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projects | london | 2002/03

making mice and rats artists & artlab II

Queen Mary College, Turner Building
Whitechapel Campus, London 2002

artlab II and making mice and rats artists (in collaboration with the artist Alex Hamilton) was the attempt to rededicate the empty microbiological research laboratory (Turner Building) of the Queen Mary University in London to an experimental art laboratory.

In making mice and rats artists, in collaboration with the artist Alex Hamilton, mice and rats were to be held in an architectural ensemble consisting of the remaining laboratory furnishings and prepared canvases / picture carriers in such a way that they corrode the pictures and thus turn them into works of art or become the authors / artists. In Great Britain there is widespread resistance to any form of animal testing. This is what the work has aimed at, among other things. The project could not be realized, because the university management wanted to hide the fact of the animal experiments in their sovereign area rather.

In the context of artlab II, exhibitions, performances or lectures by invited artists, scientists and architects were also to take place in the Turner Building. The starting point for the planning was the specific location – on the one hand the Whitechapel area with up to 60% immigrants, mainly from Asia, on the other hand the virus research of the medical institute (e.g. HIV, anthrax…).

Rahere’s free guesthouse and workshop

Interdisciplinary workshop on fallow land
of the Queen Mary College Medical School.
Charterhouse Square, London 2002/03
with students of
Architecture Association and the Royal College of Art

This project was planned on one of the last brownfields in the centre of London, dating from the 2nd World War. In collaboration with Jo Stockham, lecturer at the Royal College of Art, an interdisciplinary workshop with students from three disciplines, architects, artists and doctors, was planned. Under my guidance, a temporary classroom and a Helter-Skelter tower were to be built. The starting material was to be a large mountain of discarded furniture from the university. The curriculum should include lecturers from different disciplines and overlapping topics (medicine, art, and architecture). For months there was the prospect of a permit from the university, but unfortunately this was not granted in the decisive phase for reasons that were not explained.

drowning hercules | london | 2001

Thomas Kilpper
Drowning Hercules

14 – 30 September 2001
Private View: 13 September 18:00 – 21:00 Introduction by David Thorp (Curator of Contemporary Art Projects, The Henry Moore Foundation)
Opening Hours: Tue – Sun 12:00 – 18:00

Riddell House, Basement – St. Thomas’ Hospital
Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1

German artist, Thomas Kilpper, has been working over the last eight months as artist in residence at Riddell House, a former nurses’ home of St. Thomas’ hospital. Kilpper’s work instead of celebrating the opening of a new building temporarily commemorates the end of one. Drowning Hercules will exist only until Riddell House is demolished to make way for a new children’s hospital.

Drowning Hercules stands between the past and the future of the site, a momentary pause for reflection and look back at the history of Riddell House before the site enters its next phase. For Kilpper a building is not simply a four walled structure to cut into and work with. He goes as well into its history to find out what has happened on this site in the past. In this case the title of the work refers to the site’s history. In 1870 a stone throw away from Riddell House’s site stood for some 120 years the very first purpose-built circus in the world, Astley’s ‘Royal Amphitheatre of the Arts’. Also in the vicinity was the residence of William Blake, ‘Hercules Building’ named after the strong man in Philip Astley’s circus. The circus, like Kilpper’s piece, was made out of old wood. Astley offered gin and beer to those who brought him the remnants of the old Covent Garden hustings.

Situated in the basement of Riddell House, Drowning Hercules has been made entirely out of abandoned drawers, cupboards, tables, doors and parquet flooring which once furnished the nurses’ rooms. With a touch of irony the wood that was once forcibly cut into flooring and furnishing has been forcefully led back again into the form and appearance of a tree. The function which the wood served remains exposed in parts of the tree.

In the space’s resonating silence the tree stands implanted in the bottom of the former swimming baths. Spanning the height of the basement room it presses against the glass roof as if trying to break out of the confinement of the space and into the daylight. Created in a organic process its sprawling branches spread like tentacles.

The tree project is a continuation of Kilpper’s temporary large-scale site related work that draws on the history of spaces. Last year as part of the South London Gallery’s Projects initiative Kilpper created a gigantic wood-cut at Orbit House, Southwark which merged the histories of the site as a boxing ring, the area of Southwark and his own personal history. In 1999, Kilpper’s carvings onto the entire floor of a building, near Frankfurt, disclosed the site’s history from its uses as a Nazi interrogation centre to a U.S military camp.

The exhibition is accompanied by a video by Hector Hazard which documents the process of the developing work.

