Shifting Spaces. Wu Tsang Premieres the Trilogy „Composition“ in Zurich


I. To speak of a declaration of war would be exaggerated, but it is already a challenge. Wu Tsang, one of the hippest performance and video artists the nervous art scene currently has to offer, is celebrating her first Zurich theater premiere this evening in the former city barracks on behalf of the Schauspielhaus’s new management duo, Nicolas Stemann and Benjamin von Blomberg. Composition I , the prelude to a trilogy, at this location: this offers explosives in two ways.

Let us begin with the location: After the traumatic experiences of the so-called Zurich putsch in 1831, the bourgeois city government had the extensive barracks area built as a demonstrative sign of their will to power and order. Strategically located, it separated the bourgeois palaces built in the second half of the 19th century around Bahnhofstrasse from the westward expanding workers‘ quarters in Aussersihl. While today the city police are still housed in the run-down main building on the banks of the Sihl, the independent cultural scene began decades ago to settle in the former armoury buildings, including a well-equipped theatre hall.

II. Wu Tsang and free scene, at first glance this seems to fit, „this matches.“ The shooting star has his artistic roots in the underground scene, the drag, queer and LGBT milieu of the West Coast of the USA, Los Angeles. The party mile Langstrasse with remaining islands for the gay and trans communities is in the immediate vicinity of the Zeughaus. What could be more natural than to accommodate Wu Tsang in the barracks arena instead of in the in-house, similarly dimensioned shipbuilding box? In choosing the performance venue, Stemann and von Blomberg cleverly use the expectations of their audience to make their concept of a theatre that transcends formats appeal to the mainstream – although the question must be allowed whether the location represents much more than an atmospheric space for marketing

But just a stone’s throw away from Wu Tsang’s performance venue on the other side of the Sihl are the former training horse and cavalry stables of the Gessnerallee, which also belong to the barracks area and are home to the Zurich Theaterhaus, which is responsible for guest performances. The Schauspielhaus, once the bourgeois hoard of the „good, true, beautiful“, with Stemann/ von Blomberg, both of whom have their roots in the independent scene, is now moving dangerously close to this, both spatially and aesthetically. The core business of the Theaterhaus in der Gessner is to provide a stage for experimental formats, hybrid performance forms and ensembles. Would it not have been their task to give Wu Tsang a home? Now it is the Schauspielhaus. Are productive synenergies emerging here? Or is a fight for displacement beginning?

Ultimately, however, it is an even more fundamental tension that becomes virulent through Wu Tsang’s work at the Schauspielhaus: the conflict between theatre and art. It is as old as the arts themselves, allowed the performing and visual arts to differentiate themselves from one another in the 18th century, and led to the institutionalization of museums on the one hand and stage houses on the other in the 19th century. Although the avant-garde of the 20th century made an offensive effort to undermine the separation of the genres Dada, agit-prop, happening and performance were established on pub stages, in galleries and in art associations or took to the streets immediately. But the persistence of museums and theatres has remained great to this day. Perhaps one day a mainstream artist such as Neo Rauch or Gerhard Richter will be hired for a stage design, but their commitment remains decoration. The theater has never really wanted to get involved in the working and reception forms of contemporary art – just as guests from this field are not familiar with the laws of the theater. Similarly helplessly, the institution of the museum usually acts with performative art.

The declaration of war of the Schauspielhaus on the Gessnerallee and the independent scene is therefore not only „what you can do, we can do better,“ but also „we succeed in dissolving the boundaries between genres, genres, institutions in the long term. The explosive charge of visual art is thus not only placed on the traditional distinction between high and low, Schauspielhaus and Gessnerallee, but also on the institution of the theatre, with its production processes, performance conventions and reception rites.

III. Who’s Wu Tsang? What does she stand for, what can we expect from her? In Zurich she is no longer an unknown. In 2014, the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, together with the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, organized a survey exhibition entitled Not in my Language, the first ever. Here a touchingly beautiful work was on display that told with empathy and wit, documentary and fictional at the same time, about lives and dreams on the fringes of US society. The viewer found himself right in the middle and outside, attracted and distanced by a migrant-dominated trans-scene, which in a conflict-laden game both sketches and acts out identity, gender and origin, as well as offensively carries them into the public eye.

With the semi-documentary film Wildness (2012), the then thirty-year-old Wu Tsang achieved an early breakthrough. She shot it in the gay club „Silver Platter“ in Los Angeles, founded in 1963, with members of the Hispanic LGBT scene and artists from her circle of acquaintances and friends. The underground club culture is the nucleus of her performative work. It ranges from party organization, casting, acting, camera and directing to being an activist for the gay community and trans women. The fact that the artist’s path there must have been arduous and conflict-laden only indirectly becomes a theme in her films when she raises the question of identity, voice, language, gaze regimes and public visibility. Even when she appears as an actress, she withdraws, and her person recedes behind the representation. For her, too, the mask is the possibility of simultaneously showing herself and concealing herself.

IV. Portrait of an Artist. Wu Tsang was born as a boy in 1982 in Worcester, Massachusetts, 50 miles from Boston, in the US-American East Coast Province. His mother, half American, half Swedish, his father, a Chinese who immigrated illegally to the USA. The question of recognition and affiliation, identity and destiny was raised with the awareness of having been born in the wrong body, once again shocking and radical. To redesign oneself in an artist’s existence may have been an existential necessity. After graduating from college, Wu Tsang went to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and continued her studies at the Interdisciplinary Studio of the University of California, Los Angeles. Founded in 1997, the studio had left behind the deadlocked paths of academic art education and offered a disciplinary cross-over from painting to performance and activist practices. The program also included an exploration of classical theater forms. Wu Tsang first tried her hand as a video filmmaker and performer. It was only with another overview show in 2019, There is no Nonvoilent Way to Look at Somebody in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, which ended two weeks ago, that she showed not only video works and photographs, but also sculptural works such as the labeled glass steles Sustained Glass (2019) or the crystal chains, Untitled (Incommunicado) (2019). Finally, the record player Sudden Rise (Dub. 1) (2019), referred to another step in her work, the step into the illusion machine of the theatre.

V. Sudden Rise is Wu Tsang’s first work that confronts the classical conditions of the theater. From her collective Moved by Motion, which had emerged over the years through her performance and video works, a theatre ensemble was formed with the performer Boychild, the chellist Patrick Belaga, the dancer Josh Johnson, the sound artist Asma Maroof and the author Fred Moten. The one-hour piece was premiered in May 2019 in Athens. It toured on to the HAU in Berlin, and then concluded with a celebrated Swiss premiere at the Pfauen in Zurich as part of the new director’s opening ceremony. „Tout Zurich“ sat in the stalls, and rarely before have the separate scenes of the theatre-goer celebrities and Art Basel VIPs met at par.

But the high expectations of the audience could only be partially fulfilled. The intended magic of the evening only shone in a few places, for example in the grace of the performers and the refusal of common beauty, which also hit the core of the performance. What remained was a somnambulistic series of images, a collage of moving, caravaggesquely lit bodies in floor-length shirts, video recordings reminiscent of the American video artist Bill Viola, underscored by a trance-like sound of cello and electronic music. The fact that theatrical presence means more than moving images plus music did not really come into play in Sudden Rise. The texts recorded live by Wu Tsang did not change this as a third moment. More than fulfilling the rules of the business grosso modo was not the case.

Will this change tonight with Composition I in the barracks? Yes. If a dramaturgy and trades and not least the entire ensemble are at her side to enable her troupe to reach the creative heights that are known from other contexts. Wu Tsang is just beginning with Moved in Motion in Zurich. A trilogy and a film are planned, which are to be created by summer 2020. There is still plenty of time to get to know each other.


Abbildungen: oben, Wu Tsang, One emerging from a point of view, 2019
Überlappende Zweikanal-Projektionen, 5.1 Surround Sound
43 Min.; unten, Wu Tsang, One emerging from a point of view, 2019 überlappende Zweikanal-Projektionen, 5.1 Surround Sound, 43 Min. Courtesy:
die Künstlerin; Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi; Cabinet & Antenna Space

Text: Max Glauner

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The Cheshire Cat – A Ghost Story Told for Joan Jonas

Once I’ve been up in the mountains. A litte Village taped to the steep slopes. Late in the 1930ties a serpentine road was built to reach the place not only by dunkeys and mules. Nowadays? It became an expanding location for too well-off urban dwellers, a faked world for winter sports and apres-ski amusement in tasteless settings.

Bildschirmfoto 2020-02-02 um 13.02.32

In the last remains of the old village outside of a wooden barn I mentioned a cat. It was the Cheshire Cat. She began to talk: „Don’t miss the church!“ she said and disapeared.

Bildschirmfoto 2020-02-02 um 13.52.06

And I went to the church. Inside the sun came through the small windows and threw its fairy light saturated with colour on a wooden bar and the church’s floor playing for a moment in eternity. I thought: „Thanks cat! What a beauty!“

Bildschirmfoto 2020-02-02 um 13.42.20

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Avec le temps – Léo-Ferré. Ein Übersetzungsversuch

Avec le temps

Avec le temps
Avec le temps va tout s’en va
On oublie le visage et l’on oublie la voix
Le cœur quand ça bat plus
C’est pas la peine d’aller chercher plus loin
Faut laisser faire et c’est très bien
Avec le temps
Avec le temps va tout s’en va
L’autre qu’on adorait, qu’on cherchait sous la pluie
L’autre qu’on devinait au détour d’un regard
Entre les mots, entre les lignes et sous le fard
D’un serment maquillé qui s’en va faire sa nuit
Avec le temps tout s’évanouit
Avec le temps
Avec le temps va tout s’en va
Même les plus chouettes souvenirs ça t’as une de ces gueules
À la Galerie j’farfouille dans les rayons d’la mort
Le samedi soir quand la tendresse s’en va toute seule
Avec le temps
Avec le temps va tout s’en va
L’autre à qui l’on croyait pour un rhume pour un rien
L’autre à qui l’on donnait du vent et des bijoux
Pour qui l’on eût vendu son âme pour quelques sous
Devant quoi l’on s’traînait comme traînent les chiens
Avec le temps va tout va bien
Avec le temps
Avec le temps va tout s’en va
On oublie les passions et l’on oublie les voix
Qui vous disaient tout bas les mots des pauvres gens
Ne rentre pas trop tard surtout ne prend pas froid
Avec le temps
Avec le temps va tout s’en va
Et l’on se sent blanchi comme un cheval fourbu
Et l’on se sent glacé dans un lit de hasard
Et l’on se sent tout seul peut-être mais peinard
Et l’on se sent floué par les années perdues
Alors vraiment
Avec le temps on n’aime plus
Mit der Zeit

Mit der Zeit geht, alles geht

Man vergisst das Gesicht und vergisst den Klang der Stimme,

Auch das Herz, wenn es innehält.

Dem Schmerz spüren wir nicht mehr nach.

Wir brauchen nur loszulassen, und alles ist gut.

Mit der Zeit

Mit der Zeit geht, alles geht.

Der Andere, den wir liebten, den wir im Regen suchten,

Der Andere, den wir in einander erkannten.

Zwischen den Wörtern, zwischen den Zeilen und unter dem Erröten

Eines Versöhnungsschwur, der in die Nacht verschwand.

Mit der Zeit verblasst alles.

Mit der Zeit

Mit der Zeit geht, alles geht.

Selbst die feinen, heimlichzarten Erinnerungen werden von ihr erfasst,

Ringe ich mit den letzten Todesstrahlen um ihre Bilder,

Wenn die letzte Samstagabendzärtlichkeit sich entzieht.

Mit der Zeit

Mit der Zeit geht, geht alles

Der Andere, dem wir jede Erkältung umstandslos abnahmen,

Der Andere, dem wir Wind und Geschmeide zu Füssen legten,

Für den man für ein paar Groschen die Seele verkaufte,

Vor dem man selbst noch bereit war, wie ein Hund daherzukriechen.

Mit der Zeit wird alles gut.

Mit der Zeit

Mit der Zeit geht, geht alles.

Man vergisst die Leidenschaften und vergisst den Klang der Stimme.

Wer hat Dir die Worte der armen Leute eingeflüstert

«Komm’ nicht zu spät nach Haus, erkälte Dich nicht!.»

Mit der Zeit

Mit der Zeit geht alles, alles geht

Und man fühlt sich ergraut wie ein verbrauchter Gaul.

Und man fühlt sich erstarrt im Bett, das einem der Zufall gezimmert hat.

Und man fühlt sich vielleicht einsam, aber zufrieden

Und man fühlt sich um der verlorenen Jahre betrogen.

So ist es,

Mit der Zeit ist die Liebe verflogen!

Zürich, 29.01.2020, Übersetzung Max Glauner
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Vogels Perspektive. Raphaela Vogel im Kunsthaus Bregenz

Die Zeit der unverrückbaren Wahrheiten ist vorbei: Junge Künstlerinnen leben eine neue Ästhetik des Feminismus. Zum Beispiel Raphaela Vogel mit ihrer faszinierenden Werkschau im Kunsthaus Bregenz.

IMG_7731.JPGDas Foto besitzt Charme: Ein weisser, adrett geschorener Königs­pudel sitzt im Schulter­profil mit erwartungsvoll erhobenem Kopf vor einem Herbstlaub­hintergrund. Er apportiert. Aber ach, die Szene kippt. In seiner Schnauze hält er seinem Frauchen respektive Herrchen ausserhalb des Bildes kein Stöckchen, sondern eine gebrauchte Damen­binde entgegen.

Das doppelsinnige Foto zierte vor einem Jahr die Rückseite des bekanntesten Gratis­führers der Berliner Kunstszene. Er war zwei Monate in jeder Galerie der deutschen Hauptstadt ausgelegt. Auch auf der Vorderseite war ein weisser Pudel abgebildet, munter auf einer grünen Wiese tollend, mit Kuh im Hintergrund. Ein unverdächtig-triviales Bild, auf das sich jedoch das Peinliche, Irritierende des Hundes mit Binde auf der Rückseite unweigerlich übertrug.

Die Fotos sind Arbeiten der jungen Künstlerin Raphaela Vogel, geboren 1988 in Nürnberg, zu ihr gehört auch der putzige Pudel, der auf den Namen Rollo hört. Dass auch der treue Gefährte Effi Briests in Fontanes proto­emanzipatorischem Roman so heisst, erfuhr die Wahl­berlinerin erst, nachdem sie ihn so genannt hatte.

Es würde aber zu kurz greifen, die beiden Fotos als eine aus der Hüfte geschossene Provokation abzutun. Rollo spielt nicht nur auf die abertausendmal im Netz geteilten Katzen- und Hunde­fotos an, wobei er deren Kuschel­effekt cool unterläuft. Der Bildausschnitt und die Habacht­stellung verleihen dem ständigen Begleiter der Künstlerin auch eine emblematische Wappentier-Qualität. Er steht für Vogels durchtriebenes Spiel von Nähe und Abstossung, von Gabe und Entzug, gefühligem Pathos und kalkuliertem Minimalismus. Er steht symbolisch für die tabulose Entspanntheit ihrer künstlerischen Interventionen. Und für die Arbeits­weise einer neuen Generation von medien­affinen, weder der Radikalität noch der Ironie abgeneigten Postfeministinnen.


Ein Paukenschlag

Die Inszenierung Rollos als heraldische Kreatur erzeugt ein Echo zu Vogels erster spektakulären Arbeit «In festen Händen», 2016. In der Motoren­halle, dem Ausstellungs­raum des Dresdner Kultur­zentrums Riesa Efau, hängte sie zwei identische Bronze­löwen an den Hinter­beinen befestigt kopfunter an die Decke. Sie hatte sie auf einem verwahrlosten Lagerplatz entdeckt und dem Besitzer abgekauft. Statt sie als objets trouvés wieder fest auf den Boden zu platzieren, schwebten die beiden Monumental­skulpturen als vertikales Spiegel­bild knapp einen halben Meter über dem Boden, sodass die beiden Stand­platten sich touchierten. Die realistischen Bildhauer­werke aus dem 19. Jahr­hundert, naturnah, einschüchternd, dramatisch, waren gründlich aus dem Gleich­gewicht gebracht worden. Wie der apportierende Rollo wurden sie in ihren ikono­grafischen Zuschreibungen – hier die maskuline Stärke, die Virilität, die Macht – konterkariert. Dieses Werk ist ein echter Pauken­schlag. Kaum eine zweite Arbeit der letzten Jahre inszeniert Selbst­bewusstsein und Ambiguität einer Künstlerin derart überzeugend.

Die Löwen sind jetzt wieder im Rahmen von «Bellend bin ich aufgewacht» (wieder tönt Rollo im Hinter­grund), einer grossen Werkschau Raphaela Vogels im Bregenzer Kunsthaus, zu sehen. Allein diese aberwitzige Installation ist es wert, an den österreichischen Bodensee zu reisen. In Dresden war «In festen Händen» ideal platziert: Die Bronze­löwen hingen an einem Laufkran mitten in einer Industrie­halle. Damals schien es kaum vorstellbar, dass sie an einem anderen Ort solche Wucht entfalten könnten, lag ein zusätzlicher Reiz doch darin, dass der eiserne Kran­balken mit dem Gewicht der Skulpturen an die Grenzen seiner Belastbarkeit zu kommen schien. Zudem stand die nüchterne Zweck­architektur der Industrie­halle im kruden Gegensatz zum dramatisierten Realismus der Tiere, die anmuteten wie zur Schlachtung bereite Grosswildjagd-Trophäen.

Anders in Bregenz. Die Installation empfängt die Besucherin, den Besucher bereits im ersten Ausstellungs­saal im Erdgeschoss. Sie vermittelt auch hier den Eindruck, sie sei nur für diesen einen Raum des Kunsthaus­architekten Peter Zumthor geschaffen worden: Der Saal scheint zu sich selbst gekommen zu sein, atmet nahezu sakrale Ruhe. Die anfangs nur diffus zu erkennende Installation steht nicht im Gegensatz zur Umgebung, sondern die grüne Patina der Bronze harmoniert ausgewogen mit den differenzierten Grau­abstufungen von Boden, Fenster, Wänden.

Das Auge kann die unter die Decke gehängten Löwen im vergleichsweise grellen Gegenlicht der Fenster­wand zunächst nur unscharf erkennen. Ein deutlich empfangener Reiz ist hingegen eine zarte Frauen­stimme, die Stimme der Künstlerin, die ohne Begleitung und fast beiläufig ein Liedchen singt, das die Installation auf absurde Weise zu thematisieren scheint: «Wie stark ist der Mensch? Wie viel Ängste, wie viel Druck kann er ertragen? – Hurra, wir leben noch!» Es ist ein Schlager, mit dem sich die Pop-Interpretin Milva 1983 in die Hitparaden katapultierte.

Der ganze Raum ist davon erfüllt. Noch bevor der Besucher die Quelle des Gesangs errät, die Löwen in Augen­schein nehmen kann, entfalten die Töne eine skulpturale Qualität. Der Besucher glaubt in einer Klang­wolke zu versinken, die im Wider­spruch zu der mächtigen Form der aufgehängten Löwen steht. Wie schon in Dresden hat ihnen die Künstlerin an Nasen­ringen schwarze Kugeln angehängt. Gewichte? Es sind Lautsprecher, aus denen der Singsang der Künstlerin dringt.

Von Näherem besehen, schlägt die symbolische Fragilität der triumphierenden Löwen in eine formale um: Die Aufhängung der Skulptur an Tragriemen, Schäkeln und Ketten wirkt äusserst labil. Zwar scheinen die Bronzelöwen an der Decke stabil befestigt zu sein, doch bei der leisesten Berührung geraten sie ins Pendeln. Da scheint nichts mehr gesichert, verankert, souverän. Die Löwen als Schlangen­bezwinger und Überwinder des Bösen – jahrhunderte­lang die Kernaufgabe der Jungfrau Maria – sind vom Sockel gehoben und schweben hilflos im Raum. Man darf es als feministische Appropriation männlicher Herrschafts­symbole lesen. Eine Programm­erklärung der Künstlerin.

Destillierer und Chaotiker

Nach Elias Canetti könnten Künstler in zwei Gruppen eingeteilt werden: Destillierer und Chaotiker. Während die Ersteren ihr Künstler­leben einem zentralen Thema, einer alles bestimmenden formalen Aufgabe widmen, suchen die Zweiten nach ihrem künstlerischen Ausdruck, indem sie ruhelos mit unterschiedlichsten Medien und Lösungs­ansätzen experimentieren. Raphaela Vogel gehört zu den Letzteren. Lustvoll bespielt sie auch die Bregenzer Obergeschoss­säle. Im ersten und zweiten greift sie auf ältere Installationen und Werk­gruppen zurück, während sie im dritten eine neue, eigens für Bregenz geschaffene Arbeit zeigt.

Überall treibt sie ein Spiel mit Appropriationen, von Zelt­gestängen bis zu akquirierten Mini-Land-Baumodellen. Sie prüft und nutzt verschiedenste Materialien, vom Hundehaar bis zu Polyurethan/Elastomer. Dabei bedient sie sich einer Vielzahl von Medien und Ausdrucks­formen, von der Malerei bis zu Video­projektionen, in denen sie selbst und ab und an auch Maskottchen Rollo die Protagonisten sind. Auch für die Kamera, die an Drohnen, an Teleskop­stäbe oder ans Hunde­halsband montiert wird, ist immer die Künstlerin selber verantwortlich.

