Simon Fujiwara “Once Upon a Who” Esther Schipper / Berlin by

by February 14, 2022

Simon Fujiwara’s “Who the Bær” character would surely indulge Marshall McLuhan’s “gadget lover,” caressing them feverishly, in the same way that Who perches on the gadget lover’s contemporary lovers, lurching from Kylie Jenner to Greta Thunberg in the photo collage work The Who in Who’s Who (Icons I) (2021). Who the Bær would obsessively transform the gadget lover into a consumable icon to transgress, exemplifying McLuhan’s concept of technology as a kind of human surrogate until the next person can be turned into a cartoonish spectacle. Without a fixed identity or gender, Who is everywhere while being nowhere.

“Once Upon a Who” at Esther Schipper is Fujiwara’s continuation of his ongoing “Who the Bær” project. Reminiscent of AnnLee, a manga character acquired by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe in the late 1990s, Who is less uncanny visually but tackles similar issues of ownership and identity in a digitized capitalist world. While AnnLee has been given back to herself — her copyright was transferred to a foundation owned by her — Who the Bær levitates above an equivocal realm of ownership. Who does Who belong to?

In the last room of the exhibition, divided into dissimilar thematically organized sections, McLuhan’s gadget lover can be found as a material petrification, taking the shape of the aluminum-colored cardboard robot Who’s Only Whoman (2021). Who has indeed transgressed and metamorphosed into a playful tech apparatus. In enticing fairy-tale pastel pink, blue, and grass-green drawings, such as Cinderella Who on Their Way To…? (2022) or Aladdin Who Makes a Wish? (2021), Fujiwara references folk tales that have been racially romanticized and commodified by media conglomerates. Still, it is not Fujiwara who tells us these stories of Western appropriation — even more explicitly in a sculpture imitating Tutankhamen or a collage showing a sliced image of the Parthenon Marbles scribbled over with the infantile bear’s face and a slogan that asks, “Property of Who?” The artist seemingly distances himself from the bear’s explorations and opinions. Just as Who is everywhere — in the Humboldt Forum or on a colonial human safari trip with Prince Philip — and nowhere, he can also be everyone and no one.

“Is Who your alter ego?” I ask Fujiwara while we stand in front of the Whotique, a merchandise boutique in collaboration with Highsnobiety, filled with buyable goods such as hoodies and T-shirts onto which Who’s face is printed. “Maybe Who is yours?” Fujiwara asks in response.

The collaboration demonstrates the calcification of fine art and fashion as well as “high culture” and “low culture”; it also shows that we are on the verge of such distinctions becoming obsolete.

The identity-shaping field of fashion is, moreover, tackled in a multitude of other works in the exhibition. Who’s Original Sin? (2021), a print of an Adam and Eve painting (1507) by Dürer, cut into rectangular pieces and partially veiled with sketches of Who, energy drink cans, and fragments of jeans, draws attention to the universal denim garment. Like Disney’s methods of appropriation and romanticization for increasing a subject’s mass appeal, the fashion industry artificially glamourizes jeans, originally fabricated as work wear for laborers.

Who, ultimately an empty corpse, is interested in all the phenomena of the world, questioning corporations, identity, and art as they all fluidly overlap in hollow echoes of what it means to exist. In the end, the only substance that lingers is a question: Who?

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Claire Koron Elat