Carsten Tabel


Salad Days
by Carsten Tabel

Children can’t hide their feelings. Everything is perceptible in a child’s face from the very beginning. In the world of adults, those who have preserved the perceptibility of their frame of mind are thought very little of, because being an adult means that you are in a position to demonstrate emotional neutrality. You abandon the childlike expression of enthusiasm in your face, because it is used less and less frequently as you get older, unlike the expression of disappointment, for example, which is almost impossible to give up or to hide. I noticed that I had lost this enthusiasm and the corresponding facial expression when I was ten while I was standing in front of the meat counter at Tengelmann in Assenheim, where I regularly went shopping with my mother. At the time, every village grocery store had its own meat counter with a trained salesclerk who, when there was nothing to do, beckoned stray children with pink lunchmeat. There was another mother-and-son twosome standing in front of me and my mother at said meat counter, the boy about my age, his mother younger than mine and yet a great deal more worn out. Both of them wore jackets from the Joh department store in Friedberg from the racks with special offers—cheap clothes—and its own checkout counter. The boy received a slice of pork sausage, and I was offered one too, but I shook my head in disgust. The boy’s mother poked him in his side. Thank you, he mumbled, another poke, an irritated glance, his mother’s order: say it. Then his eyes began to shine and his voice quavered, and very excited and yet infinitely shy he ordered a small container of Fleischsalat.  And then he watched the salesclerk as she filled the small, transparent plastic container to the brim with the squishy, pickly, mayonnaisy, meaty gold.
He fidgeted back and forth, and when she handed it to him over the counter, he was in a state of completely enraptured enthusiasm, which on the one hand seemed absurd to me, while on the other it touched me in a strange way, as I had already become so alienated from childlike enthusiasm. I saw that he just barely, and for his mother’s sake, suppressed a cry of joy, and then his mother tugged him in the direction of the liquor section. My mother had meanwhile began placing her order, mechanically reciting the kinds of lunchmeat and number of grams each she wanted, paying attention to the salesclerk’s hands, and she finally had to poke me in the side as well to ask me if I didn’t want something too. And I immediately began to imitate the expression of enthusiasm I had just seen on the boy’s face and tried—with the same shy, excited voice as him—to say: a little piece of Ahle Worscht, may I please have a little piece of Ahle Leberworscht?  My mother, who didn’t like to scrimp, gave me an irritated look and bought a whole ring—which didn’t suit me at all, as the aim of my exercise was to go into an ecstasy on the basis of a little piece of air-dried liverwurst. It was an exercise in happiness through humility, whose conclusion was completely ruined by my mother ordering an extra-extra-large plastic container of Fleischsalat. Neither did she comply with my insistence that she please buy a bottle of schnapps.
I repeated the thing with the Ahle Worscht for months at all sorts of meat counters in Hessen. I perfected the expression of enthusiasm, the excited voice, the fidgety joy to such an extent that even for my mother, who was initially disconcerted, buying Ahle Worscht with her son became something special, because she saw the perceptibility, which in fact no longer existed at such moments, twinkle forth and was quite delighted with her little boy, who apparently needed nothing more in life in order to be happy than a piece of liverwurst.
My enthusiasm for Ahle Worscht, which in reality was only an imitation enthusiasm for Fleischsalat, moved my mother and the Hessian sausage salesclerks to tears, and that was indeed a success, my greatest acting success ever. It wasn’t until the heavy rotation of the “pathetic-enthusiasm-at-meat-counters” number, in particular the Ahle Worscht, grossed me out, the same old approach and the constant success of my performance bored me, that I simply stopped doing it and decided to never again enter a butcher shop, and said the same to my mother. And of course something died in her, which I clearly saw in the look of disappointment on her face. From then on, she always dreamed of me as a little boy. That didn’t stop until I had a little boy myself. She now takes him to the butcher shop and mechanically recites the types of lunchmeat she’d like and how many grams of each, and then she pokes him in his side and asks him if he’d like anything, and he says salami. And then she waits for his eyes to light up, but they don’t.