In jedem Saal steht eine Video­arbeit im Zentrum: «Tränenmeer», 2019, Vogel auf einem Felsen in der Brandung; «Son of a Witch», 2018, Vogel in einer dämmrigen Matratzen­gruft und in Schamanen­höhlen; und schliesslich «Rollo», 2019, Vogel auf einem gelben Baukran­gestänge mit ihrem Hund. Durch die ungewohnten Kamera­perspektiven, unterschiedliche Linsen und die digitale Nach­bearbeitung geraten diese Videos zu psychedelischen Trips, die die Künstlerin zwar ins Zentrum stellen, sie aber weder narzisstisch noch voyeuristisch überbesetzen. Da ist keine Selbst­zelebration. Vogel wirkt wie eine Forscherin auf der Spur von Blick­regimen, Inszenierungs­strategien, Bildpolitiken.

Anklage, Ironie?

Wie muss man diese Arbeiten in die Geschichte der feministischen Kunst einordnen? Ausstellungs­kurator Thomas D. Trummer wird offensichtlich von dieser Frage umgetrieben. Eine erste Antwort hat er mit einer ikonografischen Fussnote versucht: Im Sockel­geschoss der Vogel-Show ist der Schwarzweiss-35-mm-Film «Nr. 1 – Aus Berichten der Wach- und Patrouillen­dienste» der Filme­macherin Helke Sander aus dem Jahr 1984 zu sehen. Der Film zeigt, wie eine Mutter mit ihren Klein­kindern einen Baukran am Hamburger Haupt­bahnhof besteigt, um vom Ausleger Flugblätter hinab­zuwerfen, auf denen sie auf ihre Wohnungsnot aufmerksam macht.

Sanders Film soll eine Klammer zu Vogels Video «Rollo» öffnen. Die Analogien – Kran, Frau bringt sich in Gefahr – sind in der Tat offensichtlich. Doch Vogel klettert nicht mit einem Kleinkind, sondern mit ihrem Pudel­maskottchen auf den Kran. Ist es anklagend, ist es ironisch? Bei aller Nähe gibt es entscheidende Differenzen.

Die Ästhetik Sanders ist politische Agitprop (Agitation und Propaganda). Sie will politische Aufklärung des Publikums erzielen, in diesem Fall Bewusstsein schaffen für das Wohnungs­elend, von dem vor allem Frauen betroffen sind. Kunst wird hier funktionalisiert, um soziale Missstände an- und um Frauen­rechte einzuklagen.

Performance, Film und Video als verfügbare, schnelle Medien waren in den 1960er-Jahren, zu den Anfangs­zeiten der feministischen Bewegung, das Mittel der Wahl für solche Interventionen. Bis heute zieht etwa die 1985 gegründete Künstler- und Aktivistinnen­gruppe Guerrilla Girls mit Affen­masken durch die Kunst­institutionen, provoziert, agitiert und hält die Aktionen mit Plakaten und Videos fest. Ihr Fokus: die bis heute offensichtliche Unter­vertretung weiblicher Künstlerinnen in Sammlungen und Museen. «Do women have to be naked to come into the Met. Museum?» (Müssen Frauen nackt sein, um ins Metropolitan Museum zu kommen?) lautet der Slogan der Aktivistinnen.

Schnell wurde jedoch der Vorwurf laut, der feministische Aktionismus benutze Kunst bloss als Mittel zum Zweck: Die Kunst werde instrumentalisiert. Die Guerrilla Girls hat das nicht angefochten. Mit Performance und Happening bedienen sie nicht zufällig ein Medium, das wie die Künstlerinnen selber lange keinen Platz in den bürgerlichen Institutionen gefunden hat. Seit in den 2000er-Jahren Aufführungs­formate, Performances und Events vermehrt Einzug in den offiziellen Kunst­betrieb hielten, haben auch Kuratoren und das breitere Publikum die formalen Qualitäten dieses medial breit angelegten, kollektiven Aktionismus erkannt.

Diese offensive, politisch fordernde Richtung feministischer Kunst setzt sich bis heute auf vielfältige und lustvolle Weise fort. Andrea Fraser zum Beispiel konterkariert in amüsanten und intelligenten Lecture Performances die Verlogenheit des Kunst­systems, indem sie im Modus subversiver Affirmation in verschiedene Rollen seiner Akteurinnen schlüpft, deren Ambivalenzen und Widersprüche aufzeigt.

Anders geht die 1965 geborene US-amerikanische Aktivistin Andrea Bowers vor: Sie stellte mit «Open Secret», 2018, einen modernen Pranger in die Art Basel, auf dem sie ihr Archiv von über zweihundert Biografien von Prominenten veröffentlicht, die sich in den vergangenen Jahren sexueller Belästigung und Übergriffe schuldig gemacht haben. Die Provokation zeigte Wirkung. Zwei der Infotafeln mussten nach Einsprüchen entfernt werden.

Daneben entwickelt sich seit den 1960er-Jahren aber auch eine dezidiert feministische Kunst, die nicht unmittelbaren politischen Aktivismus betreibt, sondern das Selbst- und Erscheinungs­bild der Geschlechter befragt, die Macht­verhältnisse, Zurichtungen, Entfremdungen thematisiert und Möglichkeiten von Selbst­bestimmtheit und Selbst­verwirklichung erkundet. Körper und Präsenz stehen im Mittelpunkt.

Neue, feminin konnotierte Materialien werden erforscht. Zu nennen sind etwa die Performerinnen Joan Jonas, Valie Export, Hannah Wilke oder die Künstlerinnen Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse und später Rosemarie Trockel, die auch aus Mangel an Aufmerksamkeit auf «weibliche» Stoffe und Medien wie Zeichnung, Tusche, Textilien, Latex oder Fiberglas zurück- und vorgriffen. Eine nachfolgende Generation beschäftigt sich dann vor allem mit den medialen und queeren Rollen­bildern Künstler/Künstlerin, wie die US-Amerikanerinnen Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas, die Engländerin Marine Syms, die Niederländerin Mathilde ter Heijne oder die Schweizerin Pipilotti Rist.

Es ist dieser zweite Traditions­strang, an den die Arbeit Raphaela Vogels anschluss­fähig scheint. Doch der klare Blick, die tabulose, opulente Kombination von high und low, Milva und Nina Simone, die lustvolle Aneignung und Material­verarbeitung sowie nicht zuletzt der grosszügige Humor, der zur Verfügung stellt und nicht bevormundet, haben auch eine neue, ganz eigene Qualität. Als Kind einer allein­erziehenden Mutter sei sie immer schon für feministische Themen, Frauen­rechte und Emanzipation sensibilisiert gewesen, erklärt die Künstlerin im Gespräch. Dass sie in den Bildhauer­klassen während ihres Studiums oft die einzige Frau war, stiess ihr sauer auf. Doch Selbst­erfahrungs­gruppen oder mit einem Plakat durch die Strassen laufen ist erst mal nicht ihr Ding. Ihre Mittel sind andere.

Es mag damit zu tun haben, dass die neue Künstlerinnen-Generation, zu der Vogel gehört, sich auch berufen kann auf eine ganze Reihe von Vorgängerinnen, die in selbst­bewussten und grossen Massstäben ihre Positionen in einem feindlichen Umfeld durchgesetzt haben, ohne dass ihr Geschlecht ausser im Namens­schild neben der Arbeit sichtbar würde. Es handelt sich dabei vorwiegend um konkrete und konzeptuelle Kunst von Künstlerinnen wie Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread, Katharina Grosse oder Friederike Feldmann. Mit diesen Setzungen wurde den Arbeiten von Frauen nicht mehr allein das Fleissige und Kleinteilige zugetraut und abverlangt.

Selbstbewusst tritt nun eine Kohorte junger Künstlerinnen auf den Plan, die mit aufwendigen Inszenierungen vom Museums­raum Besitz ergreifen. Zu nennen wären etwa die junge Französin Pauline Curnier Jardin mit ihren höhlen­artigen Video­installationen, die US-Amerikanerinnen Anicka Yi und Kaari Upson mit ihren wuchernden Albtraum­fluchten oder die Engländerin Marianna Simnett mit ihren ambivalenten Video­filmen um die Themen des Heran­wachsens und des Missbrauchs.

Ungeniert werden dabei nicht nur Frauen als Referenz­grössen zitiert, sondern auch männliche Künstler­kollegen, denen man für dieses Lager nicht unbedingt eine Vorbild­funktion zugetraut hätte. Kaari Upson unterhält sich in einem Katalog­buch munter mit dem an der Grenze des guten Geschmacks agierenden Paul McCarthy und zitiert in ihren Videos David Lynch. Bei Vogel sind die Bezüge zum englischen Konzept­künstler Simon Starling, ihrem Lehrer an der Frankfurter Städel­schule, ebenso offensichtlich wie diejenigen zum US-amerikanischen Polyurethan-Elastomer-Spezialisten Matthew Barney.

Dabei ist auch die feministische Selbst­befragung, die Reflexion auf die Rolle als Künstlerin, als Frau, weiterhin zentral. Doch sie wird mit Distanz und Skepsis, nicht selten mit einer gehörigen Portion Ironie serviert. Die Zeiten der grossen Thesen, schnellen Lösungen, unumstösslichen Wahrheiten – das männliche «Ich muss mal schnell die Welt retten» – sind für diese neue Generation vorbei. Beuys hatte einem toten Hasen das Wesen der Kunst erklärt, Vogel beschränkt sich mit Maskottchen Rollo auf Ausflüge zur Erkundung der Welt.

Der Generationen­wechsel wird auch ermöglicht durch ein förderndes Umfeld, einen Humus, auf dem diese neue und eigensinnige Kunst gedeihen kann. Das schaffen Freunde, Gleichgesinnte und aufgeschlossene Institutionen. Allen voran den Leiterinnen der Basler Kunsthalle und des Frankfurter Museums für Moderne Kunst, Elena Filipovic und Susanne Pfeffer, ist es zu verdanken, dass in den vergangenen Jahren im deutsch­sprachigen Raum grossformatige und unbequeme Positionen junger Künstlerinnen gezeigt werden konnten. So stiess Raphaela Vogel 2018 in der Basler Kunsthalle auf ein Publikum, das bereits mit den Material­transformationen der jungen US-Amerikanerin Anicka Yi vertraut war und dieses Jahr Kaari Upsons «Egomantik» mit der von Vogel vergleichen konnte.

Yi, Vogel, Upson – damit stehen bereits drei für einen neuen Feminismus in der Kunst, der sich in kein Label pressen lässt. Bei ihnen gibt es keine unmittelbare Botschaft, keine unverrückbare Wahrheit. Dazu ist ihre Generation zu skeptisch geworden. Vogel hat diesen Skeptizismus zum ästhetischen Prinzip erhoben: Sie macht das allgegen­wärtige Drohnenauge Gottes zum ambigen Tool ihrer polyperspektivischen Künstlerexistenz und bringt brüllende Löwen kopfüber zum Schweben.

KUB EG_Raphaela Vogel_in festen händen, 2016_U4A8329_Markus Tretter.jpg

Zuerst erschienen auf

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Kaari Upson – Go Back The Way und You Came & Door, Open, Shut in Basel and Hannover


The woman is nerving! She wants to be nervy. Kaari Upson, 47 years old, at home in Los Angeles, grew up in the 200, 000 soul city of San Bernardino in southern California. The first McDonalds business was opened here in 1958. Otherwise there is little to report about this San Bernardino, except that there is a Twin Peaks nearby behind the mountains, and it is also the place where the directress of the Basler Kunsthalle, Elena Filipovic, was born, like Upson in 1972. They never met there.

Now, in the comprehensive solo exhibition Go Back The Way You Came, she presents her artist colleague for the first time in Switzerland with brand new works. It fits in well that the artist, who is hardly known in Germany either, will simultaneously be given a retrospective exhibition, Door, Open, Shut, at the Hannoveraner Kunstverein with works from the past ten years. Previously, she had attracted attention with two works in the main exhibition of the 58th Venice Biennale: in the central pavilion of the Giardini with the monumental vertical-format Gesso-grounded graphite-ink drawing, View From the Interiorized; You Are the Pervert (2016-2019). After her training at the California Institute of the Arts in 2007, she became known for such proclamations of war, a manic psycho-mapping that hardly offers the eye a hold between proliferating figurations and writing signals. She effortlessly transfers such soul cartographies into the three-dimensional. Her fragmented witch-wood-house- stage, There Is No Such Thing As Outside (2017-2019), easily sucked the audience into the abysses of US American middle-class society.

The exhibitions in Hanover and Basel therefore complement each other ideally. While visitors to Hanover pass through a representative cross-section of Upson’s multimedia universe from work to work, they are immersed on the Rhine in a current snapshot of her work, which centers around her ambivalent mother-daughter relationship. The anarchic spirit of the artist unfolds fully here, a subversive round dance of closeness and distance, of identity and self-empowerment. The opening is already a tough one: with the first of five exhibition rooms, visitors enter a forest of pink to flesh-coloured trunks hanging from the ceiling, Mother’s Legs (2018-2019). The twenty-six urethane sculptures move with every draft of air, and if you take a closer look, they show not only bark beetle cavities and traces of processing, but at their bend, the enlarged cast of human knees. Harmless, insignificant, trivial? No, because the intrusive anthropomorphism sensitively irritates the seriality and grace of the work. An explanatory narrative is not provided by the title „Mother’s Legs“, nor by the explanation that the knees are casts of the artist’s and her mother’s leg joints. Thus the magic forest gives not a single thing away, except for the instructions on how to move in it and how to read it and the following parcours.

You can’t see that in Basel. Not even Larry. Here the research is entirely focused on the existential transformations and rejections with regard to being thrown, on the relationship to the mother. A series of six different nuances of painted wooden heads superimposes the artist’s faces with those of her mother, her friend, their mother and grandmother into a ghostly genealogy, O. Snag (2018-2019). Video works such as A Place for a Snake (2019) continue the uncanny charades of the identity pact as masquerades until the visitors in the last room are confronted with Fireplace II (2019) or Bathtub (2017-2019), set pieces of objects replicated from their parents‘ house in cast resin. Toys or disaster wreckages? For the visitor, it is an intellectual pleasure to reassemble them in thought and thus to enter their own underworlds. Chapeau!

The Article will be published in German in Kunstforum International, vol. 264, End of October 2019.








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Sandra Boeschenstein. Kniekehlen Rezital – Galerie & Edition Marlene Frei, Zürich

von Max Glauner _ English Version below

Die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass man in den klassischen Kunstgattungen, Malerei, Skulptur und Zeichnung, Neues entdeckt, ist gering. Für die Zeichnung in der Schweiz gilt das nur eingeschränkt. Das kleine bis heute durch den Hermostraten Huldrych Zwingli geprägte Land hat aus seiner sehr speziellen Tradition heraus eine Reihe eigenständiger Künstlerinnen und Künstler hervorgebracht, die der „Kleinen Form“ Überraschendes entlocken. Dafür stehen Namen wie Zilla Leutenegger, Yves Netzhammer oder, wie jetzt wieder in der Galerie & Edition Marlene Frei mit neuen Arbeiten zu sehen, Sandra Boeschenstein.

Die Künstlerin gehört zu den intelligenten, technisch Ausgebufften ihrer Zunft. Sie kann inzwischen auf ein eindrückliches Werk zurückblicken. Gleich mit ihren ersten Blättern einer Serie wie „Reinknien verdampfen Wasser“ (2019) fordert sie ihr Publikum. In dem 20 x 100 cm großen Querformat stehen fünf an Diener erinnernde Figuren in feiner Ölkreide, –farbe und Tusche gezeichnet mit überlängten, gesichtslosen Köpfen in einer merkwürdigen Parade einer Sechsten gegenüber. Wie stumme Osterinselmonolithe stehen sie in einer undefinierten Landschaft, die an der fernen Horizontlinie nahtlos in den aufgetürmten Wolkenhimmel übergeht. Warum tragen die fünf Wassergläser auf Tabletts, die ihnen mit Fäden an den Leib geschnürt sind? Weil sie keine Arme haben? Die Tabletts werfen Schatten, die Figuren nicht. Sind es Lemuren, die sich in Auflösung befinden und darum keine Füße haben?

Der Titel „Reinknien“ gibt einen Hinweis. Das Verb, im Englischen „try hard“, bedeutet wörtlich „auf den Knien hart arbeiten“. Tatsächlich entstanden die antropomorphen Gestalten durch Abdrücke der Knie der Künstlerin, deren Haare, Falten, Furchen deutlich zu erkennen sind. Der Einbruch des Realen in eine ohnehin schon surreale Welt. Und was hat der Besucher von „Unmittelbar vor der Berührung der Haare des Abdrucks bei Neumond“ (2019) zu erwarten? Schon der Titel entführt auf eine Abenteuerreise. Sie fasziniert, unterhält, regt an – wir folgen gerne!

The Swiss commonwealth, whose art scene is still marked by the influence of the antipictorial Protestant reformer Huldrych Zwingli—he who banished painting, forcing artists to make graphic works on paper—has since produced a series of artists who evoke surprising moments in the supposedly “minor form” of drawing. Sandra Boeschenstein, whose new black-and-white works on paper currently hang in Galerie & Edition Marlene Frei, partakes in this tradition, pushing drawing to new limits.

In 5 Reinknien verdampfen Wasser (5 Clean Knees Evaporated Water, all works 2019), five figures reminiscent of servants—drawn with oblong, faceless heads in fine oil pastels, paint, and ink—face a sixth in a strange parade. Like silent Easter Island monoliths, they stand in an undefined landscape that merges seamlessly with the inked cumulus on the distant horizon line. These armless butlers carry water glasses on trays tied to their bodies with thin twine, and while the trays cast shadows, the figures do not, adding to the drawing’s dreamlike atmosphere.

The word Reinknien in the work’s title hints at how Boeschenstein made these pieces. Although it is often translated into English as “try hard,” Reinknien literally means “work hard on your knees.” The artist rendered the subjects of her drawings here with said joints, whose hair, wrinkles, and furrows are clearly recognizable in the texture of each imprinted surface—the real breaking into an already surreal world. And what to expect from Unmittelbar von der Berührung der Haare de Abdrucks bei Neumond (Immediately Before Touching the Hair of the Impression at New Moon)? Squeezed between Boeschenstein’s knee people, a realistically drawn man examines one figure’s skin. The moon, which is also a copy, looks down contemplatively.

Fist published in Art Forum, September 2019,

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Way from Text. The Theatre Openings in Zurich

Zurich Theatre – new directions for new lines, both in the Schauspielhaus and in the Theater am Neumarkt. Can they win over the tricky Zurich audience?

von Max Glauner

Finally, a Wünschkonzert: Nikolaus Stehmann – new director of the Zurich Schauspielhaus with the dramaturge Benjamin von Blomberg – stood on keyboard, mic and guitar and sang every wish the audience had written about the opening day on hundreds of green post-it notes individually in rock and blues improvisations. Like the director of the Zurich opera Andreas Homoki a few years earlier, Steman managed to win over the difficult Zurich audience with his charm and wit.

Alexander Giesches Box and Simona Biekšaitės Wunschkonzert-Bühnenbild established first references to contemporary art. Installation and interaction were the order of the day. With the performances of the US-American artists Wu Tsang, Sudden Rise, and Trajal Harrell, In the Mood for Frankie, two artists with their roots in the fine arts came on stage. The result was correspondingly visualy intense. However, it also marked a dilemma and a caesura; contemporary theatre is moving away from the text to an alarming extent. Stemann’s Trojan to Zurich was Faust I & II. The Hamburg production was also a triumph in Zurich. Stemann and his leading actor Sebastian Rudoph succeeded in maintaining the tension between text and performance, depth and clamour for long stretches. But what use is it when Helena, dying in the second part of the piece, begs for a Persephone, when no one knows any more that a goddess of the underworld is being called here, who also promises resurrection? Is it surprising that the strongest production of the opening round was that of the young Leonie Böhm, Horvat’s Kasimir and Karoline? The fairgroundstall drama reduced to three characters and one musician, all boys, few gestures, high emotions, great. But lyrics? No chance!





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Exchange Architecture. Thomas Hirschhorn’s Robert-Walser-Sculpture in Biel/Bienne

This weekend will see the end of one of the most formative art projects of recent years. The Robert Walser sculpture by Thomas Hirschhorn in Biel sets new standards as a Gesamtkunstwerk.

by Max Glauner

It fits, is harmonious, beautiful, in Swiss German said, urchig. We are talking about one of the most spectacular and aesthetically and socio-politically sustainable works of art of recent years: Thomas Hirschhorn’s Robert Walser sculpture on the station forecourt of Biel. Tomorrow Sunday is the end of the day. The dismantling will take about a month. Then none of it will be visible any more.

Everyday life will return to the highly frequented traffic junction in front of the Doric temple front of the Biel railway station from 1923 – the last bourgeois gesture of intimidation in the cityscape before modernism also spread to Biel. Only a few hundred metres further on, the Volkshaus expressively (1932) and the Hotel Elite art-déco-modernist (1931) demonstrate where the social and architectural plans were to be implemented shortly afterwards.

But against such structural eternities, the Hirschhorn, born in Bern in 1957, sets a lively, temporary wooden architecture, more a stage than a dwelling. For 86 days, from 10 a.m. to 12 hours a day, he succeeded in doing what only the artist could really believe in at the beginning: a forum of fundamentally egalitarian exchange and togetherness. The project is strongly anchored locally, but sets standards far beyond Biel and Switzerland.

Genre questions

What has there been to hear and see over the past few months? That is also a question of genre. Hirschhorn has given his project the title Robert-Walser-Skulptur. But he is irritating. Isn’t it rather an installation, a theatre stage, a public academy or a social project? Yes, it is all that. And none of all that.

What can be seen with a glimpse when walking from the train platform to the bus stop is more like a slum or a subcultural wagon park: if the passer-by leaves the station concourse – long since barred from its service function and prepared for the mere passage – he can go straight ahead unhindered into the distance.

