Transcription for Put Your Eye in Your Mouth: a conversational documentary recording Martin Kippenberger’s Metro-Net Station in Dawson City, Yukon
In 1994 the Austrian architect Reinald Nohal introduced the 2nd of Martin Kippenberger’s Metro-Net Stations to the residents of Dawson City, Yukon. The Metro-Net system was conceived as an inter-global form of transportation that would enable members of the secret society The Lord Jim Lodge the ability of teleportation in order to meet with one another.
This is a story that explores one account of the Metro-Net’s existence as specific to the landscape it inhabits.
First, a little introduction to the site.
Dawson City, Yukon. Established in 1902 and situated along the Klondike River, is an 8 hour drive from the Artic circle and 6 hours from the nearest city of Whitehorse. Originally a gold rush town, the areas population has dwindled from an 1898 high of 40,000 people to a modest 1,200. Today, Dawson City is host to a variety of people that contribute to its peculiar identity in Canada’s north. Throughout the summer months motor homes arrive daily and the town displays its past with re-enactments, historical tours, monuments, and the always present panning station. During the winter months the town all but vacates leaving a community of locals who’s relationship to the area has grown far beyond the initial search for gold that first brought attention to the landscape 100 years ago.
Throughout its history Dawson City has played host to an economy of response. As gold was discovered in the 1890’s the vacant landscape became flooded with people eager for wealth. As this new population grew the area was explored to supply building materials to house the miners and secondary economies that sprang up to support the gold rush: a post office, Hotels, brothels, restaurants, Bars, fisheries, carpenters, and a mason’s lodge. The land that Dawson City occupies is made up of permafrost earth. Layers of dirt overtop of a foundation of ice. As a result buildings are erected on top of the land utilizing a series of platforms as support for the foundation. To penetrate the landscape would signal a building’s demise. The unstable soil would shift along with the ice bed below and eventually the structure would be consumed by the landscape. As the gold rush began to subside an economy of nostalgia, tourism, was set up. Like a giant ruin, visitors travel to Dawson City and tour the streets; reconnecting with a past that seemed comprised of a pioneering spirit. Decades later, the natural resource of age and nostalgia for the Klondike has begun to dwindle. In its stead the population of Dawson City has made a break with one history in exchange for building another.
Now, let me introduce the subject of our discussion. Constructed in 1994, the Metro-Net Station is built of 8 inch Yukon spruce logs and set into the ground. As with other buildings in the area the lumber was sourced from the immediate forest. A stairway leads visitors downward to a pair of wooden doors once chained shut but now forced open due in equal parts to a curious community and the pressure of the landscape that is attempting to reclaim the structure. The hand carved doors are emblazoned with the emblem of the Lord Jim Lodge. A fraternal secret society whose motto is Nobody Helps Nobody, indicated on the doors with an NHN just below the group’s emblem of a large sun, cracked by a hammer along with a pair of dangling breasts. 4 poster cases line the inside of the Metro-Net. Once containing posters of Kippenberger’s exhibitions around the world, they have sat vacant for the last several years. The broken plexi glass that shielded each case now sits propped in a corner of the yard. Dispersed around the Bunkhouse property are piles of debris. Material that was cast off after the initial use had finished. Possible relatives of Kippenberger’s Metro-Net, now overgrown and aged.
In 2003 I first traveled the Metro-Net Station. Two years later I returned to Dawson City and in the summer of 2005 I met with Reinald Nohal to discuss a couple things that had been on my mind.
Conversation with Reinald Nohal, July 31st 2005 Dawson City, Yukon Canada
R: Do you need something?
Z: Oh no, I’m good. I’ve got coffee thanks, and, uhhm, some Tylenol for the headache.
So, do you come back often?
R: In the earlier years I spent half of my time up here. I came here 23 years ago. I built a home here and got really involved.
Z: It’s definitely that kind of place. Where you can do that, you can find your spot. Friendly too.
