LOOKING FOR HUMANITY
Jochen Gerz, der Eintrag (the entry)
Jochen Gerz is known for monuments that are the result of interactions with other people, performances during which he dissolves the distinction between artist and observer. But language has also always remained at the centre of his art.
The small, backlit board shows the fictitious dictionary entry “Barbarian” which could be taken from an etymologic dictionary from the 70ies of the last century. Whilst reading it, the observer will be puzzled by the context: “Barbarian: Greek for man, blinded by morality”? No, in our language barbarian is commonly used meaning “savage, uncivilised” and for the Ancient Greeks it was the term for those who were not able to speak Greek and thus for all strangers.
The re-creation of the dictionary entry as a reversal of meaning by the artist only becomes fully understandable through the assignment of the word “Germany”: no longer are the others the barbarians, but those acting in accordance with seemingly valid moral codes. Now they are accused of “barbarism”. For Jochen Gerz art is always also a challenge and an appeal: “My art is about taking action”, says the performance artist about his work. Gerz obviously wants to use his art to provoke and to reach people, when he says: “I believe art is not leaving enough traces in our lives.”
Sergey Bratkov, Ukraine
In his photo series Ukraine, Sergey Bratkov, who grew up in the Ukrainian industrial city of Kharkiv, reveals the ideologically outdated clichés of the Soviet era as well as the new habitus of powerful Eastern capitalism. A direct, sometimes ruthless depiction of everyday life and life together after the fall of the Soviet Union runs like a red thread through the work and this extensive series. Precise observation and accidental discovery mix into a sometimes shrill theatre of a new unreal reality. Bratkov quotes the pictorial language of nationally coloured socialism in 2009. In view of the most recent political developments, the photographs appear even more bizarre than when they were taken. The cemetery in Mariupol with the strange-looking statue and the red and yellow flowers, the monument to the MiG 17, the Soviet Union's first production aircraft, and also the combat ship, which tourists stare at indifferently from their ship, are suddenly evidence of a strange world.
Chto Delat, Carnary Archives
“I was perplexed as to what the usefulness of any of the arts might be, with the possible exception of interior decoration. The most positive notion I could come up with was what I call the canary-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. This theory argues that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are supersensitive. They keel over like canaries in coal mines filled with poison gas, long before more robust types realise that any danger is there.” Kurt Vonnegut
In the days immediately before and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the members of Chto Delat have their say - disconnected, each isolated, lying alone in private interiors. They talk about themselves, about their (bad) dreams, about the catastrophe, about the war, about poetry, about how you got to where you are now.
Between the scenes, the image of an elevator returns, driving further and further down into the shaft, into the pit. Another monitor shows canary birds, which are known to have been used in mining because they died sooner than humans from lack of oxygen.
The art collective includes important contemporary Russian thinkers: philosophers Artemy Magun, Alexei Penzin and Oxana Timofeeva, choreographer Nina Gasteva, artists Olga Egorova (Tsaplya), Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky. They all move on the edge of a liveable existence. They suspect or already know that it will become even darker and bleaker in their country than it already was.
Robert Kunec, 1/1 Suicide Bomber
In his work, the sculptor Robert Kunec frequently deals with the mechanisms of fundamentalism, violence, terrorism and their depiction in the media. He also does so in his work “1/1 Suicide Bomber”. He offers a provocative take on the phenomenon of the suicide attack by seemingly playing it down. We can see a life-size assembly kit of a suicide bomber whose individual parts, as with a toy, i.e. his arms, legs, a torso covered with explosives, a head covered by a scarf and a machine gun, can be taken apart and put back together. However, this upsetting as well as catchy image inevitably leads to the question of the free will of the individual. The simple instruction manual of the plug system represents the blind loyalty, the exploitation of the subject through religious fanaticism and ideological manipulation as well as the spirit of sacrifice that comes with it.
Through the use of images, Kunec addresses the question of the role of the people behind the masks and uniforms: To what extent do they chose their religious or political beliefs and to what extent are they mere pieces, waiting for their next move?
Silke Wagner, untitled
In her conceptual work, Silke Wagner focuses on socio-political content, which she transfers into an artistic-aesthetic context using various means. In the series of nine photographs, she separates banners and posters - such as those used at demonstrations - from their respective political context and turns them into universal image carriers. Detached from current political events and tendencies, the works offer the opportunity to approach the subject of protest on a more fundamental level and to question one's own confrontation with public opinion and slogans. Wagner wants to initiate public communication processes and creates opportunities for interaction. She addresses the gesture of social protest - both through the political content and through the artwork itself.
