RMIT Gallery presents a comprehensive survey of 80s German subculture in a new exhibition, Geniale Dilletanten.
Geniale Dilletanten (Brilliant Dilletantes), the deliberately misspelled title of the concert held in Berlin’s Tempodrom in 1981, has become a synonym for a brief era of artistic upheaval in Germany.
The Goethe-Institut’s international exhibition Geniale Dilletanten (Brilliant Dilletantes) explores the influence of German punk artists, filmmakers and seven bands including Einstürzende Neubauten, as well as Australian ingenious amateurs.
Incorporating an interview film produced especially for the exhibition, a rich array of video and photographic material, audio samples, magazines, posters and other artefacts documenting the scene, the exhibition presents the most comprehensive survey of 1980s German subculture to date, providing insight into simultaneous developments in art, film, fashion and design.
Curator Mathilde Weh, a consultant with the Goethe-Institut, said that German subculture of the 1980s was a very interesting “mixed-media” time marked by cross-genre experimentation with little regard for virtuosity, which was in fact frequently and intentionally spurned.
“What was very important in the 1980s were the cassettes – CDs didn’t exist – cassette recorders enabled people to record their own music bands were not with big, professional record labels and didn’t have access to studios,” Mathilde said.
“They had their own little record labels and everything was self-made.”
The emergence of new record labels, magazines, galleries and clubs, as well as the plethora of independently produced records, tapes and concerts, illustrates the growth of self-organisation and the do-it-yourself spirit of the period.
The intense cultural activity developed particularly in and around art schools and was marked by the use of new electronic and often hand-made equipment. Painters played in bands or established clubs; musicians shot Super 8 films; the Dada and Fluxus movements were revived.
“It was also the time that music videos began to be bigger,” Mathilde said.
“Some bands had music videos but only in West Germany not in East Germany, it was not possible to make them.
“But what bands did was make their Super 8 films, which we are showing in the exhibition.”
By adopting German rather than English as the language for song lyrics and band names, the protagonists of Germany's alternative artistic scene set themselves apart from the mainstream, giving credence to the movement's claim to be representing a radical new departure.
To illustrate the extraordinary innovative spectrum of this subculture the exhibition presents the work of seven bands: Einstürzende Neubauten; Die Tödliche Doris; Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (F.S.K); Mode & Verzweiflung; Palais Schaumburg; Ornament und Verbrechen; and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.), in addition to various artists, filmmakers and designers from West and East Germany.
RMIT Gallery presents a flavour of what was happening in Melbourne from 1979 – 1989 through an exploration of Australian subculture that was characterised by large numbers of short-lived bands, more concerned with artistic expression than mainstream.
This included the Little Band scene, the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre and a group of young people who were part of the friendship circle of photographer Peter Milne.
These three groups interlocked and overlapped reflecting the cultural milieu of the time.
RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said the work of many Australian ingenious amateurs would be reflected in the exhibition via art works, films, sound, posters and ephemera in order to tell local stories alongside a larger examination of German subculture of the 1980s.
In fact, many Australian ‘ingenious amateurs’ would go on to have world class creative careers nationally and internationally, and some such as Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Bronwyn Adams, Ash Wednesday and Peter Milne would forge deep and personal relationships with the city of Berlin.
According to Mathilde an important component of the exhibition in Germany at the Haus der Kunst in Munich and at RMIT Gallery is the comprehensive public program of events that explores the legacy of the Genial Dilletanten ‘movement’ and the Australian ingenious amateurs.
Supported by the Goethe-Institut, the RMIT EU Centre and the Hoff Foundation, there will be a range of films, lectures, discussions and floor talks around the exhibition launch and special events for White Night Melbourne on 20 February 2016.
Australian sound designer and musician Ash Wednesday, who will be speaking at the Ursula Hoff Contemporary Lecture on Friday 20 November on the influence and legacy of German subculture in the 1980s, gravitated to Berlin in 1992 where he later became a live performance member of Einstürzende Neubauten.
Geniale Dilletanten (Brilliant Dilletantes): Subculture in Germany in the 1980s runs from Friday 13 November until Thursday 25 February 2016.
Story: Evelyn Tsitas