Chaostrophy by Coil

From 17 June to 24 July, a new Berlin gallery Ludwig hosts an exhibition entitled “Chaostrophy” that consists of artworks inspired by music and history of the band Coil. We have asked a project curator Ceven Knowles some questions.


The music of Coil spanned over twenty-two years with fifteen studio albums, nine live albums, ten compilations, and dozens of Eps and singles, not to mention different aliases, side projects, and other collaborations. Founding members, John Balance (February 16, 1962 – November 13, 2004) and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (February 27, 1955 – November 10, 2010) created a rich body of work that came to also include members: Stephen Thrower, Drew McDowell, William Breeze, Thighpaulsandra, Ossian Brown and countless other guest musicians and singers. Their ever-evolving sound and presence became a legacy deeply respected by artists, musicians, and occultists around the world. Rather than a retrospective of the band’s output this exhibition focuses on original visual and audio artworks, photographs, texts, performances and personal reflections as a tribute, featuring contributions from 38 artists from around the world; some who knew members of the band and others who were inspired by their work.

Ceven Knowles is a Berlin-based video artist and music video director. He was born and raised in the United States and moved to Berlin in 2004 eventually giving up his citizenship becoming a naturalised German. He’s worked with musicians such as Billie Ray Martin, Lesley Rankine, and Princess Superstar as well as shown works in museums and festivals around the world. He is currently with his partner Maurus Knowles opening LUDWIG, art gallery, small event venue and bar and taking up curatorial duties.


When did you discovered for yourself the music of Coil? How old were you? What kind of music did you listen? Why did it stir you?

I discovered the music of Coil as a teenager in the early 1990’s while in art school. At the time I was already a fan of the Chicago industrial label, WAXTRAX! and through friends came to learn a greater scope of modern experimental music that wasn’t so easily found in America, unless one knew a good person at the record shop. The first album I heard was “Horse Rotivator” and it touched me in how it was mercilessly creative music without falling into usual industrial clichés. I obtained a tape cassette and played it over and over while I painted until it died. It was beautiful and dark but mostly well arranged and brilliant. Today I can see in my video work a bit of where my interests originated from: consciousness, spirituality, nature, abstraction, psychedelia.

Was your perception of their work changing with the course of time? Could you name your favourite tracks and albums?

I looked forward to every release and was at times challenged but think it is the nature of their work; to not repeat one’s self artistically but instead continuously confront what has already been made. This idea played a major role in how I developed my own creative language. Every album is a microcosm and each is special when listening to them in succession. My own personal favourites are Horse Rotivator, Stolen and Contaminated, Music to Play in the Dark I & II, Worship the Glitch, and Ape of Naples – how they remade their own track Teenage Lightning in that album was supurb.

In the 80-es listening to Coil meant belonging to the underground culture, protesting against the heterosexual discourse prevailing in the politics and culture. Today when the world became homosexual this rebellious aspect of their creative work disappeared. Many of their sound innovations were absorbed by pop music and after that they stopped being new and original. Why Coil could be interesting to contemporary youngsters, who have completely lost links with the underground culture and prefer becoming a part of the main stream culture as soon as possible?

Coil’s music is timeless and that is a rare quality for a band, anyone regardless of age who is sensitive enough can pick up on that. There were many people in my youth who had never heard of Coil much less knew anything about underground cultures but I didn’t bother myself wondering why. There will always be a counter culture to the mainstream one of any time. People who like quality will find their way to it. As far as rebelliousness protesting the heterosexual discourse, it’s still happening. Compared to the entire world only a handful of nations protect against discrimination, young people are being beaten and murdered every day by peers, family, religious leaders, and even governments because of views on sexuality, that fight is far from over. It’s one of many kinds of injustice in the world.

How did you get the idea of the exhibition? Why did you choose Berlin and this exhibition space?

I have lived in Berlin for 12 years, the gallery LUDWIG is something I built from the ground up with my partner. It is meant to be a place where art and social engagement coexist together on equal terms and is well fitted for many types of media especially video, which is a deeply underestimated art form. This exhibition will be our first because it seemed suiting to pay tribute to people who helped inspire my own creative evolution as I step into curator shoes.

What exactly will we see there, how was the list of participants formed?

One would see paintings, drawings, collage, prints, a book, video art, performances, photography, and hear original music and audio recordings from people who knew the band personally. It’s about history and also the inspiration it gave many others. We have a large space and it will be filled with works.

Why didn’t you invite to participate people from Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, China? Probably, Coil fans from these lands could have some interesting documents and stories connected with their liking for the work of the group?

It was most certainly my intention to have as many people from as many places show their work in the exhibition. I invited the world and worked out from there what best suited the show, there are 38 artists so far and a couple surprises coming. There is an artist from Taiwan, another who originates from Brazil, another comes from Japan but lives in London, another from Mexico. and two people from Russia and there was also a submission from Iran. This exhibition is for everyone and living in Europe doesn’t necessarily dictate where someone originates from. The call for artists was open for everyone no matter where they were. This is essential to the philosophy of LUDWIG, all are welcome here.

Will it be possible to see the exhibition in any other places?

Over the course of the exhibition I will release video documentaries about the artists and their works as well as live stream special events so that people who cannot be in Berlin can experience what we’ve done. The exhibition itself will take place only once here at LUDWIG in Berlin. Anyone else is welcome to make their own Coil exhibition, keep the motion going forward.

Anna Ceeh/Valera Krasnagir

Special thanks to Julija Shedzko and Rustam Batyrau.

LUDWIG, Anzengruberstr. 3, 12043 Berlin, Germany






June 14, 2016

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