But if he wants to take the fastest way to the right or left, he is denied that. While defiant to the right, emphasizing the cheapness of the construction, pressboard walls with sprayed-on Robert Walser statements frame the new way to the taxi stand, the left side opens up to the fast food chain: here a ramp leads up and into a toilet container. At the corner to the bridge passage a seemingly spontaneously furnished pop cultural memorial attracts attention: photos, banners, shoes, candles, plastic flowers.

The name of the dead person remembered in this way: Carl Seelig. A click on Wikipedia would betray him as author, publisher, patron, friend and guardian of Walser, who died in 1962. Is it necessary to know that Hirschhorn’s work has always featured these seemingly improvised shrines for long-dead people like Ingeborg Bachmann? No, it’s enough to understand that the artist here is playing a trick on the usual attention economy, trying to direct light on a man who stands in the shadow of the great, remembered Walser, who for his part was underestimated and made small, stood outside the canon for a long time. Surely there were quite a few visitors who only considered this corner to be Hirschhorn’s Walser sculpture.

Field research

The dusty term „sculpture“ in Hirschhorn’s title is part of the tradition of the „Swiss Plastic Exhibitions“, the „Expositions suisses de sculpture“, which have been held every four to five years in Biel since 1954. In doing so, the artist consciously claims air sovereignty for a conceptual and socio-politically committed art that appeals to people’s will to change rather than to the art business and its market under the slogan „Social Sculpture“ – it comes from Joseph Beuys.

Hirschhorn and Beuys share their social commitment and the principle of physical presence during their actions. Throughout the project, Hirschhorn was present on site as patron and contact person, but unlike Beuys, the closed art shaman, he approached the people, researched Biel and the surrounding area for three years, and spoke with the people, especially those who live on the margins of society – the unemployed, migrants, the homeless, alcoholics, and junkies who use the station forecourt as a meeting point. He calls this field research.

However, Hirschhorn is not a caretaker, but a facilitator who lets the recruited participants and institutions do their work within the set framework. He invited them, along with many others, to participate in the project, which only experienced its structural manifestation with the wooden construction. Supervised by the artist, each participant was able to furnish the stalls on wooden pedestals according to their own needs and respect for the other participants. The cooperation with the curator, institutions like the Robert Walser Archive and the authorities resulted in a collaborative in which Hirschhorn acted as Princeps inter pares.

Hirschhorn had already gathered a lot of experience in this respect: the „Deleuze Monument“ (2000) in Avignon, the „Bataille Monument“ (2002) for Documenta 11 in a Kassler workers‘ housing estate, or the „Gramsci Monument“ (2013) in the Bronx of New York. These works have always focused on the local people. Instead of placing the socially marginal in the medial light of consensus, Hirschhorn enables a relaxed encounter of divergent groups. In contrast to previous projects, however, in Biel he did not bring the „center“ into the neglected suburbia, but rather allowed it to look into the center from the edges.

That’s why he created the raised wooden construction, which opens up invitingly to the city centre with a reading stage. This is why Robert Walser, who was born in Biel, is the literary marginal and exceptional figure of the intellectual epicentre. Hirschhorn does not place him on a pedestal as a bronze statue, but in the form in which he is alive for all of us: in his texts (as graffiti), in books (there were bookshops and libraries), in readings, lectures by scientists, laymen, literary women and discussions with the public in the open air.

On the last level of the amphitheatre, the bar and snack bar provide food and drink. The Walser tributes have hardly been limited in any other way, a strange world peace activist advertised Esperanto courses in his shack, a retired dominatrix exhibited her tools in another, and Geneva art students – Walser the passionate walker – documented their walks in the surroundings.

No theatre

The literary scholar and director of the Robert Walser Institute in Berne, Reto Sorg, spent an average of four days a week at the sculpture in Biel. His institute moved to the provisional location with around four employees from Berne. It provided the philological know-how in advance, then carried out everyday office work on the sculpture, received colleagues, held meetings and organised part of the podium programme with specialist lectures.

Sorg is astonished in the conversation about the respect with which people met here. So he not only talked to die-hard Walser fans, but also to people with a completely different educational background. „I was impressed to be approached and taken seriously by alcoholics and junkies. That would be unthinkable in an academic context. I became more curious every day,“ says Sorg. „Closeness to the public and transdisciplinarity actually happen here. Elsewhere they are only talked into.

In contrast to theatre formats that rely on „experts of everyday life“, no one plays anything here. Reto Sorg is certainly on location in his role as director of the institute, as is Thomas Hirschhorn in his role as artist and patron. In this function, however, he not only instructs the participants, looks for the right or sorts the microcables, but is also directly accessible to everyone.

This stage enables real encounters. The Robert Walser sculpture is not, as has often been assumed, the monument to a shattered society, but the lived sign of hope for a democratically better one.



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Stephen Willats. Languages of Dissent – Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich

By Max Glauner

A stranger? A misunderstood perhaps? Shooting after the articles in Kunstforum International, hardly. The work of Stephen Willats, born in London in 1943, has been covered regularly since 1980 (see volumes 42, 61, 126, 131, 143, 169, 183, 199, 207, 240). Nevertheless, the impression that the stubborn British artist belongs to the group of artists, undiscovered by the general public, is not deceptive. Art as research, participation and empowerment of the public, art as social practice, Willats introduced it into the art world in the early 1970s. Contrary to expectations, however, his name is missing both at Documenta and at relevant biennials, apart from the 3rd Berlin Biennial 2004. In addition to Signpost’s To The Future (2003), an investigation into the socio-structure of Berlin-Neukölln, which culminated in a multimedia installation, he showed two other works that were created between 1979 and 1980 during a DAAD scholarship as critical inventories of the Märkisches Viertel: Living in Isolation (1979 / 1980) and How I Discover That We Are Dependent on Others (1979 / 1980).

Although Willats, represented by galleries, remains present in solo and group exhibitions afterwards – the Siegen Museum of Contemporary Art is showing its first overview exhibition in 2006 – the actual breakthrough failed to materialise. All the more meritorious is the fact that the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich is organizing the retrospective exhibition Languages of Dissent for him after a long cooperation this summer. With almost 150 works, this is the largest to date. A remarkable feat of strength also for the house, which had to cope with the task without a partner institution. Thematically and chronologically, the work of the conceptualist – „The artist can no loger concern himself with illusions, he must work on a realistic basis,“ Manifesto says in 1961 – can spread from its beginnings to the present.

The required basis gives him early involvement with cybernetic models. He transformed them into suprematist concrete drawings (Maze Drawing No. 2, 1967), paintings (Democratic Surface, 1961), schematic diagrams (Drawing for a Project No. 19, 1967), and kinetic light sculptures (Visual Transmitter No.2, 1968). This shows an artist whom one did not know in this way, whose systemic approach was carried a short time later from the mathematical-aesthetic to the social sphere. At the beginning of the 1970s, Willats was not alone in bringing art and reality together. But no one succeeds in doing so so radically. While most of them were concerned with bringing the audience into the sphere of art as partners, Willats was concerned with immersing himself as an artist in artless realities. What could have led to field research, documentation and agitation led to an elaborate process, the temporary conclusion of which was not a work of art, but the self-empowerment of the people involved, its audience. The artist compiled handouts from the process in the form of brochures or placards that reflected the entire process. A sociological evaluation was also omitted. Everyone had their say. Commonalities and differences became visible and enabled communication and communities where isolation had previously been programmed. In contrast to a widespread notion of artistic research, Willats not only reveals differences, but keeps them open. He leaves it to his partners to make them fruitful. Already in his first participative projects in 1971, The Social Resource Project for Tennis Clubs: Nottingham, and The West London Social Resource Project: London, 1972 / 1973, the latter documented in the exhibition with photographs and questionnaires of the respondents, the artist saw himself not as a designer, but as an initiator of an open-ended process in precarious urban environments. His slides, collages, and videos document the essence of the transitory moment of individuation of his potential or real collaboration partners.

In no other group of works does this become as clear as in the large-format works on London’s punk scene at the beginning of the 1980s. In A to B, 1985, the fetishes of a schizoid banker revolve around his desk, under which he appears as a party bulldog. On stage-like assemblages, mannequins can also stand there as queer representatives of a community that has set out to strip itself of norms and restrictions, as in Living Like a Goya, 1983. Twenty years later, with Cathy Wilkes, they only become socially acceptable beyond the attitude of Pop Art.

So why isn’t Willats traded higher? The answer is surely in his discreet attitude. But the Zurich exhibition also suggests a second reason: his refusal to accept digital media, apart from videos. The Meta Filter, 1975, conveys the impression of a high-tech apparatus. Two test persons have the task of exchanging information on word lists and photographs. But where visitors expect computer screens today, they find slide lights, pencils and paper. Despite his affinity for system theory and cybernetics, Willat’s art remains persistently analogous, while Instagram and Tinder have long since taken over the core business.

First published in Kunstforum international Bd. 262, August 2019

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Stephen Willats. Languages of Dissent – Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst


von Max Glauner

Ein Unbekannter? Ein Verkannter womöglich? Nach den Artikeln in Kunstforum International zu schießen, kaum. Die Arbeit von Stephen Willats, 1943 in London geboren, wird seit 1980 regelmäßig gecovert (vgl. Band 42, 61, 126, 131, 143, 169, 183, 199, 207, 240). Dennoch trügt der Eindruck nicht, dass der eigensinnige Brite von der breiten Öffentlichkeit unentdeckt, zu den Künstler-Künstlern gehört. Kunst als Forschung, Partizipation und Ermächtigung des Publikums, Kunst als soziale Praxis, Willats führte sie seit den frühen 1970er-Jahren in den Kunstbetrieb ein. Sein Name fehlt jedoch wider erwarten sowohl auf der Documenta als auch auf einschlägigen Biennalen, sieht man von der 3. Berlin Biennale 2004 ab. Neben Signposts To The Future (2003) eine Untersuchung zur Sozio-Struktur Berlin-Neuköllns, sie mündete in eine Multimedia-Installation, zeigte er damals zwei weitere Arbeiten, die zwischen 1979 – 1980 während eines DAAD-Stipendiums als kritische Bestandsaufnahmen des Märkischen Viertels entstanden waren: In Isolation leben (1979 / 1980) und Wie ich entdecke, daß wir von anderen abhängig sind (1979 / 1980).

Zwar bleibt Willats, vertreten durch Galerien, in Einzel- und Gruppenausstellungen auch danach präsent – 2006 zeigt das Siegener Museum für Gegenwartskunst eine erste Überblicksausstellung –, doch der eigentliche Durchbruch blieb aus. Umso verdienstvoller ist es, dass ihm das Zürcher Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst nach einer langen Zusammenarbeit in diesem Sommer die retrospektive Ausstellung Languages of Dissent ausrichtet. Mit nahezu 150 Arbeiten ist das bisher die größte. Ein beachtlicher Kraftakt auch für das Haus, das die Aufgabe ohne Partnerinstitution stemmen musste. Thematisch-chronologisch kann es das Werk des Konzeptualisten – „The artist can no loger concern himself with illusions, he must work on a realistic basis,“ heißt es im Manifesto 1961 –, von seinen Anfängen bis in die Gegenwart ausbreiten.

Die geforderte Basis gibt ihm früh die Auseinandersetzung mit kybernetischen Modellen. Er setzt sie in suprematistisch-konkreten Zeichnungen (Maze Drawing No. 2, 1967), Malereien (Democratic Surface, 1961), schaltplanartigen Schaubildern (Drawing for a Project No. 19, 1967) und kinetischen Lichtskulpturen (Visual Transmitter No.2, 1968) um. Hier zeigt sich ein Künstler, den man so nicht kannte, dessen systemischer Ansatz kurze Zeit später aus der mathematisch-ästhetischen in die soziale Sphäre getragen wird. Mit dem Ansatz Kunst und Lebenswirklichkeit zusammenzubringen, steht Willats zu Beginn der 1970er-Jahre freilich nicht allein. Doch keinem gelingt dies so radikal. Ging es bei den meistens darum, das Publikum als Teilhaber in die Kunstsphäre hereinzuholen, ging es bei Willats darum, als Künstler in kunstferne Lebenswirklichkeiten einzutauchen. Was in Feldforschung, Dokumentation und Agitation hätte münden können, führte zu einem aufwändigen Prozess, an dessen vorläufigem Abschluss kein Kunstwerk stand, sondern die Selbstermächtigung der beteiligten Personen, seines Publikums. Dazu gab es vom Künstler aus dem Verfahren kompilierte Handreichungen in Form von Broschüren oder Stelltafeln, die den Gesamtvorgang reflektierten. Auch eine soziologische Auswertung unterblieb. Jeder kam zu Wort. Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschiede wurden sichtbar und ermöglichten Verständigung und Gemeinschaften, wo zuvor Vereinzelung programmiert war. Willats zeigt im Gegensatz zu einer weit verbreiteten Vorstellung von künstlerischen Forschung Differenzen nicht nur auf, sondern hält sie offen. Er überlässt es seinen Partnern, diese fruchtbar zu machen. Bereits in seinen ersten partizipativen Projekten 1971, The Social Resource Project for Tennis Clubs: Nottingham, und The West London Social Resource Project: London, 1972 / 1973, letzteres wird in der Ausstellung mit Fotografien und Antwortbögen der Befragten dokumentiert, sah sich der Künstler nicht als Gestalter, sondern als Initiator eines ergebnisoffenen Prozesses in prekären urbanen Umfeldern. Seine Schaubilder, Collagen, Videos dokumentieren dabei im Kern das transitorische Moment der Individuation seiner potentiellen oder realen Kollaborationspartner.

In keiner Werkgruppe wird dies so deutlich wie in den großformatigen Arbeiten zur Punkszene Londons zu Anfang der 1980er-Jahre. In A to B, 1985, kreisen die Fetische eines schizoiden Bankers um dessen Schreibtisch, unter dem er sich als Partybulldogge outet. Auf bühnenartigen Assemblagen können da auch Schaufensterpuppen als queere Stellvertreter einer Gemeinschaft stehen, die sich angeschickt hat, Normen und Restriktionen abzustreifen, wie in Living Like a Goya, 1983. Erst zwanzig Jahre später werden sie mit Cathy Wilkes jenseits der Pop-Art-Attitüde salonfähig.

Warum also wird Willats nicht höher gehandelt? Die Antwort liegt zum einen sicher in seiner diskreten Haltung. Doch die Zürcher Ausstellung legt noch einen zweiten Grund nahe: Seine Verweigerung gegenüber digitalen Medien, sieht man von Videos ab. Der Meta Filter, 1975, vermittelt die Anmutung einer hochtechnologischen Apparatur. Zwei Probanden haben die Aufgabe sich über Wortlisten und Fotografien auszutauschen. Doch wo die Besucherin, der Besucher heute Computerbildschirme erwartet, finden sie Dia-Slights, Bleistift und Papier. Trotz aller Affinität zu Systemtheorie und Kybernetik bleibt Willats Kunst beharrlich im Analogen, während Instagram und Tinder das Kerngeschäft längst übernommen haben.

Zuerst erschienen in Kunstforum international Band 262, August 2019


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Our boat. Christoph Büchel’s Strategies of Subversive Affirmation

The Basel artist Christoph Büchel is causing a stir – even now at the 58th Venice Biennale. But if you take a closer look at his project BARCA NOSTRA, his art goes far beyond the calculated scandal.

By Max Glauner


© Max Glauner

I. Venice Biennale in July

It’s muggy-warm in Venice. On the weekend a thunderstorm hit the city. The Italian cruise ship Costa Deliziosa would have touched the jetty at the Giardini by a hair. That’s on everyone’s lips now. The dust-dry gravel crunches under the shoes of the few visitors who made it behind the old warehouses of the Arsenale. The former military port of the Serenissima is the second venue of the 58th Venice Biennale. Here lies Christoph Büchel’s controversial wreck BARCA NOSTRA. Its bow rises steeply into the summer sky. Three weather-beaten medallions with Arabic characters and a five-pointed star are displayed at the top. Their promises of good luck don’t seem to have worked. The wretched barge with weathered turquoise blue, rust-red paint on the hull, four wide cracks in the side walls, is supported by steel girders at the pier. To the right of the wreck there are low barracks, a café attracts the Aperol Spritz, behind them stands a disused crane on a heavy stone pedestal. Like the crane, the barge looks like a relic from busy times. Most of them pass by carelessly. Even the black barrier tape doesn’t change that. The explanatory signs are missing, every reference to a work of art, an artist.

Yet no work of art at the 58th Venice Biennale has caused so much turmoil. Four years ago, the Basel artist had already managed to drive Venice and right-wing Italy onto the barricades with a mosque. Now a cutter with which more than 800 people drowned off the Italian coast in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis. The Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Salvini of the right-wing populist Lega Nord spoke reflexively of propaganda and „inadmissible interference in the politics of the country“ even before the opening. The art scene was also divided: While the British Guardian considered the Biennale as a whole successful, he fired against the ship: it was by far the worst work, wrongly placed, „just crass“. The German art magazine Monopol rates the work as contrary, but just as dogmatic. His verdict against the entire Biennale only excludes one work, BARCA NOSTRA. Its quality lies precisely in the fact that it is completely unclear „whether it is art or not“. At no point during the Biennale was its central theme of art and politics, memory and the scandal of thousands of victims who have been killed since 2015 while fleeing across the Mediterranean so complexly narrowly managed and hotly debated. Shortly afterwards, however, the headlines were dominated by the German captain Carola Rackete and the renewed attempts of European politicians to reposition themselves in order to master the problem. It is therefore worth taking a closer look. This leads to research in the Swiss province of Sankt Gallen.

II._“House of Fiction (Pumpwerk Heimat)“

Büchel’s only installation, House of Fiction (Pumpwerk Heimat) near the Lockremise from 2003, has been preserved there, where the patron Ursula Hauser presented her collection of contemporary art until 2004. To this end, a site-specific work of art created especially for the rooms was commissioned each year. Christoph Büchel played on the water tower erected next door, the first reinforced concrete structure in Switzerland dating from 1906. After the Hauser collection had been removed, Büchel’s installation remained closed. Only after a referendum on the use of the Remise in 2008 was the work purchased, transferred to the sponsorship of the Kunstmuseum Sankt Gallen, renovated and expanded by the artist. It has been open to the public on Sundays since 2013. In consultation with Büchel, the House of Fiction is also open to all advertisements and information signs, and could not cope with a larger crowd of visitors anyway. The visitors are only admitted individually and one after the other for 30 and 60 minutes. She receives instructions at the cash desk and a key, climbs over a ladder, opens the door at a height of three metres and is now on Büchel’s labyrinthine stage.

A challenge! The artist sends his audience sporty over stairs, rotten ladders and slides into a crazy sequence of staged rooms. Reality appears shifted, surreal, familiar and filled with fear. The scenography succeeds in integrating the found, from pigeon droppings to water tanks, in such a way that staging and reality can hardly be distinguished. The visitor first enters an antechamber that dates back to the operating time of the pumping station without any notable intervention, but has long since assumed the patina with which the past approaches in an oppressive manner. Like Alice in Wonderland, the visitor is next faced with the choice of opening one of two doors to get ahead. One is locked. The other one is blocked by a sofa. One hesitates to climb over and finds oneself in a narrow living room that has been abandoned for a long time. A petty bourgeois existence had obviously made itself at home here. Last sign of life, a BLICK issue of 13 December 2001, headline: „Drama in Dietlikon. Bloodbath of jealousy.“ The cinema in the mind, the tracker, detective and storyteller is activated. Pre-programmed in this way, one climbs from room to room into the abysses and heights of petty bourgeois life, which also picks up and touches the distant. In the 1970s, who didn’t envy the owners of a garage who screwed around the engine block of an Opel-Manta-GSI? At Büchel, this dream becomes a final tangible reality and an image of lived and unlived possibilities.

What does this have to do with BARCA NOSTRA? A simple explanation would be the reference to the concept of appropriation. The artist selects found objects and materials, rearranges them and places them in the context of art. Now Büchel in Sankt Gallen arranges utensils into a new stage set and transfers the ship into the art context of the Biennale. In fact, the apartment puff pastry and the wreck are given an attention they didn’t have before. Through this transfer from a diffusely formatted reality into a sphere of artificial appearances, they are given meaning for the audience and the opportunity to attach narratives to it. But Büchel succeeds precisely in keeping the boundaries between reality and appearance open and fluid. His works are therefore not declared a work of art in the sense of Marcel Duchamp, the first guarantor of this strategy, by virtue of the artist’s setting. Büchel’s works lack the signature that lifts the object into the sphere of aesthetic observation. He is not present. He has completely withdrawn from his work for years.

This results in a second approach: the discretion of the artist releases the mature observer. Here, too, Marcel Duchamp is called upon as a guarantor: Art that is merely visceral and appeals to surface stimuli conceals the essential aspect of art. It appeals to the spirit and reading ability of the audience. Put simply: Christoph Büchel does not produce an autonomous work of art, but creates situations in which monument and action cross. Neither in Sankt Gallen nor in Venice do the works merge into the de facto given. The work of art is created in the mind of the viewer.