Nasan Tur, Memory as Resistance
"Hardly a day goes by that I don't open the newspaper, read about the arrests and murders of journalists and look at the portraits of these people, who often paid for their work with their lives." Nasan Tur's Memory as Resistance is about remembering as a conscious act, about not forgetting as an act of resistance. It's about not only remembering the people in the photographs, but above all what they represent and their role in society. In their work for transparency, they repeatedly trigger public debates that can have a strong political impact and thus become targets themselves.
The video work shows portrait photos of murdered journalists known from the media, including Hrant Dink, Anna Politkovskaya, Jamal Khashoggi, Daphne Caruana Galizia and José Luis Lopez da la Calle.
Again and again, Tur's hands crumple up the photos and smooth them out. This process is a back and forth between disappearing and being restored, between forgetting and remembering. And the statement: Where freedom of speech is not protected, the arts, sciences and any opposition are in danger.
Manaf Halbouni, ZONES
In addition to his memories of the civil war in Syria, Manaf Halbouni's work resonates with universal themes such as migration, freedom, democracy and the potential of an open society. In various media such as sculpture, drawing and video, he reflects on his own life experience between the Arab world and Europe.
ZONES refers to United Nations peacekeeping missions. There are currently 12 active missions, mainly in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. Some of them are demilitarised zones, others are defect states and some are located in existing countries, some started in the late 1940s and others a few years ago. Depending on the conflict situation and mandate, these can be peace enforcement, peacekeeping or peacebuilding measures. Halbouni uses his favourite materials concrete and steel for this series - the second of the ZONES series. The shapes of the zones are made of acrylic glass and embedded in the concrete.
UNTSO – United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, Middle East
UNFICYP – United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus
MONUSCO – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
UNMOGIP – United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan
UNDOF – United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, Golan
UNMIK - United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo
Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, The Right To Have Rights
The performer MPA stands on the deserted runway of the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport and reads out the "1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees", the so-called 1951 Refugee Convention. The agreement was passed in 1951 and signed by 145 countries. The convention guarantees far-reaching rights for refugees and forms the basis of international refugee law to this day. In The Right To Have Rights, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz take up a document of international law. As the spoken word, and thus the written decree of the legal articles, gradually transitions into a piece of music, Boudry and Lorenz's work negotiates the fluid status of human beings and political rights based on inclusion and exclusion.
Nasan Tur, Mirrors
It looks like the fogged-up mirror was wiped clean with one hand and reveals – our own reflection. We all know the situation from the bathroom or a hotel room, where condensation has formed on a bathroom mirror after a warm shower or bath. The work explores that moment when we are tempted to make a drawing with our fingers or write a word on the fogged mirror. 7
Tur writes words with his finger that express personal questions and statements and at the same time takes up critical, socially relevant topics. These sentences and a small area just above the words are the only places where we can see ourselves. The personal confrontation with our own reflection invites us to think about the statements and to question our own attitude.
Johanna Diehl, Archipelagos of Resistance
For her new ongoing series Archipelagos of Resistance, Diehl travelled to Sarajevo in 2021 and 2022 and photographed public spaces where cultural life continued during the city's siege in the 1990s. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days, making it the longest siege of the 20th century. For almost four years, the city's residents were surrounded and cut off from the rest of the world.
The starting point for Diehl's work was the question of how life was possible under these extreme and life-threatening conditions and how essential the importance of art and sensual practices is under such circumstances. She researched places and locations where art exhibitions, theatre productions, film festivals and concerts took place despite being shelled and threatened. Against this background, photographs were taken of numerous places, which refer to cultural work organised at risk of life in the midst of civil war. e.g. Otvorena scena OBALA theatre space, Sutjeska cinema and Collegium Artisticum gallery in Skenderija cultural, sports and shopping centre. Diehl photographed the pictures from the Hotel Holiday Inn in early March 2022. On April 6, 1992, snipers loyal to Karadžić opened fire from inside the Holiday Inn at peace demonstrators who had gathered in front of the Bosnian parliament building, thus dissolving one war, which until then seemed hardly imaginable. From June 1992, the hotel became the headquarters for international journalists and war correspondents, who reported on the siege and bombing of Sarajevo from here until the end of the civil war on December 14, 1995. Numerous pictures and films from the bombing of the city were taken from the Hotel Holiday Inn - e.g. also the pictures of the burning Bosnian parliament building. The Holiday Inn became a sort of window on the world for reporting. BBC correspondent Martin Bell described the hotel as ground zero during the siege: "You didn't go to war from there, war came to you." (Authors: Sabina Klemm and Sanja Kojic Mladenov)
Tobias Zielony, Watching TV in Narva
The Estonian city of Narva lies close to the Russian boarder. Most residents speak Russian, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, many are officially stateless or hold so-called foreign passports. When Russia invaded Ukraine in spring 2022, the Estonian government shut down major Russian news channels to curb the influence of Russian propaganda.