When I go to the movies, then only because I hope to discover someone there on the screen about whom I can say he’s like me, I’m like him. People buy tickets to the movies and look for people like them. I often only find one person in a movie about whom I’d say that I want to be like him, like the actor, the star. I want a role that suits me the same way, like his does him. I want to steal the magic of his acting, his looks, his justified success. The character is the focus of the story; he touches the sausage salesclerk, he touches the movie audience; he is the whole world. An entire movie, an entire reality is devoted to him; someone invented friends and enemies for him. Identifying with the actor arouses the desire for an altered self-awareness. You want to look at yourself the same way he is looked at and revered; you want to touch others in the same way as the performance of the person ordering Fleischsalat touches his surroundings. Deep down, you wish that the world would only look at you, know and understand your feelings and thoughts. Everyone ought to know what the process of buying Fleischsalat means to you. Time and again they say that the individual occupies center stage, and everyone wants to be this individual, the representative of all people, the focus of interest. But that doesn’t even exist anymore, the focus of interest. Interest is decentralized; meat counters are a thing of the past, having been replaced by refrigerated sections, in a society devoid of protagonists. They don’t exist anymore, those bright eyes at Tengelmann; even Tengelmann has ceased to exist. Every purchase, every visit to the movies is a commentary on the complex of appropriation. We have become a society of commentators, a pack of information sausage salesclerks who put in their two cents, who between work and consumption have a try at textualizing their thoughts dripping in fat on the Internet. More than in a porno stream, at this point the crystalline quality of the Internet shifts into the carnal; the digital is implanted with a fleshy mustiness and stupidity of the real.
We were born innocent and free of any concepts, and because this is the case, in the beginning we can’t help understanding everything we experience, see, and hear as our very own property. From the complex of birth into the complex of appropriation. This absolute and absolutely simple property situation is constantly disrupted by delays and backtalk. First you’re given everything as a present, and then they try to take everything back from you again and put you off until later. When you’re big, you can do and have, can simply take, buy, or steal anything you want. Supposedly at eighteen, and then you’re eighteen and get a funny feeling, and you go out as long as you want and are allowed to drink or not drink as much as you want, but the world doesn’t want to belong to you, because preferably it doesn’t belong to anyone. It prefers to stand by itself behind the counter and give away slices of lunchmeat.
Someone gave us a slice of lunchmeat and promised us an adventurous life, a magical life with a secret doorway into the realm of fairies. We were promised an exciting, thrilling puberty; girls, girls, girls, and parties, parties, parties. We were promised well-toned bodies, trips to Disneyland, surfing vacations in California. Fiction is the greatest faith healer of civilization. Fiction is a fork-tongued bitch, the cause of and solution to all problems. It’s responsible for the state of disappointment in which we are not allowed to live the life we were promised. Disappointment is not an intense feeling. It’s a cross you have to bear, that you lug around with yourself; it was implanted somewhere in your love handles and now roams around; disappointment is the secretly inserted implant of our generation. Some people attempt to have the pads of disappointment sucked off or cut away; suspect it is in the double chin, the bulbous nose, abdominal flat, sagging breasts, in an undersized penis. But all that snipping and tinkering is ineffective against that pad of disappointment, which is unperturbed by scalpels and silicone. It can only temporarily get your mind off the fact that life proceeds very differently than promised, than we imagined it would. You should certainly do so, imagine life; as a child you learn that you just can’t take each day as it comes, but that you’re supposed to imagine each day in advance.
Disappointment is like a tumor that proliferates and proliferates, that eats you up without causing any pain; your heart, your brain. It devours everything and doesn’t hurt at all; everything disappears and the pad of disappointment grows and grows, and the rings under your eyes get darker; and then the doctor asks if everything is okay, and you shrug your shoulders and he prescribes tablets and rest. There’s no opportunity for rest, and so you continue with movies and television and now tablets; and you can’t leave your apartment anymore, because you always have to take the cross of disappointment with you. You can suddenly see it, that cross of disappointment, how it’s sitting next to you there on the couch, how it lies next to you in bed. And it looks so heavy and nothing hurts and everything is so difficult and the doctor shrugs his shoulders and says beats me, no idea, more tablets. And then you leave his office and go out onto the street into the next butcher shop, beats me, no idea, more tablets, more Fleischsalat.
There’s a small oak grove in the mountains east of Rome, Serpentera, which Romantic German painters bought centuries ago out of a mutual money box for the purpose of protecting their beloved motif from being deforested; for the purpose of being able to cosset the motivation and longing associated with the motif. Today, the small grove of longing belongs to the Akademie der Künste (academy of arts, AdK) in Berlin, who received it from the Romanticists. Despite changing motivation and longing, and a completely different zeitgeist altogether, the academy assumes that the magic of the site has been preserved. They send scholarship holders there, continuing to assume that German artists are still up to their eyes with longing for Italy. But then the scholars sit among all the oak trees with brown bread and Fleischsalat from Germany, and they look down toward Rome into the Eternal City and ask themselves what they did to have been sent into this out-of-date idyll. They don’t give a fuck about all the romanticism; they sit among the oak trees and hope for a visit by the German great capricorn beetle, who will put an end to this Italian coziness and oak-like German fortitude. They sit on boulders that the German Romanticists had Italian donkeys haul into the little grove and complain about the slow Internet connection, the bad infrastructure, the lack of inspiration.
    But when the director of the AdK calls, they don’t say a word about it; they talk about episodes of productivity, about important steps in their development that they owe to the Italian German oak grove; praise Italian cuisine and hospitality. The director pretends as if he’s incredibly delighted by all of this, yet he senses the disappointment in every sentence, because his longing for Italy has long since become disappointment in Italy, and he can no longer imagine anything positive at all on the subject of Italy. But he perceives the pubertal disappointment of the Italy scholars as snobbish ingratitude toward his institution, toward German Romanticism, the Italian nation, and reality on the whole.
An ongoing story of disappointment and delusion begins with the purchase of the small oak grove, and above all with its presentation to the AdK. The source of inspiration at the time has become a source of disappointment, and despite this, or precisely because of this, one holds onto it, because over the centuries we’ve grown accustomed to disappointment, learned to draw strength from it that comes to nothing—which is where we like to linger most.



