The Radical Gardener

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Trailer featuring Malcolm McLaren

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Trailer featuring George Lois

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Trailer featuring Jonathan Meese

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Trailer featuring Sebastian Horsley



The Radical Gardener
A Hermann Vaske Film

European TV premiere on ARTE, on August 14th 2009 at 23:15h.


Jeff Koons and Hermann Vaske

The Radical Gardener is a rollercoaster-ride into the badlands of art and advertising featuring Malcolm McLaren, Jonathan Meese, Jeff Koons, Sebastian Horsley, Oliviero Toscani und Dr. Pussy.

Today radical has become a buzzword for everything. Politicians and bankers talk about radical decisions and radical cutbacks. But what does the word “radical” really mean? Radical means different things to different people.
For the artist Jeff Koons radical art means something like a fresh perspective, a new viewpoint on things. For the artist Jonathan Meese radical art has to be ultra radical. For the pioneer of provocative advertising Oliviero Toscani radical advertising would not exist without art.
In his film “The Radical Gardener” Hermann Vaske goes on a journey to investigate the radical borderlines of art and advertising.

Malcolm MacLaren 01

Malcolm McLaren

Through the ever-changing world of art and advertising we are accompanied by Malcolm McLaren, British artist, fashion designer, and musician, who is regarded by many as the inventor of Punk.

Radical art was a form of art that was a protest against the status quo. Art, that was being channelled to change the culture, and in doing so, potentially change life itself. Dziga Vertov at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, the man with the movie camera, Majakowski, Malewitsch, the painter – all were part of a radical art movement. Culture in the 1930’s in Germany was also equally a protest, with artists such as George Grosz and so on.
Radical art took an enormous leap of faith in the culture of the 1960’s in the form of music, where suddenly it was no longer singing innocent love songs, but songs of protest. Their art was suddenly breaking away from the traditions of European painting and sculpture and becoming involved in interactive experiences. We had the marriage of art, of Andy Warhol, with movies and music by The Velvet Underground.

While changes in art were radical, art today is quite different. Today, art has been, for the past few decades, an art that has no longer been about looking to change the culture, but to run in tandem and promote the culture that already exists.
No wonder that Victoria Beckham says: “I want to be as famous as Persil Automatic”.
Not only celebrities and goods of every day life, but also art has become a brand.

Cologne gallery owner Rafael Jablonka concludes “Especially in the last ten years, the artist has become a competitor of Paris Hilton.”

Jeff Koons, who has become a global brand himself, is someone who has successfully accomplished the balancing act between art and fashion, money and media. For Koons, radical art “gives just kind of a sense of consciousness to things, makes people aware of their environment and of how they can participate in that environment.” And for artist and radical dandy Sebastian Horsley, surprise is one of the most important things in life, never to do what is expected of you.

Sebastian Horsley

Sebastian Horsley

In the last years the dance around the golden calf not only ruled Wall Street but also the art market. For Malcolm McLaren Damien Hirst’s spin paintings are an example for an art world that has gotten out of control. “You walk around a series of spin paintings by Damien Hirst, one after the other. Bigger than ever. Bigger, bigger, bigger. Huge, huge. These things spinning out of control. It’s like a guy puking all over the walls, huh? And what do you get out of it all? What is it? What is there? It was really a testament to the world of art as a marketing tool.”

For the director of the NRW forum of Economy and Culture Werner Lippert, who curated the Radical Advertising exhibition last summer, it is the fashion labels that really kicked off radical advertising. “There are brilliant examples by Calvin Klein and Sisley, testing the limits of society, what is possible and what is still accepted by the mainstream. What kinds of photographs are just about making their way into newspapers and media?”

Since the 1980s, Oliviero Toscani has been godfather and pioneer of radical communication. His Benetton campaign, which is based on social positioning, has been a paradigm shift in fashion advertising. Toscani is a great example that radical advertising would not exist without art. And Malcolm McLaren concludes, “I think advertising is always the lowest of the lowest of the lowest rung on the ladder of the creative arts. I think advertising is something that really has only existed and become important when it’s become absolutely essential for products to have a real value in the society and actually to control the way we consume in that society. As we maybe become more discerning and consume less, advertising will become probably more devout and more interesting. It’s going to become less to do with the eye candy.”