III._ From Sankt Gallen to Venice

But between the introverted chamber play in Sankt Gallen and the dramatic performance in Venice there are also considerable differences and a sixteen-year development of the work. At the beginning of his career, after studying art in Basel, New York, and Düsseldorf until 1997, Büchel shifted at the end of the 1990s to the construction of true-to-life, claustrophobic interiors in galleries, museums, and places far removed from art, which challenged the visitor as an active participant. In Zurich, his action Capital Affair, planned with the action artist Gianni Motti in 2002, caused a sensation at the Helmhaus in Zurich. The exhibition budget of 50,000 Swiss Francs was to be hidden in the otherwise empty house and awarded to the finder. This did not happen. The city president Elmar Ledergerber, who had just taken office, intervened and transferred the money to Dresden, which had been damaged by the Elbe flood. How would the visitors have behaved? The Helmhaus was a stage for actionists and observers, for attitudes and distinctive damage. Büchel continues to build on such stages between reality and art. They occupy an intermediate realm. Already in the winter of 2002, he transformed a music cellar at the Kunstverein Hannover into a freezing cell, MINUS. Tribunal at the Kunstmuseum Basel 2004, showed US interrogation and court cells reached via a ladder in the ceiling. Guantanamo again with Motti to the 51st Venice Biennale 2005, or the Strassenaktion Salzburg bleibt frei (2006) took up stimulating themes such as the US prisoner camp in Cuba and right-wing radicalism.

Since the 1960s, artists such as George Segal, Ed Kienholz or Emilia and Illja Kabakow have created realistic environments. Their message was to be transported closer to the reality of the audience’s life. But it was still kept at object distance. This changed with the next generation. Participation now meant being right in the middle of it and being there: Gregor Schneider, born in 1969, sent his viewers to the Totes Haus U r 2001 at the 49th Venice Biennale through oppressive situations provided by his parental home, which had been labyrithically expanded over the years, and received the Golden Lion. Mike Nelson, born in 1967, converted the British Pavilion I, Impostor into an abandoned Oriental house in 2011, whose former inhabitants had to be traced. Thus an art genre had established itself that has long since ceased to be served solely by female visual artists. Theatre collectives such as Rimini Protokoll, the duo Signa and Arthur Köstler or this year’s Venice Prize winners Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė with The Sun and the Sea in the Lithuanian Pavilion design elaborate courses in which cast actors interact with the audience.

Büchel also enlivens his installations. For the first time in 2008, when the Deutsche Grammatik installation transforms the Kassler Fridericianum into a shopping mall, the cultural institution in the process: a construction site poster in front of the door announced the conversion into a branch of the Federal Employment Agency. Instead of plundering the fund, he sought collaboration partners from the business world. With their logistics and the employees now the house played. While outside the documenta 7 fir trees were planted in allusion to Joseph Beuys‘ oak planting campaign, inside the Christmas tree lured shoppers to a McGeiz supermarket, insurers offered their services, while a games library, sports equipment and sunbeds provided recreational fun and relaxation. A trashy bowling alley in the basement and the abandoned landlord’s apartment revealed better times. Only shattered showcases were left of the art on the upper floors. Büchel invited them to a party fair at which political associations from the left to the AfD and NPD could present themselves at stands within the framework of Deutsche Grammatik. The political advertisers as well as the employees at the box office were neither actors nor „everyday experts“ who tell their stories as we know them from Rimini Protokoll. Büchel’s work interrupts every ready-made narrative. It’s about the mature viewer.

IV. Collaboration and Interaction. From the Swinger Club to The Mosque

Collaborations subsequently become the driving force behind Büchel’s projects. Art their art. The freedom of her time, 2010 in the Viennese Secession, the All Saints‘ of K.u.K. Modernism, worked with a well-known BDSM swingers club. Büchel organized his move. During the day the sultry ambience was open to the public. At night the rules of the club were followed. In 2011, the Picadilly Community Center offered London’s social institutions the opportunity to carry out programmes in the specially arranged rooms of the Hauser & Wirth Gallery. Cooking, dancing, playing the guitar or hanging out at the bar was now on offer for everyone in the city’s highly renovated centre. In Museumspädagogik, 2013, in the Kunstmuseum Herford designed disabled between Arno Breker sculptures clay figures, the fair Land of David (AFFBR), (2014) gave the Tasmanian Berriedale the local esoteric scene a platform.

Büchel’s most complex work to date succeeded in 2015 with The Mosque, Iceland’s official contribution to the 56th Venice Biennale. His project envisaged the opening of an Islamic house of prayer for the first time in Venice’s history. The authorities had so far denied this to the more than 3,000 Muslims of the city. The Mosque was a lesson in cooperation and collaboration. With the Icelandic Art Institute (IAC) behind him, Christoph Büchel had to win over a large number of local authorities and church authorities. On the level of collaboration, however, the Venetian Islamic communities, to which the 750-soul community of Iceland had opened the doors, were the ones to collaborate. In this setting, the artist had at best a moderating, not a controlling role. With this collaborative aspect, however, conflict with the cooperative side was inevitable. The Mosque was opened on 8 May. The artist had carefully adapted the interior of the former monastery church of Santa Maria della Misericordia to the rite: Prayer carpet instead of pews, one Mihrāb protruded from the east wall, next to it a steep minbar and deep into the room hung an octagonal chandelier. Also for the r the Wuḍū, the foot washing was provided. While vending machines donated water and Mecca-Cola, the shop offered all sorts of things for mental and physical well-being. Büchel was, even if only for a short time, an unobtrusive place for cultural encounters. As part of a participative cluster, the Biennale visitors enjoyed the beautiful space, while the others leaned their heads towards Mecca. The authorities therefore closed the Icelandic Pavilion after only two weeks – an art installation had been approved, but no mosque had been put into operation.

V. The Boat

Some also predicted the premature end of BARCA NOSTRA. It also appears to be an unparalleled scandal. In the original sense of the word. She is a trap, a nuisance – an artifact, in which performance and monument cross again, without merging into one of these moments. The wreck on the quay of the Arsenale calls upon the hundreds who drowned with it, their absent bodies, their unlived lives, and with them the story of the failure of European refugee policy. Büchel’s monument forces us to ask questions, to reconstruct a process whose monstrosity sheds a bright light on the madness of our days. In the first week of July, over 80 people drowned off the Tunisian coast trying to get to Italy. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 682 on this route alone, 426 from Libya, the result of an irresponsible European migration and sea rescue policy.

Is that also why the visitors ignore the barge? Don’t you want to be confronted too directly? And isn’t it cynical to present the boat like a prop from a film set? Yes, if the ship were considered more than just what it is, a shabby barge, a coffin for the nameless who died with it, a memorial to human failure. Büchel’s performative conceptualism also forbids declaring the ship a work of art. Some may enjoy the patina, or the unstable condition of the colossus, 21 meters long, 17 meters wide. But every observer remains silent in front of the rectangular welding holes through which the corpses were recovered after the ship had been lifted for many months. And where did the four huge cracks in the ship’s side come from? How could the massive steel structure on which the ship rests be so brutally bent in the front part? We don’t get an answer to these questions on site. We are dependent on the short text in the catalogue, the press release, information from the Internet and questions from the project team.

One after the other. On 18 April 2015, a Portuguese container freighter collided with the refugee ship 190 km off Lampedusa in an attempt to help the overcrowded boat that had previously been radioed by SOS. The former fishing cutter, bought by Syrian tugboats and set sail from a beach near Tripoli, was designed for a crew of fifteen. According to witnesses, 700 to 950 people were now on board from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Somalia, Eritrea and Bangladesh. Due to improper maneuvers by captain and helmsman, both survived and were later sentenced to 18 and 5 years imprisonment, the overloaded ship capsized after a mass panic. The nameless fishing cutter, only „Blessed by Allah“ can be read in the medallions, tore everyone down. Only 28 survive. 27 bodies were recovered from the sea. The misfortune made headlines. Shortly before, in October 2014, Mare Nostrum, a company solely supported by Italy to rescue boat fugitives, had been replaced by Operation Triton under the direction of the European Frontex Border Authority, founded in 2004. Triton was significantly less financially equipped if it was to secure the borders first. The rescue of castaways came in second place. The operations were therefore limited from the outset to a radius of action of 30 nautical miles off the Italian coast. NGOs and shipowners‘ associations quickly warned of an imminent increase in the deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean. In fact, 1,200 people died in several accidents in the third week of April 2015 alone. However, the shipwreck of the fishing barge consecrated in the name of Allah was to be the most serious shipwreck in the Mediterranean since the end of the Second World War. The horror did not end there. At first the rescue of the ship was considered superfluous, the victims remained nameless, public and relatives in the unknown. While the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced a salvage, the Italian public prosecutor considered it irrelevant and too costly for the criminal investigations. A first salvage attempt from a depth of 370 metres failed – hence the four cracks in the side walls – and the second was successful at the end of June 2016.

The wreck then reached the NATO naval base at Melilli near Augusta in Sicily, where hundreds of experts and volunteers were involved in identifying at least some of the victims. While the process of informing the relatives and burying the victims was completed in 2017 – the ship was lifted at a cost of 23 million euros – the fate of the ship remained controversial. Various interest groups complained about the sovereignty of interpretation. The political rights and votes in the Italian government demanded a quick disposal of the miserable barge. The Prime Minister announced that the wreck should be sent to Brussels as a memorial. Europe must take responsibility for the „scandal of migration“. In contrast, various initiatives from Milan to Palermo called for the wreck to be placed as a memorial in public space, above all the Comitato 18 Aprile 2015, founded shortly after the ship was transferred, which wants to place it in the centre of Augustas in a „garden of remembrance“. But the dispute prevented the ship from leaving its location on the military grounds.

The form of subversive affirmation, which had been tested with The Mosque four years earlier, should now also succeed with that. After Büchel was invited to the Biennale, long and tenacious negotiations began with stakeholders and authorities to secure the contractual release of the ship for the BARCA NOSTRA project under the flag of art, its transport to Venice and subsequent return to the new owner, the municipality of Augusta. BARCA NOSTRA is thus once again a hussar piece, in which different interest groups were obliged to reach a consensus that could hardly have been reached by any other means. This narrative-performative side of facilitating the project crosses the meaning of the wreck as a mere monument and elevates it beyond the well-intentioned and much-needed of art production in recent years.

Bildschirmfoto 2019-07-24 um 09.37.50.png

© Isolde Nagel, Berlin

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Unser Boot. Christoph Büchels Strategien der subversiven Affirmation

Der Basler Künstler Christoph Büchel sorgt für Aufreger – auch jetzt auf der 58. Venedig Biennale. Doch sieht man bei seinem Projekt BARCA NOSTRA genauer hin, geht seine Kunst weit über den kalkulierten Skandal hinaus.

I. Venedig Biennale im Juli

Es ist schwül-warm in Venedig. Am Wochenende zog ein Unwetter über die Stadt. Das italienische Kreuzfahrtschiff Costa Deliziosa hätte um ein Haar die Mole an den Giardini touchiert. Das ist jetzt in aller Munde. Der staubtrockene Kies knirscht unter den Schuhen der wenigen Besucherinnen, die es hinter die alten Lagerhäuser der Arsenale geschafft haben. Der einstige Militärhafen der Serenissima ist der zweite Ausstellungsort der 58. Venedig Biennale. Hier liegt Christoph Büchels umstrittenes Wrack BARCA NOSTRA. Steil ragt sein Bug in den Sommerhimmel. Drei verwitterte Medaillons mit arabischen Schriftzeichen und ein fünfzackiger Stern prangen zuoberst. Ihre Glücksversprechen scheinen nichts genutzt zu haben. Der Elendskahn mit verwitterter türkisblauer, rostroter Farbe am Rumpf, vier weit klaffende Risse in den Bordwänden, liegt durch Stahlträger gestützt an der Mole. Rechts vom Wrack stehen niedere Baracken, ein Café lockt zum Aperol Spritz, dahinter steht ein ausgedienter Lastkrahn auf einem schweren steinernen Sockel. Wie der Krahn wirkt der Kahn wie ein Relikt aus betriebsamen Zeiten. Die meisten gehen achtlos vorüber. Daran ändert auch das schwarze Absperrband nichts. Es fehlen die erklärenden Schilder, jeder Hinweis auf ein Kunstwerk, eine Künstlerin.

Dennoch hat kein Kunstwerk der 58. Venedig-Kunst-Biennale so für so viel Aufruhr gesorgt. Vor vier Jahren hatte der Basler es schon einmal mit einer Moschee geschafft, Venedig und das rechte Italien auf die Barrikaden zu treiben. Nun also ein Kutter, mit dem 2015 auf dem Höhepunkt der Flüchtlingskrise vor der italienischen Küste über 800 Menschen ertrunken waren. Der Innenminister und stellvertretende Ministerpräsident Italiens Matteo Salvini von der rechtspopulistischen Lega Nord sprach schon vor der Eröffnung reflexartig von Propaganda und einer „unzulässigen Einmischung in die Politik des Landes.“ Auch die Kunstszene zeigte sich gespalten: Während der britische Guardian die Biennale insgesamt für gelungen hielt, feuerte er gegen das Schiff Breitseite: Es sei die mit Abstand schlechteste Arbeit, falsch platziert, „just crass“. Gegenteilig, doch ebenso dogmatisch, wertet das deutsche Kunstmagazin Monopol. Sein Verdikt gegen die gesamte Biennale, nimmt nur eine Arbeit aus, BARCA NOSTRA. Ihre Qualität liege gerade darin, dass völlig unklar sei, „ob es nun Kunst ist oder nicht.“ An keiner Stelle der Biennale war ihr Leitthema Kunst und Politik, Erinnerung und der Skandal Tausender Opfer, die seit 2015 bei der Flucht über das Mittelmeer ums Leben gekommen sind, so komplex enggeführt und hitzig debattiert worden. Die Schlagzeilen beherrschten kurz darauf allerdings die Deutsche Kapitänin Carola Rackete und die erneuten Positionierungsversuche europäischer Politikerinnen dem Problem Herr zu werden. Es lohnt sich also genauer hinzusehen. Das führt zur Recherche in die Schweizer Provinz – nach Sankt Gallen. 

II._ “House of Fiction (Pumpwerk Heimat)“

Dort ist Büchels einzige Installation erhalten, House of Fiction (Pumpwerk Heimat) an der Lockremise aus dem Jahr 2003. Die einstige Fust-Eigentümmerin und Mäzenin Ursula Hauser präsentierte dort bis 2004 ihre Sammlung von Gegenwartskunst. Dazu wurde jährlich ein site-spezifisches, eigens für die Räume geschaffenes Kunstwerk in Auftrag gegeben. Christoph Büchel bespielte den nebenan errichteten Wasserturm, der erste Stahlbetonbau der Schweiz aus dem Jahr 1906. Nach dem Abzug der Hauser-Sammlung blieb Büchels Installation geschlossen. Erst nach einer Volksabstimmung zur Nutzung der Remise 2008 wurde die Arbeit angekauft, in die Trägerschaft des Kunstmuseums Sankt Gallen überführt, saniert und durch den Künstler erweitert. Seit 2013 steht sie an Sonntagen für jedermann offen. In Absprache mit Büchel hat man auch hier auf jede Werbung und Hinweisschilder, einen grösseren Besucherandrang könnte das House of Fiction ohnehin nicht bewältigen. Die Besucherinnen werden nur einzeln und nacheinander für 30 und 60 Minuten eingelassen. Sie erhält an der Kasse Instruktionen und einen Schlüssel, steigt über Leiter, öffnet die Tür in drei Metern Höhe und befindet sich nun auf Büchels labyrinthischer Bühne. Eine Herausforderung! Der Künstler schickt sein Publikum sportlich über Stiegen, morsche Leitern und Rutschen in eine aberwitzige Folge inszenierter Räume. Wirklichkeit erscheint verschoben, surreal, vertraut und angstbesetzt. Dabei gelingt der Szenografie das Vorgefundene vom Taubenkot bis zum Wassertank so einzubinden, dass Inszenierung und Wirklichkeit kaum mehr zu unterscheiden sind. Die Besucherin gelangt zuerst in einen Vorraum der ohne nennenswerten Eingriff aus der Betriebszeit des Pumpwerks stammt, doch längst jene Patina angenommen hat, mit der die Vergangenheit beklemmend heranrückt. Wie Alice in Wonderland steht die Besucherin als nächstes vor der Wahl eine von zwei Türen zu öffnen um weiterzukommen. Eine ist verschlossen. Die andere durch ein Sofa verbaut. Man zögert darübersteigen und findet sich in einem engen, seit langem verlassenen Wohnzimmer. Eine Kleinbürgerexistenz hatte sich hier offensichtlich heimelig gemacht. Letztes Lebenszeichen, eine BLICK-Ausgabe vom 13. Dezember 2001, Schlagzeile: „Drama in Dietlikon. Blutbad aus Eifersucht.“ Das Kino im Kopf, der Fährtenleser, Detektiv und Geschichtenerzähler wird aktiviert. Solchermassen vorprogrammiert steigt man von Raum zu Raum in die Abgründe und Höhen des Kleinbürgerlebens, das auch den Distanzierten abholt und berührt. Wer neidete in den 1970er-Jahren nicht die Besitzer einer Autowerkstatt, die am Motorblock eines Opel-Manta-GSI herumschraubten? Bei Büchel wird dieser Traum zum Finale greifbare Realität und zum Bild gelebter und ungelebter Möglichkeiten.

Was hat das mit BARCA NOSTRA zu tun? Eine einfache Erklärung wäre der Hinweis auf das Konzept der Appropriation. Der Künstler wählt vorgefundene Objekte und Materialien aus, arrangiert sie neu und stellt sie in den Kontext der Kunst. Nun arrangiert Büchel in Sankt Gallen Gebrauchsgegenstände zu einem neuen Bühnen-Set und transferiert das Schiff in den Kunstkontext der Biennale. Tatsächlich bekommt der Wohnungsplunder und das Wrack dadurch eine Aufmerksamkeit, die sie vorher nicht hatten. Durch diesen Transfer aus einer diffus formatierten Wirklichkeit in eine Sphäre des künstlichen Scheins, erhalten sie für das Publikum Bedeutsamkeit und die Möglichkeit Narrative daran festzumachen. Das gelingt Büchel jedoch gerade darin, die Grenzen zwischen Wirklichkeit und Schein offen und fliessend zu halten. Seine Arbeiten werden daher nicht im Sinne Marcel Duchamps, dem ersten Gewährsmann dieser Strategie, kraft Künstlersetzung zu einem Kunstwerk erklärt. Den Arbeiten Büchels fehlt die Signatur, die das Objekt in die Sphäre der ästhetischen Betrachtung hebt. Er ist nicht anwesend. Er hat sich als Erklärer seiner Arbeit seit Jahren vollkommen zurückgezogen.

Damit ergibt sich ein zweiter Ansatz: Die Diskretion des Künstlers setzt den mündigen Betrachter frei. Auch hier wird Marcel Duchamp als Gewährsmann aufgerufen: Bloss viszerale, an Oberflächenreize appellierende Kunst unterschlägt den wesentlichen Aspekt der Kunst. Der spricht den Geist und das Lesevermögen des Publikums an. Einfach gesagt: Christoph Büchel produziert kein autonomes Kunstwerk, sondern stellt Situationen her, in denen sich Denkmal und Aktion durchkreuzen. Weder in Sankt Gallen noch in Venedig gehen die Arbeiten im de facto Gegebenen auf. Das Kunstwerk entsteht im Kopf des Betrachters.

III._ Von Sankt Gallen nach Venedig

Doch zwischen dem introvertierten Kammerspiel in Sankt Gallen und dem dramatischen Auftritt in Venedig bestehen auch erhebliche Differenzen und eine Werkentwicklung von sechzehn Jahren. Zu Beginn seiner Karriere, nach einem Kunststudium in Basel, New York und Düsseldorf bis 1997, verlegte sich Büchel Ende der 1990er-Jahre auf den Bau von lebensnahen, klaustrophoben Interieurs in Galerien, Museen aber auch kunstfernen Orten, die die Besucherin, den Besucher als aktiven Mitspieler forderten. In Zürich machte seine mit dem Aktionskünstler Gianni Motti geplante Aktion Capital Affair, 2002, im Zürcher Helmhaus Furore. Das Ausstellungsbudget von 50.000 Franken sollte im ansonsten leeren Haus versteckt und dem Finder zuerkannt werden. Dazu kam es nicht. Der kurz vorher ins Amt gehobene Stadtpräsident Elmar Ledergerber intervenierte und überwies das Geld an das vom Elbehochwasser geschädigte Dresden. Wie hätten sich die Besucher verhalten? Das Helmhaus eine Bühne von Aktionisten und Beobachtern, von Haltungen und Distinktionsrochaden. An solchen Bühnen zwischen Wirklichkeit und Kunst baut Büchel weiter. Sie besetzen ein Zwischenreich. Schon im Winter 2002 verwandelte er einen Musik-Keller im Kunstverein Hannover in eine Gefrierzelle, MINUS. Tribuanl im Kunstmuseum Basel 2004, zeigte US-amerikanische Verhör- und Gerichtszellen, die man über eine Leiter in der Decke erreichte. Guantanamo wiederum mit Motti zur 51. Venedig Biennale 2005, oder die Strassenaktion Salzburg bleibt frei (2006) griffen Reizthemen auf wie das US-Gefangenen Lager auf Kuba und den Rechtsradikalismus.

