By Daniel Morgenthaler
Translated by Jen Calleja
I buy an E. Like in the TV show Wheel of Fortune. Why do I have to buy vowels when the consonants are free? Because we make ((or: pronounce)) vowels when ((or: while)) we do something important: breed.
I buy an E. Then the title ‘The Marquis of O––’ will become ‘The Marquise of O––’ No longer masculine plural, which could have fit with the three Marquis in the artist group JocJonJosch, but feminine singular. The German writer Heinrich von Kleist wrote a novella of this title in 1807. The long dash in the title is already quite ominous. Still more ominous is the dash in the middle of a sentence in the text. Much has been written about this dash: this is because it marks a place in the narrative where the Marquise of the title is raped while unconscious. During an attack by Russian troops on the Marquise of O––’s father’s citadel, a Russian Count eagerly sees to it:
‘To the Marquise he seemed to be an angel of heaven. He struck the final brutish murderer, who gripped her slender body, with the handle of his sword in the face, forcing him to stagger back with blood flowing out of his mouth: he proffered his arm to the woman with an authoritative French address, and led her, speechless as she was from all these events, to the other wing of the palace not yet affected by flames, where she sank to the floor completely unconscious. Here — he made arrangements, as soon as her frightened servant-women appeared, for a doctor to be fetched; assured, by putting on his hat, that she would soon recover; and returned to the battle.’ 1
To summarise: the erect and – in contrast to the parenthetical rules here – very long dash penetrates the O of the Marquise.
JocJonJosch have many O’s themselves. Not only in their name, but also in the title of one of their exhibitions: ‘ o o o ’.
JocJonJosch made a sound work, ‘ o o o ʼ with only the letter O. In a darkened room, the voices of the three members of JocJonJosch repeat the groaning vowel unrelentingly from three loudspeakers. That’s right, the groaning vowel. A would be one, too, U too, but not E and I, and consonants are certainly never groaning. Just like Kleist in his title, JocJonJosch here used one of the few letters that is also a groan. Indeed, it is the only letter whose enunciation makes the mouth look the same as the letter itself. JocJonJosch made use of this in the exhibition poster for ‘ o o o ’, which showed the three of them pronouncing an O, the three mouths forming one large O at its centre.
The three have also written the groan into the landscape, in the piece ‘Ditch and Rampart, Fiesch (2015)’. As a land-art project, a groaning O is entrenched into the earth, visible – audible – from a helicopter. In the performance ‘Footfall’, this time within an exhibition space, the performers trample naked on an O-shaped piece of plastic covered in earth.
JocJonJosch have many O’s – spoken aloud, dug into earth, written on their faces. Whoever says A, must also say B. Whoever groans O, must also write —, after Kleist? Do I find an erect dash in their work too, penetrating this O?
It’s absent on the exhibition poster for ‘ o o o ’ – and all the more present for it. In addition to a collective groan, which is only possible with the help of graphic design, it’s also a fleeting oral threesome, the kind not even possible in porno films, for all their double penetrations and other number games.
In the work ‘Minor Hell’ (2016), the long, cut-off hair of the three members of JocJonJosch are woven together and threaded into a glass mask, the three individuals becoming one very hairy one. On the poster for ‘ o o o ’ the three merge into a single sexual partner, into an oral fantasy that even Sigmund Freud and his patients couldn’t have dreamt up. What Kleist hid in the long dash – in plain sight – is orally implicit in the work of JocJonJosch.
Sometimes JocJonJosch fill their own holes. In the performance and video work ‘Dig Shovel Dig’, each of the three artists digs a small O into the earth, only to throw the excavated earth back into the othersʼ hole. The analogy would be a circular penetration – which can be found in porn, too. At this point I could also point out the uselessness of such an activity, the mutual nullification of the accomplished work. The O is penetrated the same way in porn, and an outcome – disease, pregnancy, trauma, shame – is highly undesirable and suppressed under loud moans.
The closest thing to Kleist’s phallic dash, however, is actually a strategy JocJonJosch has not been using for very long. I imagine Kleist in 1807 writing the dash, scratching it out onto the paper with relish. JocJonJosch has recently been scratching sensually into the lacquered surface of the photo prints documenting – quite literally reproducing – their penetrating actions in the soil in the Valais fields. Here the three of them insert jittery dashes, which penetrate their perfectly printed pictorial O’s. In contrast to the oral potential of the exhibition title and poster, the penetrated works here really do lose their innocence. They lose their photographic virginity. But does that mean it will be harder for the prints to find a collector – just as the Marquise of O–– finds it harder to marry after the incident, eventually even using a newspaper advertisement to find the father of her child? Had JocJonJosch better surgically restore the photographic hymen? Hardly. The art market is, of course, like the porn industry. It asks for defloration in all kinds of ways – penetration (Lucio Fontana, Gordon Matta-Clark), squirting (Jackson Pollock), nailing (Günther Uecker) – ideally by male (porn) artists.
I don’t buy an O. I already have two. For penetration, a dash will suffice.