Bongoût!

Bongoût interior 2010, courtesy Jitter Magazin and Bongoût

Thinking about my no. 2 resolution in learning to love art more, this week I turned to spaces that are not exclusively about “art,” but rather about the fused, sometimes unseemly joints on art’s larger, slightly diabetic body.

My first example, Bongoût, is a seductively fun multi-disciplinary space helmed by the collaborative super duo Christian Gfeller and Anna Hellsgård.  Gfeller began Bongoût in 1995 in Strasbourg and has since moved the space and its ambitions through several different incarnations.  The Mitte storefront opened in 2008 and now functions as a showroom, a bookstore, a silkscreen studio and printing press, a concert venue, and most recently, a tattoo parlor.

*Bongoût just started a tattoo artists’ residency in an adjoining space, wherein an international tattoo artist is invited to work and live for a couple of months.  So if you’re looking to get that Rammstein fan art inked before you ship out, then by all means…

Despite impressive scope and production not unlike a 17th century workshop, Bongoût isn’t an assembly-line art machine…**

**in thinking about art machines, I couldn’t help but imagine the “Deitch-Star” as a stealthy black monster hurtling through space.   A little campy, I know.  Eh.

Unlike some larger galleries more beholden to sales, Bongoût is distinctly artist-run, and singularly focused on the dissemination of visual cultures.   Their motto is “We are Building Bridges,” after all.  While the books, posters, and silkscreens often share an interest in the graphic, the overarching “Bongoût” mentality is one of insistent dialogue between design and contemporary art.  Bongoût’s founders list Swiss typography, outsider art and Polish propaganda posters among their influences.  Their relationship to street art and its practitioners seems more complicated, with the results being more poetic and less prosaic.  Bongout isn’t Juxtapoz or Fecal Face, and I like it that way.

They are flexible with their shows, exhibiting bigger names like Richard Kern and Harmony Korine alongside lesser known artists.  Their books are weird, oblique and often unconcerned with narrative coherence, offering up obscure, hard to find tomes and small artists zines (like Ariel Pink’s), linocuts, queer rags, and the musings of teenagers along with collaborative works published through their own press.

"Love," by S.Leonard & M.Eichhorn, courtesy of Bongout

Finessing the books at Bongoût made me feel like such a sensualist.  Each one asserted its object-hood differently, with distinct textures, smells and weights.   In an Amelie moment, I reveled at the sensation of silkscreen between my fingers (art apathy shelved for one moment).

I talked to Gfeller earlier in the day and he coyly distanced himself from the “Taschen” book philosophy of sameness and shiny hegemony, describing the Bongoût collection as “carefully curated.”  A self-professed Book nerd, Gfeller selects the books/art works with partner Anna and other Bongoût friends.  The process is open and casual, and usually begins with someone saying, “check this kid out.”

But Gfeller prefers to think loosely about the aims and possibilities of the Bongoût project.  He doesn’t market himself as a gallerist or book-peddler, but as part of a larger collective trying to forge an open creative channel.  Recently, Gfeller and Hellsgård began conducting silkscreen workshops at universities, and plan to offer silkscreen classes at the Bongoût space sometime soon.

Gfeller and company see efforts to eliminate the middle man as both an entrepreneurial and political statement, always expanding the Bongoût mission through their own graphic design studio, RE:SURGO!

One reason for my recent art apathy was a growing resentment towards those individuals who would take advantage of artists who sometimes (the hard times), can lack a certain amount of agency.  And so, I’m going to echo a recent sentiment expressed on Art21 and say that it’s inspiring to see a group of artists define the parameters of their work and livelihood.

Contributor
Ali Fitzgerald is an artist and writer living in Berlin. She currently contributes comics to Modern Painters and is a visual columnist at McSweeney’s. She has also contributed comics and other visual materials to Bitch magazine, the Huffington Post, Artlies!, and the Brooklyn-based comics anthology Smoke Signal.

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