Seit den 1960er-Jahren schufen Künstlerinnen wie George Segal, Ed Kienholz oder Emilia und Illja Kabakow realitätsnahe Environments. Ihre Botschaft sollte näher an die Lebenswirklichkeit des Publikums transportiert werden. Doch es wurde noch auf Objekt-Distanz gehalten. Das änderte sich mit der darauffolgenden Generation. Teilhabe, Partizipation hiess jetzt mittendrin und dabei sein: Gregor Schneider, Jahrgang 1969, schickte seine Betrachter im Totes Haus U r 2001 auf der 49. Venedig Biennale durch beklemmende Situationen, die sein über die Jahre labyrithisch ausgebautes Elternhaus bereitgestellt gestellt hatte, und erhielt den Goldenen Löwen. Mike Nelson, 1967 geboren, baute 2011 den Britischen Pavillon I, Impostor zu einem gerade verlassenen orientalischen Haus um, dessen vormaligen Bewohnern es nachzuspüren galt. Damit hatte sich eine Kunstgattung etabliert, die längst nicht mehr nur von Bildenden Künstlerinnen bedient wird. Theaterkollektive wie Rimini Protokoll, das Duo Signa und Arthur Köstler oder die diesjährigen Venedig-Preisträgerinnen Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė und Lina Lapelytė mit The Sun and the Sea im Litauischen Pavillon entwerfen aufwendige Parcours, in denen gecastete Darsteller mit dem Publikum interagieren. Auch Büchel belebt seine Installationen. Zum ersten Mal 2008, als die Installation Deutsche Grammatik das Kassler Fridericianum in eine Shoppingmal verwandelt, die Kulturinstitution im Abwicklungsprozess: Ein Baustellenplakat vor der Tür kündigte den Umbau zu einer Filiale der Bundesagentur für Arbeit an. Statt den Fundus zu plündern, suchte er Kollaborationspartner aus der Wirtschaft. Mit ihrer Logistik und den Angestellten nun das Haus bespielt. Während draussen in Anspielung auf Joseph Beuys’ Eichenpflanzaktion zur documenta 7 Tannenbäumchen gepflanzt wurden, lockte drinnen die Weihnachtstanne zum Shoppen in einer Mc-Geiz-Filiale, boten Versicherer ihre Dienstleistungen an, während eine Spielothek, Sportgeräte und Sonnenbänke für Freizeitspass und Entspannung sorgten. Eine vermüllte Kegelbahn im Keller und die verlassene Abwartswohnung verrieten bessere Zeiten. Von der Kunst in den Obergeschossen waren nur zertrümmerte Vitrinen übrig. Dazu lud Büchel, zu einer Parteien-Messe, auf der sich im Rahmen der Deutschen Grammatik politische Vereinigungen von der Linken bis zur AfD und NPD an Ständen präsentieren konnten. Bei den Politwerbern wie den Angestellten an der Kasse handelte es sich weder Schauspieler noch „Experten des Alltags“, die ihre Geschichte erzählen, wie man sie von Rimini Protokoll her kennt. Büchels Arbeitenunterbrechen jedes vorgefertigte Narrativ. Es geht um den mündigen Zuschauer.

IV.Kollaboration und Interaktion. Vom Swinger-Club zur Moschee

Kollaborationen werden in der Folge zum treibenden Motor Büchels Projekte. Der Kunst ihre Kunst. Der Freiheit ihre Zeit, 2010 in der Wiener Sezession, dem Allerheiligesten der K.u.K.-Moderne, arbeitete mit einem stadtbekannten BDSM-Swingerclub. Büchel organisierte seinen Umzug. Tags war das schwüle Ambiente zu besichtigen. Nachts ging es nach den Regeln des Clubs zur Sache. Das Picadilly Community Center bot 2011 Sozialeinrichtungen Londons Gelegenheit in den eigens arrangierten Räumen der Galerie Hauser & Wirth Programme durchzuführen. Kochen, Tanzen, Gitarre spielen oder an der Bar hängen, war nun für alle im hochgentrifizierten Zentrum der Stadt geboten. In Museumspädagogik, 2013, im Kunstmuseum Herford gestalteten Behinderte zwischen Arno Breker-Skulpturen Tonfiguren, die Messe Land of David (AFFBR), (2014) gab im tasmanischen Berriedale Esoterikmarktanbietern eine Plattform.

Büchels bisher komplexeste Arbeit gelang 2015 mit The Mosque, dem offizieller Beitrag Islands zur 56. Venedig Biennale. Sein Projekt sah vor, dass zum ersten Mal in der Geschichte Venedigs ein islamisches Gebetshaus eröffnet wird. Die Behörden hatten dies den über 3.000 Muslimen der Stadt bisher verwehrt. The Mosque war ein Lehrstück der Kooperation und Kollaboration. Christoph Büchel hatte mit dem Icelandic Art Institute (IAC) im Rücken eine Vielzahl kommunaler Behörden und kirchlicher Instanzen zu gewinnen. Auf der Ebene der Kollaboration hingegen die venezianischen Islamgemeinschaften, zu denen die 750-Seelen-Gemeinde Islands die Türen geöffnet hatte. In diesem Setting besaß der Künstler allenfalls eine moderierende, keine kontrollierende Rolle. Mit diesem kollaborativen Aspekt war jedoch der Konflikt mit der kooperativen Seite vorprogrammiert. 8. Mai wurde The Mosque eröffnet. Dazu hatte der Künstler das Innere der ehemaligen Klosterkirche Santa Maria della Misericordia behutsam dem Ritus angepasst: Gebetsteppich statt Kirchenbänke, eine Mihrāb ragte aus der Ostwand, daneben eine steile Minbar und tief in den Raum hing ein achteckiger Leuchter. Auch für die r die Wuḍū, die Fusswaschung war gesorgt. Während Getränkeautomaten Wasser und Mecca-Cola spendeten, bot der Shop allerlei für das geistige und körperliche Wohl. Büchel war, wenn auch nur für kurz, ein unaufdringlicher Ort der kulturellen Begegnung gelungen. Als Teil eines partizipativen Clusters erfreuten sich die Biennalebesucher des schönen Raums, während die anderen ihr Haupt gen Mekka neigten. Die Behörden schlossen daher den Isländischen Pavillon bereits nach zwei Wochen – man habe eine Kunstinstallation genehmigt, aber keine Moschee in Betrieb.

V. Das Boot

Auch der BARCA NOSTRA prophezeiten einige das vorzeitige Ende. Auch sie nimmt sich als Skandalon sondergleichen aus. Im ursprünglichen Wortsinn. Sie ist eine Falle, ein Ärgernis, – ein Artefakt, in dem sich wieder Performanz und Monument durchkreuzen, ohne in einem dieser Momente aufzugehen. Das Wrack am Kai der Arsenale ruft die Hunderten auf, die mit ihm ertrunken sind, ihre abwesenden Körper, ihre nicht gelebten Leben, und mit ihnen die Geschichte vom Versagen der europäischen Flüchtlingspolitik. Büchels Monument zwingt zum Nachfragen, zur Rekonstruktion eines Vorgangs, dessen Ungeheuerlichkeit ein grelles Licht auf den Wahnsinn unserer Tage zurückwirft. In der ersten Juliwoche ertranken über 80 Menschen vor der tunesischen Küste bei dem Versuch nach Italien zu gelangen. Nach Angaben der Internationalen Organisation für Migration (IOM) waren es allein 682 auf dieser Route, 426 von Libyen aus, Resultat einer verantwortungslosen Europäischen Migrations- und Seenotrettungspolitik.

Wird der Kahn von den Besuchern auch darum ignoriert? Will man nicht allzu direkt damit konfrontiert werden? Und ist es nicht zynisch, den Kutter wie ein Requisit aus einem Filmset zu präsentieren? Ja, wenn das Schiff für mehr gehalten würde, als eben das, was es ist, ein schäbiger Kahn, ein Sarg für die Namenlosen, die mit ihm starben, ein Mahnmal menschlichen Versagens. Der performative Konzeptualismus Büchels verbietet gerade auch darum, den Kahn zum Kunstwerk zu erklären. Manch einer mag sich an der Patina erfreuen, oder an labile Zustand des Kolosses, 21 Meter lang, 17 Meter breit. Doch jede Betrachterin, jeder Betrachter schweigt vor den rechteckigen Schweißlöchern, durch die, nachdem das Schiff nach vielen Monaten gehoben war, die Leichen geborgen wurden. Und woher stammen die vier gewaltigen Risse in der Bordwand? Wie konnte die massive Stahlkonstruktion, auf der das Schiff ruht, im vorderen Teil so brachial verbogen werden? Auf diese Fragen erhalten wir vor Ort keine Antwort. Wir sind auf den Kurztext im Katalog, auf die Presseerklärung, Informationen aus dem Internet und Nachfragen beim Projektteam angewiesen.

Der Reihe nach. Am 18. April 2015 kollidierte ein portugiesischer Containerfrachter mit dem Flüchtlingsschiff 190 km vor Lampedusa beim Versuch dem überfüllten Boot zu Hilfe zu kommen, das zuvor SOS gefunkt hatte. Der ehemalige Fischkutter, von syrischen Schleppern gekauft und von einem Strand bei Tripolis in See gestochen, war für fünfzehn Mann Besatzung ausgelegt. Nach Zeugenberichten waren nun 700 bis 950 Menschen an Bord, aus Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Somalia, Eritrea und Bangladesch. Durch unsachgemäße Manöver von Kapitän und Steuermann, beide überleben und wurden später zu Haftstrafen von 18 und 5 Jahren verurteilt, kenterte das überladene Schiff nach einer Massenpanik. Der namenlose Fischkutter, lediglich „Gesegnet von Allah“ ist in den Medaillons zu lesen, riss alle in die Tiefe. Nur 28 überleben. 27 Leichen barg man aus dem Meer. Das Unglück machte Schlagzeilen. Kurz zuvor im Oktober 2014 war das allein von Italien getragene Unternehmen Mare Nostrum zur Rettung von Bootsflüchtigen durch die Operation Triton unter Leitung der 2004 gegründeten Europäischen Grenzbehörde Frontex ersetzt worden. Triton war finanziell deutlich geringer ausgestattet, sollte zuerst die Grenzen sichern. Die Rettung Schiffbrüchiger kam erst an zweiter Stelle. Man beschränkte die Einsätze daher von vornherein auf einen Aktionsradius von 30 Seemeilen vor der italienischen Küste. NGOs und Reederverbände warnten rasch vor einem drohenden Anstieg der Todesfälle von Flüchtlingen im Mittelmeer. Tatsächlich kamen allein in der dritten Aprilwoche 2015 bei mehreren Unglücken 1.200 Menschen ums Leben. Die Havarie des im Namen Allahs geweihten Fischerkahns sollte jedoch das gemessen an den Opferzahlen schwerste Schiffsunglück im Mittelmeer seit Beendigung des zweiten Weltkriegs sein. Das Grauen hatte damit kein Ende. Zunächst hielt man die Bergung des Schiffes für Überflüssig, die Opfer blieben Namenlos, Öffentlichkeit und Angehörige im Ungewissen. Während der italienische Ministerpräsident Matteo Renzi eine Bergung ankündigte, hielt die italienische Staatsanwaltschaft diese für die strafrechtlichen Ermittlungen für irrelevant und zu kostspielig. Ein erster Bergungsversuch aus 370 Metern Tiefe scheiterte – daher rühren die vier Risse in den Bordwänden –, der zweite glückte Ende Juni 2016.

Das Wrack gelangte anschließend auf die NATO-Marinebasis Melilli bei Augusta auf Sizilien, wo unter Beteiligung Hunderter Fachleute und Freiwilliger die Identifikation wenigstens eines Teils der Opfer unternommen wurde. Während der Vorgang mit der Information der Angehörigen und der Bestattung der Opfer 2017 abgeschlossen war – samt Hebung des Schiffes waren Kosten von 23 Millionen Euro entstanden –, blieb das Schicksal des Schiffes strittig. Verschiedene Interessengruppen reklamierten Deutungshoheit. Die politische Rechte und Stimmen in der italienischen Regierung forderten eine schnelle Entsorgung des Elendskahns. Der Ministerpräsident ließ verlauten, das Wrack solle als Mahnmal nach Brüssel geschickt werden. Europa müsse die Verantwortung für den „Skandal der Migration“ übernehmen. Dagegen forderten verschiedene Initiativen von Mailand bis Palermo das Wrack als Mahnmal im öffentlichen Raum zu platzieren, allen voran das kurz nach Überführung des Schiffs gegründete Comitato 18 Aprile 2015, das es ins Zentrum Augustas in einen „Garten der Erinnerung“ stellen will. Doch der Streit verhinderte, dass das Schiff seinen Standort auf dem Militärgelände verließ.

Die Form der subversiven Affirmation, die mit The Mosque vier Jahre zuvor erprobt worden war, sollte nun auch mit dem glücken. Nachdem Büchel zur Biennale eingeladen war, begannen lange und zähe Verhandlungen mit Interessenvertretern und Behörden, um die vertraglich gesicherte Freigabe des Schiffes für das Projekt BARCA NOSTRA unter der Flagge der Kunst, dessen Transport nach Venedig und die anschließende Rückführung an die neue Eigentümerin, die Gemeinde Augusta. Bei BARCA NOSTRA handelt es sich also wieder um ein Husarenstück, bei dem unterschiedliche Interessengruppen zu einem Konsens verpflichtet wurden, der auf anderem Weg kaum hätte hergestellt werden können. Diese narrativperformative Seite der Ermöglichung des Projektes durchkreuzt den Bedeutungsgehalt des Wracks als bloßes Monument und hebt es über gut Gemeintes und viel Bemühtes der Kunstproduktion der letzten Jahre hinaus.

Zuerst redaktionell  überarbeitet online unter dem Titel „Ein grelles Licht auf den Wahnsinn unserer Tage“ am 24.07.2019 bei

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GET INVOLVED! Strategies of Participation in Contemporay Art

By Max Glauner

Participation must be seen as an artistic strategy in the post-war and contemparary art. We intend to determine its modes of interaction, cooperation and collaboration, and emphasize the basal form of experience in art as a beeing in the middle and apart drawing the line between the aesthetical, the spectacle and the religious sphere.

© Christian Falsnaes

„How not to sink into participation?“ Emanuel Lèvinas, 1957


Participation, from Latin for partake, sharing, can be described without digression as the core slogan of our neoliberal world. Their call „Join in! Be a part of it“ goes from everywhere. „Get involved! Be part of it!“, the request sounds to the contemporary meanwhile from almost every website and app. It pervades all areas of society, from politics and the economy to the entertainment industry and the cultural sector.(1)

Who are the agents of this ubiquitous call for participation? The suspicion that two movements are intertwining here arises for the awake contemporary: On the one hand, the reputation compensates and obscures the historically grown inability of the post-modern human being to empathise and deepen relationships. On the other hand, the slogan „Get involved! – This is precisely why it is so successful – the existential emptying that it pretends to eliminate and therefore constantly invents new offers of compensation, i.e. participation.

An essential reason for this can be traced in the history of ideas: Participation is inherently pseudonymous. In philosophy it does not initially belong to the capital topics. With Plato, it operates as „Methexis“, which determines the derivative relationship between the image, the changing appearance of a thing in this world, and its perpetual archetype, its perfect, yet transcendent idea.(2) Methexis thus marks a deficiency relationship from the very beginning of Western thought. The appearing has a part in the idea, but only in part. It remains dependent, needy, man a subjectum, a subject.(3)

The Judeo-Christian theology treats participation as participation in the divine creation or the Christian history of salvation, whereby the relationship from above to below, transcendence and human existence is renegotiated. After the expulsion from paradise, the apostate and the punished nevertheless have a share in his creation, over which the pleasing God commands those living according to the laws of God. His covenant, his possibility of participation, is renewed above all in faith and the observance of the sacraments.(4)

No wonder, therefore, that with the advent of modernity and the Reformation movements, the discovery of individuality and self-determination of man, not only the binding power of the sacrament in the Lord’s Supper, but also ritual and participatory moments in the practice of religion thin out and disappear. Society is becoming poorer in visible participatory offerings. With the general literacy for the Bible circle, the pietistic strategy under Luther’s slogan „sola scriptura“ people become readers to whom new worlds open up. But despite the Bible circle they remain lonely and alone in their reading.(5)

The loss of participation in modernity seems to have been offset by mass consumption and mass media and finally by Web 2.0. The parishioner, the user, enters the „community“ via „clicks“ and „likes“, makes tweets, blogs, pics and videos available for download or surfs with his avatar in interactive fiction worlds. He is constantly available to his homies, friends and connections via social networks and takes part in their digital charades. He (or she) forgets that he or she leaves the choice of partner to an algorithm where he or she has long since passed on his or her location data to the provider, the bank and the NSA round the clock via GPS or RFID tags.(6)

To this end, the neoliberal economic system has inventively provided countless digital and analog participation models. They shape and control social developments, trends, fashion and art trends even before they become aware of themselves. From production and distribution to advertising, from works councils to shareholder meetings, the magic word for new productivity is participation, participation, spectacle. Alienation and manipulation do not therefore threaten today, as the situationist Guy Debord and, more differentiatedly, Theodor W. Adorno wanted us to believe, through entertaining media that push the recipient into a passively consuming role.(7) Rather, the opposite is the case. Today’s requirement profile demands the flexibility to be present everywhere – right in the middle, whether in leisure time or at work: „Get the app! Improve your profile – do and buy the right things!“(8)


And what does art do? Where it does not promote the prevailing conditions, it apparently falls hopelessly behind. But doesn’t it also have a large number of participatory designs under the labels Dialogic Art, Commuity Art, Socially and Politically-Engaged Art, from activism to activism, that resist and counteract this emptying? There is no doubt about it. It can be seen as a good sign that they are not easy to categorize and also that there is little agreement on what participation in art is and what task and scope it has.

At the end of the 1990s, the concept of participation was treated as a magic word in the art world following the concept of „Relational Art“ by curator Nicolas Bourriaud.(9) Today, it is highly controversial. While some are struggling to redefine it in theory and practice, others see a hell of a door open.(10)

As early as the protest and democratization movements of the 1960s, art, like theatre, developed a series of formats, participation and co-creation that put audience participation on the agenda. Participation was synonymous with emancipation. By John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Valie Export and Marina Abramović, the Living Theatre or the Wooster Group emphasizing the performance character of art and renegotiating the relationship between artwork, artist and recipient, the gallery, museum or theatre visitor was given a new role in which he saw himself again as an active, self-thinking collaborator in the sense of the Brechtian model.(11)

Participative strategies have now become an indispensable part of the art field. In the mid-1990s, with the emergence of digital media and the first wave of Internet euphoria with Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Francis Alÿs, Andrea Fraser, Christoph Schlingensief, Gob Squad, and Rimini Protokoll, participatory strategies, cooperation, and community building have once again become high on the agenda.

As expected, the new participatory offerings have now been secondary to a large number of texts. Nevertheless, no discourse emerged that allowed a sustainable-critical approach to the phenomenon of participation. An aesthetic, let alone a theory of participation, has not yet been written, despite well-intentioned approaches. Whereas in the Anglo-Saxon world in recent years, mainly small-scale sociological work in the field of net culture has been presented,(13) the constitution of a research group at the University of Konstanz last summer is symptomatic of the German-speaking world. It claims to have taken a series of institutionally different approaches under the title „Mediale Teilhabe. Participation between claim and claim“ Need for action for knowledge production on a broad front. However, art and performance practice play only a marginal role in the research set. Otherwise, the already ambitious project would probably have gone off the rails.(14) In 2015, for example, a Berlin publishing house also finally pulled out the publication of a dissertation entitled „Zwischen Spiel und Politik. Participation as Strategy and Practice in the Visual Arts“.(15) But whatever the reasons may have been for the withdrawal, Silke Feldhoff’s theoretical approach, from which four „types of participation“ are established, is not really convincing, and it cannot do justice to the claim of offering an encyclopaedic overview of the German-speaking landscape. Not only does it have to ignore the fact that participatory art can only be described as a transnational phenomenon even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that after 1989 it can be regarded as the first global art phenomenon alongside the new media, it also has to ignore the fact that gaps quickly become visible in its impressive composition.

Larger theoretical drafts of the 2000s, such as Erika Fischer-Lichte’s „Aesthetics of the Performative“ (Frankfurt a.M. 2004) or Juliane Rebentisch’s „Aesthetics of the Installation“ (Frankfurt a.M. 2005), did not place participation in art directly at the centre of their reception-theoretical considerations.

The theme is a hot potato. This is also due to the fact that over the past two decades two hostile camps of theory formation have crystallized, while practice has continued to produce lively.

On the one hand, there is the conservative camp that locates the power of art precisely in the singularity and autonomy of the artistically designed event. It first associates participation with „participatory theatre“, „citizen stages“ and social work, and in participatory art actions it waves its nose at the remark that „you have to take off your shoes“. This camp means, when there is positive talk of participation, participation as an extended reception. Accordingly, every apperception is an active reception and thus participation in the work of art or the performance, whether it is a sonata movement by Beethoven or a sound installation by Peter Ablinger.(16)

On the other hand, there is the actionist camp, which wants to use art as an effective weapon against the failures of the world. It likes to mock those who don’t take off their shoes and prefer to remain spectators. Participation is only given when the viewer is directly and immediately physically involved, leaves his position and becomes an active participant in art production or performance, receives a voice and the right to object. Ultimately, the sphere of art is left here. It merely serves as an instrument for activating a new, critical community of political actors such as the artist and curator Artur Żmijewski or recently Philipp Ruch of the Center for Political Beauty has in mind (17) .