The project has been made possible by the generous support of London Arts and the Goethe Institut.

For press information and images please contact Sally Lai & Ifat Cafri on 07960 371843 or via e-mail on drowning_hercules AT

the ring | london | 2000

The Ring
Woodcut Project 1999-2000
Orbit-House, 197 Blackfriars Road, London

Over a period of 12 months The Ring, a 400 sqm woodcut in the parquet flooring on the 10th floor of an empty office bloc in the centre of London, came into being. In the building the Oriental Collection of the British Libray was located and as part of its Collection the oldest woodcut of the world, the Diamond Sutra from China, stored.
About 70 portraits from famous and unfamous personalities, all with a certain connection to the site, appeared on the façade and made the building reviving. Boxers, politicians, artists, popstars…
During the exhibition, which was organised by the South London Gallery (David Thorp) the entire print was hanging on the façade and like a squatter’s banner waving in the wind.
Parallel to the show and in reference to the site four lectures were given: from the head of the Oriental Collection of the British Library, from the president of London’s Ex-Boxer Association (in the 1920’s on the very spot was a popular boxing ring), from Sandy Nairne (Tate Gallery, which opened its new Gallery, Tate Modern a stone-throw away) and from the architect in charge to redevelop the site, Prof. Will Alsop, who spoke about the future of the site and of South London.

Knock it Out by Neil Mulholland
“My work is sort of a re-installation of the Blackfriars Boxing Ring in The British Library. I picture the very special audience of a special boxing fight. About eighty people are packed together to join this spectacle, some are well known, others not – Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Johann Gutenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Denis Healey, Adolf Hitler, Len Harvey, Henry Cooper, Mohammed Ali, Marie Lloyd, Mata Hari, Richard Wagner, Georg F. Handel, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Madonna, Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Leo Castelli, Sigmar Polke, Gilbert & George… From my perspective all are connected to the particular site, to the Southwark area, or to me.” Thomas Kilpper

On the tenth floor of Orbit House, an abandoned office block in Blackfriars Road, Southwark, Thomas Kilpper has produced a four hundred square metre woodcut. For the last five months, carving directly into the mahogany parquet floor of the building, Kilpper has inscribed it with its own histories, presenting a map of the vast socio-cultural, political and economic changes happening in Southwark over a period of more than two hundred years. We can chart the various changes in social organisation, politics and economics from the Christian uses of the site in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the current advent of cyber-capitalism.

Kilpper’s use of woodcutting, the oldest form of printmaking, is highly significant. Appearing in Europe at the beginning of the fifteenth century, woodcuts were used to reproduce knowledge, literally inscribing events in history. One of the major shifts in worldview that came with the invention of the printing press in this period was the notion that the natural world is just passively waiting for us to appropriate it.

Kilpper’s narrative commences in 1780 when the octagonal Surrey Chapel was constructed on the site by the charismatic Reverend Rowland Hill, who was known to draw congregations of over a thousand to his services. The chapel was eventually abandoned in 1890 when it became Green & Sons Engineering Ltd, and then a furniture warehouse in 1905. Between 1907 and 1909 the building was converted into one of London’s first cinemas, returning it to its original function as an arena of glamour, ritual and escape. Kilpper’s interest in the relationship between spectacle and the historical erasure tallies well with this period of cinematic history. At the beginning of the twentieth century, actors were rarely given credit for their film work. Many of the early actors came from a theatre background, wherein film work was considered inferior. Often they did not want to be recognised in the films.

Designated as an entertainment venue, the building became the popular boxing arena known as The Ring. From 1910 to 1940, it played host to some of the most famous boxers in London. During this period sports such as boxing became one of the central sites in the social production of masculinity in Western societies. Many attempts had previously been made to link combative sports with moral strength – such as in the muscular Christianity – espoused by leading Victorian headmasters. This was particularly conspicuous in the period spanning the two World Wars, when the boxing ring became an arena for the development of physical presence, stoic courage in the endurance of pain, and judgement under pressure – unequivocally military values which were then portrayed as essential parts of the achievement of manhood.

