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Mentalgassi - The Faces Around Us

Words:

Edd Norval
April 22, 2022

Mentalgassi’s many faces rely on a kind of site-specific adaptation. Depending on what the image is, the site will enhance certain aspects of each of their photographs. In some, there is a surreal humour, in others, a far more emotionally impactful and harrowing intervention arises. In both, they catch your eye.

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The German trio, known for their witty application of photography and whose work often draws comparisons with France’s JR, are actually quite ideologically different. Mentalgassi’s work exists out in the wild - only. It’s a complete expression of urban life, a part of the environment that can just blend in or completely stand out, understood only when viewed in-situ.


Embracing their whimsical appeal, the trio have at one time viewed their way of working as a kind of ‘urban entertainment’, staged in such dramatic ways so as to snap people out of their daily routine, hopefully provoking a smile in the process. Working together since school, the trio know each other well, contributing to a uniform voice of ‘the artist’, a vision and aesthetic language of pure continuity.

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Using photography and image manipulation, Mentalgassi’s work comes alive when interacted with. First taking their photographs, manipulating the shape and dimensions and then pasting them on their chosen surface, they see the city as a place ripe for transformation. Coming from Berlin themselves, they have been exposed, for a long time, to a city that is entirely unimaginable without its vibrant art scene. If anything, you could even argue that the German capital is defined by its street art.


On their city, the group said, “Berliners are either very interested in our work, or couldn’t care less about it.” This is a luxury, they understand, that few other cities would grant them. The strange and wacky characteristic of their work, its unexpected appearances in the most random of locations, is right at home with the general spirit and ethos of Berlin. 


How they interact with the city is likewise important, the trio taking pride in identifying locations that would otherwise be drab, and turning them into something far more magical, “Since we are doing our work outside like many other street artists do as well, there are less and less things in our urban environment that you would call ugly and just ignore them, but a lot of things that have not yet been transformed into something special and beautiful.”

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Picking everyday items like bins, telephone boxes, ticket machines and other ‘things’ besides buildings, makes their work feel a part of the city, three-dimensional and dynamic, a way to tart up stadtmöbel or ‘street furniture’ for the 'head in the phone' generation. The ultimate goal is to cause ‘breaks’ in the routine. Minute disruptions. By making menial and thoughtless tasks have some character, it snaps people back into existence, giving a new perspective to their day and the city they call home (or are visiting).


Believing wholly that they can be a part of something positive, it is this goodwill that pushes Mentalgassi - named so for the process of ‘taking their mind for a stroll’ - to continue with their work. Nonetheless, they’re also fully aware of the impact that their work has and, through a collaboration with Amnesty International, could use the urban environment as a kind of guerilla activist space to make their work's unique appeal take on a more emotionally profound dimension.


The modus operandi is the same. So is the message. Use their manipulated images in creative ways for good. We can’t complain about that. If anything, we encourage it.

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