Issue #45, 2014
Scene

Dissent And Certainty
Gerardo Montes de Oca Valadez

Sezgin Boynik, Mihaela Brebenel & Vlad Morariu, Fokus Grupa, Freee Art Collective, Petra Gerschner, Cathleen Schuster & Marcel Dickhage

Concluding exhibition curated by Andrei Siclodi

12 June – 26 July 2014, Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen – Kunstpavillion Innsbruck

 

Our place in the world, as individuals and members of a society, requires a series of constant negotiations and agreements. Not everything has to and can be agreed homogeneously, and many aspects of our lives remain uncertain and open while other aspects necessitate a clear determination and certainty. This term, certainty, refers to that which is certain, determined. A previous variant of cernere: to distinguish, to decide, and also to shift, to separate. In other words, to be certain implies a shift. On the other hand, dissent means to differ in sentiments, to feel and think differently – dis-sentire – and it is complemented by the conjunction than (different than). Hence, differences are inherently relational, as dissent itself is. Dissent and certainty complement each other. Such dialectics are taken into consideration in the curatorial work made by Andrei Siclodi, nevertheless he decidedly goes beyond these continuous processes and uses the notions of dissent and certainty rather as dynamic concepts that characterise the “schizophrenic mood“ of today’s hegemonic construction of reality that works in the logics of the market.

The multilayered and intersectional exhibition is the outcome of the International Fellowship Program for Art and Theory in Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen 2013–2014, a platform of research and production in the format of an artistic and theoretical residency. In this occasion the different participants met and engaged in critical debates and exchange of ideas regarding their fields of investigation, topics of interest, artistic approaches and methods. Within this frame and in addition to the five fellowship holders, two more contributions are integrated in the exhibition by Vlad Morariu, who invited Fokus Grupa and Freee Art Collective. This open and fertile platform and approach allowed the emergence of the exhibition’s theme and display, respecting the participant’s concerns and the way these singularities met. The result is a diverse constellation conformed by artists, curators, researchers, writers and theoreticians.

The exhibition contains diverse materials as video, drawings, photography, found objects and text. It is conceptually complex, it addresses quite a few manifold topics that are indeed relevant both in the current context of global political and economic discontent and in the field of institutional critique. Some of the addressed topics are market speculation; social injustice, protest, uprising and state control; forms of representation and power relations; critical and alternative historiographic practices; theory and praxis dialectics; forms of institutional critique; art and activism. This complexity is not immediately evident in the light, airy and even welcoming formality of the general display. Nonetheless, the visitor will soon find her self confronted and bewildered. Neoliberal ideological contradictions and tensions are powerfully addressed in the works together with theoretical reflexions on representation, conceptual art and institutional critique.

Right after stepping in the Kunstpavillion Innsbruck the spectator is before a very spacious and tidy white space. From this point the visitor sees the first and second adjoined rooms filled with natural light coming from the wide skylight of the building. In the first room the natural light coming in illuminates Fokus Grupa’s series of drawings reproduced on prints and mounted on the skylight itself. This ceiling’s structure draws a grid of translucent cells where the installation I Sing to Pass Time (II) is mounted. The 19 drawings are about actions and social movements from western European, US American and former Yugoslavian artists from the 1920s to the 1980s, struggles aimed to enhance their own living and working conditions. The artists alter the common historical use of ceilings dedicated for frescos representing dominant views and aspirations. Unlike those ceilings that cover and separate, the skylight in the Kunstpavillion is in turn a more fragile and translucent layer. Therefore the installation does not cover or separate, instead it opens and connects the institution with some exterior and non-human elements – especially the natural light and accumulated dust on the windows –, let them interplay with the images of past citizen struggles. This way the work underlines the necessity to rethink the limits of the institution and how the external, non institutional and non-human elements can shed light on our comprehension and re-writing of counter hegemonic history.

The chosen media, drawings, beautifully address to the craftsmanship and care many times necessary in social change and actions – like in network and community building. By doing so, aestheticizing politics, they re-politicize political images and, most importantly, political imagery. This aspect, together with the fact that the images are not of common knowledge, allows the audience to relate to them in a rather open way less dependant to given forms of representation and identification. And if we follow Beuys’ statement, then everyone, not only the artists, has the potential to question and re-draw, re-signify history. It translates in: every man and woman is (at least potentially) a social agent.