What is remarkable here is the fact that both camps like to refer to two guarantors, the French philosophers Jean-Luc Nancy and Jaques Rancière, albeit in different readings. Even if, or precisely because, both have never emerged with an explicitly elaborated aesthetic, writings such as Nancy’s „La communauté désœuvrée“ (Paris 1986) or Rancière’s „Le spectateur émancipé“ (Paris 2008) determine the discourse. Depending on whether one wants to see the work of art or the community constituted by it established, their writings are used above all where they deal with a „we“ in the „co-division“ and the inextricable separation it expresses as the only connecting factor. A dialectical dissolution or fusion of subject-object can no longer be thought of here, but in the best case this frees the way to describe and understand the complex relational determinations and processes of participatory art. Only the New York art critic Claire Bishop, who presented a collection of theoretical and practical texts in 2006 and a study on the subject in 2012, has achieved a comparable degree of discourse sovereignty in recent years. She opens up a broad historical-critical panorama from the beginnings of the 20th century to the present day, but, supported by the conviction that participatory art is an essential motor for changing society, she largely dispenses with a theoretical-philosophical deepening.(18)

A satisfactory interpretation of the concept of participation has so far failed to materialize in art studies. Criteria and concepts are still missing from the discourse when it comes, for example, to placing the actions of the Center for Political Beauty in a relationship to Christoph Schlingensief’s actionism.(19) What have Christoph Büchel’s collaborative installation „The Mosque“ during the 56th Venice Biennale 2015 or the interactive settings of the media group Blast Theory artistically ahead of colorfully flickering screens controlled by the movements of trade fair visitors? And why does a robotic suite performance by the artist duo Demers and Vorn, which makes the user equipped with an exo-skeleton flicker to techno beats in stroboscopic light, seem so terribly unnecessary and empty, while Jordan Wolfson’s „(Female Figure) 2014“ (2014), a digitally controlled gogo girl automaton, doesn’t let go of its audience so quickly? Art critics have found few satisfactory answers to these questions.(20)

Participation, the call to „join in“, works in most cases without criticism, as the British artist David Shrigley demonstrated in a simple experimental set-up at Art Basel 2015. His simple „The Model“, equipped with paper, pencil and easel, could be pinned to the wall of the bunks by the visitors. There were few who withdrew from the offer. Thus everyone who wanted to became an actor and part of the big art business, which one would otherwise only be excluded from as an observer. But just as the Dilettantengalerie could hardly be classified as aesthetically valuable, Shrigley’s work did not go beyond the polemical fair gag that counteracted participation as a bland phase-out model. Skepticism toward the cheap offers of participation is therefore appropriate. (21)


Most people might remember that embaressing situation in childhood when, in the middle of the fairytale performance, it was said: „All children on stage!“ While some had long been anxious to play a little deer or a little tree, others felt irritated, shamefaced and disappointed, deprived of the illusion and the theatrical experience. This participative primal scene repeats itself. At communion, in the disco, where some dance for hours while others prefer to stand at the bar, at carnival and company parties. In both cases, the observer could judge that those who take part are there, right in the middle, the others outside and apart. That this is not the case, but that inclusion is also possible and given in exclusion, is now taught not only by Jacques Nancy’s philosophy, but also by his own experience. This experience evokes and formats participatory art in a „being in the middle and apart“.(22)

This existential philosophical twist, the „Outside in the Inside,“ marks the border between art, religion, and spectacle. The latter lack the „outside“ in the „midst“. They are highly participative, one thinks of Facebook meetings, Catholic pilgrimages to Mary, or the experience worlds of a hadj with stoning of the devil before one circles the Kaaba in the masses.

At the Marrakesh Biennale 2014, the French artist Saâdane Afif impressively demonstrated how art can create an outside world from the midst of it, from the promise of participation, contradiction and critical sympathy by undermining the superficial impulse to participate. During the opening week, a young man in front of an Art Deco building of the former central bank, which now served as an exhibition house, carried a small table and a flipchart to sunset on the famous market square Djemaa el Fna, where night after night culinary and circus delicacies are offered to locals and the growing number of tourists. As soon as the performer, a local student of engineering, had put his utensils on the table, geometric figures, small white balls, cubes, pyramids and hand-painted cardboard signs advertising „souvenirs“ at a small price, the first curious people gathered around the young man. After a brief look around and with his pen drawn, he took the floor without hesitation and, supported by his sketches and formulas, began to lecture in Arabic on the challenges of representational geometry. In a few minutes, a large circle of listeners had gathered around the speaker, local women, children, men, some tourists. They came and went; a hard core expert remained for discussion. After three quarters of an hour they went to the sale. One could now acquire works of art. They reminded us of the art of mathematics. The Arab culture had brought them to climaxes. They were beautifully polished wooden blocks in plastic bags, applied geometry to carry home, made by local craftsmen and certified as part of the artwork „Souvenir: Part 1. La leçon de géométrie“. Throughout the day, the table and table stood in the bank’s Biennale exhibition, the white turrets in a second version elevated as an art object in a showcase in another exhibition location, the regional museum Dar Si Said.

The description of „Souvenir: Part 1“ alone gives an idea of how different participatory offers were established and crossed in the performance. Whether local, tourist or biennial visitor, everyone was invited to participate as observer, spectator, listener, discussant or buyer. But none of the possible postures were integrated into the playground. The question of participation and community itself was thus put up for discussion and renegotiable. Part of a community, everyone was thrown back on himself in the withdrawal of participation. The action enabled every visitor, no matter how distant, to participate in the Biennale and the Biennale audience to participate in local events. The renunciation of a pedagogical offer on the one hand corresponded to the renunciation of folkloristic tam-tam on the other. Despite all intimacy and community, everyone was confronted with a piece of incomprehension and strangeness that, in the best case scenario, invited them to reflect on their own states of mind and attitudes in the experience of this „in and out“.


More contoured than in Saâdane Afif’s performance is the „in the middle and apart“ of recent installation works. They thematize the relationship between interior and exterior spaces and bring the visitor into situations in which he enters a reenactment in the position of a performer.

A work by the artist collective !Mediengruppe Bitnik around Domagoj Smoljo and Carmen Weisskopf offers a suitable introduction. Their way of working is described on the website: „Using hacking as an artistic strategy, their works re-contextualise the familiar to allow for new readings of established structures and mechanisms „(23) The installation „Delivery to Mr. Assange“ at the Helmhaus 2014 (24) in Zurich was not directly related to the skill of re-programming or de-programming, but it provided insight into the hacker millieu – specifically into the current living conditions of Wikileak founder Daniel Assange. The work did not count on the user on the screen, but on an audience as participant as „visitor“ and „guest“ on site, while in the first room the documentation of a camera parcel post to Assange „DELIVERY FOR MR. ASSANGE. A LIVE MAIL ART PIECE“, they had reconstructed the living room of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in the hall next door with plasterboard visible from the outside. Everyone was able to enter the room via a sluice, could get a picture of the isolated person of public life, who was obviously well connected via the net, between bookshelves, chairs and a desk, a home trainer and a laptop with archive material and records. How did this room get to Zurich? A notice on the room informed the visitor that during Smoljo and Weisskopf’s stay near Assange in London, no photos or other documentation could be produced. Thus, with Assange’s consent, the two made memory records after their stay, after which the room was reconstructed for the exhibition – including book titles and curtains. What was decisive, however, was that the viewer in this situation went into the London embassy himself, into the position, in the role of the guest, and thus gained a very private insight into the otherwise hidden circumstances. The extent to which the environment coincided with reality was of secondary importance, since it was precisely the awareness of difference, the awareness of appearance, that served as a catalyst for one’s own imagination, which briefly met with that of the producers. The installation thus created a mind-set that was connected with a feeling of shame, guilt, and curiosity. Here, too, an outside that sets the power of imagination in motion and puts attitudes to questions such as public and private, freedom and control at the disposal is established in the midst of it all.

This practice makes use of the reconstructive reenactment or participative reconstruction of an early 13th-century device, probably without being aware of it: the narrative of the Loreto miracle or the architecture of the Santa Casa di Loreto not far from the Italian Adriatic coast south of Ravenna.

In the monumental interior of the Basilica of Loreto, the most important pilgrimage destination in Italy after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, there is a huge, elaborately decorated shrine-like building in the crossing. Inside, the House of Mary, the place of her birth and the Annunciation, is shown as the Blessed Sacrament. According to legend, it was carried from its original location in Palestine to Loreto by angels. Interestingly, as in the case of Assange’s room, the exterior of the house is not preserved, but completely covered by the shrine. Through two entrances on the long sides, the pilgrim enters a small room, closed at the top by a barrel vault, with a Baroque altar on the eastern front, on which a Virgin Mary is placed as a devotional figure. The believer may now be assured of the protection and grace of the higher powers at a decisive place of the salvation event, this partially. In the architectural presence the real presence of the Mother of God as mediator of all graces and intercessor with Jesus Christ is repeated.

The parallels are clear: in both cases it is a reconstruction of space that is connected with a narrative of translocation – with !Mediengruppe Bitnik, the story with the package. And also the connection with higher, but in any case invisible powers, here God, there the WWW form constitutive moments. A decisive difference arises in the form of participation: For the believer, the brick walls are actually the walls of the Marienhaus, in which the event of salvation took place. There is no doubt in his mind, he is right in the middle of it, he has no outside. The elaborately designed shrine is first of all a triumphal sign for him, announcing the power and glory of the saints, while its sparse interior invites him to devotion and inner contemplation and penance. Certainly – shame before the miserable narrowness of the Assange room, was also attested to the visitor of the installation of the !media group Bitnik. But he will hardly remain in an adorable position in front of computers and USB cables. He is indeed „inside“, he deals with the installation and perhaps also with the existence of Assange. But the guest has always been outside, too. With Assange, he will only conditionally connect a divine plan of salvation to save the world and instead puts himself and his life-worldly background into relation.

The Hamburg artist, filmmaker and media theorist Lutz Dammbeck gives another example of architectural re-enactment with his installation „Cabin“ from 2003, which is shown again and again. Here, too, the visitor, viewer, feels insecure, but at the same time an uncanny attraction and repulsion through its theme. Two years before the FBI released the original hut, „Ted“, Theodor Kaczynski’s, the so-called Unabomber from the evidence reserves for a public exhibition, the Hamburg artist reconstructed it true to the original. In contrast to the two previous examples, it is not possible for the viewer to enter the building. But he was able to see through a window and observation slits. So the visitor was also a guest – but like Hansel and Gretel in front of the witch’s house, he was caught doing something perhaps forbidden. Looking into the hut of a serial killer, one succumbed to the fascination of evil, in which one had a part the longer one occupied oneself with this dwelling. Here, too, participation lay in a process of reflection that was set in motion by the artwork and its relationship to our reality. Dammbeck does not give any instructions on how to play. We leave it to ourselves to design our narrative, our attitude. The film and the book Dammbeck’s „The Net“ spins Ted Kaczynski’s story further, shows connections between the Luddistic world-conspiratorial delusions of the Unabomber and prophets of salvation at the beginning of the digital era of the Internet.(25) There is a multitude of comparable installative reenactments. One need only recall Mathilde ter Heijne’s „The Reconstruction of the House of the Qiao Zi Family“ (2008), Milo Rau’s „Hate Radio“ (2011) or Franz Reimer’s „The Situation Room“ (2013/2014), an installation that enables visitors to take up the position of Osama Bin Laden’s execution actors in the White House. What they all have in common is that, in the translocation of hagiographically charged spaces, they dispose of a „midst-and-outside“ and experience it.


The formula „in the middle and external“ designates an internal structure of participative art and its experience. What it does not achieve, however, is a differentiation of participatory formats that asks what position the audience has as an actor in relation to the artist, in other words, what productive role they are accorded in the creation of the work or performance. The answers and offers from the theory usually go too far. Therefore, in this last section, three modes of participation – interaction, cooperation, collaboration – will be developed and put up for discussion.(26)

Aesthetics traditionally distinguishes three aspects of a work of art or a theatre performance. On the one hand, it asks about the artist. What does he need, what does he bring with him to produce a work of art? This concerns the so-called production aesthetics. Second, it asks for the audience. This concerns the question of how something is perceived, read, seen, heard – the reception aesthetic side of art observation. What remains is the performance or work aesthetic, which asks how a work of art is structured. What structure, rhetoric does it have, in what historical context does it stand, and what does it point beyond itself?of art observation relate to the concept of participation? Since he grants the audience a creative share in the emergence of the art event, he also overrides the categories of reception, work, production. If a strong concept of participation negates both the role of the recipient and that of the producer as well as the traditional concept of the work, it can be assumed that formal modes of participation can be found in the three positions mentioned. Schematically, the consideration can be presented as follows:

Three Modes of Participation

© Max Glauner

First: Participation in the position of the artist producer would then be defined as co-determination or collaboration. In contrast to a classical collaboration of artists like Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer, Elmgreen and Dragset, or artist collectives like Inges Idee and Superflex, actors are involved who are not directly concerned with the creative context of the initiator. Everyone has an equal influence on the process and the result. The starting point and framework conditions can be negotiated and redefined by all participants at any time.

Secondly, participation appears instead of the artwork as participation, participation and cooperation, whereby the emergence and form of the collaboration are largely determined and controlled by the artist. Just as in collaborations, the course and result of the production process are usually open and do not have to be predetermined.

Third, participation in the position of the observer or spectator is found as participation and interaction. The interaction concerns, as already described in the third section, an open work of art that invites and challenges „active“ participation. The interactive participation allows a change of the media setting only within a given framework such as shouting in the theatre or activating certain algorithms. Furthermore, it can be characterized as the reflected reproduction of the creation of the work of art or the performance and thus the critical reflection on the possibility of participation set into the work at all.

In every position of classical aesthetics, participation preserves moments of negated concepts – it is always creative action and critical reflection of the same. It therefore seems irrelevant whether the scope of participation is to be limited to actively acting interventions – i.e. physical presence and trace – as in the case of Lars Blunck,27 or, more widely, reflection on possible scope for action, which is opened up by an artistic display, as suggested by a majority of theoretical works on participation.28 From this perspective, the „activity“ of each „participant“ on all levels is not decided by whether he takes a hammer in his hand and builds a hut, of which nobody knows what it will look like in the end, or whether he takes part in a demonstration in front of the Federal Chancellery; – decisive remains his participation in an artistic process, the „awareness“ for a released process, whether it is exclusively interactive, cooperative or collaborative.

This is also important in the sense that, due to their performance character, participative works of art become less frequently accessible in their creation and only subsequently in an institutional presentation of whatever kind, which is only able to rudimentarily revoke the participative moment. An overwhelming number of participative works in contemporary art are interactive, such as Eva Hesse’s Specific Object „Accession“ 1967/68, installations by Carsten Höller and Tania Bruguera, or the Canadian Pavilion at the past Venice Biennale; cooperative, on the other hand, works by Stephen Willats, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jeremy Deller, Santiago Sierra, and Yael Bartana, or the „Joint Ventures“ announced for the upcoming Manifesta 11. The actions of the young Italian artist Marinella Senatore, films by Eva Könnemann or the urbanist interventions of the Hamburg collective Park Fiction can be characterized as collaborative.29

But there are also works in which all three modes appear, merge into one another or overlap one another. This often happens in the theatre. In any case, an art form whose production unfolds a complex interplay from interaction to collaboration, from direction to stage design to actor, the theatre succeeds in transferring this creative energy into the stage or into public space in exceptional productions, as in Christoph Schlingensief’s „Chance 2000“ (1998), „Ausländer raus!“. (2004), or Jonathan Meese’s „De Frau“ at the Volksbühne Berlin (2007) – which, at the end of many performances, engaged in a ludicrous collaborative renegotiation of the power structure between artist, actor Bernhard Schütz and the audience. Even the cemented production conditions of the visual arts make it difficult for her to create comparably dense participative moments. She rarely goes beyond interactive offerings.


„The Mosque“ by the Swiss artist Christoph Büchel, a project that was scheduled as Iceland’s official country contribution to the last Venice Biennale, is therefore an exceptional example.(30) More than almost any other work in recent years, interactive, cooperative and collaborative moments were at work here. Büchel’s project envisaged the opening of the first Islamic house of prayer in the Serenissima. Although more than 3,000 Muslims of different origins now live and work in the historical centre, about 5% of the total population, they have not been given a room for assembly and religious practice despite the efforts of their associations. For this they have to travel to the mainland.

In fact, „The Mosque“ was inaugurated during the opening week of the Biennale on 8 May. For this purpose, the artist had the interior of the monastery church Santa Maria della Misericordia in the district Cannaregio, which had been unused and desecrated for a long time, carefully redesigned: The pews had made room for a prayer rug. A Mihrāb, the prayer niche protruded from the east wall, next to it stood the minbar, the pulpit and deep into the room hung an octagonal chandelier. Even the circular cartouches with Koran slogans in the blown up gables of the altars harmoniously blend into the historical architecture, as if they had always been placed there. While in the anteroom not only shelves were provided for the shoes and vending machines donated water and Mecca coke, the shop in the side chapel offered devotional objects and all sorts of useful items for mental and physical well-being. And also for the Wuḍūʾ, the prayer wash, was provided. Büchel installed large metal basins with running water in the former sacristy.

The participation on the interactive level showed Büchel’s work in the whole spectrum on the day of the vernissage: The opening guests of the Biennale and Islamic communities mixed colourfully, among them also those of the tiny Icelanders, random passers-by and curious people, who could experience an exuberant and cheerful hustle and bustle here. A Maghrebian group of musicians played, children romped around. Some prayed while others just admired the beautiful room or discussed Islam in the shop or bought a souvenir. Büchel had succeeded, even if only for a short time, in creating an unobtrusive place for cultural encounters.

The Venetian authorities closed the Icelandic Pavilion just two weeks after the opening. No permission to reopen the pavilion was granted until the end of the Biennale. The decision involuntarily exposed the clandestine participatory moments of the project, which in the differentiation of cooperation and collaboration allowed processes and actors to emerge symbolically powerful.

The communicative and organisational effort of „The Mosque“ is not publicly documented, but can be classified as considerable. Christoph Büchel, with the support of the Icelandic Art Institute (IAC), was able, after the Marienkirche had been found to be a suitable location, to win over a large number of local authorities and church authorities to the project against considerable resistance, in order to obtain permits and have construction approvals carried out. On this cooperative level, Büchel set the direction, also when it came to carrying out the interior work with the participation of local craftsmen. The IAC, the authorities, church representatives, the various trades and, last but not least, the Biennale management thus provided the actors at the cooperative level.

On the collaboration level, however, there are the Venetian Islamic communities, to which, it may be assumed, the 800-strong community of Icelandic Muslims has opened the doors for the project. In this setting the artist had at best a moderating, not a controlling role. Rather, he subjected his artistic concept to a demand that had been loud for years. Büchel thus aligned the concept with the needs of the communities and designed the aesthetic programme according to their ideas and the architectural requirements of a Muslim prayer house. With this collaborative aspect, however, conflict with the cooperative side was inevitable. The authorities had approved an art event, but not a mosque. But where devotion to art and worship is already difficult to distinguish, no one could prevent the prayer room from being used for prayer. As part of a participatory cluster, some enjoyed the beautiful room while others leaned their heads towards Mecca. But just as the early closure can be read as the symbol of the failed cooperation, the prayer in the house of God stands for a successful collaboration. It points beyond art to the possibility of a successful existence together.


1 _The cultural message adopted by the Swiss parliament in 2014 is symptomatic of this. For the years 2016-2020, it stipulates „participation“ as a core objective of the Confederation’s cultural policy; see on implementation Federal Office of Culture (FOC);; for the topicality of the concept of participation, the study, Participation in Transition. Our democracy between voting, participating and deciding, Bertelsmann Stiftung (ed.) Gütersloh 2014; Mark Terkessidis, Kollaboration, Berlin 2015; Claus Leggewie, Patrizia Nanz, Die Konsultative. More Democracy through Citizen Participation, Berlin 2016.

2_ See Kupke in this volume; Rolf Schönberger: Teilhabe. in: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, Volume 10, Basel 1998, Sp. 961-969.

3_Thus the Greek-Roman societies appear differentiated in their forms of organization and participation, the individual remained dependent on the Moira, the Fatum, the Council of Gods, cf. Jacob Burckhardt, Griechische Kulturgeschichte, vol. 1-4, München 21982.

4_ Gesine Schwan, Participation, in: Christian Faith in Modern Society, Volume 11, Franz Böckle, Franz-Xaver Kaufmann, Freiburg/Basel/Vienna 1981, pp. 41-78, gives an overview of the concept of political participation from a philosophical-theological point of view.

5_ See in this volume Asendorf, which deals with the counter-movement to the loss of participation and Rolf Engelsing, Der Bürger als Leser. Readers history in Germany 1500-1800, Stuttgart 1974.

6_  The Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt 2010: „We know where you are. We know where you were. We can know more or less what you’re thinking right now.“ Quoted after Robert M. Maier, Angst vor Google, FAZ, 3.4.2014.

7_ Guy Debord, Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels (1967), Berlin 1996; Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, Frankfurt a.M. 1978.

8_ The anthology „Technologischer Totalitarismus. Eine Debatte“, Frank Schirrmacher (ed.), Berlin 2015.

9_ Nicolas Bourriauds, Esthétique relationelle, Paris, 1998 became formative for the affirmative assessment of participation under the banner of a „Relational Art“.

10_ The sceptics of participation can be found, for example, in Diedrich Diederichsen, references to reality in the fine arts. Subject Critique, Critique of Representation and Extras Art, in: Dirck Linck, Michael Lüthy, Brigitte Obermayer, Martin Vöhler (Ed.), Realism in the Arts of the Present, Berlin 2010, pp. 13-28 and Markus Miessen, Nightmare of Participation (Berlin/New York 2010), Berlin 2012.

11_On participation in the neo-avantgardes, see Sanio in this volume and the catalogue exhibition „Out of actions. Actionism, Body Art & Performance 1949-1979“ MAK, 17.6.1998-6.1.1999, Ostfildern 1998.

12_ On the authentication of the cultural sector, see Daniel Kurjaković, Participation as a Rhetorical Effect, in: Paradoxes of Participation. Magazine of the Institute for Theory of the Zurich University of the Arts, vol. 31, no. 10/11, December 2007, pp. 85-90.