Kilpper weaves the ideological role of boxing with more personal recollections of the sport, representing figures such as Mohammed Ali and Henry Cooper. This again fosters the leitmotif of the relationship between celebrity and historical erasure in The Ring. Boxing fame is particularly fickle and transient. We remember Ali and Cooper but, like greyhounds and racehorses, most boxers come and go. In The Ring, Kilpper draws parallels with the artworld, including a portrait of Leo Castelli alongside Tony Shafrazi and Bruno Bischofberger’s famous poster of Warhol vs. Basquiat (1985), which depicted the artists preparing for a boxing match. Like a successful boxing promoter, Castelli’s reputation outlasted his clients’ careers. Of unsuccessful abstract expressionists, he once said “they accuse me of killing them; they blame me for their funerals. But they were dead already. I just helped remove the bodies”

During this period the building doubled as a theatre and music hall, where the music of Wagner and Handel could be heard. The Old Vic Company – with Robert Atkins and Leslie French – performed Shakespeare’s Henry IV at The Ring. (The original ring, Shakespeare’s legendary Globe Theatre, had not yet been reconstructed.) Alfred Hitchcock used The Ring as the set for his 1926 silent movie of the same name, in which a boxer falls in love with the ticket girl. Hitler also left his mark on the site. Nazi air raids struck The Ring twice, bringing an end to boxing and theatre at Blackfriars Road.

The current office building, Orbit House, was erected in the sixties for the Ministry of Defence, commissioned by Dennis Healey to house the secret printing office of The Army. Kilpper illustrates this era by reproducing the first Western representation of a printing office, The Dance of Death (Lyon c.1500). This macabre image raises the history of print as an instrument of control. The Church’s monopoly on information during the manuscript book period ended with the arrival of print. European nation states flourished as the world could now be mapped without recourse to religious propaganda. The world was no longer unknown, but a manageable, controllable resource to be exploited. (A replica of Francis Drake’s sixteenth century galleon the Golden Hinde, docked adjacent to Orbit House, testifies to this.) As a eurocentric world economy flourished, armies and attendant nationalist propaganda were needed to protect and develop the new colonial markets. Thus print liberated and imprisoned simultaneously.

Digging Deeply by Donna Lynas
There are many important buildings that contribute to Londons long his
tory. Some become symbols, monuments even that are recognised throughout the world – the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, St Pauls Cathedral, etc. Most of us appreciate that even the most mundane buildings around us have potentially fascinating histories but very few of us make the time to investigate these histories. Thomas Kilpper is someone who does.

Kilpper, who was born in Stuttgart, arrived in London in the spring of 1999. He had just completed a residency in a gymnasium at the aLandoned US military base of Camp King in Oberursel, outside Frankfurt. During his time there he carved images of the history of the base, alongside images of his own biography, directly into the wooden parquet floor. Kilpper had come to London in scarch of a building in which to do a similar residency. He was immediately drawn to Southwark, initially because of the high profile regeneration this impoverished area was undergoing. This regeneration was symbolised by the reinterpretation of significant buildings – the Tate Modern, Shakespeares Globe Theaire, the new Peckham Library. Kilpper systematically researchod abandoned buildings in the area and found Orbit House, an anonymous 1950s office block. Orbit House and Camp King share an important similarity. Both were goverument built, for secretive, even sinister, purposes.The general public were only ever admitted to them under strictly controlled conditions. Kilpper exposed the secret histories of these two places by permanently carving those histories into the very fabric of the buildings. Orbit House in particular was to be dramatically exposed when Kilpper hung a full size print of his carving onto the front of the building, for all to see.

Kilpper approaches his work first and foremostly as an artist and it is because of this that the work evolves and develops in the way that it does. He is categorically not a social historian. As well as digging deeply to uncover the stories of people who have been long forgotten he introduces elements of his own history, interests, the people he meets and his political opinions into the ever-expanding narrative. This process runs concurrently with Kilppers physical intervention in the space itself. He chisels images from the stories he has uncovered directly inlo the parquet of the floor, chipping away at the building itself. The finished work is big, very big, 400 square metres in the case of Orbit House, and takes many arduous months to complete.

The uncovering of Orbit House began when Kilpper discovered that a very well known boxing ring, called The Ring, used to occupy the site. The landlord of the pub across the road told him about the rise and fall of The Ring. Leads emerged, characters entered and exited the narrative leaving behind their images in the floor of Orbit House. As Kilppers contacts grew and stories and links emerged so the image itself spread out further into the floor. The sheer amount of information that Kilpper managed to unearth was astounding. He discovered that the boxing ring actually occupied an 18th Century octaponal chapel. The chapel itself had many interesting stories to tell, all recounted by Kilpper in the work. It was eventually destroyed during the Blitz when it was bombed by the Luftwaffe, and Orbit House was built in its place, ironically, by the Ministry of Defence to house their secret printing offices. The building then fell into the hands of the British Library, who used it to house their Oriental Collection.