R: They mostly are. If they don’t shoot you, they are a friend.
Z: How I understand it, is that you are the architect, the builder of the Metro-net and The Bunk House?
R: Yeah, I built the Bunkhouse. There are very long winters up here when you have time enough to plan everything, and it makes it possible to build very fast. To think ahead in every detail. So you don’t have to think once you start building, you just rely on the blue print. (How to Build A Hotel)
When I built the Metro-Net, the people who came by would ask: “What are you building there?”, I’d say “It is a subway station.” “huh?”, German bullshit… “Is it a bomb shelter?” Nice idea, no it is a subway entrance. Or “Is it a beer cooler?”, also a very practical idea. “No it is a subway entrance.” “So is it the entrance to the goldmine?” “No, it’s a subway entrance.” The brilliant and astonishing thing was that the Indians would pass by and I would tell them about it, they would just laugh, laugh, laugh. They understood the idea. Also, the world spanning idea, the mystical…they understood the meaning of it, the nuance.
Have you read the little text? “Senseless But Not Useless.” It was practically written that the white people are mistaken. It was either a goldmine or a beer cooler, ok! Sounds reasonable but it was not what it was designed for.
Origins of the Metro-Net Station (a rainy day in Syros, Greece)
R: The Metro-net subway entrance happened because my business partner in Berlin was married to a Greek women who owned a huge property on the Greek island of Syros. There was an old cistern that went into the ground and then Martin was there visiting. He said “Yeah, okay, we build an underground station there!”, and I just happen to be there, we made a plan and it was built. I think that was about 1993. We had a little party for friends who came to the island and celebrated.
Z: So was the walk-down into the cistern already there?
R: Yeah it had been falling apart. It was just a hole in the ground.
Z: Then you put the railing on top for that one and the emblem for the Lord Jim Lodge?
R: The railing happened while I was there, we integrated it into the structure. I had found it on the ground somewhere near the cistern while walking around.
Z: So the first Metro-net was kind of found object… something that you discovered in the environment?
R: and then Martin said: “Reinald, aren’t you living up there in the North, somewhere in Alaska? Why don’t you build me another one up there?” “Ok” I said, “But we don’t build it with concrete, we make it in a wooden structure.” And then one winter shortly after our conversation I drew up a plan, he said “Yeah, its good” and then ten years ago he came up. There is a movie, we have a very amateur video about the opening. Martin cutting the ribbon
Z: Is it there a copy of it here?
R: I don’t have it here.
Z: When you were building the Metro-net in Dawson, because the ground is all permafrost, did that come into play when you designed it?
R: Yeah, we couldn’t dig that deep. We could only go so far. So we dug until we hit the ice. Until we couldn’t go any further into the ground.
Z: Well, Because of the nature of permafrost it will inevitably collapse. And as far as I know the Sculpture is the only thing that descends below ground in the area.
R: Martin knew it will age, in dignity hopefully, and rot in awhile. Not much will be left in 100 years.
R: But we knew that when we built it.
The Inevitability of a Sponge-like Landscape
Z: Something that I’ve noticed is that the Lord Jim Lodge emblem is on each of the subway entrances. I know a little bit about the Lord Jim Lodge, through the amount of writing about it. I know it’s this fraternal brotherhood idea, and something I find kind of fascinating is that, if and when it collapses and is discovered later, this archeological group will have evidence of a secret society. When the earth is removed and those huge pieces of timber you used to build with are cleared away, you’ll find a brightly painted pair of doors with this secret society emblem on it.
R: This group, they will not know what happened.
(scene of North Umbria Archeological Society, est. 2105)
One Obstacle and Three Propositions Belonging to a Hand-Made Book
Z: When I came here two years ago I went and talked to a person at the tourist office, and said I was looking for the Martin Kippenberger sculpture. They had no idea what I was talking about. “It looks like a subway entrance.” I said.Nothing. “It’s on the Bunkhouse property.” And then they were like: “It’s the mine shaft.” That has become part of the popular reference for its history up here.
