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Lovely Ferdinand

by Sergius Kodera


A brand new, golden Porsche – the Ferdinand – oh yes: the strongest model, the fastest, most beautiful, wettest dream of the young men of yesterday. But the Audi 80 at the intersection leaves it in the dust, with screeching tires, with a roaring motor, in despair, so to speak. Over on the sidewalk, a pensioner gestures in excited irritation that the vehicle has no license plate. And at a closer look, there are a number of things that are not quite right. The golden Ferdinand is right in the middle of the road and doesn’t make a sound. When the light turns green, the vehicle moves forward, but slowly, very slowly, as the driver does not step elegantly on the gas, but instead on bicycle pedals. Something like this is what Hannes Langeder’s account of the first excursion of his most recent art object sounds like. The story says much about our habits of perception, about how we are usually satisfied with quickly identifying a thing – here the curved engine hood, the gold color, the low car body, rear spoiler (veeeeery important, yes!) – and straight away, we think we know what’s going on. We associate “gentlemen” sports drivers chronically in search of the company of young ladies (if not recently deceased Austrian politicians) or something like that.

The mimicry that the bicycle Porsche sought to create is successful. The housefly disguises itself as a wasp and produces stereotypical reactions; but the illusion only holds for the moment that it takes us to associate the familiar form with carburetor power, speed excesses and the ritual squandering of natural resources. To achieve this effect, the artist spent months of intensive work concentrating on forming and bracing the characteristic outlines with tubes held together with adhesive tape following self-made templates. With its thin plastic covering, acrylic glass panes, two-seater bicycle body and lights, the Porsche weighs barely a hundred and fifty kilos altogether. The vehicle could easily be carried by four people through the pedestrian zone, I would say, but as the artist remarks, not without enjoyment, this is not even necessary, because a bicycle is already permitted to drive there.

The art object is intended to be understood as a conscious contribution to deceleration. This is not at all about a quick joke (ha ha, he is driving a sports car rickshaw!). Instead, Hannes Langeder undermines the futuristic ideology of glorifying machines and speed: with an art form that is not immediately recognizable as such and thus distances itself from the realm of the everyday, seeks to be museumized. The bicycle Porsche specifically involves presence in this public space, suggests thinking about the possible rearrangement of our habitat and thus enters into a dialogue with other users of the street. The “walkmobile” by the traffic planner Knoflacher comes to mind, the wearable framework with the dimensions of a car that can be comfortably worn by a person with a diagonally placed rope. With this, pedestrians can merge into traffic on the street and decelerate the flow of traffic. The walkmobile is a brilliant demonstration object in the truest sense; its target course has a clearly agitational character and seeks to point out how nonsensical our means of transportation art.

Hannes Langeder, who is also deeply concerned with demonstrating the destructive dimension of the automobile, has cleverly taken a detour, however. He operates more as an imitator than an agitator. The bicycle Porsche is an emblem for the way that repetition is never the reproduction of the same. Initially, his work is mimetic in the derogatory sense, in which Plato described art in general: mere imitation of the forms of things without fulfilling their function, useless stuff, in other words. Yet the bicycle Porsche immediately raises the question, what was actually the function of the original, the real, ostentatiously powerful, roaring motor vehicle? For me as a passionate cyclist, this results in the associations outlined in the beginning: even the 400 HP powerhouse has no other function than to represent wealth, power or potency. Considered from this perspective, Langeder guides the intended recoding by the audience here, the subversion noted by Cultural Studies in general for the consumption of trivial mass culture products; this re-semantization of the familiar has always been the main business of artistic work. To this extent, his work recalls Erwin Wurm’s “Fat Car” (2000/01, mak, Vienna): Here a car body (this time with a number plate) was surrounded by air-filled pink plastic, its round forms vaguely recalling a Porsche and enabling associations with human flesh, sex toys and similar things.

The bicycle Porsche functions as signifier for the fascination with the figure of an automobile that has lasted since the 1950s; yet Hannes Langeder’s art object is lacking specifically the “self-moving” feature of a motor, an essential characteristic of the car. Nevertheless, the vehicle remains recognizable as a Porsche: “it does move”, but not under its own power, but rather through the muscle power of the person inside it. This opens up a space for reflection, for an opposition that has already been discussed by Roland Barthes. In the industrial commodities world the mass-produced consumer object becomes a sign for something else, due to its recognizability. The serially produced, seemingly identical objects thus create a sphere, in which communication takes place with them. In this sense, the bicycle Porsche is a clever intervention, because it does not involve a serially produced object. It is a one-of-a-kind, at best a prototype: through his mimicry, his only seemingly careful artistic intervention, Hannes Langeder manipulates “the Ferdinand”; he saves the aesthetic form of the vehicle, the phantasm of which has become a general cultural good (which Janis Joplin already sang about, although not without irony), and allows it to live on in a completely new reference context. What we are dealing with here is (to use a term from J. W. T. Mitchell’s contemporary image theory) an intervention in an image – in the mental image of a thing –, but less with pictures, i.e. a concrete representation.

Dr. Sergius Kodera,
Universität of Vienna ,University of Art Linz, New Design University- St.Pölten.