But it is the real people who really existed and who played a part in the history of that small part of London that Kilpper brought back to life. What his work demonstrates is that the vast potential of the past is close to us all the time if we only choose to investigate it. Looking at Kilppers work is like talking to an elderly relative about the times in which they lived, times that have gone forever. There could be a terrible sadness in that. That all these people who lived their lives as fully as we live ours have come and gone and been forgotten.

But Kilppers work is overwhelmingly positive. His art makes us think about how often we overlook our environment, by using the narrative form to bring it to life for us. He makes us aware of our continuing relationship with the past and our individual contriLutions to an ever-evolving history. The past is alive and well and real and to be found, sometimes in the strangest of places.

Donna Lynas
Curator, South London Gallery

Thomas Kilpper approached the South London Gallery to ask for support to allow public access to his work at Orbit House. This we happily agreed to do as part of our SLG Projects initiative, a scheme that enables us to commission and exhibit work outside of the Gallery context. The Ringwas opened by us from 11 to 26 March 2000.
The future of Kilppers work at Orbit House is uncertain. The building will be demolished and the work very likely with it. Alsop and Störmer, architects of the new building, proposed to absorb the work into their design but there is hesitation to this from the owners of Orbit House. However, a small section of the carving will be preserved. It has been bought, along with several prints, by the Tate Modern for their collection. (D. L.)

Portraits and other Prints
Portraits and other Prints

Rowland Hill Reverend + Founder of the Surrey Chapel
Len Harvey – Dick Burge – Alf Manzini – Fredie Mills – Jack Hood – Billy Wells – Jack Stanley – Phil Scott – Jack Powell – Kid Socks – Johnny Curley – Georges Carpentier Boxers of “The Ring”
Muhamad Ali – Henry Cooper Boxers
Moss de Young Referee of The Ring
George Harris Master of Ceremonies at The Ring
Dan Sullivan Manager of Boxers e.g. Len Harvey
Bella Burge Manager of The Ring
Text {Bella Burge):’Welcome to the boxer rebellion” with Chinese characters: justice, peace, fist, rebellion
Marie Lloyd Musical Singer, adopted Bella Burge
The 8th Marquess of Queensberry established boxing rules
Apple Tree
Alfred Hitchcock Film Director, used The Ring as a set for his silent movie “The Ring”, 1926
Carl Brisson Actor, the boxer in Hitch’s movie “The Ring”
Gordon Harker Actor, the trainer in Hitchcock’s movie “The Ring”
John Mumford conservator, Oriental Collections of British Library (OIOC) worked in Orbit House
Tim Thomas Readers Service of OIOC, worked in OH
A book pile
Japanese wood cut (genitals of a whore, from a brothel guide, late 18th century)
The Diamond Sutra from 868 AD oldest printed book, belongs to OIOC, was stored in Orbit House
Sir Aurel Stein rediscovered the Diamond Sutra, brought it from China to London
Johannes Gutenberg “inventor” of movables types (1452)
William Caxton printed the first book in English, 1475
Anthony Panizzi Italian rebel, one of the founders of the British Museum and British Library, commissioned the round reading room of the B.L.
Charles Wilkens started printing and collecting books and prints for the India Office
Patrik Wright Managing Director of the British Museum Company
Ivory figurine, about 4000 BC British Museum item No. EA 32141
Charles Dickens Writer, passed Surrey Chapel daily as a schoolboy
William Shakespeare was staged in The Ring
Ho-Chi-Minh Vietnamese politician and revolutionary
Andreas Baader – Gudrun Ensslin – Ulrike Meinhof – Monika Berberich Members of the Red Army Faction who began their fight alongside the Vietcong
Benno Ohnesorg Student, shot dead by police in !t a demonstration against the Persian Shah, Berlin 1967
Hilary Cresk Member of the Angry Brigade, about 1975
Bobby Sands died in prison during a hungerstrike, Member of Parliament and of the IRA
Guy Debord Philosopher, Situationist, wrote “The Society of Spec
Denis Healey Politician, MOD, commissioned Orbit House
The oldest medival representation of a printing office Lyon 1500, Dance of Death.
Soldier woman showing her breasts when the Royal Navy left the harbour for the Falklands War
Winston Churchill Member of the India Of fice Cavalry
Adolf Hitler The Luftwaffe bombed The Ring twice
Karl Barth was head of the Nazi’s interrogation centre of the Luftwaffe in Oberursel
A Bomber from the Blitz
Robert Atkins Actor and theatre maneger of The Old Vic organised the performances of Shakespeare in The Ring
Leslie French Actor, performed Shakespeare in The Ring
Mata Hari Dancer, was executed during the First World War as a spy by the French Military
Madonna Singer, actor
Marlene Dietrich actor
Kate Moss model
Mona Lisa
Leo Castelli American gallerist, died 1999, represented Warhol among others
Advertising Text of the Tate Gallery, slightly modihed :” The Ring and the Tate Gal lery of Modern Art will bring signifocant cultural, social and economic benehts to the Borough of Southwark, to London and to the UK as a whole “
Will Alsop Architect, commissioned to redevelop the site “Southpoint”
Stuart Bailey Landlord of Orbit House
Johnny Spence – Stephan Dillemuth – Josephine Pryde – Merlin Carpenter – Alex Hamilton – Sarah Staton – Dan Mitchell – Anthony Davies Artists, friends
Rosalina Glogan Baby of artists and friends, born 1999
Thomas Kilpper on his knees in play pen
Gilbert & George – Andy Warhol – Michael Basquiat – Sigmar Polke – Holbein the Younger Artists
Henry Abraham Kilpper’s neighbour in East London, was a teenage spectator at The Ring
Klara Kilpper T.K’s grandmother, lived in China
Gerhart Kilpper T K’s father, born in China
Irmgard Kilpper Gerhart K’s sister lived in China
Martin Kilpper T. K’s brother
Michael Schumacher Racing Driver, F 1
Louisa Raeburn
Mao Tse Tung Chinese revolutionary, philosopher and politician
Chinese text (Mao): “We took some of your missioners to the mountains, you took our Diamond Sutra to Europe, we gave them back, you did not”
Sigmund Freud came as a refugee to London
Karl Marx wrote “Das Kapital” in The British Lihrary
I. Lenin lived some years in London
Mrs or Mr Pig – Mrs and Mr Rat – Erna the Crow – Mr Fox
Richard Wagner Composer of “The Ring”
Hans Richter conducted Wagner’s Ring for the first time
G. F. Händel Composer of the Messiah
Sir George Smart conducted Handel’s Messiah on the site
Tommy Smith sprinter, Olympicgold medallist 1968, he reised his black-gloved first as a sign of protest
John Carlos Sprinter Olympic silver medallist 1968, he protested together with Tommy Smith.
A film projector from 1907, when the chapel wasacinema
Wall painting crying Asian child opposite Hackney Town Hall.



