More than twenty years after the Museum für Gegenwartskunst first presented the art of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), the collective will now show a new selection of works. Based on Tim Rollins’s studies of art as a form of collaboration in which individual creativity becomes operative as an agent of social change, the works pay poetic homage to the community, but also represent a political reference to the potential inherent in each individual.
When Rollins started teaching in a school in New York’s South Bronx in 1982, he developed a peda-gogical method of social activism that aimed to foreground individual abilities. In his workshop “Art and Knowledge,” launched in one of America’s most acutely deprived areas, Rollins and his study group began to use classical and modern literature, philosophy, and political theory as raw materials. The writings of Martin Luther King, Lewis Carroll, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Homer, and William Shakespeare, to name but a few, become points of departure for a rich visual language. Modified pages from books are pasted directly onto the canvas, forming the substratum on which the artists elaborate their interpretive approaches.
The concept behind this form of transformation is a leitmotif that has defined the entire oeuvre of this collective, which has been active for over two decades, though its membership has changed. It is not only an indispensable element of the creative process as such, but also a motif that, though it may not be immediately apparent, ties together the texts selected for the group’s work. The connecting element that emerges between works such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Collodi’s Pinocchio, Rollins argues, is the theme of self-sacrifice that gives rise to new life, new ideas, new hope: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as well as Gregor Samsa must die, and Pinocchio, too, barely skirts death. Thanks to inclusion of their narratives in the canon of classical literature and because Tim Rollins + K.O.S. turn their attention to them, these characters and their stories are ultimately brought back to life, so transfiguration ought to be seen not as a mere alteration of the sort that takes place, for instance, when a literary or musical original is translated into a work of visual art; it is also a miraculous resurrec-tion in a metaphorical sense. Moreover, there is a temporal component to transfiguration, so that these works should be read not as interpretations of the literary or musical model, but rather as a conversa-tion with it across time.
The oeuvre of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. blends classical education and ‘street culture,’ erudition and spon-taneity, combining elements from various artistic movements such as the function of language as a medium of artistic expression in Conceptual art and the reference to the political meaning of everyday objects in Italian Arte Povera.
Before the exhibition opens, a new work will be created locally, produced in a workshop Tim Rollins & K.O.S. will conduct with a group of schoolchildren in Basel.
The exhibition has been organized in collaboration with the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAMeC), Bergamo. A catalogue accompanying the exhibition, edited by GAMeC, MGK, and the Fon-dazione Galleria Civica, Trento, is being published by JRP I Ringier.