  • 1978 born in Friedberg/Hessen
    1999-2000 Studies of Comparative literature, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
    2000 Studies of photography at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig
    2004 Studies at the Ecole Nationale de Beaux-Arts de Lyon
    2002-2006 Studies and Diploma of photography at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig in the class of Prof. Timm Rautert
    2008 Master studies, Prof. Timm Rautert, Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig
    lives and works in Leipzig

Solo shows

  • 2017 Beaver, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
  • 2013 Terrible Eyes, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2011 2011 (with Johannes Rochhausen), art space Ortloff, Leipzig
    Heads and Tails (with Nadin Rüfenacht), art association Essenheim
    2010 The difference between you and me is that I'm not on fire, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    2009 Wir werden alle Fiesen killen (with Heide Nord), Galerie dieschönestadt, Halle
    Später Wurm entkommt dem Vogel (with Philipp Moritz), Galerie Hafenrand, Hamburg
    2008 Wo Parkplätze entstehen, entstehen Firmen (with Jan Sledz), Laden fuer Nichts, Leipzig
    Der Hund soll still sein, Galerie Hafenrand, Hamburg
    2006 Zurück zum Beton, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Return of the Dingsbums, Tschoperl, Frankfurt/M.
    2005 Waiting for the Taxies #4 - Haltungsschäden, Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig
    Keiner stirbt (with Yvon Chabrowski), Laden fuer Nichts, Leipzig

Group shows

  • 2018 Angry Boys, Det Ny Kastet, Thisted (Denmark)
  • 2017 The Love of Three Oranges, Kyoto Bar, Cologne
  • WIN/WIN. Purchases by the Kulturstiftung Sachsen, Halle 14, Leipzig
  • 2015 Nach dem Krach, vor der Stille, Art association Leipzig
    words to be looked at again, Kunstverein, Leipzig
    Ein Zimmer für Alfred Flechtheim, Osthaus Museum Hagen
    2014 Ce qui je suis maintenant-Ein Zimmer für Alfred Flechtheim, Rompone Artspace, Cologne
    Zucht@Ordnung, 21. Leipziger Jahresausstellung, Westwerk Leipzig
    2013 Why Gray, damage done, Performance von Carsten Tabel und Carlsten Powernap, Werkschauhalle, Leipzig
    2011 Auslöser, art hall of the Sparkasse Leipzig
    Come together, Galerie Maurer, Frankfurt
    Saxonia Paper, Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig
    2010 To hell with good intentions, Galerie Maurer, Frankfurt/Main
    Fröhliche Gesellschaft, Galerie Parrotta, Stuttgart
    2009 Close the Gap, city gallery Speyer & art association Paffenhofen
    Stoffe der Eitelkeit, Parrotta Contemporary Art, Stuttgart
    2008 Vertrautes Terrain – Contemporary Art in/about Germany, ZKM Karsruhe
    Drawcula, Galerie Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Close the Gap, city gallery Kiel
    Schwanger auf St Pauli, Galerie Hafen+Rand, Hamburg
    Standards of Living, art association Leipzig
    Meisterklasse Timm Rautert und Gäste 2006-2008, Hall 12, Spinnerei, Leipzig
    2007 Zeig mir deinen Katalog, du Schwein!, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Standards of Living, Hinterkonti, Hamburg
    Ohne Schatten, Galerie Eigen+Art, Leipzig
    Wasser! Fort! Au! Hilfe! Schön! Nicht!, Galerie Hafen+Rand, Hamburg
    New Talents, Art Cologne, Cologne
    Blaue Blume, ÉNBA de Lyon, Lyon
    2005 Cold Hearts, Gallery Kleindienst, Leipzig
    Cold Hearts, Artists from Leipzig, Arario Gallery Seoul
    Cold Hearts, art association Radolfzell
    2004 Cold Hearts, Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich


  • 2011 Studio Grant of the Hessischen Kulturstiftung, London


  • 2010 Carsten Tabel, I'm not on fire, selected texts 2006-2010