happy together | frankfurt-preungesheim | 1998-2000

Project in Frankfurt-Preungesheim jail, 1998-2000
Not approved by the Justice Department.

HAPPY TOGETHER. Thomas Kilpper 2001
I intended to carry out an artistic work in the empty men’s prison Frankfurt-Preungesheim, JVA I. I planned a physical intervention that would have taken several weeks. Subsequently, the result was to be presented as an exhibition on site. This project would have become a challenge for me in many respects. I wanted to work in this thoroughly hostile place, which I know from my own experience and which is charged with aggression and violence like hardly any other. Prison: the place of systematic de-socialisation and deprivation. I wanted to intervene as massively as possible in this system – cutting into the steel doors that create cell walls and floors, images and texts that are related to the whole complex of state punishment. In addition, my design envisaged a work in the outside space: on the roof I wanted to affix the words “happy together”. Like an advertising slogan or corporate logo, they were intended to draw attention to this place from afar. A hint that state punishment in earlier times – in many countries still today – was above all a public act. Just as punishment – and in particular imprisonment – is practised here and today, it takes place predominantly behind high walls, quasi in secret.

In October 1998 I presented my concept to the then Hessian Minister of Justice Rupert von Plottnitz (the Greens) in writing and asked for permission. I received support both from Kasper König, the then rector of the Städelschule, and from Claudia Scholtz, the managing director of the Hessische Kulturstiftung. But apart from a site visit accompanied by the former prison warden and an employee from the Ministry of Justice, I was unable to achieve anything. The reason was: the demolition had not yet been decided. This seemed like a pretext to me and not a plausible reason for a general rejection, because I had made it clear from the outset that I would not interfere with the substance of the building and that I would only work with video, photography and linocuts. It was “left to me” to turn to the ministry again if the situation changed.

