Rafael Horzon

Made in Berlin-Mitte : artist/entrepreneur Rafael Horzon

Rafel Horzon mit seinem „Weißen Buch“ Copyright: Suhrkamp-Verlag/Foto: Patricia Woerler-HorzonRafel Horzon mit seinem „Weißen Buch“ Copyright: Suhrkamp-Verlag/Foto: Patricia Woerler-Horzon Das Weiβe Buch (The White Book) by Rafael Horzon – a factual book he calls it, a picaresque novel, say the critics. It is certainly entertaining. And full of absurd vagaries that Horzon has actually made real.

One rainy evening at the beginning of May 2010, a crowd of people were milling around in front of a shop in the Linienstraβe in Berlin-Mitte as if there were a vernissage. Not so unusual for the area. However, what was opening on this particular evening was an “edition suhrkamp laden” – a temporary performance space that Suhrkamp, the publishing house that was based for many years in Frankfurt, used to penetrate the sub-cultural conscious of the capital city following its move there.

The star of the evening was a simple bookcase made of white-laminated birch, two metres high, one-and-a-half meters wide, in which were housed more than 800 volumes of the rainbow-coloured books published by Edition Suhrkamp. It was a bookcase by Rafael Horzon and can be purchased for a snap at 6000 Euros, complete with books, free delivery, including assembly. A similar option is also available for a much more reasonable price: Modern, a bookcase also designed by Horzon, is flaunted in a permanently-illuminated shop at Torstraβe 68. White-laminated, medium-thick woodchip, a single module costing only 110 Euros.

A “Bookshop” with only one book

Aus Rafael Horzon „Das weiße Buch“ Copyright: Suhrkamp-Verlag/Foto: Rafael HorzonWhat most people don’t know is that in the meantime Rafael Horzon has become a Suhrkamp author himself. A few months later, in September 2010, his autobiographical novel The White Book appeared in newer imprint of Suhrkamp, Nova. It is certainly not by chance that since then a “Sach und Fach Buchhandlung” has opened up at Torstraβe 68. Gleaming through the large vitrine are prettily-arranged Horzon bookshelves full of powder-white Horzon books. The White Book is the only thing for sale in this “bookshop”. Which doesn’t stop Horzon offering internships. Apparently infamous young author Helene Hegemann completed an internship here. At the beginning of 2010 Hegemann set in train a vigorous debate about plagiarism with her debut novel Axolotl Roadkill, that initially had a euphoric reception from the culture magazines. It was said that she copied several passages from a blogger called Airen. Now it's being said that she wrote The White Book for Horzon. The rumour came from the author himself, who also said that more recently Hegemann has been working as his au pair.

A gallery that is not a gallery

Pulling people together, getting them to like him, that is the strength of this 40-year old author, designer and self-styled entrepreneur, Rafael Horzon, who, after brief periods in Paris and Munich, moved to Berlin in the mid-nineties. He soon broke off his studies – Philosophy, Latin, Physics and Comparative Studies - it was an exciting time for the new/old capital city. In 1996 he made a prominent appearance in the nightlife of the city as an initiator and one of the organisers of Galerie berlintokyo in a one-time “small underground gym” in the Rosenthaler Straβe, not far from Hackesche Hof, which was still being renovated.

Rafel Horzon Copyright: Suhrkamp-Verlag/Foto: Florena Horazberlintokyo was one of his first business ventures that worked by using punchy names and slogans: it was neither an art gallery, nor did it have any real connection to Japan. In fact berlintokyo is a project space with beer, open only periodically when everyone agrees to it. At the first exhibition Horzon sold his own toaster as a work by the fictitious Japanese artist, Masahiro Sugimoto. If one wanted to, one could draw parallels between him and Marcel Duchamp – a man much admired by Horzon – who in 1917 autographed a basic urinal, called it Fountain, and exhibited it as his own work.

When berlintokyo was invited to Documenta X in Kassel – a jump into the arts scene – Horzon got out. Writing in The White Book, he says “I suddenly felt everything was going in the wrong direction … the Galerie was about to turn into a gallery … I was shocked.”

Non-stop absurd ideas

For his next investment in nightlife, Horzon ran a club called Pelham together with various other people, including gallery-owners Thilo Wermke and Boris Radszun, both of whom today co-run the celebrity restaurant Grill Royal. The Pelham was one of the last genuinely legendary clubs in Berlin in the late nineties.

Aus Rafael Horzon „Das weiße Buch“ Copyright: Suhrkamp-Verlag/Foto: Rafael HorzonAnd the ideas just keep on coming: in The White Book Horzon sets out in detail the next stations of his entrepreneurial group Modocom: the scientific academy, whose performance record should have “validity in every German high school”, Moebel Horzon, Belfas, a shop for exterior wall cladding, or Gelée Royal, a fashion line that has not sold a single skirt, a single pair of trousers, not even a single head-tie. There are half a dozen other fun undertakings, all unsuccessful, some not even in the public sphere. Entrepreneurial philosophical works such as Modern sein. Vol.2 and Der dritte Weg have all appeared in small editions and been published by Horzon’s own publishing house, www Verlag.

Redesigndeutschland is his most over-reaching idea. RDD, as it is known in short, encompasses an outline of a simplified German grammar, a simpler division of time, and a new moral. As before, it is not meant to be art, asserts Horzon, the self-styled multi-entrepreneur.

Horzon’s absurd-seeming activities have a lot to do with the history and reality of Berlin-Mitte since the Wall came down; they are about conversion and appropriation of space, about temporary use, gentrification and interconnectedness; they play with the ideas of advertising, PR and above all, the power of language. It was only to be expected that at some stage Horzon, generally a very friendly and attentive person, would write something longer: the play Hubbard, created together with Christian Krach, lacked not only length but also meaning and entertainment value. His novel however is an entertaining story of Berlin-Mitte – full of anecdotes, name-dropping, funny incidents. The impresario of Torstraβe now wants some rest. He has already earned enough from his bookshelf Modern, he says, to last until the end of his days.

Stephanie Wurster is a freelance writer and literary editor living in Berlin.

Translated by Penny Black

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
November 2010

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