Sexy Portia from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice sets up three caskets – one lead, one silver, one gold – each of which is inscribed with a slogan, a conditional “Choose me and get …”. With so many suitors, and seemingly no integrity among them, she presents each candidate with a choice of caskets; she hopes to be guided in her selection of a husband by the way the various candidates go about picking their commodities. Choose gold and you get “what you desire”, silver, “what you deserve” and lead, all kinds of risks for better or worse. In this best of all allegorical worlds, naturally the good guy picks lead, takes the risk, wins a wife, while the mercenary type, seduced by the shine, by the surface, goes away with only a scroll from inside the box in his otherwise empty hands. “All that glisters is not gold,” it reads, “gilded tombs do worms infold” and so on.
Like Portia, in “KUNST MUSS KOSTEN” (2007) and “DU SOLLST SO SEIN WIE ICH” (2007) Victor Kégli lets boxes and scrolls do the talking, as it were, play the language games. Whether we consider the cheap, diamante-studded assertion of the scroll “KUNST MUSS KOSTEN” (art must cost, be expensive, be costly), whose form and syntax echo the abysmal performativity of the infamous ARBEIT MACHT FREI above the gates of Auschwitz, or whether we consider the vast wall of reflective light boxes of “DU SOLLST SO SEIN WIE ICH” (you ought to be like me) and their smaller companions, couched in the conditional, “DU KÖNNTEST SO SEIN WIE ICH” (you could be like me), the speaker vanishes in each instance behind the diamantes and declarations, behind the gaudy glister of his materials and his speech acts. And we, the addressees, are left alone with the “gilded tomb” that is the (art) market and the “worms” writhing within.
And while we stand thinking, the lights of the boxes switch on and off, breathing as we breathe, keeping us “Company” in the void, like the figure, perhaps, in Beckett’s eponymous text: “And whose voice asking this? Who asks, Whose voice asking this? And Answers, His soever who devises it all. In the same dark as his creature or in another. For company.” (Catherine Nichols)