German artist Nils Karsten’s “Suburbia Hamburg 1983″ exhibition opening at Churner and Churner Gallery was akin to stepping back through time and into a teenage Nils Karsten’s bedroom. Amidst the edgy tunes and album cover clippings of various punk rock bands, you are given the chance to rethink the 80s, slow down time and see what you may have overlooked… As I walked about taking in the exorbitantly large woodcut prints I could not tell if I was stepping into Nils Karsten’s head or had become ensnared in a shared dream experience. The cutouts from various album covers, intricately positioned and staged made me wonder if perhaps this was something Nils had dreamed about years ago. I could imagine him in his bedroom, a few hours after perusing a new Dead Kennedys‘ album; falling asleep with his headphones still glued to his ears.
A Taste of the Forbidden Apple
The 80s, Nils points out, was an instrumental and progressive era. Time seemed to move very quickly during this decade, or perhaps it was simply “advancement” that seemed to shift inordinately as analog switched to digital seemingly overnight. What’s more, I can guess what these album lyrics and images must have been like for a young boy living in suburban Hamburg. The “dysfunction”, sex, drugs and violence of faraway places like LA and NYC were embodied in the music and physical communication mediums (records, cassettes, radio, etc). This would have been akin to a taste of the forbidden apple and just as enticing.
As Nils said, “Today music is less visible. Back then the album cover was like a secret code or message.” As English was his second language, Nils admits that he did not understand most of what the artists were singing about. Therefore the album covers may have taken on substantially more meaning to him than it may have for someone else. In my minds’ eye I see a young Nils racing from a local music store with his new purchase of Sex Pistols’ “Flogging a Dead Horse” then hiding away in his room with a “No Trespassing” or “Do Not Disturb” sign at the front.
German Woodcuts, Sex and Guns
This is definitely a collection that requires the viewer to garner a keen understanding of the artist and his process. Just think of your parents, or even your children’s children walking through the bedroom of your “Teenage You.” What on earth would they think? Could they even decipher the emotional scribblings in your diary, your personal keepsakes, that diorama you made in 3rd grade that made your favorite teacher so proud or the shameful articles you tucked under the mattress?
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