Christian Holstad

Gaiety; Discovering the Lost Art (in Absentia)


The show by American artist Christian Holstad (born 1972) in the other rooms of the Kunsthalle Zürich will run parallel to the exhibition on Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s «Mulitverse». This simultaneity gives rise to a stark visual contrast. Although one could argue that both artists create individual universes using room-size installations, there is a profound difference: Unlike Gonzalez-Foerster’s works, which employ reduced images to evoke memories and experiences, Christian Holstad offers an overflowing universe of images and materials.

Collage runs through his work at all levels. Christian Holstad is engaged in various “occupations”: he is a performer (alongside Delia Gonzales and Gavin Russom he is the third member of «Black Leotard Front» a group that melds disco, drag and art performance), works as a window dresser and material designer, is, of course, an artist and likely his artistic activities do not end there. Holstad’s other means of artistic expression are drawings, collages, objects, sculptures, costumes and installations. What these myriad art forms share both in formal terms and content are the principle of intersection and overlap, of contrasting and confronting heterogeneous realities and potential states.
While Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s work can be read as involving the subjective reactivation of modern manifestations, central to Christian Holstad’s work is the affinity to post-modern diversity and the parallel nature of phenomena. His works are characterized by a culture, and the contents and forms of a reality that erodes the distinctions between “high” and “low”, mainstream and counter-culture. He adopts the guise of the once highly effective phenomena of counter-cultures to scrutinize the foundations of the reality they created: gay culture, glamour, camp aestheticism, Gothic are vehicles he uses as he casts about to identify ways of reactivating them by altering their context. His work can perhaps best be seen in the tradition of filmmaker and performer Jack Smith, who represents one of the most influential figures of the camp, gay and underground culture prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s.

Christian Holstad draws over newspaper pictures such that they seem somehow menacing and ghoulish, he dresses stuffed animals to look like exotic disco creatures, transforms masks and mannequins into monsters, has make-up artists work on the public in his rooms. For his images Holstad sometimes add ornaments to drawn figures, which are then inserted into another photograph creating a hybrid assemblage. This wild, rampant assemblage is added to the room itself in which we also become part of the same collage, are additional ornaments and decoration.

Categories of pictures are constantly mixed and undermined. Real objects and real persons are transformed in Holstad’s installations into reflections and formations reminiscent of Rorschach tests that flow into mental imagery; horror scenarios mute into spirituality, pathos is transmuted into decoration – a theater setting that constantly calls into question the meaning of the images and reality, seeks to redefine and creates new definitions.

«From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, and their parents and their parents before them, have been. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves, a half-crazed creature more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age.»

R. D. Laing. Quoted from the back of the album cover «YEAR ONE» by «Culturcide».

«For a certain time period, people would scratch text into the inner ring (dead space) of records before they were shipped out. This was scratched into my copy of “A Sucked Orange” by “Nurse With Wound”: «Never knowingly undersell the excitement of mental stimulation man.»

Christian Holstad

The Kunsthalle Zürich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Maja Hoffmann