For Dave Droga from the New York advertising agency Droga5 “the most simple solutions are the most radical ones.” Droga is responsible for the UNICEF Tap Project. On World Water Day, March 22nd, restaurants across New York will ask their patrons to pay one dollar for the water that they normally get for free. “And the dollars that are raised from this initiative enable UNICEF to fund water sanitation programs in any of ninety different countries in which we’re actively working on those types of programs,” says Kim Pucci from UNICEF New York. A radically simple and radically successful idea.

South African born Roald van Wyk does radical advertising for PETA in NYC. With hidden camera, Hermann Vaske accompanied him into a restaurant of the fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. Target of radical communication à la van Wyk, that shows chickens in torture camps, is the Colonel, the advertising figure of KFC. “The reason we took the Colonel as head of the torture camp, and making him so surrealist is because they’ve spent all this money and try to bold up this guy as the fun-loving southern colonel, and you know, it’s all bullshit, because, none of those things are true. It adds layers, and it softens the blow of what they actually do to these poor chickens.” Van Wyk “The only way to speak to these corporations, to get people to notice and to pay attention is trying to hit them as hard as possible. And I think that worked well in a radical way.”

Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn says that “radical advertising is advertising that stirs up the pot. It’s advertising that throws a curveball into the system. It’s advertising that shifts paradigms and creates epiphanies for people, and changes the world.”

The Déboulonneurs in France also deal with advertising in a critical way. This group of activists battles advertising in the public space as visual pollution. Once a month their members meet in Paris in order to express their disgust with advertising posters. Radically and peacefully at the same time.

All the developments in the area of communication are signs for huge paradigm shifts. But what do those paradigm shifts mean to advertising? “In the new world that we are about to enter, advertising will play a much less significant role than it has done in the past twenty years or more,” says Malcolm McLaren. “The primary reason is, as we begin to understand what it is we need to consume and what it is we don’t, what it is we need to survive and what it is that we don’t need to survive. How can we take from the past, from a culture of necessity, and apply it to the future is a big, big problem. But one thing is for sure – people are fed up being trapped in a culture of desires with no end in sight. That has got to stop.”

Also in the aftermath of the financial crisis our society is changing and “slow” has become a key word. “Learning to live with less the more. Unquestionably, riding a bicycle instead of a car. Not flying by plane but going by train. Everything to actually slow you down.”

After the hay days of the hysterical “Fast Art” which has exploded in the crash of old fashioned capitalism, everybody is looking for slow and sustainability: “Slow Food and Slow Culture”. Also in the art scene it doesn’t count any longer to make bombastic events and works. Because after the overkill of the last century the Art world is focussing on slow.

Fritz Haeg

Fritz Haeg

The Radical Gardener and Californian architect Fritz Haeg creates Garden Labs which demonstrate a closeness to reality and put people in the centre of attention: “A Radical Gardener is a gardener who puts plants in places where maybe they are not expected, or gardens in – in urban situations, where it’s least likely or uses gardening as a vehicle for examining how we’re living today. I guess in particular with my gardening, which tends to produce food, it’s looking at these really basic and fundamental issues of survival and subsistence, and bringing that back into the city. Because it’s taking something that maybe we have left behind or think we don’t need any more. Or that we got rid of because of the way we are living today and finding how we can fold it back into our lives. The fact that producing food or gardening should even be a novelty or radical is absurd. Any urban street corner where you see corn growing: that’s a good example. I am interested in art that questions the system that they are in. And those systems can be the cities that we inherited, that we are part of. It can mean the disciplines that we are indoctrinated into, such as the art world or the architecture world. So, being radical means being questioning and challenging.”

Maybe it is too early to draw a final conclusion. Maybe we are still too close to the events, the collapse of Wall Street and Damien Hirst’s Sotheby auction to put things into perspective. However, Hermann Vaske’s film is documenting an exciting time of radical change.

Hermann Vaske Filmography