For a moment, the movements of the three black figures on the beach seem a bit clumsy. Like kids trying out their first breakdance moves in slow motion, or rehearsing a strange Dada ballet, they twist their upper bodies, arms, and legs in the morning sun on Rockaway Beach in New York City. Then, suddenly, the rhythms become smooth and fast until it’s impossible to tell if they are pogoing, breakdancing or performing a wild hippie dance. Everything becomes possible in this ecstasy of dance, even the aesthetic revival of the long-forgotten German physical reform movement of the 1920s. Interspersed at intervals are images of a bare, dramatically lit interior with human silhouettes rushing back and forth as though on a stage between prop-like structures: these are the ghosts of the classical avant-garde—and they are dancing.
The Berlin-based artist Kalin Lindena named her ten-minute film Gegenüber (Ein Stehtanz) [Vis-á-vis (A Standing Dance)]; for the moment, producing moving images that are erratic, yet rich in reference is her greatest passion. Yet this does not mean that Lindena establishes specific hierarchies within the media she employs. Instead, she prefers blurring the boundaries between film, acting, sculpture, and drawing to give way to something akin to a "larger narrative" in an overarching production. In the end, the film becomes part of an installation and the equilibrium between media is restored. Here, too, she resembles her avant-garde forebears of a century ago, who simply ignored the obstacles between art, architecture, dance, theater, philosophy, design, and life.
"I’m fascinated by the way people thought about the gesamtkunstwerk in 1900. The fact that people wallpapered the room, built the chair, designed the vase and the cutlery they ate with, and thought about it all—and preferably wrote about it, as well—this all-encompassing work."
Lindena also subscribes to this ideal of working in all artistic disciplines equally. This is why the artist finds it so difficult to classify herself. She studied with Walter Dahn at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig from 1997 through 2004, and after an interlude in Cologne, she is now living in Berlin. "I’m neither a painter nor a draftsman, although I like to paint and draw. I like to be a sculptor and to make films." This freedom of choice in media does not, however, result from a fear of defining herself, but from a curiosity to test the borders of the genre. At the heart of Lindena’s work is a desire to let images and entire spaces speak in their own artistic language and to place the various different parts of an exhibition in relation to one another.
Yet Lindena does not give us any utopian manifestoes to read—even if the tall young woman sometimes seems like the reincarnation of an Expressionist poet in the Bohemian nightlife of Berlin-Mitte, with her pointy plucked eyebrows, her homemade black shirts and pants, and her little pointy boots. She prefers to give encoded titles to her works—not infrequently quoting Bob Dylan, Neil Young, or the singer/songwriter Will Oldham alias Bonnie "Prince" Billy—which break with the Neo-Modernist habitus and its tendency to interiority and the hermetic. Anyone who encounters her drawings and installations becomes "caught in an exhausting search for possibilities of ‘meaning,’" a critic once wrote in reference to her exhibition in the Berlin gallery Christian Nagel in a tone of sympathetic admiration. The title of the exhibition at the time was Wir Nennen Einen Berg Nach Dir [We will name a mountain after you] and still strangely sounds like a cross between the Boy Scouts and Einstürzende Neubauten.
Indeed, Lindena isn’t interested in explaining things, in making everything apparent. To her mind, transparence has more to do with the challenge of playing with the frame, the view, its rupture. And then, as in 2001 in the garden of the Braunschweig Kunstverein, she’ll build a rotunda made of window glass, or, as in the above-mentioned mountain exhibition, crystalline architecture reminiscent of the architect Bruno Taut or the painter and applied artist Wenzel Hablik, whose works anticipated the Expressionist architecture of the 1920s. Or, as was recently the case, she’ll hang flag objects in a gallery that viewers bump their heads against, because what at first seems like fabric turns out to be hard-edged glass. One can also recognize Lindena in the delicate drawings from the Deutsche Bank Collection that she made in the late ’90s, which were inspired by American Neo-Folk romanticism. The element of the unfinished in her drawings and sculptures—much like the so-called "extras" that appear in her films—is programmatic. Her idea of beauty isn’t all that simple, she explains, because there has to be something "strange" about something for her to find it beautiful. An aesthetic of slick perfection that catches the viewer unawares with its glistening surfaces can’t achieve this.
Already before she began studying art, while roaming the streets at night as a member of Hanover’s graffiti scene, she was more interested in "outlining" or establishing the graphic structure of the image than in actually filling in the shapes with spray paint. "Basically, the things I learned back then in respect to size and color theory were a good education." Yet in order to recognize this, it was necessary to study art. It was only in art school that she realized there was no point in separating these things—particularly when one is "used to working on a wall and moving the entire arm and not just the fingers or the wrist," as she herself is. Her enjoyment in working this way also might have led her to work on a mural in a stairwell in Berlin-Mitte for a period of two years in a hallway that once connected the two artists’ hangouts Montparnasse and Finks. Today, both the hangouts and the mural have vanished, but Lindena is already planning a new project for the upcoming expansion of Bar 3 near the Volksbühne theatre.
When she will finally complete this, however, is still open to debate. In February, Lindena will begin a twelve-month fellowship together with the three other 2009 Villa Romana prizewinners Olivier Foulon, Eske Schlüters, and Benjamin Yavuszoy in the artists’ house Deutsche Bank has been supporting since the 1920s. She has no more than vague plans for her time at the Villa Romana. She’d like to make a new film, visit the Uffizi regularly, and hike to Bologna. Lindena is looking forward to the effect the "Arcadia of Modernism" will have on her work, and so are her fans.