Volker Hildebrandt: Love for all and everyone

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Pop Art, Internet and Love
Pop art is love
in that it accepts all.
Robert Indiana

It was Christmas of all things, the holiday of love, when one of the greatest icons of American Pop art was created. In 1964, the Pop artist Robert Indiana was commissioned by the New York Museum of Mordern Art to design the actual motive for the annual holiday seasons greetings. Indiana literally reached the essential by reducing the message of Christmas to its core: L O V E. Based on commercial designs, the typography in red, blue and green with its tilted “O” which became something of American Pop Art’s logo is ubiquitious until today: in advertising, as book cover, on magazines and posters L O V E was copied, quoted and adapted. Unfortunately, the artist had failed to secure the rights for his ingenious creation. But in this way his work of art that he later was to transform in to a threedimensional sculpture became truely fit for mass production and so fullfilled one of the most important criteria for pop art. Just as striking as illuminated neons, nearly everone gets access to this appealing advertisement for love, promoting a new attitude towards life. Once, even countless love letters were adorned with L O V E: under the motto For Someone Special, Robert Indiana was commissioned by the US-government to design the analogous postal stamp wich was printed 330 million times. So finally, the good news was sent all over the world.

Indiana’s pictorial language, its visual means known from commercials and commodity aestheticism, exactly hit the point where love, art and society intersect. Love represents, and presides over, a new life style and symbiotically merges with consumerism and popular culture. Pop art is just as all-embracing as the consumerism which it is based on. Moreover, Indiana who was brought up as a Christian equates Pop art with love: Pop Art is love in that it accepts all, the artist said 1963 in an interview with Art News. Thus, love turns into a plea in the guise of a flashy commercial that hasn’t lost its appeal until today - on the contrary: hardly anything seems to warrant happiness as much as love does. Maybe that’s the reason why it plays such a big part in commercials. For if we can’t have it, e.g. because we haven’t met the right one yet, we at least wish to obtain it along with the product that it is advertised with - again and again. And yet, if we are honest, somewhere deep down we all believe in love - in the one and only, great, overwhelming love, waiting somewhere out there for each and every one of us. Those who experience true love don’t have any doubts that they found it. There is no denying: it is love that can turn our life upside down and bring out the best in us. Its effect is as exhilarating as a drug, as scientists found out only lately. That’s why its sudden removal, lovesickness, actually leaves us with cold turkey so that in individual cases a broken heart can even be lethal. When in 2004 on the occasion of the Liverpool Biennial the feminist artist Sanya Iveković in her so-called Liverpoll publicly posed the question:  Is love really all we need?, the answer was overwhelmingly non-ambigious: 85% responded yes.

In mop-tops’ home town, Iveković didn’t only refer to All you need is love, the Beatle’s popular song of 1967, invoking a phenomenon of popular culture that defines our idea of love like no other: it is pop music that daily constitutes the background of our amorous experiences. The artist also fell back on the local paper, the Liverpool Echo (and it’s online edition), before she transformed her poll’s result into a sculpture and thus including one of those mass media in her work that the Pop artists once cleared the way for. In the 1960s, it was newspapers, magazines, comic and pulp fiction as well as movies and television, plus commercials in all shapes, which determined Pop art’s aesthetics. What currently wants to be called Pop art thus has to refer to other channels of distributing the popular, because mass media have, as is known, expanded immensely. Internet and mobile phones are among the most refined communication technologies that have been generated during the past 15 years which determine the rhythm of our lives, so that love doesn’t remain unaffected. Those hungry for love are dating online; hardly anything can trigger emotions as much as a ravingly speedy e-mail exchange between lovers; and with the help of a mobile phone the loved one can be localized anywhere at all times in order to assure oneself if one’s own affection is returned. So it becomes clear that love isn’t only a sensation, a chemical process which stirs up our hormones regardless of our habits, but primarily something we produce: Love is, after all, something we make, writes Dominic Pettman about his book Love and other Technologies. Thus, love depends on technologies we use for its distribution; its dynamics is essentially defined by the media structure it is communicated with.

If Indiana’s L O V E became an icon of popular culture through the stylistic devices of its own time, a work of art adopting the characteristics of love today necessarily needs to follow other aesthetic criteria. The Cologne-based media artist Volker Hildebrandt now set about to give love its very own online presence and created the greatest, most comprehensive, most global, and most wonderful popular work of art on love of all times, ever. Love for all, www.loveproto.com - Home of love for a world of love - this is the name of the hottest place in virtual space for all and everyone who in the future want to search for, find, or declare love. Yes, there will be salvation for all those lovers out ther in cyberspace, a bower of love in the global village where everyone who wants to publicly share his or her love is invited to a rendezvous. Hildebrandt even calls his internet platform the Palace of Love whose chambers will be a home for all creative statements of love and where both the commercial and communicative needs associated with love will be met. There won’t be anywhere better to observe the manifold ways love is communicated in the age of its digital (re-)production.

