Julian-Jakob Kneer »PEOPLE ALWAYS TOLD ME HOW VERY SPECIAL I AM. YOU TOO ARE A SPECIAL ONE. LET US BE SO VERY SPECIAL TOGETHER«, 2022. Photo by Flavio Karrer
Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc
Julian-Jakob Kneer »ROSES ARE RED. VIOLETS ARE BLUE. THE POLICE WILL NEED DENTAL RECORDS TO IDENTIFY YOU. BITCH«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc
Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«, installation view, 2022. Photo by Flavio Karrer
Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«, installation view, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc
Julian-Jakob Kneer, SCUMBAG (LHS), 2022, photo by Nicolas Duc
Julian-Jakob Kneer »KANYE«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc
Julian-Jakob Kneer »LEATHER FACE«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc
Julian-Jakob Kneer »DER MANN DER LACHT«, 2022 . Photo by Nicolas Duc

Lose Yourself: Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«

August 11, 2022
Text by Samuel Staples

In his latest exhibition, »SHOOTING STAR«, curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou and presented at Zurich gallery Blue Velvet Projects, the Swiss Berlin-based artist Julian-Jakob Kneer negotiates topics ranging from celebrity-culture, fandom and obsession to the unstoppable drive of the never-not-working narcissist.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »PEOPLE ALWAYS TOLD ME HOW VERY SPECIAL I AM. YOU TOO ARE A SPECIAL ONE. LET US BE SO VERY SPECIAL TOGETHER«, 2022. Photo by Flavio Karrer

Entering Julian-Jakob Kneer’s exhibition »SHOOTING STAR« at Blue Velvet Projects, across Kronenhalle at the busy Rämistrasse, one is confronted first by themselves.

A series of large mirrors line the walls of the entryway, which is draped in floor-to-ceiling lacquered vinyl curtains, a sort of Kammerspiel reminiscent of a backstage area. The mirrors are scrawled with black lipstick, various quotes one reads while faced by their own reflection. »IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE REFLECTION. DON’T LOOK IN THE MIRROR. I DON’T CARE«, reads one, a quote from the Canadian-killer Luka Magnotta. »WOULD YOU FUCK ME? I’D FUCK ME I’D FUCK ME HARD. I’D FUCK ME SO HARD« reads another, a quote from the character Buffalo Bill, in the 1991 thriller »The Silence of the Lambs«.

Descending to the gallery’s lower level, the first thing that catches the eye is the exhibition’s namesake video, which plays on a large mounted LED screen.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc

The video begins with an in memoriam, which reads »Ricardo López, * 1975 † 1996«. What follows are fragments of López’s disturbing self-shot black and white video diaries, recovered after his death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. López, known largely as the Björk stalker, gained international notoriety in 1996, after a failed murder attempt, which saw him send the Icelandic singer a rigged letter bomb by post, before offing himself on camera. López hoped by dying together the pair could be united in the afterlife.

The tapes, recorded in the months leading up to the attempted murder/suicide provide a rare and unsettling insight into the psychological profile and unraveling mind of a celebrity fanatic. »Do you want to see something funny?«, he asks, »I’m going to show you who I am«.

Footage of various shooting stars who pathologized themselves on camera follows, among them Britney Spears, Valerie Solanas who gained notoriety for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968, and the Canadian-killer Luka Magnotta. This footage is overlaid and juxtaposed interestingly with self-shot footage of Kneer himself, though his voice is altered beyond recognition and his face obscured.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »ROSES ARE RED. VIOLETS ARE BLUE. THE POLICE WILL NEED DENTAL RECORDS TO IDENTIFY YOU. BITCH«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc

For Magnotta, like many other shooting stars, notoriety and celebrity was the goal, and at any cost. The pornstar-gone-killer notably sculpted himself and his image in the years leading up to his gristly-filmed murder of a Chinese international student in his native Canada. Referring to himself as an artist, Magnotta had various plastic surgeries, changed his name, and created various fake fanpages on social media where he circulated rumors around himself and his identity in the years leading up to the murder and following snuff-film.

One could get reminded of the story of Anna Sorokin: a Russian-born German con artist who constructed the identity of a German Heiress under the alias Anna Delvey, easily defrauding various banks, hotels and friends and acquaintances of hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2013 and 2017. Delvey wanted to be a star, and all the things that come with that, fame, power, money and status, her construction and performance of »Self« and »Other« could be described as her gesamtkunstwerk. If you don’t like yourself that’s ok just be someone else. There’s a mask for every occasion.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«, installation view, 2022. Photo by Flavio Karrer

»SHOOTING STAR« continues Kneer’s trilogy devoted to an anti-hero figure, a projection so to say of Kneer himself and of all of us. »This character without a name is both the star and the fan, the source of envy and the repository of resentment. He had a rib removed to suck his own dick. He is dormant in everyone and apparent only in some.« write the curatorial duo behind the show, Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou.

Both the definition and the destruction of the self is something Kneer has explored previously, most notably last year in a solo show at Berlin gallery Brunand Brunand and a video project for Schinkel Pavillon, here a series of »selfies« of what appears to be Kneer in a custom silicone mask populate the gallery’s walls over various puzzles. The mask, commissioned by the artist, is a copy of Kneer’s own face, mixed with an algorithmically-generated prototype man and various selected celebrities, among them Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix.