13_ Cf. for example: J. Earl, K. Kimport, Digitally enabled social change: Activisms in the internet age, Cambridge, MA, 2011; Nico Carpentier, The concept of participation. If they have access and interact, do they really participate? in: Environment and Planning, D: Society and Space 32(1) 2014, p.30-48; Jay Koh, Art-Led Participative Processes. Dialogue and Subjectivity Within Performances in the Everyday, Helsinki 2015; Christopher Kelty, Aron Panofsky, Seven Dimensions of Contemporary Participation Disentangeled, in: Journal oft he Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(3), March 2015, p.474-488.

14_ The author was able to present the theses outlined here at the Summer School of the research group Medial Participation 2015 at the University of Konstanz; with thanks to Beate Ochsner, Isabel Otto, Elke Bippus and Thomas Alkemeyer; FGMT,

15_ Silke Feldhoff’s dissertation is available at https://opus4 (1.3.2016).

16_ Michael Fried can be regarded as the progenitor of this position; cf. ders. Art and Objecthood (1967), German art and objecthood, in: Gregor Stemmrich (ed.), Minimal Art: Eine Kritische Retrospektive, Dresden 1998, p.334-374The media theorist Lev Manović already expressed himself polemically in 1996: „All classical art and all the more modern art was already ‚interactive‘, since it required a spectator who replaced missing information (…) and had to move his eyes (…) or his whole body (…). Interactive computer art understands ‚interactively‘ literally by equating it, at the expense of psychological interaction, with a purely physical interaction between a user and a work of art (pressing a button)“. Ders., On Totalitarian Interactivity. Observations from the enemies of the people, in: Telepolis. Die Zeitschrift der Netzkultur, Nr. 1 1997, p.123-127. Reception as Participation e.g. by Melitta Kliege, Funktionen des Betrachters : Modelle der Teilnahme bei Joseph Beuys und Antoni Tàpies, Munich 1999, and Alexander García Düttmann, Teilnahme. Consciousness of appearance, Konstanz 2011, and Juliane Rebentisch, Theorien der Gegenwartskunst zur Einführung, Hamburg 2013, pp. 58-91.

17_ Apart from futuristic concepts of classical modernism and the neo-avant-garde, Nicolas Bourriaud stands here a.a.O. Patron, for example for Timon Beyes, (ed.), Parcitypate: art and urban space, Sulgen 2009, Regula Valérie Burri, Kerstin Evert, Sibylle Peters, Esther Pilkington, Gesa Ziemer, (ed.) Versammlung und Teilhabe. Urban Public Spheres and Performative Arts, Bielefeld 2014.

18_ See Claire Bishop (ed.), Participation. Documents of Contemporary Art, London/Cambidge, MA 2006, this, Artificial Hells. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London/New York 2012.

19_ A good approach to this with Wolfgang Müller, Moral Purity? Zentrum für politische Schönheit and Christoph Schlingensief, in: Berliner Gazette, 10.08.2015, (4.3.2015).

20_ Jörg Heiser’s successful essay on Tino Sehgal addresses the ambivalence of participatory offers: gegenüber_is_joerg_heiser_on _tino_sehgal/(1.3.2016).

21_ According to Boris Groys, the concept of participation for all is excellently fulfilled in the destruction. The deliberate destruction of ancient sites in the Syrian civil war would thus be less of iconoclastic origin than a retrograde participation demonstration of modernity. See Claire Bishop, ders., Bring the noise. Interview on Futurism for Tate etc. Online, 2009 (1.3.2016).

22_ The figure of „Mittendrin-und-draußen“ specifies the relationship of tension in participatory formats of contemporary art, as expressed by Juliane Rebentisch (2013): „To make an aesthetic experience now means (…) to encounter the worlds of experience known in everyday life anew in the mode of a reflexive distance“ a.o.c., p.80. See also the author, „Talk to me“. Modi der Teilnahme bei Georg Klein, in: Sabine Sanio, (Ed.), Georg Klein. Borderlines, Heidelberg 2014, pp. 16-21, esp. p.19.

23_ So the Self-Portrayal 2014, see https://wwwwwww (1.3.2014)

24_ Cf. Media Group Bitnik, Delivery for Mr. Assange, Basel 2014.

25_ See Lutz Dammbeck, Das Netz – die Konstruktion des Unabombers, Hamburg 2005.

26_ See Kupke in this volume; his differentiation of the concept of participation into a forced/reactive, free/inversive and contingent/material form deepens the triad of modes negotiated here from an ontological perspective. Feldhoff’s four-part model (loc. cit., p. 230f), with its types of individual, systemic, subjunctive, and socio-cultural participation, insufficiently focuses on the agents and production-aesthetic aspects of participatory strategies. Kelty/Panofsky (loc. cit. p. 475) also evaluate the scope of action of the „users“ in their seven-part scheme. The modes presented here represent a further development of the model presented by the author in 2014, loc. cit.

27_ Lars Blunck, Between Object & Event. Participation art between myth and participation, Weimar 2003; see also Irit Rogoff, Looking Away. Participations in Visual Culture, in: After Criticism. New Responses to Art and Performance, Gavin Butt (Ed.), Malden, MA/Oxford, UK 2005, pp. 117-134.

28_ Prominently represented by Michael Fried a.a.O.; Melitta Kliege, Functions of the Viewer. Models of participation by Joseph Beuys and Antoni Tàpies, Munich 1999; Erika Fischer-Lichte Aesthetics of the Performative, Frankfurt a.M. 2004, esp. p.332ff; Sandra Umathum, Art as Performance Experience. On the discourse of intersubjective situations in contemporary exhibition art. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Erwin Wurm, Tino Sehgal, Bielefeld 2011; Bishop (2012) a.a.O., especially p.219ff; Rebentisch (2013) a.a.O.; p.58ff.

29_ Grant H. Kester gives an overview of how to differentiate clearly without cooperation from collaboration. See ders., The One and the Many. Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context, Durham/London 2011

30_ See website Icelandic art Center (ICA) and project A detailed discussion in Kunstforum International vol. 233/234, p.76-79

German version first published in Kunstforum International Volume 240, June-July 2016, pp.31-55; see here on the website.


Veröffentlicht unter Kulturgeschichte, Psychogeografie, Theater, Theorie, Zeitgenössische Kunst | Verschlagwortet mit , , , , , , , | Kommentar hinterlassen

Der Zauberer _ William Kentridge im Kunstmuseum Basel – dt./engl.

(Find the English version below)

Das Kunstmuseum Basel zeigt eine umfangreiche Werkschau des südafrikanischen Zeichners, Filmemachers, Regisseurs und Schauspielers William Kentridge – ein faszinierender Kosmos sinnlich-politischer Kunst

Ein Triumph sondergleichen! Die Welt schien zu leuchten, das Publikum verzaubert, frenetischer Applaus. So etwas hatte man noch nicht gesehen, nicht in Duisburg, nicht auf der Ruhrtriennale, die im Sommer vor einem Jahr mit der solcher Massen gefeierten Inszenierung William Kentridges The Head and the Load nach der Uraufführung in London eröffnete. Ein aberwitziger Bilderreigen in anderthalb Stunden auf einer achtzig Meter breiten Bühne wurde da gefeiert, ein Fest des Lebens und Todestanz zugleich, anachronistisch und seiner Zeit weit voraus, gegenwärtig und durch und durch politisch.

Kentridges Kunst ist nun auch in Basel zu erleben. Ein „Must“ auch für jene, die mit Gegenwartskunst nicht viel am Hut haben. Denn der Südafrikaner, 1955 in Johannesburg in eine aus Litauen stammenden jüdischen Anwaltsfamilie geboren, hat in der Rheinstadt zwar keinen Theaterauftritt, so doch eine retrospektive Ausstellung, die ohne Umschweife als Jahrhundertereignis gelten kann. So hat man dem inzwischen weltweit Hochgeehrten Venedig-Biennale-und-Documenta-Teilnehmer nahezu das gesamte Museum für Gegenwart des Kunstmuseums im Sankt-Alban-Graben ausgeräumt und zusätzlich vier Videoinstallationen im Hauptbau auf der Höhe einrichten lassen. Freilich, wer mit der Vorstellung, politische Kunst sei im Grunde staubtrocken und uninteressant, das Entree des Museums für Gegenwart betritt, kann sich in seinem Vorurteil zum Auftakt bestätigt sehen.

Im Foyer lockt nichts, nichts zieht das Auge an. Selbst der obligate Künstlername und Titel der Ausstellung A Poem That Is Not Our Own finden sich erst auf einer dem Eingang abgewandten Sperrholzwand einer von drei Blackbox-Video-Film-Kabinetten. Fast rüde hat man sie gegen den vorhandenen Raum in den grossen Erdeschosssaal gesetzt.

Doch das hat Prinzip. Denn welches Kunstwerk, welche Werkgruppe Kentridges hätte man hier repräsentativ für das Ganze ausstellen sollen? Der Künstler, der bei der Ausstellungskonzeption beteiligt war, setzt nicht auf das einzelne Objekt, sondern auf seinen Zusammenhang, seinen Widerhall in Prozessen, in denen das Flüchtige, Ephemere mehr zählt und schliesslich erzählt, als das Beständige. Zwar schuf Kentridge in den letzten Jahren auch monumentale Skulpturen für den öffentlichen Raum. Doch sie zeigen kaum die Stärken seiner Arbeit, die aus dem Talent als Zeichner und der Liebe zum Theater erwuchsen, Gaben, zu denen er sich nie berufen fühlte. Doch er folgte ihnen mit Eigensinn und Beharrlichkeit, bis sein Weg geebnet und eine unverwechselbare Sprache gefunden war.

Der Theatermann und der Zeichner

Die drei Kabinette zum Auftakt zeigen mit sieben Videofilmen einen Querschnitt seiner Filmarbeiten, die seit 1985 aus der Vereinigung seiner Neigungen entstanden sind. In Vethoek/Fête galant (1985), einem seiner ersten Filme Während, beobachtet die Kamera den nackten Künstler, ganz Kind seiner Zeit, von hinten beim Zeichnen, während hier zum ersten Mal seine unverwechselbare Stop-Motion-Technik zum Einsatz kommt. Sie verleiht seinen Filmbildern, jenes zittrig Ungefähre, eine Unschärfe, aus deren transitorischer Kraft, Wechselbälger von grosser Anziehungskraft entstehen.

Wenn der Besucherin, der Besucher Vothoek mit der jüngsten Arbeit The Mouth is Dreaming (2019) vergleicht, eine 2-Kanal-Videoinstallation als Elegie auf den ökonomischen und kulturellen Verfall Südafrikas, fällt ihm rasch ins Auge, wie nahe sich beide Arbeiten bei aller thematischen Differenz in Gestus und Technik stehen. Kentridge zeichnet bevorzugt mit Kohle, Kreide, schwarz, weiss, manchmal von signalroten Linien, Ziffern, Buchstaben, strukturiert eine Figur und streicht diese in einem zweiten Schritt wieder durch, verändert sie, als läge ihr ein grundsätzliches Ungenügen zugrunde. Die Reihe von Pentimenti, Korrekturen, Spuren sind in den Folgebildern filmisch festgehalten immer noch zu lesen. Eine Bewegung entsteht. Im Zeichnen, Ausradieren, Löschen verrät sich der bildende Künstler, im anachronistischen Beharren auf Figuration und Menschendarstellung der Theatermann. Oder ist es gerade umgekehrt? Die Qualität Kentridges liegt gerade darin, die Zeichnung als Performanz, die Darstellung als Präsenz zu begreifen. Die Zeichnung ist ihm Bühne, ihr Medium der Film. Darin ist seine Arbeit im Kern politisch. Sie entzieht sich von Anfang absoluter Gültigkeit und somit allen usurpatorischen Machtansprüchen.

Ein Leben im Widerspruch

Das macht immunisiert die auch gegen modischen Modernismus. Vorbild, sicher für jüngere wie die Scherenschnittparaden einer Kara Walker oder Paul Chan, ignoriert Kentridge konsequent Neoavantgarden der Nachkriegszeit und setzen sich über den Amerikaner Philip Guston und den Engländer Francis Bacon mit der deutschen expressionistisch-dadaistischen Grossvätergeneration in Beziehung, voran Max Beckmann, Georges Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, zu denen deutliche Anleihen sichtbar sind, oder dem französischen Filmpionier Georges Méliès und weiter Zurück zu Goya oder Hogarth. Dabei hätte alles auch anders kommen können. Lange haderte Kentridge mit sich. Man darf unterstellen im Grunde bis heute. 2013 entstand im Haus der Kunst München die Aufzeichnung eines Gesprächs zwischen William Kentridge und seinem 91-jährigen Vater Sir Sydney (online: ). Er lebt noch heute. Die Moderation lag bei dem kürzlich verstorbenen Okwui Enwezor, der als Kurator Kentridge schon 1997 zur Johannesburg Biennale eingeladen hatte, demselben Jahr in dem er zum ersten Mal an einer Documenta teilnahm. Die Befangenheit zwischen Vater und Sohn ist deutlich zu spüren. Hier der Anwalt, der mit der Verteidigung Nelson Mandelas und Desmond Tutus vor Gerichten des Apartheitregimes, ebenso wie die 2015 verstorbene Mutter als Anwältin in Südafrika und Grossbritannien, einen wesentlichen Beitrag zur couragierten Zivilgesellschaft geleistet hat, dort der inzwischen berühmte und ebenso engagierte Künstler. Überraschend war, dass sich der jüngere für diesen Auftritt einen Vollbart hatte wachen lassen. Der Bart machte ihn auf der einen Seite erheblich jünger, auf der anderen jedoch symbolisch älter als den Vater, als wollte der Sohn mit der Prophetenmaskerade markieren, dass er ihm an Ebenbürtigkeit nicht nachsteht.

Anwalt, der Beruf des Vaters, der Mutter Felicia und des Großvaters Morris Kantrovitch, von dem sich der Familienname Kentridge ableitet, sei eigentlich der einzige Beruf zu dem er wirklich getaugt hätte, bekannte William Kentridge einmal. Doch nach der Schule studierte er mit Bachelorabschluss Politik und African Studies, wechselte dann aber an die Johannesburg Art Foundation als Meisterschüler des Malers und Aktivisten Bill Ainslie, wo er auch politisch aktiv 1978 mit einem Diplom abschloss. Kurz darauf die erste Einzelausstellung in der Market Gallerie Johannesburg, was ihn nicht zurückhielt frisch verheiratet 1981 eine Theater- und Pantomimenausbildung an der École Jacques Lecoq in Pais aufzunehmen. Fortan war er bis Mitte der 1980er-Jahre als Theater- und Art-Direcor für TV-Serien und kleine Spielfilme tätig, bis er über den Umweg eigener Bühnenbilder, Animationsfilme und Kohlezeichnungen zurück zur Bildenden Kunst und ihren damals vergleichsweise übersichtlichen Betrieb fand. Nachdem ab 1990 die Apartheitsgesetze in Südafrika nach und nach aufgehoben wurden, war Südafrika 1993 nach 23 Jahren wieder auf der Venedig Biennale vertreten. Kentridge war dabei. Seitdem gilt er unangefochten als der international bekannteste Künstler seines Landes. Auch jüngere wie Kandell Geers, Santu Mofokeng oder Sue Williamson holen diesen Ruf bis heute nicht ein.

Promenaden und Prozessionen

Man mag zu solcher Fama, ihren Zufällen, ihren Umständen stehen wie man will, die Basler Ausstellung bestätigt sie ohne Umschweife und in voller Breite. Bereits 2015 hatte das Zürcher Haus Konstruktiv eine erste fulminante Ausstellung mit Kentridge in der Schweiz gezeigt. Sie präsentierte die in einen Video-Bilder-Rausch übersetzte Bühnenarbeit Die Nase nach Dimitri Schostakowitschs Grotesk-Opern-Adaption der Nikolai-Gogol-Erzählung. Die enge Verzahnung von Bühne, Fest, politischem Statement und ästhetischem Feingespür wurde bereits in Zürich deutlich. Basel legt noch eins oben rauf.

Zwar bietet sie mit Skizzenbüchern, Zeichnungen, Collagen, kinetisch-akustischen Skulpturen, Environments und Videoinstallationen einen repräsentativen Überblick über das gesamte Schaffen des Künstlers. Doch ihre Stärke liegt darin, einen Schwerpunkt auf eine Gattung im Werk Kentridges zu legen, die er spätestens seit 2012 mit dem Auftritt zur dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel entwickelt hatte: Die monumentale Promenade, die Prozession. Es ist bedauerlich, dass gerade diese Produktion, The Refusal of Time, die als gewaltige begehbare Video-Apparaturen-Installation in einer ehemaligen Lagerhalle des Kassler Kulturbahnhofes gezeigt wurde und als Bühnenaufführung um die Welt tourte, keinen Eingang in die Ausstellung gefunden hat. Dafür ist der akklamierte Bilderreigen The Head and the Load, 2018, ausreichend mit Requisiten, Zeichnungen oder der 3-Kanal-HD-Film-Installation KABOOM!, 2018, dokumentiert. So werden der Besucherin, dem Besucher auch als Museumsgänger die verdrängten Leiden und Qualen Schwarzafrikas während des ersten Weltkriegs bewusst, die bis heute ihre Nachwirkungen haben. Sie erinnert nicht nur an die 20 Millionen Opfer, durch Kampfhandlungen, Krankheiten und Hungersnöte, sondern auch an die willkürlichen Machtsprüche und Grenzziehungen der Kolonialmächte. Kentridge lässt diese Geschichte in einem feierlich traurig-schönen Kondukt am Auge seiner Zuschauer vorüberziehen. Immer an der Seite der Unterdrückten verweigert er jedoch ein eindeutiges Narrativ. Denn eines ist sicher: Im Rücken der Sieger tauchen stets die Geister der Besiegten wieder auf. Einen solchen Zug können wir nun mit einer Serie beeindruckender Vorzeichnungen und Drucke zu der Römischen Aktion Triumphs and Lamenets, 2016, im zweiten Obergeschoss nachvollziehen. Kentridge wusch aus den verschmutzten steinerne Uferböschungen des Tibers auf 550 Metern Länge rund achtzig historische Motive von Andrea Mantegna bis Ian Berry heraus. Die flüchtigen Tableaus feierte Kentridge im geleichen Jahr mit einer ebenso flüchtigen Aktion, in der am beleuchteten Ufer Schiffe mit Musikern und Sängern vorübergleiten liess.

Zum Höhepunkt der Schau dürfen die Besucherinnen und Besucher jedoch voll und ganz in Kentridges Welt eintauchen. Die 8-Kanal-Video-Installation More Sweetly Play the Dance aus dem Jahr 2015 entfaltet auf acht grossen hintereinander gestellten Leinwänden durch Arrangement, Bilder und Musik eine ungeheure Kraft. Gefilmte, überlebensgross als Schattenrisse gezeigte Darsteller, Musiker, Tänzer mit Instrumenten, Requisiten ziehen vor schwarz-weiss gezeichneten Hintergründen vorbei, wie wir es von Kentridge kennen. Auch hier taucht der Triumphzug von Tod und Leben, die Last uneingelöster Versprechen aus der Vergangenheit, hier der grossen Ebola-Epidemie in Westafrika 2014 wieder auf. Diese phantastische Promenade wird keiner wieder vergessen.

Kunstmuseum Basel, William Kantridge, A Poem That Is Not Our Own, bis 13.10.2019; Essay first Published 8. July 2019 online:

English version:

The Magician _ William Kentridge at the Kunstmuseum Basel

The Kunstmuseum Basel presents an elaborate exhibition of the work of the South African draughtsman, filmmaker, director and actor William Kentridge – a fascinating cosmos of sensual-political art.

An incomparable triumph! The world seemed to shine, the audience enchanted, frenetic applause. This hadn’t been seen before, not in Duisburg, not at the Ruhrtriennale, which opened a year ago in the summer with William Kentridge’s The Head and the Load after its premiere in London. A ludicrous series of pictures in an hour and a half on an eighty-meter-wide stage was held there, a celebration of life and the dance of death at the same time, anachronistic and far ahead of its time, present and throughout political.

Kentridge’s art can now also be experienced in Basel. A „must“ also for those who don’t have much in common with contemporary art. For the South African, born in Johannesburg in 1955 to a family of Jewish lawyers from Lithuania, does not have a theatre appearance in the Rhine city, but rather a retrospective exhibition that can easily be regarded as an event of the century. The Venice Biennale and Documenta participant, who is now highly acclaimed worldwide, has had almost the entire Museum für Gegenwart of the Kunstmuseum in the Sankt-Alban-Graben cleared out and, in addition, four video installations installed in the main building at height. Of one who enters the entrance of the Museum für Gegenwart with the notion that political art is basically dust-dry and uninteresting can certainly see his prejudice confirmed at the outset.

In the foyer nothing is tempting, nothing attracts the eye. Even the obligatory artist name and title of the exhibition A Poem That Is Not Our Own can only be found on a plywood wall facing away from the entrance of one of three black box video film cabinets. Almost rudely, they were set against the existing space in the large ground floor hall.

But that has a matter of principle. For which work of art, which group of works by Kentridge should have been exhibited here in a representative manner for the whole? The artist, who was involved in the exhibition concept, does not focus on the individual object, but on its context, its echo in processes in which the fleeting, the ephemeral counts more and ultimately tells more than the permanent. Kentridge has also created monumental sculptures for public spaces in recent years. But they hardly show the strengths of his work, which grew out of his talent as a draughtsman and his love of the theatre, gifts to which he never felt called. But he followed them with stubbornness and perseverance until his path was smoothed and an unmistakable language was found.

The Theatreman and the Draftsman

With seven video films, the three cabinets as a prelude show a cross-section of his film works, which have emerged since 1985 from the unification of his inclinations. In Vethoek/Fête galant (1985), one of his first films While, the camera observes the naked artist, a child of his time, drawing from behind, while here for the first time his unmistakable stop-motion technique is used. It lends his film images, that shaky approximate, a blur, from whose transitory power, alternating brats of great attraction emerge.

