June 2014 edition of Hungary's leading journal for museums and curators – "Műértő - művészeti és műkereskedelmi folyóirat" | The Art Connoisseur – Journal for Art and the Art Market.

"The Third Wall and the Last Hero*"
by Edit Molnár

The history of “The Third Wall and the Last Hero" art exhibit begins in November 2013, at the Goethe Institute in Washington, DC.** There, Scott Holmquist, a Berlin-based US artist, and Martin Düspohl, the director of the FHXB Museum in Berlin (the local history museum of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district) traveled to give a talk of exceptional interest titled, "Berlin Squatters / California Pot Growers.” They focused on the public histories of marginal groups and their possibilities in art and activism, contrasting in particular, the Berlin museum’s elaborately exhibited squatter histories to the long-established, yet entirely invisible histories of outlaw cannabis cultivators in Humboldt County (California, US).

Nearly all Berlin districts have museums dedicated to the collective memory of their district neighborhoods. But the FHXB is not just a local-history exhibition space. What sets it and its historical archive apart is its location in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, a district renowned for its active radical politics, civil society movements and extreme subculture practices, all sources of survival strategies under ever-mounting capitalist pressures. Whether it is about the partisan activities of left-wing youth, students or squatters, about the collective efforts to limit rent hikes and evictions or about radical feminists culture expressions, solidarity acts with emigrants, or the annual illegal Labor Day parades (which continue to end in clashes with police to this day), the FHXB archives it all.

These themes are featured in one of the museum's permanent exhibitions, which opened three years ago. The installation’s interactive design uses individual oral histories that enable visitors to enter specific locations on a district map printed on the gallery floor, over which one walks to explore the district. Numbered dots on the map correspond to stories, confessions, short films and photos, available on museum iPods and headphones.

In 2014, Scott Holmquist was invited by the museum to take over this interactive space. With his new exhibit, he has radically altered the permanent installation to present a future history of Kreuzberg, or, more precisely, to show the present as past, viewed from the year 2968, a time when the district has become a kind of Indian reservation (this is what “Third Wall” alludes to in the exhibition's title) a final stronghold of the “psychedelic resistance,” where free (or tolerated) drug use is part of what preserves its alternative peace in the face of an outside World grown absurdly fearful and conservative, to the point of re-erecting a Berlin Wall.

The sources of the exhibit mythologizing tone, and its key reference points, lie in Northern California. From there, Holmquist's work draws on the artisanal practices of hippie cannabis growers’ subcultures. Central to his creative production are the artist's books, on which (in one way or another) he has been working for twenty years. His codices, which are meticulously designed and manually produced with astounding skills to meet exacting standards, contain histories of cannabis cultivation, ideologies of communal lifestyles, and records of pot growers’ everyday lives in Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino Counties. Through his gigantic book-collages, which include private documents, newspaper articles, and excerpts from literary works, Holmquist aspires to chronicle the era of a place, as he says “a historical core sample.”

On view in the exhibit are his five sculpture-like books, comprising the complete chronic freedom series. The least conventional is light (2010), which is built of large transparent acetate foils printed with texts and diagrams and bound to an armature made of broken sodium-vapor lamps. To close the book, the pages are scrolled, and when open, they hang from hooks built into the book’s wooden box. The work is a poetic allusion to the lamp-lit spaces of indoor cannabis cultivation.

Big Drug Factory -- Unfound, on the other hand, conveys a completely different experience: it lacks the bucolic tone of farmer life. This book assembles a collection of documents on the murder of Dirk Dickenson, who, at age of twenty-seven, was shot dead by the police during a 1972 raid.

Much later, in the beginning of the nineties, when illegal drug production had become the heart of the local economy, some children of the 1960s hippies– questioning their parents' pacifist stance – armed themselves against thieves. Stories of fatal robberies make up the first sections of chronic freedom, the series’ title volume. These are dedicated to the biographies of three young cannabis cultivators who all died violently. Holmquist initiated the chronic freedom artwork itself, when he presented a volume to each of the three families whose dead sons’ stories are told. The chronicler's faltering voice is evoked by the inter-chapter stack of empty pages, each containing real handgun bullets, as though they had come to rest there, after having been fired.

In his new exhibit, the artist draws out parallels between Kreuzberg’s history and this California-based “successful psychedelic insurgency” (Holmquist's own terminology).  He invokes the Californian myth together with an idealized local – Berlin – drug trade: where the “Last Hero” represents the illegal immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa who now sell pot in Görlitzer Park.  The last hero's monument, demolished by 2968, also appears in Holmquist's map from the future.  However, within the artist’s pseudo-sacral universe, these exceptionally dynamic outlaw places (Southern Humboldt County in California and Kreuzberg, Berlin) become unable to communicate with their surrounding conservative worlds, which threaten to close in upon them. A manifestation of this complex, fictional proposition is the replacement of the original labels in the museum map with abstract “sound-picture” images of the future.

This self-contained and glorious sacramentalism emerges in the exhibit at several linguistic and stylistic points.  The 'codices,' for instance, are arranged deep within a closed booth, sealed off from visitors by a glass wall, such that the books, despite being open, cannot be read. They appear to play the role of relics rather than that of books.  This secrecy, according to the artist's intention, is meant to protect the privacy of the families. But, to reject the alternative sacramental interpretation calls into question the purpose of the books' physical presence.

One of the most interesting part of the exhibition displays the artist's selections from the museum's own materials, taken from a collection that otherwise lays in storage and which takes over an entire corner of the exhibit.  Originating primarily from the 1970s and 80s, this astounding assemblage of magazines, photos, and objects acknowledges the creativity and determination of Berlin squatters, Marxists, punks and radical feminists, to act as politically conscious chroniclers of the day-to-day life in Kreuzberg.

In Holmquist's projects, a conspiratorial, pseudo-religious, and exclusionist vocabulary is palpable, yet the context of his work resonates with traditions of civil society activism, resistance and other more public communal behaviors, which seem to be still routine practice in Kreuzberg.  Given that contradiction, his exhibition appears to give voice to an ancient sect addressing us from the past, projecting its irreversible prophecies into a hopeless future.

Translators notes:
*In the journal’s Hungarian title for the piece, "Hero" was translated to "Knight.” In this English version, “Knight” appears as “Hero.”

**In collaboration with "Peace. Love. Insurgency." – an installation with artist Kenseth Armstead at Furthermore in Washington, DC.