Approaching the main staircase in the new elementary school Hermine-von-Parish, Hermine-von-Parish-Straße in Munich, a thirteen-meter-long, fluid gradient of red, orange, yellow, purple, green, and blue fields guides the eye upward toward the building’s skylights. The bright bands of color break through the architectural structure of the school building with its individual floors (each assigned to different grades, from one through six). Instead, they form a kind of rainbow-like, all-encompassing gesture.
What looks like a colorful stained glass window from afar turns out to be, on closer inspection, a dynamic collage made of folded, layered, or twisted children’s clothes that have been pressed between panes of glass. It looks as if a hoodie the color of corn is asking a lemon-hued, long-sleeved shirt with outstretched arms to dance, and a pair of light pink slacks seems to be in a particular hurry, while a frog-colored T-shirt featuring a skateboard print appears to be caught in mid-leap. These and many more interactions between the individual elements ultimately depict a multifaceted network of continually branching relationships.
With “Körper” [Bodies] (2023), the Danish-born, Berlin-based artist Christian Falsnaes creates a visual interplay that alternates between abstract, two-dimensional color composition and figurative, physical details, depending on the viewer’s perspective. Falsnaes is known for his performances involving audiences; both physically and psychically, these performances play out the societal norms and role models existing in cultural spaces. Here, with “Körper”, Falsnaes activates a process of recognition. The clothes, which are carefully sorted, discarded items in the latest fast-fashion trends, could probably also be found in the closets of the six- to twelve-year-old schoolchildren themselves. Through this system of mirroring and relationships, Falsnaes inspires young viewers to understand themselves as image bearers—much like a canvas—and hence, as an individual part of the collective student body.
Since clothing becomes a symbol representative of each body that uses the staircase day in and day out, Falsnaes also refers to the social function of clothes. As our outer shell, clothing both intentionally and unintentionally marks us as belonging to different generations, social classes, cultural communities, and gender roles, while also regulating mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. Thus, “Körper” can be read as the portrait of a generation, archiving the zeitgeist of a certain socio-cultural community in a particular place.
Through the processes of conserving and upcycling, Falsnaes’s artistic repurposing of cheap fast fashion—frequently manufactured under exploitative working conditions—is also a critical commentary on the social and ecological impacts of Western consumer society, which relies on over-production and disposability, Falsnaes came to art via graffiti and often temporarily re-codes public space in his performances; with “Körper”, he challenges viewers to deal creatively with seemingly trivial, ordinary materials. “Körper” points to the potential for resistance in each and every kind of learning that lies outside of curricula, classes, and the classroom—learning that emerges out of the autonomous questioning and shaping of the immediate environment and everyday reality.