Underneath this installation, right in front of the viewer, Petra Gerschner’s work The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons makes immediate reference to Karl Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right where he discusses the material power of ideas when theory is embraced by the masses. This piece is a comment on the Tyrol Panorama Museum in Innsbruck, particularly to the section “Myths of Tyrol“ that is conformed by a series of small sculptures placed in high pedestals (about 2.25 m high) representing male protagonists of Austria’s so called Great War against Napoleon in the early 19th century. Together with those dominant figures – military, religious and opposition leaders –, the anonymous masses, women and other minorities are identified as the “unknown“ (i. e. “unknown women“) by empty pedestals and a mention on a floor plaque. Gerschner resizes the pedestal, making it shorter and more accessible to people. Then she “fills“ the absence with a sett (the more modern and square version of a cobblestone) which is hand-glided with the same kind of gold leaf used in some of the buildings in Innsbruck as part of their decoration (commonly used in many dominant cultures). It is of common knowledge that setts are often used by demonstrators against the armed official oppression when the events turn violent.

By doing this the artist addresses to the dominant writing of history and the politics of identity linking the local and the global. She does not bring presence by means of conventional representation, but by pointing to the increasing institutional absorption of civic resistance in cultural policies and institutions. Certain tension, some sort of gravitational force emerges when the viewer approaches the rock. Is it a potential call for a potential action? Is it a subtle invitation to take it and to embody action, to mobilize such stillness beyond the institution?

Calls for actions and opinion-formation are some of the main topics addressed by Freee Art Collective, bringing the exhibition literally out of the Kunstpavillion. They make use of a 24-sheet commercial billboard – in a street in Innsbruck near Tyrol Panorama Museum – with a photography of 7 people holding upside-down a large textile that reads Protest Drives History (shot in Stockholm). But the large photograph mounted on the billboard is turn also upside-down so the slogan reads properly. Their work brings together collective action, body and language in a context where the borders of the private, the public and the market meet and vanish. The upside down background of the image in contrast to the right side up text create a strange tension between content and context, crucial interplay in the process of opinion-formation in the collective and political realms.

Alongside with content and context the concept of framework plays an important role in Vlad Morariu’s theoretical research. His work Parerga: The Politics of Framing in the Current Discourse of Institutional Critique borrows Derrida’s concept – parergon – to directly deal with the complexities of framing and the borders between institutions, fields and practices. Morariu proposes to think of political art as a space in-between and at the same time working both inside and outside the institution. This ideas are clearly shown in his collaborative work with Mihaela Brebenel. Their participation was strongly determined by an event form last year, when they found a large amount of photographic slides in twenty bags outside Goldsmiths Library in London thrown in trash containers. For their joint participation in the Kunstpavillion they chose to project, in the second room, the slide labelled La porte-voix rouge des masses/Agitprop Theatre, Germany, 1920s, a drawing representing a demonstration of the Arbeiter Theaterbund Deutschlands (ATBD) – bringing a direct relation to the other art works already mentioned.

Such finding and recuperation points to the questions of who has the right to decide what political images are valuable, which are not and what the criteria is. Ironically, by the time I saw the exhibition the slide itself had already lost much of its ink and the projected image was slowly disappearing, as if the precarity embedded in today’s capitalism had the power to affect and hide its own representations and forms displayed in the institutions.

For its part, Sezgin Boynik contributes to these reflections from another angle that strongly resembles Art & Language Group, especially in the theoretical and conceptual approach and textual formality. In his work On Contradiction Boynik makes use of the first room presenting five diagrams on gridded papers of a kind used in mathematics and hard sciences. Each of these diagrams is accompanied by a white paper full of handwritten text where the artist seems to carry very intense dialogues and debates on the ideas and models of five different theoreticians – Niklas Luhmann, Alain Badiou, Mel Ramsden from Art & Language Group, Darko Suvin and Rastko Močnik. A large number of ideas is intricately-woven in those five sheets of paper, generating a feeling of inaccessibility that contrasts with the very tidy and quite geometrical diagrams. Underneath those papers Boynik installed a table with a longer diagram that resembles those visualising statistical information in two vectors. A series of phrases in English and other different Central and Eastern European languages – with no translation – are indexed and linked. The reflexions revolve around the concepts of ideology, self-administration, class warfare and relation between subject and State.