In May 2000 I learned from the press that the decision to demolish the building had been made. I wrote again to the Ministry of Justice – now part of the CDU-led state government. Due to their conservative orientation, my expectations were not very high. As for confirmation, I quickly received another rejection, now on the grounds that the demolition work “will begin shortly”. In fact it took more than 6 months until the excavators arrived.

A red-green government, a black-yellow one – an artistic intervention in a former prison is undesirable for the Hessian judiciary. Whether it was the feared public view behind the prison walls and cell doors or my critical attitude towards the penal system and the state that was decisive for the rejection, remains to be seen. In any case, it is a cultural testimony of poverty.

The decision to close and demolish this monster may have been influenced by the visit of representatives of the UN Commission on Human Rights. They had found “inhumane prison conditions” here. A move away from the politics of criminalizing and locking away does not signal them at any rate, because the next prison buildings are already planned, the foundations have already been excavated, so that more prisoners than ever before can be held behind high walls in Hesse, if possible unnoticed by the public. In this way, the appropriate political testimony of poverty is added to the cultural one. That doesn’t make things any better, but at least it makes them round.

Thomas Kilpper
January 2001

Description: HAPPY TOGETHER. Thomas Kilpper 1998
[Working title for an artistic work in the former prison I (JVA I) Frankfurt – Preungesheim]

With my work I would like to deal with this place, its function and concrete condition formally and contentwise. In a physical working process, I would like to cut and chisel images that stand in the context of this place, images on the subject of “punishment and discipline – aggression and crime – power and impotence – freedom and captivity” into the ground, the walls and (cell) doors. I would like to do this with my physical strength as well as with the help of machines like routers, flex / cutters etc. The work would extend to one of the floors in the cell wing. On the floor surface one of the largest “linocuts” ever created could be created. The continuous approx. 4mm thick plastic covering seems to me to be well suited for this. I would then blacken the various motifs and print them on fabric or paper.

I want to dedicate a part of the work to looking back at the history of punishment (up to the “birth of the prison”).
Another part would be to systematically search and photograph signifying statements of the detainees (wall drawings, comics, sayings, newspaper articles, etc…) in the building and let them flow into the work.
A third aspect would be to weave my subjective experiences (keyword: “What do I have to do with the whole thing?”) into it.

In several respects, this project would mean the concrete further development of my last work in the former US military camp Camp King in Oberursel. The result was a giant woodcut, for which the combination of “official” and personal history was an essential starting point.

From an artistic-technical point of view, I would like to “take away” the substance found and thus redefine the place and space. I am thus practicing the classic sculptural procedure par excellence.

Complementary / Parallel to this work inside the building, I would like to work with the façade and thus the effect on the outside space.
The idea is to have a text in large letters run around the top floor. E.g. “happy together” (back), “feel me, touch me, kiss me, hurt me” (front towards Kreuzäckerstraße). The building thus becomes a direct carrier of images and meaning. (The exact text still has to be worked out.)

The idea of orienting part of the work to the outside has a historical background. In earlier times, punishment was above all a public act – in some countries it is still the case today. Just as punishment, in particular imprisonment, is structured here and today, it essentially takes place behind the walls, quasi hidden. This part of my work – with its effect in the public space – would be, so to speak, a reference to this history and the public character and claim of punishment.
In addition to those mentioned here, there are other alternative project ideas. My preferences, however, clearly apply to the ideas developed here.

To the realization:
My wish would be to start work next spring (March). (I would like to make the photo documentation of the carvings in the cell walls rather, in order to be able to begin with the preparations – like e.g. the selection of the motives). The possibility of an exhibition after completion of the work on site would of course be very desirable.

My idea is to show the printing block (the so-called “negative”) as well as the prints (the “positive”) inside the building in addition to the work on the facade. Using the prints hung on clotheslines, the room would be structured and structured in a new, artistic way.

Thomas Kilpper
November 1999


don’t look back | camp king oberursel | 1998/2002

Planning don’t look backThomas Kilpper was confronted with a vast space and an enormous part of history: Camp King, in the vicinity of Frankfurt/Main, was used after 1945 by the US secret service for interrogations of significant Nazi militaries. Here it was decided who would go to court and who would be integrated into American intelligence services. During the war Camp King had been the central prison of the NS Luftwaffe (German air force) where all shot down pilots of the allied forces were interrogated.
Thomas Kilpper chose to cut open the parquetry floor of the former basketball field and transform it into a large-scale printing block. The result was a huge woodcut that would newly occupy a place that had gone through many transformations – empty after the military use the building was torn down and rebuilt for public use – with the purpose to examine the location’s history and intervene in its transformation process. The images from the woodcut were printed on modern textiles and digital advertising posters.

