued on for 6 months as an intern devoted to fundraising research, awarded with a Leonardo Scholarship.  Between 2012-2013 she worked as an artist manager for a curated arts representation agency based in Berlin. She is also a curator member of berlinerpool, a cooperative network of artists, spaces and curators based in Berlin. Currently she works as an independent curator, project manager and fundraiser collaborating with several art initiatives both in Madrid and Berlin, where she lives.  Personal curatorial interests revolve around modern subjectivity and the mechanisms generating awareness towards identity issues, including: the symbolic, the collective unconscious, historical memory, the mechanism of remembrance (and forgetting), negotiating processes between the individual and the collective, public/private frictions (the dynamics of interaction), or relational aesthetics. A puzzle where language is conceived as a tool, interdisciplinary a playful attitude and contextualisation a professional pathology.


berlinerpool is an artist initiative that structures a cooperative network of artists, curators and art spaces. The online profile pages and mobile archive provide information about berlinerpool members. berlinerpool offers consulting and research services for curators, develops its own projects and participates in exhibitions and events.

30 June 2017 / by / in

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