The combination of sentences in other languages rendered with no translation as well as the citation of not so know Eastern European theoreticians bravely points to the quotas of power and their visibility or invisibility within the production and distribution of knowledge. A question that dominates the work is the possibility for contradictions in political formations and theoretical frameworks to find aesthetic forms. The work provides an overview into a thinker’s thoughts and, together with Fokus Grupa’s drawings and Petra Gerschner’s sett, generate a very interesting gesture on the relation between theory, praxis and political agency.

These intersections lead back to the materiliaty of protest, dealt in detail in Gerschner’s work Politics of the Public Body, found in already mentioned second room. This installation is an open invitation to take a critical side against hegemony. On the ground lies a red carpet like the ones placed in gala’s openings and celebrations. It reads the slogan “Join the winning side smash capitalism“. In front of it a screen plays a video of several massive demonstrations (of Brazil, Turkey and Germany) showing police confrontations, public assemblies and moments of festive protest. On a wall next to the carpet a series of small photographies closely framing riot police techniques implemented in real demonstrations to individuals.

The carpet invites in a festive tone, the photos document the individual physical control and the video shows the potential of collective presence and its power to confront the police oppression. Here the performativity of resistance and protest meet the performativity of police and state control. In this work Gerschner addresses to bodily dimensions of action and the power and effect of public protest. It is directly related to what Judith Butler, borrowing Arendt’s concept, sharply discusses: the spaces of appearance, spaces generated in plural demonstrations, in speech and actions of women and men together claiming the right to have rights while at the same time questioning the legitimacy of state power by means of bodily presence and permanence.1 Such right and permanence is directly depicted by her piece from the series History Is a Work in Progress, a photography of a street stencil shows two women wearing burkas kissing each other tenderly.

Such intimate presence reminds us that even when life itself is highly contingent, it is indeed a continuous human made “yet-to“ reality. Mere contemplation became “not enough“ in certain geographies at some point of history, and such act of looking at reality started to be unpriced. Hence, speculation, the act of looking at and considering things, was incorporated into the market system during the 1770s. It became a capitalist strategy, meaning “buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall of market value“. The schizophrenic logics of the market started to evolve alongside with the establishment of the financial institutions and legal reforms that support them. A long history of unbridled speculative and predatory financing practices, of domination and exploitation that continues up until now. Risking “everything“ became a norm, even more at the expense of others’ lives. These issues are what Cathleen Schuster & Marcel Dickhage re-enact and fictio-document in their two videos Layers and Money and Trade Considered. The first one, installed on a screen on the second room, is inspired by John Law’s “Money and Trade Considered with the Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money“, published in 1705. It addresses the financial bubbles generated by Law’s ideas implemented in France back then and its consequences, performed in a theatrical form recreating Law’s Europe and epoch. The second piece also makes evident the built up and staged qualities of the scenarios and dialogues but in a more updated TV setting, establishing a direct connection with today’s mediated personal struggles. In turn, this work’s title refers to a speculation method used to create financial bubbles nowadays.

The two pieces come along with their respective film scripts. The spectator will be captured and confused by a complex series of multilayered dialogues. These scripts are full of intertextual references from diverse sources. To get a clearer idea of what the issues addressed are and the intention of the artists, the visitor would have to take those publications with her and invest – ironically, a term highly referential to market – time, effort and perhaps some research. It is totally worth it. The works contain a vast number of references, providing very interesting connections and reflections relevant for today’s state of affairs regarding the endless contradictions of speculation embedded in our everyday lives.

It is clear that each participant of the fellowship programme brings to the group exhibition different concerns and interests that demand serious reflections on how life is directed by contradictory and predatory logics. For a moment it might not be easy to trace and follow the many layers of ideas discussed by the artists in the residency and the way they can be articulated. Nevertheless, this is also one of its fortitudes. The exhibition touches, whispers and provokes. At moments it confuses the spectator in a way that question last and come back in her thoughts. The exhibition remains present and demands a further active investigation and, perhaps, a positioning.

Note:

1. ‑See Judith Butler, Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street. Cf. http://eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en/ (last accessed 20 October 2014).