Patrick Heide

don't look back by Angelika Nollert (1998)
Don’t look back – This is the title of a work created my means of long and arduous labour by the Frankfurt artist Thomas Kilpper (born 1956), located inside a gymnasium on the former US military base of Camp King Oberursel.
It consists of a woodcut of gigantic dimensions that depicts various scenes, which refer not only to the history of the site but which also reflect the artist’s own history.
Camp King was initially a Reichssiedlungshof for the National Socialists during the Third Reich, then later a Luftwaffe transit camp for captured Allied pilots, and at the end of the Second World War, it was taken over by US Army and the CIA. Kilpper was marked by the Cold War period, as well as by the political developments of the Seventies and Eighties and he tackles his father’s past as a member of the German Armed Forces. In various of the images there are references to himself. In this way a common history can find an echo within a personal one. The artist reflects his own biography against this background.
Since 1993 the town of Oberursel has been planning a civilian re-modelling of the site. However, to this day, the neglect of the former military area continues to generate a surreal, morbid atmosphere.
The artist’s initial selection of this location was a consequence neither of content nor of aesthetically based concerns, but rather born first and foremost of practical reasons. For the realisation of an oversize woodcut, Kilpper was seeking a building condemned for demolition and containing a parquet floor, and he found in the oak flooring of the unoccupied gymnasium within Camp King the ideal printing plate. The choice of site led to research into locality, and a content-based analysis, portrayed by the artist in a narrative sequence of individual scenes on the wooden floor. He then took prints of separate images on paper, wallpaper and material and hung them on lines strung across the room. In this way, the visitor could experience the positive and negative versions of an image simultaneously, and, so to speak, walk through the space while reading its history. This work of Kilpper’s would be inconceivable without the specificity of the site. It was realised in situ. For this reason, it was not at first possible to imagine preserving the piece independently from the building. However, the work has stirred in the population an awareness of its own history and so there is now a plan from the Town Council to cast the piece in cement and to install it permanently as a “Streetball” court. With this in mind, the floor has already been sawn up into individual sections and preserved. Now the hope is that the plan can also be financed and subsequently realised (meanwhile realised and inaugurated in 2003), thus leaving a lasting impression both of the site and of the human destinies dependent upon it.

Angelika Nollert
Portikus, Frankfurt/Main 1999

Translated by Josephine Pryde

No time for hesitation! History is being made. by Martin Pesch (1998)
“Since grey is always deceptive in colour enlargements grey tones should wLer over possible be avoided – hold on, and things clear up”
Felix Philipp Ingold

History, they say, leaves its mark. This commonplace phrase disguises what actually occurs – people leave their mark on history. Undoubtedly, the one state cannot compensate for the other. A tension remains, an insoluble dialectic through whose dynamic it becomes unclear whether the individual has a particular position in relation to conditions, or whether the conditions – the famous class, political and social conditions – have been allocated to the individual. And then whatever you have ready to serve by and large as an explanation for your own situation is always only going to be a story, even when it is grandly described as a history – a story interpreted in a particular sense, however much the explanation may also intend to be objective.

Thomas Kilpper’s woodcut in the former basketball court of a site steeped in history in Oberursel is located both concretely and metaphorically within the field of these problematics. With this work, his attempt to occupy a position in the present is born out of the conviction that this will not be possible without confronting the past. What Kilpper has cut and shaped into the parquet floor, across a surface area approaching 300 square meters, has to do with the history of the place and with the destinies of the people who went about their business there, as well as with his own biography.

The series of images begins with Kilpper’s great grandfather’s time as a missionary in South East Asia but reaches its first main focus during the period of World War II. The site was an assembly camp for captured pilots of the Allied Air Forces. Here, they were interned and interrogated. The reigning atmosphere of the period was tied to the values of the so-called soldier’s code of honour. This led to the expression of respect for the enemy officer, also utilised by Kilpper: “You had your job and I had mine.”

