One of the final events of the 9th Berlin Biennale before it closes on September 18 was a romantic art affair—a prom-like “night to remember,” as US-born, Berlin-based artist Lindsay Lawson half-jokingly described her project. Titled Choreography for Crane, Sunday’s event celebrated an untraditional end to an untraditional couple’s relationship. The one-time multimedia performance spotlighted the intimate, sexual, and spiritual bond between Lawson’s collaborator, Erika Eiffel, and a tower crane.
Eiffel identifies as an objectum sexual (OS) person, which means she is sexually oriented to objects. Prior to her relationship with the metal behemoth, Eiffel married the Eiffel Tower (hence the surname). She has also had relationships with a samurai sword, a compound bow, and the Berlin Wall, but she recently developed her connection to the crane while working on a construction site at Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Choreography for Crane was an amorous spectacle under fake moonlight at the construction site on the riverfront. Attendees rode a boat down the Spree, eventually arriving at the crane, where an illuminated moon sculpture hung from a hook that Eiffel manually operated from inside the crane’s cabin as Lawson lightly directed her movements by phone. To viewers, it might have looked like a beautiful, idiosyncratic piece of choreography. But for Eiffel it was the last tango with her object of affection in the place where they met.
This is all ripe territory for Lawson, whose past work has investigated shifting understandings of an object’s agency, in line with schools of thought such as object-oriented ontology, new materialism, and speculative realism. I spoke to the artist over Skype last week as she prepared for the performance.
ZACH SOKOL Can you tell me how you conceived Choreography for Crane?
LINDSAY LAWSON Erika and I had collaborated before on a project about OS that curator Carson Chan included in a group show in 2011. I thought it would be nice to do a performance with Erika and the crane because she has a direct connection to it through her construction work, and an intimate relationship with it through her identification as an OS person. These different things going on with my past works congealed into this one thing.
SOKOL What originally made you interested in OS?
LAWSON I found out about OS through the smiling rock, an agate geode that appears to be smiling. I found it on eBay and kept track of it there. I decided to write a short story about it, as the basis of a feature-length film that I’m still working on. I was interested in the ridiculousness of the price, and the silliness of the smiley face, but mostly I was interested in how the eBay seller changed and updated the listing over time, so that the rock seemed to have a life of its own. At one point, he called it a “sexy smiling rock.” I found it so weird to sexualize it.
I didn’t know about OS at the time. But thinking about the smiling rock led me to learn about OS. I came across OS Internationale, an online community that Erika is part of. It was founded by Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, who married the Berlin Wall in the late 1970s. She was one of the first to come out as an OS person. She was the subject of a film by Lars Laumann [The Berlin Wall, 2008] that I’m screening at the Biennale. It makes an interesting bookend to my work with Erika.
SOKOL To me, this project seems like an organic extension of your past work.
LAWSON Yeah. My earlier work, even when I was in grad school, usually had to do with objects or the body as an object. My interests were already there. I just hadn’t arrived at OS or new materialism yet.
SOKOL How do you approach Erika’s relationships with objects when you bring her identity as an OS person into your work?
LAWSON Erika often says that the Berlin Wall was misplaced in the world, and she felt that way in her life, being an objectum sexual person misplaced in a society of people who are all in love with each other. Thinking about objects being misplaced was a starting point for my last solo show at Gallery Gillmeier Rech in Berlin. I’m interested in the possibility of objects having a history, even if no one knows that provenance, or what value was attached or lost. Erika’s words sparked a bunch of questions for me, and I took it from there.
The way Erika thinks about the world and how she loves objects has helped me conceive other projects. She’s a source of information for The Smiling Rock, the film I’ve been working on. But Choreography for Crane marks the first time my work has been directly tied to her view of the world, not my speculation about the perspective of an OS person. I don’t believe the same things as she does about the agency of objects, so I wouldn’t try to illustrate her point of view myself. But I am fascinated by some of the questions it brings up.
SOKOL How has your understanding of OS evolved as you’ve gotten to know Erika Eiffel?
LAWSON I’m fascinated by the complications that OS makes for definitions of reality. For me, the interest lies not so much in loving objects as in the way you can just decide to accept your own worldview, even if it is totally out of synch with most of society’s, and make that your reality. The Smiling Rock and other projects are about connections via the digital world—online dating, eBay, etc. I’m really interested in the parallels that I see between online relationships and how Erika talks about connecting with objects.
SOKOL I think it’s interesting how your past work with OS has mostly been sculpture or video that can be viewed again and again, whereas Choreography for Crane is ephemeral, especially in light of Erika’s expiring relationship with the crane.
LAWSON A lot of my work with OS is about physical objects. But it is interesting that the crane won’t be there once the building is finished, and we won’t have any traces of the performance other than some photos. It’s basically an elaborate way to let Erika have this last dance with the crane at the construction site because the building is completed and she doesn’t have any more work to do there. It’s romantic for her because it’s a dance with the thing she loves, a moment for her to unite with it again.