Occupying the lower-levels furthest corner is an Eames Vitra chaise lounge designed for film director Billy Wilder, a long-time friend of Charles and Ray Eames. Wilder was said to be in search of a lounge chair where he could rest during breaks between shoots, to continue working through the nights. The scene is reminiscent of a psychiatrist’s office, the chaise directly faces a »selfie-portrait« of what appears to be a masked Kneer, another confrontation of the »Self« and the »Other«. The work is entitled, »I HATE DESIGN«, as Curator Klaus Biesenbach famously once told the New York Times in a piece entitled »Design Perfectionists at Home«, which showcased his notably minimal apartment, virtually empty except for a mattress and a toilet.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »SHOOTING STAR«, installation view, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc

Elsewhere in the room, Kneer satirises the trope of the artist-as-celebrity being gifted designer goods in a collaboration with French fashion house Balenciaga. Carefully-placed, well-organized objects and murderabilia scatter a large glass desk and mock-office space. Among them are various pieces from Balenciaga – a distressed hat, a pair of scratched sunglasses, a sunscreen-covered butcher coat and handgun in a perfectly fitting clutch, which have all been altered by the artist.

Also among the artist’s neurotic assemblage: a hard drive, cutting board, fan mail, cum, pills, gloves, said mask hiding inside a Hermès Birkin bag at the tables’ corner and a handwritten doctor’s prescription for Obetrol from a certain »Dr. Warhola«, (Warhol’s birthname). Warhol famously once said in an interview »I think everybody should be a machine«. He would eventually take the amphetamine Obetrol beginning in his Factory Days in order to stay awake and work through the nights. The amphetamine could explain his interest in repetition and the relentless nature and machine-like production of his work in this period.

Spike’s Dean Kissick has said in his column »The Downward Spiral«: »Life has become a performance, a rather banal and meaningless one. That may have been the case for centuries, but even more so now. The only thing we can make now is ourselves; day after day, again and again.«

Julian-Jakob Kneer, SCUMBAG (LHS), 2022, photo by Nicolas Duc

Looking down at Kneer’s assemblage of objects one could get reminded of figures like Warhol, and Koons and their machine like production, the trope of the never-not-working artist and the unstoppable drive of narcissism itself, work for works’ sake and machine-like »productivity« as an end goal within itself. Or to quote Fight Clubs’ Tyler Durden: »Self improvement is masturbation.«

In the same column, Kissick declares »There was a facelessness at the beginning of art, and again here at its end«. The recent Balenciaga SS23 show at the New York Stock Exchange saw a troupe of models walk the runway donning leather gimp masks. The idea of »facelessness« is something both Kneer and the brand have played with throughout the last year.

Last year as Kneer debuted the proto-human mask at his first solo-show in Berlin, Kanye West under the creative direction of Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia began donning a series of masks in public. In September then-wife Kim Kardashian was accompanied by Gvasalia to the Met Ball in matching blackout outfits, their famous faces obscured completely from view. »Two of the century’s most influential and effective forces of branding and self-branding respectively now involved in the destruction of identity itself«, Kissick writes.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »KANYE«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc

Kneer reveals without ever revealing too much. Even his selfies feature masks. The idea of what sociologist Erving Goffman calls the »front stage« and »back stage« of behaviour comes to my mind. The private and public performances of identity, how we behave when we know others are watching in contrast to when none is around. One could argue however the distinction between these two has eroded significantly in the last decades as our lives have become increasingly public through the internet, social media and the like.

»Becoming a brand means you focus enormous amounts of attention on…a front, the public face, the idealised performance, which we put on for other people. Because you are playing to win a game, a somewhat fixed-sum game of public attention, you must be strategic, and you must dedicate yourself. Which means that your entire life becomes the performance: if you aren’t giving your all, someone else is, and they’ll outcompete you.« Suspended Reason writes, in the text »On Angelicism and the Vibe Shift Pt. 2: Nameless/Faceless«.

Kneer plays with this changing dichotomy and performance of self or »vibeshift«, the desire to be both well-known and unknown, both faceless and hypervisible. »If the hyperbranded self was the move before, the brandless self is the next move«, writes Suspended Reason. In this renunciation of the self, no identity is the new identity indeed.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »LEATHER FACE«, 2022. Photo by Nicolas Duc

Like Kneer’s »Shooting Stars«, the notion of gossip largely permeates our lives. One of the images that stands out in Kneer’s video of the same name is of Britney Spears, navigating swarms of paparazzi and their flashing bulbs at the height of her (in)famy in 2007.

Gossip is something that has largely haunted Spears for the last decades, a vicious cycle of assumptions and stories created around her by both tabloid press and consumers there-of. However, following the #FreeBritney movement of the last year and the end of the singers’ conservatorship it’s been interesting to watch Spears’ attempt to reclaim her personal narrative, largely over a series of Instagram posts and eerie self-shot videos not unlike the ones that appear in »SHOOTING STAR«. It must be hard to know yourself when people have already created your narrative, and your intentions for you. Fake-news make-believe, but as Kneer tells us »I guess this is what happens when you start to show your face, even if it is literally a silicone mask«.

Julian-Jakob Kneer »DER MANN DER LACHT«, 2022 . Photo by Nicolas Duc

Notes

Suspended Reason »On Angelicism & the Vibe Shift Pt.2: Nameless/Faceless 2021«
Dean Kissick »The Downward Spiral: Persona (Part I) 2021«
Hans Christian Dany »Speed. A Society on Drugs, 2008 Tr. Franklin Bolsillo Mares«
Pierre-Alexandre Mateos & Charles Teyssou »SHOOTING STAR, Press Release, 2022«
Allison P. Davis »A Vibe Shift Is Coming. Will Any of Us Survive It? - The Cut, 2022«
Penelope Green »No Room for Mistakes, The New York Times, 2012«

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture run by Luca Büchler and Lewon Heublein. 

PW-Magazine is supported by the Federal Chancellery of Austria and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.