Since the 1980s, Hildebrandt has dealt with communication and mass media, for instance in finding a visual structure with his Bildstörung (image interference) which potentially contains every other possible image. In this case, he aptly translates the aesthetic principles of 1960s Pop art to the present-day. To begin with, on Hildebrandt’s YouTube-channel I love you. A lovely art project everyone is invited to upload a video of him or her speaking the sentence “I love you” in his or her native language. That’s how Volker Hildebrandt reaches - just as Robert Indiana once did with his reduced typography - the essence of love: that is to say those three words by which love just as strikingly as equably declares itself in a completely straightforward way. A total of nearly 900 people have already taken part and share their love with the world. This part of the project will one day occupy the biggest chamber in the virtual Palace of Love and allow access to all the other splendid apartments alluring with manifold offerings of love. If Robert Indiana’s L O V E once crossed the globe by postal mail, now it’s the world wide web that carries the lore of love around the world, adequately shaping its mass distribution today. The difference: love doesn’t remain a consumer’s good, but Hildebrandt actually invites all and everyone to assist in the Home of Love and make a very personal contribution to love in this world: Pop art 2.0. Thus, it might be possible that love will grow daily, the net of affection will expand, and the heartwarming message will be contagious in the best sense of the word. Let yourself be captivated by all those who confess their love on screen - while looking in your eyes!

Too trivial, you might say? Nothing special? Always the same? But that’s the way it ought to be! The more trivial, the better, once was the Pop artists’ motto under which they elevated soup cans, shower curtains and other things of everyday life to the sphere of art and - like Andy Warhol - copiously reproduced them by silk-screen printing. More than ever before, today it’s love which became a product of popular culture and consumerism - regarding the ubiquitousness of the sentence “I love you” without which neither Pop music, fiction, nor film could survive for a single day. And let’s face it, love really is pretty banal, what we preferably notice if other people fall head over heels, doing the strangest things. Just in order to tell the beloved what everyone else says daily too: I love you. The ubiquitousness of this certainly most frequently quoted sentence of the world is impressively reflected in the parade of lovers on I love you; however, it’s triteness is aesthetically exploited by the serial character of the endless rows of declarations of love.

Just as Pop art of the 1960s irretrievably broke down the threshold between high and low, between great art and applied art, Volker Hildebrandt’s love project is fundamentally open to all so that everyone having acces to the internet can be part of this unique work of art. Everyone an artist! Joseph Beuys once posited believing in the creative transformation of society for the good. Now the time has come! Everyone who can voice - more or less creatively - “I love you” in ever which way is able to join in. At least in a rudimental way this exceptional emotion is known to every human being - and if not, all the same as a secondary experience drawn from film, literature and music. Love is at best the reason we are here. Love is the base for all good art. Love really pervades everything. So join in! And help to give love a home base from where it can conquer the world.

Whereas the homogeinity of the declarations of love, oftentimes taking only a few seconds, is banal, the way these declarations are uttered is highly individual. After all it’s not only one of the most frequently spoken sentences of the world, but also one of the most personal and intimate ones. Only selected persons are bestowed with this confession of the highest emotional bond. Comparing the numerous contributions to I love you with each other, vocal tone, intonation and emotional emphasis vary considerably. Although - or precisely because - spoken into the cold eye of a digital camera, posture, tone and facial expression tell us more about the person on view and his or her personal experience with love as they had necessarily been aware of during recording - the more so as the statements are rendered impersonal, because the beloved one is neither named nor present right at that moment. Only this way it is possible that the declarations of love appeal to everyone - just as Indiana’s L O V E adorned millions of love letters: everyone is invited. And everyone who participates becomes an author of this charming art project so as to leave one’s mark there by his or her individual notion of what love really is.

Whereas the love messages’ degree of expressiveness vary from time to time, the art work’s formal qualities comply with the internet’s technical conditions. Instead of silk screens and typographie, now it’s digital interfaces that depart from the artist’s personal hand, just as Pop art had once proclaimed in opposition to Abstract Expressionism. Moreover, the moving pictures are - apart from the participants’ personal expression - exceedingly homogenous. Being asked why his style was so impersonal and exchangeable, Andy Warhol said in an Art News-interview in 196 that he wanted to be a machine: The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do. So nothing remained there of the idea of a unique artist as genius. Recalling this spirit of democratic equality, Volker Hildebrandt invented the love machine of pop. As far as possible, he doesn’t make appearance as an author. With his interent platform, he provides for the images’ frame and assigns their meaning in advance, unlike social internet platforms such as facebook and myspace. The medium actually is the message: it’s only about one thing - love.

Ideas of cosy togetherness may differ worldwide, but all of them find a space in the Home of love, because there is hardly anything that unifies humankind as much as the longing for romantic love - in one way or other, it occurs in every human society. In short: with I love you. A lovely art project, in his search for a universally valid art form Volker Hildebrandt has found some kind of container that can be filled as inidivually and as homogenously as possible. The union of love, consumerism and pop originating in the 1960s resulted in something especially beautiful: a home of love.

Susanne Buckesfeld