At the end of the war the site was taken over by US Forces and was used mainly for secret service purposes. The enemy was no longer the German troops but instead the communist Soviet Union. There was now partial collaboration with the former National Socialist enemy. With “Operation Paperclip” the US Americans tried to deploy German scientists and sections of the political elite for their own ends, thereby divesting them of accountability for their work under the National Socialist State. In the course of these actions, Klaus Barbie was pretty much able to slip away from Oberursel to Bolivia. And Reinhard Gehlen, former Chief of the National Socialist Secret Service “Fremde Heere Ost” (Foreign Army Eastern Division) founded the so-called “Organisation Gehlen” in Oberursel, the forerunner to the subsequent Federal Secret Service (Bundes-Nachrichten-Dienst, BND). The overlapping of personnel discernible within these two examples, and the power relations that endured across ideological and political divides are significant for Kilpper’s work. He follows them through right up to the present time. The image of the execution of a member of the Vietcong (US soldiers were trained in anti-guerilla warfare at Oberursel at the time of the Vietnam War) and the image of the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer are examples of this. (Schleyer, as a former member of the SS with a position of leadership in Eastern Europe, and later as President of the federation of German employers’ association was a practitioner at high political level of the above mentioned overlapping in the deployment of personnel.) And this is where Kilpper’s own biography comes into play. It is marked by his father’s confrontation with the past as a member of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) and also by the political conflicts of the Seventies and Eighties in the spheres of left wing radicality.

Through the subjects of the pictures, which are not presented according to either a rigorous thematic or to a chronology, Kilpper sets in motion the question “Where, pray, might I get my grey tones back again?” This question is aimed at the loss of differentiation within political confrontation and treatments of history. It is not for nothing that Kilpper uses as his models photos that are widely known and often reproduced by the media. Through these pictures he can on the one hand make the political intention of this work more accessible and on the other hand, he also demonstrates an approach that is only allegedly simple with regard to the historical developments in which we are situated. For it is not as if the question simply swings between the poles of black and white, or good and evil. To understand it requires much more than the simplistic signals transmitted via pedagogical or other mediation.

Kilpper turns the cliché of bearing-the-mark-of-history around and uses it graphically, in the printing sense. Through prolonged and heavy-duty work, he has chiselled a history into the floor. He has made his mark on the history-bearing images through the act of his physical labour. He has appropriated them in the fullest sense of the word. Through working on his woodcut, he has transformed the feeling of being overpowered by history into the energy of the overpowering itself. The fact that in the process, he destroys the parquet floor, cutting it up with chisel and chainsaw is not the least important aspect of the work. For the flooring, at one time functional and in use for basketball games, can be taken as a symbol of an unalterable history whose end has been written – and whose authority has been stolen by Kilpper. His way of working can also be compared to hip hop sampling. Just as there, Afro-American musicians utilise elements taken from pop music history stamped “white” in order to realise a tradition of their own, so Kilpper utilises samples from the “official” history in confrontation with his own, with the view to making them his own, too.

He has used form to solve the problem of a mere reversal. As it stands, the enormous woodcut is at best half of the work. You could say that it simply becomes the tool towards a further step. For the whole series of images can be seen in their mirror versions. The woodcut is therefore a negative. Prints can be taken from it that show the images the right way round. It is the printing plate for the pictures that Kilpper prints on to various materials, materials whose origin and structure play an important role in their use. The curtains and wallpapers stand for the border between private and public space, whilst advertising posters and flag fabrics bring with them an assortment of influences through their symbols and invitations to identification. For the most part, Kilpper hangs the prints up on thin ropes across the space of the former sports hall and makes the positives confront their own negatives, cut into the floor beneath them. Once again, the viewer is caught in the middle, where it lies with him or with her to confront both the depicted images and the associations that Kilpper draws, and to get the missing grey tones back.

Martin Pesch is a music and art critic (for, amongst others, Frieze, Spex and Kunstforum International), Frankfurt/Main.

Translated by Josephine Pryde

bakehouse | 1997 – 2004

generally, artists produce pictures. with the installation backstube, the possibility for the production of explosives is created. in a hut assembled from used wood panels, there are all the components necessary to act as a bomber. fire extinguishers and gas bottles as metal containers, various chemicals for the production of explosives, tools, electronic parts, alarm clocks converted to timers, books on the political background. a typewriter is obviously intended for the writing of statements of intent.
does the artist become a bomb maker and potential bomber? bombs instead of pictures?
what’s going on here? should it be attacked – who or what – why and for what?
backstube was created in 1997. the work has so far been shown at three different locations. at kunsthalle schirn, frankfurt (frankfurter kreuz, 2001), at markus ambach’s “sommerpalast” exhibition in neuss (2002-03) and at art fair art, 2004 in frankfurt. each time, it raises different questions. each time, it raises contradictions. for example, the frailty of the hut and the poverty of its furnishings stand in contrast to the obvious striving for power.

Overview – urban Drawing

1996 – 97

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