R: They should have known. Maybe you talked to the wrong person.
Z: I caught a bad person that day.
R: Nobody really understood or thought of the importance of Martin. They don’t know about him…it doesn’t matter.
Z: It seems like the party you are going to have for the anniversary will be a way of re-introducing Kippenberger. It will act as a kind of reference point for the town to historicize.
R: The guy that made the Metro-Net book will be coming from New York. He has never seen it before. I told him there will be a party so he will fly in. And we’ll get him to do a speech about Martin. I wouldn’t trust my credibility up here. I never made a lot of sense.
The letter that you left for me, I never understood what you meant with Schrift. It never had anything to do with the Metro-net. Manuel Bormich may have known Kippenberger, but not closely. He came here because my old friend Oswald Weiner, who also lives here, Manuel visited him two or three times.
Z: Well two years ago when I first came to Dawson City I met Gudren who was then taking care of The Bunkouse and asked if there was anything related to the Metro-net, or related to Martin Kippenberger in anyway, she brought out this photocopied book. But it wasn’t identified immediately as to who specifically produced it. So I, with my limited knowledge, made these connections as to what was in it. I was making these pretty abstract connections. The book had these maps of Dawson City with identification marks, and then some absurdist quotations: Joseph Beuys posing for a scotch ad and then drawn up as Hitler. And then there was a page in there that was a guide to staking a land claim in the Yukon for gold. I identified the measurements and one of them was that a Yukon land claim stake had to exist exactly four feet above the ground. And then when I read this article that Gudren had also pulled it was you being interviewed by the newspaper here in 1994, talking about the measurements and one of them was that the ballistrude will exist four feet above the sculpture. So it was me drawing these mathematical connections. This identity of the land, then this mysterious identity of the sculpture, and how it’s discussing the land claim, and then you’ve got the Lord Jim Lodge emblem down there. And I came up with something… You know, senseless but not useless.
R: I think I’ll have to take a closer look at the Schrift. I’ve never read it, it’s just something I’ve had for awhile.
Secret Social and the Discovery of Hidden Treasure
Z: Are you a member of the Lord Jim Lodge?
R: Yeah. It was something for show. There was nothing in writing. We inserted $20 bucks into a piggy bank and you became a full member.
Z: No rings, badges?
R: No annual meeting, no nothing! Sometimes we get together and do things...
(We have found this after we’ve cleaned up the mess here...) We have found some drawings.
R: And I brought them to show you. I had almost completely forgotten about them.
Z: It’s the classic hotel drawings.
R: I had the paper printed a while ago.
Z: I’ve seen the Hotel-Hotel series. The book that Koenig published. He definitely made a lot of drawings.
R: And he was fast!
This is Annie Henry she has lived for over 100 years and she was here when we opened. She’s over 110 now and I want her to come to the anniversary. She will be the oldest person in Dawson City.
Z: Smiling teeth, handgun. Deadly combination.
R: This is the Yukon Quest, a famous dog race. Larry had not won the race that year. So Martin drew this portrait to wish him good luck for next year.
R: Yeah, Guggieville.
Z: Yeah, I stopped by this the other day. It’s hilarious that the Guggenheim family was here around the turn of the century. And that the people who run it know have no relationship, kind of like “Yeah, it’s the goldrush so we’ll keep it.”
R: Angel parking! Not angle.
At the time when he did them, we never thought much, just nice drawings. He was a very close friend and never did I suspect that he was that important of an artist. He was just a friend to me. And then we did the subway system.
Z: Well, I almost think that is more important. That it’s a discussion with your friends, and then these things happen. That if it wasn’t for your conversations and you being in Dawson City, this wouldn’t ever be going on.
R: Write down your address and keep in communication
Z: I appreciate you taking the time to talk.
R: It has been very enjoyable…so far. I am very hung-over today. Too much crown royal.