When the visitor compares Vothoek with his most recent work The Mouth is Dreaming (2019), a two-channel video installation as an elegy to South Africa’s economic and cultural decay, he quickly notices how close both works are to each other in gesture and technique, despite all the thematic differences. Kentridge prefers to draw with charcoal, chalk, black, white, sometimes with signal-red lines, numbers, letters, structures a figure and, in a second step, crosses it out again, alters it as if it were based on a fundamental insufficiency. The series of pentimenti, corrections, traces can still be read on film in the subsequent images. A movement emerges. The visual artist betrays himself in drawing, erasing, erasing, in the anachronistic insistence on figuration and human representation of the theatre man. Or is it just the other way round? Kentridge’s quality lies precisely in understanding drawing as performance, representation as presence. Drawing is his stage, film his medium. In it, his work is essentially political. From the beginning, it eludes absolute validity and thus all usurpatory claims to power.

A life in contradiction

That makes them immunized even against fashionable modernism. Kentridge consistently ignores post-war neo-avant-gardes and, through the American Philip Guston and the Englishman Francis Bacon, establishes a relationship with the German expressionist Dadaist grandfather generation, first and foremost Max Beckmann, Georges Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, to whom clear borrowings are visible, or the French film pioneer Georges Méliès and further Back to Goya or Hogarth. Everything could have been different. Kentridge struggled with himself for a long time. One can basically assume to this day. In 2013, a recording of a conversation between William Kentridge and his 91-year-old father Sir Sydney was made at the Haus der Kunst in Munich (online: ). He is still alive today. The moderator was the recently deceased Okwui Enwezor, who as curator had invited Kentridge to the Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, the same year he took part in a Documenta for the first time. The bias between father and son can clearly be felt. Here the lawyer who, by defending Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutus before the courts of the apartheid regime, as well as the mother who died in 2015 as a lawyer in South Africa and Great Britain, made a significant contribution to courageous civil society, there the now famous and equally committed artist. What was surprising was that the younger artist had let himself be watched over by a full beard for this performance. The beard made him considerably younger on the one hand, but symbolically older than his father on the other, as if his son wanted to mark with the masquerade of prophets that he was not inferior to him in terms of equality.

William Kentridge once confessed that the lawyer, the profession of his father, mother Felicia and grandfather Morris Kantrovitch, from whom the family name Kentridge derives, was actually the only profession to which he was really suited. After school, however, he studied politics and African studies with a bachelor’s degree, but then moved to the Johannesburg Art Foundation as a master student of the painter and activist Bill Ainslie, where he also graduated politically active in 1978 with a diploma. Shortly thereafter, he had his first solo exhibition at the Market Gallery Johannesburg, which did not stop him from getting newly married and taking up a theatre and pantomime course at the École Jacques Lecoq in Pais in 1981. From then on he worked as a theatre and art director for TV series and small feature films until the mid-1980s, when he found his way back to the visual arts and their comparatively clear operation via his own stage sets, animated films and charcoal drawings. After the apartheid laws in South Africa were gradually abolished in 1990, South Africa was represented again at the Venice Biennale in 1993 after 23 years. Kentridge was there. Since then he has been unchallenged as the most internationally renowned artist of his country. Even younger artists such as Kandell Geers, Santu Mofokeng or Sue Williamson are still not catching up with this reputation.

Promenades and Processions

One may stand by such fama, their coincidences, their circumstances as one likes, the Basel exhibition confirms them without digression and in full breadth. As early as 2015, the Zürcher Haus Konstruktiv showed its first brilliant exhibition with Kentridge in Switzerland. She presented the stage work Die Nase nach Dimitri Schostakowitschs Grotesk-Opern-Adaption der Nikolai-Gogol-Erzählung, translated into a video-picture intoxication. The close interweaving of stage, festival, political statement and aesthetic finesse was already evident in Zurich. Basel puts another one on top.

With sketchbooks, drawings, collages, kinetic-acoustic sculptures, environments and video installations, it offers a representative overview of the artist’s entire oeuvre. But their strength lies in their focus on a genre in Kentridge’s work that he had developed since 2012 at the latest with his appearance at dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel: the monumental promenade, the procession. It is regrettable that precisely this production, The Refusal of Time, which was shown as an enormous walk-in video apparatus installation in a former warehouse of the Kassler Kulturbahnhof and toured the world as a stage performance, did not find its way into the exhibition. The acclaimed picture series The Head and the Load, 2018, is sufficiently documented with props, drawings or the 3-channel HD film installation KABOOM! 2018. In this way the visitor, even as a museum visitor, becomes aware of the repressed suffering and torments of Black Africa during the First World War, which still have their aftereffects today. It not only reminds us of the 20 million victims of fighting, disease and famine, but also of the arbitrary power slogans and demarcations of the colonial powers. Kentridge lets this story pass by the eyes of his audience in a solemnly sadly beautiful conduct. Always at the side of the oppressed, however, he refuses a clear narrative. For one thing is certain: the spirits of the defeated always reappear in the back of the victors. We can now trace such a train with a series of impressive preparatory drawings and prints for the Roman action Triumphs and Lamenets, 2016, on the second floor. Kentridge washed around eighty historical motifs from Andrea Mantegna to Ian Berry out of the polluted stone banks of the Tiber over a length of 550 metres. Kentridge celebrated the fleeting tableaus in the same year with an equally fleeting action, in which ships with musicians and singers glided past the illuminated shore.

At the show’s climax, however, visitors can immerse themselves fully in Kentridge’s world. The 8-channel video installation More Sweetly Play the Dance from the year 2015 unfolds a tremendous power through arrangement, images and music on eight large screens placed one behind the other. Filmed actors, musicians, dancers with instruments, and props, shown larger than life as silhouettes, pass by against black-and-white backgrounds, as we know it from Kentridge. Here, too, the triumphal procession of death and life, the burden of unfulfilled promises from the past, here the great Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014, reappears. Nobody will forget this fantastic promenade again.

Kunstmuseum Basel, William Kantridge, A Poem That Is Not Our Own, until 13.10.2019



Veröffentlicht unter Ausstellungen, Geschmacksfragen, Kulturgeschichte, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum, Psychogeografie, Theater, Zeitgenössische Kunst | Verschlagwortet mit | Kommentar hinterlassen

Festival and Spectacle

A beach opera under the sign of the Apocalypse, the winner of the Golden Lion at the 58th Venice Art Biennale, the Lithuanian Pavilion, once again underlines the outstanding role of the performative in contemporary art – the attempt of a reclassification.


In the middle of the night, just before eleven. Campo San Lorenzo, only sparsely lit, hums like a beehive. The otherwise little frequented square in front of the modernistic looking early baroque brick facade is a stage. Now, one evening before the official first tour of the 58th Venice Biennale, it is gathering an illustrious crowd of art-hungry people of all ages. The portals of the long profaned church of the Benedictine monastery of Saint Laurentius are still closed. Thus the assembly on the flight of stairs patiently and cheerfully waits for what may come. Does it have any idea that the performance Moving Off the Land II by Joan Jonas, now eighty-three years old, was a special Venice highlight before this Biennale even opened?

There is a lot to be said for it. The exceptional artist herself will perform for two hours on an improvised stage, supported only by a laptop musician and a performer. That has cult status. And this is celebrated as in the great times of the Serenissima: what has money and names sits in the first rows; the patron of the evening Francesca von Habsburg, Maja Hoffmann together with man and entourage.

With the 56th Biennale by Okwui Enwezor, Venice had finally entered the post-performative age on a grand foot. That was 2015, and Joan Jonas, the uncrowned queen of performative video installations, exhibited in the American Pavilion. If one wants to open up a field of tension in performance art, she already then occupied its sensually concrete pole. Now more than ever in 2019, while the conceptual-intellectual antithesis was marked both times by the Basel artist Christoph Büchel: in 2015 with the Icelandic pavilion The Mosque in the profanated church Santa Maria della Misericordia, in 2019 with the project BARCA NOSTRA, the soul seller at the Arsenale-Mole in the context of Ralph Rugoff’s main exhibition who sank in April 2015 with hundreds of migrants and was later rescued. But hardly anyone had an idea of this on Jonas’s evening. The little old lady, with snow-white hair, bent, in a white coat and occasionally reinforced with black glasses, acted live in her proven video sets, shoving discs and groping herself in front of underwater landscapes, reading text fragments from Emily Dickinson to Hermann Melville and painting fish with long brushes, bravely, for an hour and a half, a celebration of maritime extravagance. All this had nothing to do with the peculiar church space. Where, for example, was the projection via columns and thermal windows into the vaulted ceiling? Why doesn’t the grandiose processional portal open sometime? Moving Off the Land II has been developing for three years now and obviously ignores every one of its performance venues. Drop-down performance could be called this in reference to architecture. However, the celebratory mood could not be affected.


The themes of migration and environmental destruction, the appeal for consideration for others and nature, set the pace for the Biennale. The title of Ralph Rugoff’s main exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times, which was eavesdropped on by an alleged Chinese swearword, could be interpreted as a pious wish as well as a reminder, a vessel into which everything that understood itself to be socially and politically relevant and set its vanishing point could fit. Where artistic positions adopted this maxim, the proximity to performative forms of expression, action, collaboration and participation was inevitable; the president of the Biennale entitled his greeting „The Visitor as a Partner“.

Live acts in the opening week, such as Joan Jonas‘ or Perforated’s Baskin Itziar Okariz‘ performance in the Spanish Pavilion, and not least Natascha Süder Happelmann’s appearance at the opening of her anchor center in the German Pavilion, underscored the artistic-political concern through her physical presence. In contrast to the consensual paradigm of corporeality and participation, Christoph Büchel’s BARCA NOSTRA appears to be a scandal. In the original sense of the word. It is a pitfall, a trap, an annoyance – an artifact in which performance and monument cross without merging into one of these moments. The wreck on the quay of the Arsenale calls upon the hundreds who drowned with it, their absent bodies, their unlived lives, and with them the story of the failure of European refugee policy. Büchel’s monument forces us to ask questions, to reconstruct a process whose monstrosity sheds a bright light on the madness of our days. This includes the fact that, despite its monstrous dimensions, it was initially overlooked by most Biennial visitors. Most of them strolled by rather indifferently, or enjoyed their espresso in the café opposite. The rusty barge on the quay wall looks like a picturesque relic of the former naval port.

Like the majority of sculptural works at the Biennale, Cathy Wilke’s figurines, objects and pictures in the British Pavilion, for example, Halil Altindere’s Neverland scenery (2019) in the Arsenale Garden, or Leonor Antunes‘ installations in the Portuguese Pavilion, which a Piano Nobile of the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin plays, the ship – also owed to the Performativen Wende – also appears like a prop from a film set, like the remains of an action. Cynical? Yes, if the ship were considered more than just what it is, a shabby barge, a coffin for the nameless who died with it, a memorial to human failure. In the exhibition he deliberately lacks any reference to his story, the name of the artist who put the seller of souls back in the centre of attention. Büchel’s performative conceptualism also forbids declaring the punt a work of art. Some may enjoy the patina, the majestically towering bow, or the seemingly unstable condition of the colossus weighing tons, 21 meters long, 17 meters wide. But every observer remains silent in front of the rectangular welding holes through which the corpses were salvaged after the ship had been lifted for many months. And where did the four huge cracks in the ship’s side come from? How could the massive steel structure on which the ship rests be so brutally bent in the front part? We don’t get an answer to these questions on site. We are dependent on the short text in the catalogue, the press release, information from the Internet and questions from the project team.

One after the other. On 18 April 2015, a Portuguese container freighter collided with the refugee ship 190 km off Lampedusa in an attempt to help the overcrowded boat that had previously been radioed by SOS. The former fishing cutter, bought by Syrian tugboats and set sail from a beach near Tripoli, was designed for a crew of fifteen. According to various testimonies, 700 to 950 people were now on board from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Somalia, Eritrea and Bangladesh. Due to improper maneuvers by captain and helmsman, both survived and were later sentenced to 18 and 5 years imprisonment, the overloaded ship capsized after a mass panic. The nameless fishing cutter, only „Blessed by Allah“ to be deciphered on the ship’s side, tore everyone down. Only 28 survive. 27 bodies were recovered from the sea.

The misfortune made the headlines. Shortly before, in October 2014, Mare Nostrum, the Italian-owned company that rescues boat fugitives, had been replaced by Operation Triton under the European Border Agency Frontex. Triton was significantly less financially equipped, should first secure the borders. The rescue of castaways came in second place. The operations were therefore limited from the outset to a radius of action of 30 nautical miles off the Italian coast. NGOs and shipowners‘ associations quickly warned of an imminent increase in the deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean. In fact, 1,200 people died in several accidents in the third week of April 2015 alone. However, the shipwreck of the fishing barge consecrated in the name of Allah was to be the most serious shipwreck in the Mediterranean since the end of the Second World War.

The horror did not end there. At first the rescue of the ship was considered superfluous, the victims remained nameless, public and relatives in the unknown. While the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced a salvage, the Italian public prosecutor considered it irrelevant and too costly for the criminal investigations. A first salvage attempt from a depth of 370 metres failed – hence the four cracks in the side walls – and the second was successful at the end of June 2016.

The wreck then reached the NATO naval base at Melilli near Augusta in Sicily, where hundreds of experts and volunteers were involved in identifying at least some of the victims. While the process of informing the relatives and burying the victims was completed in 2017 – the ship was lifted at a cost of 23 million euros – the fate of the ship remained controversial. Various interest groups complained about the sovereignty of interpretation. The political rights and votes in the Italian government demanded a quick disposal of the miserable barge. The Prime Minister announced that the wreck should be sent to Brussels as a memorial. Europe must take responsibility for the „scandal of migration“. In contrast, various initiatives from Milan to Palermo called for the wreck to be placed as a memorial in public space, above all the Comitato 18 Aprile 2015, founded shortly after the ship was transferred, which wants to place it in the centre of Augustas in a „garden of remembrance“. But the dispute prevented the ship from leaving its location on the military grounds.

Christoph Büchel had already gathered relevant experience with Italian authorities in the year of the ship catastrophe at the Biennale with the Icelandic pavilion The Mosque (cf. kunstforum, vol. 233 / 234, p. 76 ff, p. 542). Among other things, the art event provided the Islamic communities with a prayer room in the historical centre of a secular church. This form of subversive affirmation as a cooperative and collaborative project should now also succeed with the ship. After Büchel was invited to the Biennale, long and tenacious negotiations began with stakeholders and authorities to secure the contractual release of the ship for the project BARCA NOSTRA under the flag of art, its transport to Venice and the subsequent return to the new owner, the municipality of Augusta.

BARCA NOSTRA is thus once again a piece of hussar in which various interest groups, from local representatives to the government and the military, were obliged to reach a consensus that could hardly have been reached by any other means. This narrative-performative side of facilitating the project crosses the meaning of the wreck as a mere monument and emphasizes it over the well-intentioned and much-needed of this biennial.


These included, above all, those who had written Zeitgenossenschaft to the banners, but who could not formally catch up with the claim and thus compensated for the gap by taking their audience by the hand or „choreographing“ them. That’s what the artist Renate Lorenz, who played Pauline Boudry in the Swiss Pavilion, put it. But if one thing in art is autonomous, it is the audience. It cannot be choreographed. In the Swiss Pavilion, a bar without beer, a disco without a DJ. Techno dances in the 1990s style were performed on a big screen, and the audience was quickly taken out again. With their video Swinguerra (2019), Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca demonstrated in the Brazilian Pavilion how transsexuality and gender issues can be brought to the video screen through contemporary dance.

The efforts to keep the audience on the square showed some grotesque features. In Neïl Beloufa’s Global Agreement (2018 – 2019), they had to rely on a fitness machine to initiate a video talk. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster constructed a box, Endodrome (2019), which could be seen from the outside and in which, after a long waiting period, five test persons each experienced a fifteen-minute visceral space trip on uncomfortable chairs.

Among the choreographies of a very special kind are the long queues in front of the pavilions for the opening weekend up to one hour, for example the English, French and last but not least in the Lithuanian pavilion. Not only did they raise the expectations of the public, they also automatically extend the duration of the exhibitions – after all, people had waited so long. Last but not least, they nourished the illusion of the organizers, the visitors are now intensively engaged with the art on show. The Canadian Pavilion, in which the video documentaries of the ISUMA collective led by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn were shown, stood out from the crowd. They lent a voice to the precarious life of the indigenous population and were presented on several video screens with various subtitles. Long waiting times were thus avoided from the outset.

Tel Aviv artist Aya Ben Ron with Field Hospital X (FHX) in the Israeli Pavilion focused on waiting itself. The visitor pulled a number right at the entrance and wasted his time in comfortable blue and white seats watching an instruction video. The audience mutated into patients. First led into a soundproof cell, they were supposed to scream. The patient freed in such a way, a reassured, breastfeeding patient in the original sense of the word, was then taken to the first floor, where he met again in one of the nine recliners for further treatment. But instead of an anamnesis, another video on the screen on the armchair awaited him. Here the artist talks about the trauma of abuse by her father. The narrative style and subsequent expert opinions create a touching setting. But the participative prelude may not fit and the visitors left the event with the unpleasant feeling that something had been foisted on them.

Shilpa Gupta’s sound installation For, in your tongue, I cannot fit (2017-2018) was a similar experience, completely different in media terms. Over a hundred microphones hanging from the ceiling are converted into loudspeakers. Speakers recite poems by politically persecuted poets from the 7th century to the present day. Their manuscripts are stuck on pointed steel rods in the dimmed light of a hall in the arsenals. But the visitors merely became participants in an oppressive cacophony, in which they could not intervene, could not really grasp any of the texts. Against the artist’s intention, the poets fell silent again.


In contrast, the pavilion of the United Arab Emirates showed how impressively poetry, performance and video can come together. There, the 26-minute 2-channel video installation Passage (2019) by Dubai-born Nujoom Alghanem will be shown. Hardly known beyond the Arab world, the fifty-six-year-old film director and poet is highly esteemed in her home country. She places a huge wall diagonally into the room in her black box. Two video films coordinated in the picture are each projected onto a wall with the same soundtrack. When the visitor settles down, he experiences only one side of the story at a time, unless he alternates from time to time with the other. Surely this can also be understood as a manipulative intervention in the economy of attention. But its content was covered. Of course, Alghanem also deals with the buzz themes of migration, existential need and identity. But she presents them with the Syrian actress Amal Hawijeh in such a forceful and unagitated way in the solo chamber play that we follow the portrayal, the images and the texts spellbound. The artist separates the narrative levels in a broken manner and lets them run into each other: While on the one side the „reality“ of the actress Amal Hawijeh is shown, she prepares herself for a performance in the theatre, puts on make-up, practices her role, the other tells a „fiction“, the search of a stranger in a signal yellow raincoat and suitcase for shelter and protection in a landscape of ruins until she desperately finds shelter and redemption in the turbulent sea. For both film sets, she deliberately chose ruinous corners of the arsenals and the empty pavilion hall, giving the work a site-specific quality that brought the events on the projection screens even closer to the viewer. Only in the final sequence does the location change from Venice to the artist’s hometown Dubai. This is breathtaking: she shows the actress close up in despair in the water, until a diver comes next to her for help. The camera slowly moves away from the action and lets a film crew gather around a swimming pool. As the camera climbs further, attached to a drone, it becomes clear that the pool is on a skyscraper in a suburb of the desert metropolis. It climbs further and further until, on the horizon, the center of the city looms lofty and threateningly out of a cloud of sand and dust.


The Golden Lion for the Vilnius Women’s Collective from Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, a filmmaker and theatre director, Vaiva Grainytė, a dramaturge, and the artist and musician Lina Lapelytė surprised many. But if one had followed the development of the past years towards the performative, this was hardly surprising. The Golden Lion for Christoph Schlingensief’s German Pavilion made the start in 2011. This was followed by a lion for the performative interventions of Tino Sehgal in 2013, in 2015 the work of Joan Jonas was given special mentions, and finally Anne Imhof received a Golden Lion for her performance in the German Pavilion in 2017. Even before the award was announced on Saturday of the opening week, the audience crowded in front of the former warehouse of the Venetian military at the Canal de Galeazze in northern Castello to attend the choral opera performance for 13 voices Sun & Sea (Marina). Those who imagined themselves here in a theatrical performance should be absolutely right, even if the setting made it possible, despite a separation of performers, to linger and stroll around and return. The three artists found an ideal place for this. The warehouse has a spacious wood-covered gallery from which one could comfortably observe the events on the ground floor as if from an airplane or with God’s eye. What you could see and hear there delighted your eyes and ears. A good two dozen performers, including trained singers, mimed casually and for eight hours without interruption an illustrious beach party, lay on blankets, rubbed themselves with sun cream, children dug in the sand or played ball. There was nothing to be heard of their chatter, not to guess a story about the banality of the Tableau Vivant for the time being. But in the background a minimalistic sound backdrop, reminiscent of Steve Reich, came out of the loudspeakers and was recorded at regular intervals by a vocal soloist in order to perform a seemingly harmless, but all the more macabre song on closer listening. The songs built up an uncanny threat scenario. Is the distant rumble a volcanic eruption, a plane crash, or just a speedboat that spookily endangers the idyll shown? As an antithesis to Anne Imhof’s introverted analysis of the state of affairs of the European middle class society in 2015, the Lithuanian trio succeeded in creating a valid tableau for a general situation in which a longing for happiness successfully suppresses the possibility of global devastation. A strong contribution that rightly received the Golden Lion.

First Published in Kunstforum international Band 261, Köln Juni 2019

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