Mary Anne Francis

UNTITLED 6/94


LIEBSCHER & LEHANKA
City Racing, London



Martin Liebscher and Marko Lehanka make an art of faking business ventures, and I V Itheir London exhibition serves as an introductidn to the 'Liebscher-Lehanka' trading empire. However, while that empire is extensive-multinational and conglomerate- L&L's art has, as yet, resisted any expansion into real life; their enterprise stops short of replication, rather representing commerce for an art audience. The absence of their own original proves to be no obstacle-possibly a spur-to Liebscher and Lehanka's fabrication of a wealth of 'evidence' to prove that their business deals are anything but shady. Apparently, indeed, the parent company has now found outpost offices for three of its subsidiaries at City Racing.
The office first encountered by the gallery visitor is that of 'Kampfmacht' (glossed by LL's in-house translator as 'fighting force'). Specially developed for a British audience, this military outfitters attempts to cater for all martial needs. There are business opportunities in genocide, and so on display in what is both showroom and museum are shotguns, sandbags, uniforms, mines, even 'own brand' army notepaper and videos of L-L's soldiering personnel. Yet all these samples hardly justify the adjective 'promotional'; one video shows L&L attired in army gear, attempting a nautical reconnaissance more often outside than inside their canoes. And on the language front, excerpts from Kampfmacht's company reports are just as faithful to this corporate style: "One thing were the crying ladies in the 2LLK [second Liebscher-Lehanka war] caused by a little moisture. The 1. was manly, in the camps circled sturdy paroles and jokes were done, which knocked on the border of good flavour". The tones and turns of Molesworth nicely complement a fighting force replete with a bellicose buffoonery more reminiscent of Dad's Army than real mercenaries.

The references to media(ted) images and narratives of war gives Kampfmacht yet another (critical) objective, as witness to the media's displacement of the real as a basis for experience and understanding. But just as L&L's parodic digs are double edged (involving, in the manner of all parodyt both scorn and reverence for the target), so is this latter commentary. For if the media are criticised for losing out on real life, this criticism is problematised as such in the case of war and other tragedies. 'Loss' sounds ironically. Though 'irony' sounds longer, for L&L. By and large, their media 'experience' of war is via American or English films; from this point of view, Kampfmacht's mistranslated texts are simpiy true to the approximations of German subtitles on English-languages movies. And this wry symmetry reflects another: that of a bogus business selling phoney war.
L&L's postmodernist perspective on contemporary consumer culture and society as more hype than substance re-emerges in their L-L Import-Export installation. Here, however, hype is realised more prosaically, less as a semiotic principle and more substantially concerned with pecuniary inflation. The Import-Export office parades the nature of the traded wares: eclectic tat, ranging from the single edition L-L Black Bread (£18.15) to the L-L musical box (£100.80), (im)probably concealed in a mock set of Shakespeare videos (the artists' sideline in remarks about the cultural Import-Export trade persists). But if this is a parodic text on business as an art of surplus value, then simultaneously, by virtue of the fact that what is up for sale is also art, it also functions as a satire on art as another source of profit. Once more, these artists richly mine the gap between their work as art, and simulation of art's other, life.
This gap is yet again reworked upstairs at City Racing in the final installation: the L-L Salon. Here the mood is lighter, less mythically Germanic. Hung on scumbled walls, large cibachromes depict a range of male and female models sporting different L-L Salon coiffures. Scrutiny reveals that the models are none other than the artists. Trading their identities to comment on the beauty business, L&L relate the notion of the self as malleable, or without essence, to their ow~1 experience of collaborating selves: a L-L Salon business-card shows Martin Liebscher's mug-shot, but his name is given as 'Markin Liebanks', suggesting that his identity has merged with his business partner's.
Ramifying in its interests, this art sprawls visually as well. L&L could not be further from a minimalist aest!2etic, though to some extent this unselfconscious look seems disingenuous, yet another instance of a growing neo-self-expression where the self' is firmly placed in brackets. All City Racing's wall-space has been coionised with L-L propaganda: photographs of other L-L enterprises (for instance, the sex-shop with its dark-spectacled proprietors), and catalogues which give the price of every item on display. L&L are true obsessives, thougtl the 'truth' of their obsession is a little more ambiguous- appropriately enough, perhaps, given their conflation of reality and art.

MARY ANNE FRANCIS


Liebscher-Lehanka site

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