Paradise Now

by Dr. Joachim Jaeger

In 1890 Paul Gauguin wrote to his wife: „May the day finally come, and may it be soon, when I shall escape to the forests of a remote island in the Pacific and devote myself to ecstasy, tranquillity and art – surrounded by a new family and far removed from the European struggle for money. There in Tahiti in the silence of the beautiful tropical nights I shall be able to listen to the sweet murmuring music of my heart beating in loving harmony with the mysterious beings in my midst. Free at last, with no thought of money, I shall be able to love, sing and die.“

With these wistful words Gauguin summed up the entire programme of the modern image of paradise. Even today the image has lost little of its radiance. To the contrary, the remote island, the strangeness of the exotic and the promise of an unfettered and carefree existence in harmony with nature are the essential ingredients of almost every travel advertisement, of almost every summer and bikini advertisement to hit the media today. These ultimately cheap clichÈs of escape and exoticism continue to operate as social phantasmagorias, as symbols of a Cockaigne where people will be relieved of all their worldly troubles. It is here that the work of paradise explorer and ironist Miguel Rothschild begins, here in the realm of the sublime atavistic desires entertained by modern society, among the great contradictions of civilisation.

Naturally we cannot help but be bitterly disappointed by the „paradise“ we encounter. What Miguel Rothschild presents in the form of photos and objects is quite simply the principle of deceptive packaging. He does not offer us dream-like visions of happiness, but rather the hell of mundanity as it is embodied in fast-food stands, pinball parlours, kiosks, garages, and shacks – Bonjour Tristesse ad infinitum. Through symbolic references, Miguel Rothschildís „Paradise“ takes aim at the inexorable marketing of our everyday lives, at the unscrupulous strategies, and at the enhancement of the normality of being. The serial nature of the paradise photos and the recurrent similarity of perspective is reminiscent of the concept represented by the Becher School, where the relationship between architecture and culture is central. Yet Rothschildís extraordinary wit and, above all, the veritable abyss in his work between ideal and reality quickly undermine any potential neutrality. In Rothschildís work free commentary is the mode; he creates an aesthetics of deliberate exposure. In his series on paradise this culminates in the assemblage of paradise products. Here high and low collide with one another even more directly than in the photo series, as we see for example in the juxtaposition of Toni Morrisonís highly acclaimed novel, Paradise, with a cheap, generic packet of „paradise pudding“. The found objects are lined up beside each other in a seemingly harmless sequence on shelves or in showcases which serves to create new contexts such as a sales counter or a museum vitrine. It is precisely these diverse and multi-faceted references which make Miguel Rothschildís paradise works so interesting. They are references which recur throughout his oeuvre, for example when he transforms Munchís „Scream“ into a medical chart of the pharynx printed on a surface of Band-Aids.

Miguel Rothschild sounds out the interim spaces between social signs, taking irony as his medium. His programme ranges from the clichÈs of cinema through to the „Ka-boom“ of comics, with no holds barred even when it comes to the art-historical heavyweight, conceptual art. The word „concept“, like „paradise“, yet again shows itself to be a wonderful cliché, able to be linked with anything and everything – that is everything apart from art. The irony extends to include the artistís own point of view, making Rothschildís approach both appealing and doubly rich in allusion. His artistic trajectory owes a good deal to the great ironists, Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger and, in reference to the everyday world, Anna and Bernhard Blume, who are renowned for their photo series „Im Wahnzimmer“ (Room of Delusions). Yet whereas Kippenberger and the Blumes call the stale air of the Federal Republic to account, with Kippenbergerís work demonstrating an almost vulgar directness, Miguel Rothschild adopts a more refined and distanced stance. His works are not interventionist, and his point of view is closer to the described phenomena.

This may have something to do with the Argentinean origins of Miguel Rothschild. As a globetrotter and new Berliner, he may be more keenly attuned to the cultural signals of European civilisation than others. His rigorous work to date has nevertheless, as the artist himself admits, acquired significantly sharper contours since his move from Buenos Aires to Berlin. From Latin America he has brought with him the narrative impulse, which is given ample expression in his flip-books. Perhaps the most significant development is Rothschildís enthusiasm for the grotesque which he discovers in the peculiarities of everyday life. Rothschildís ironies achieve great heights due to the realities which are mercilessly exposed to the gaze of the viewer in his small but explosive works. The „concept“ is degraded by Rothschild to the status of a simple brand name. The hope for paradise, as we learn just as painfully, offers no form of escape from society. And the problem inevitably lies embedded within cultural traditions and conventions, as Gustave Flaubert noted back in the nineteenth century: „The idea of paradise is in essence more infernal than hell itself. The hypothesis of perfect happiness is more torturous than the incessant torments, for it is our lot never to achieve it.“