Testimonials, HDV Video Loop, 8 minutes, 2016


All of them are talking about an art work, its absolutely stunning character, its force. Sometimes in a casual and cool, sometimes even in a serious and professional manner. “Normal” people or self-declared experts confide their individual evaluations to the webcam. For their praise of the work they struggle for words, they come to a halt, remain vague. Every attempt at a verbal approach towards this “absolutely amazing piece of art” seems to be inadequate; Its description remains undetermined until the end. The accounts appear fresh, spontaneous, immediate: Right on the way back from the visit at the exhibition and still in the car, from the cozy corner of the balcony or the swiveling chair in the office, the speakers formulate their unanimous positive impressions. With every sequence the inevitable urge increases — if not to see the art work in the whole with one‘s own eyes— to at least receive a little, concrete indication of which art work everyone is talking about. One hopes in vain: Over eight minutes TESTIMONIALS shows nothing but the simple sequence of indefinite art work reviews. Economists consider authentic consumer reviews, called testimonials, especially in the online market, as one of the most fruitful measures in marketing products and services. Its enormous effectiveness has allowed the testimonial to become a product of its own, which companies have been buying ever since, to increase the sales of their products. These fake reviews are not only produced by professional agencies but also— and to a much larger extent— by an army of independently acting individuals world-wide, for whom faking customer reviews means an extra source of income. This is exactly where Ralph Schulz‘ TESTIMONIALS sets in: In real life, all of the shown film-sequences are actually video-reviews ordered by the artist himself. Through the internet, Schulz sent the paid reviewer texts he had written as well as other instructions concerning the desired setting of the video. The reviewers received between 5$ and 25$ for their video, which they then made available for the artist as a download.

Thus comes to light the ironic and paradoxical framework of the video-installation TESTIMONIALS. There was no prior art work, which supposedly was the reference of the description. The Je ne sais quoi of the videos not merely acted, it is to be taken literally: “What” the reviewers are talking about — they truly do not know. Believing to be reviewing an existing product according to common logic as usual, they first and foremost produce the product, the art work, that they think they are evaluating. (Self)Ironically, producer and reviewer fall into one. In its tautological form TESTIMONIALS engages in a precise, humorous, and at the same time critical analysis of contemporary entanglements between art and the market under the modalities of the internet.

Vivien Grabowski

Testimonials live screencast performance, 2017