In a dark interior, lit only by the irregularly flickering light of a television screen, several young people comment on the television program while flipping through the channels. We hear Estonian, Russian, Ukrainian and English. Scenes from the ongoing war alternate with feature films, series, esotericism, music - and almost everything seems coloured by a climate of violence. You could call it an apocalyptic farewell to the present that scurries through the living room: but what the screen shows is normal everyday life.
Anna Malagrida, Les Mains
For the Les Mains series, Malagrida photographed the hands of gamblers in a betting shop. She took photographs from the street, through the large windows. The hands are presented positioned outside of a clearly formulated system of signs. For Malagrida, the imagery of the hands has neither a predetermined structure nor is it part of a logical system. The gestures are common, sometimes linked to gamblers' activities, but often evoked involuntarily. Some depictions seem to want to express anger, others joy; some welcoming, some seeming hostile.
Anna Malagrida's photographs show her great interest in social and political contexts and relationships of authority and power in our contemporary society. She questions the space in today's city, which is structured in contrasts between inside and outside, between public and private.
Jonas Englert, Circles I
Jonas Englert, Circles II
Circles I (extended title: Circles of Bodily Synchronization of a Political Nature in the Pre-Digital Moving Image I) is a video work that, using historical pre-digital moving images, attempts to interpret what is commonly understood as contemporary events and tells it as the history of interpersonal encounters. Physical contact is thought of as its most binding constituent. To touch means to be touched, and touching as such can shimmer through even the most representative surface of propaganda staging. In Circles I, public figures are chained together in eternal circles through interpersonal (skin) contact. The video collage dismantles documented scenes of political encounters against the background of the events of the two world wars (and beyond) into a rhizome of interpersonal contact, choreographs a series of circles that correspond with each other.
Circles II (extended title: Circles of Bodily Synchronization of a Political Nature in the Pre-Digital Moving Image II) sees itself as a counterpart to Circles I. The inherent structure of human-political contacts should emerge here. Therefore Circles II - based on the parameters individual, space and time – it deals with the aesthetics of the factual, potentiality and contingency, a process-oriented, investigative data-oriented aesthetics.
Jonas Englert, Declaration of Principles
In a multi-part black wooden frame, Jonas Englert's work shines like a backlit glass painting, a medieval altarpiece. One image does not exist, one could say, and a reverent concentration takes possession of the viewer. Jonas Englert groups exclusively found image and film material around a central topic that is familiar to us today under the title “Oslo Peace Treaties”. Closed more than 25 years ago after many years of violent conflict resolution to enable the peaceful coexistence of Palestine and Israel, the issue of the Middle East conflict is as virulent today as it was back in 1993. But Englert tells the attentive viewer a story that, unlike usual, is not linear, but is composed of motifs of encounter and touch: there is the handshake that seals something, the coat that protects something, the blessing gesture of the hand.
If you look closely, you can see how the panels relate to each other: between Piero della Francesca's depictions of Mary, the 19th century history paintings or the film excerpt from Fritz Lang's Metropolis and, in the centre, the film recording of the ceremony of the so-called "Declaration of Principles on the temporary self-rule" of Israel and Palestine. Mahmoud Abbas, Shimon Peres, Warren Christopher and Andrei Kozyrev signed the declaration in Washington on September 13, 1993, with Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton testifying. Englert attempts to decipher the codes behind the images that shape our collective memory and even have a direct impact on our perception of reality. At the same time, this attempt itself remains figurative. The handshake, for example, as we see, has symbolised certain forms of promises or oaths for centuries. It reaffirmed trade agreements, marriages and the settlement of conflicts. The peace negotiations in their triadic constellation, in turn, find their correspondence in the depiction of the Epiphany meeting of 1709, while another scene, for example, documents the triangular connection of the oath of confederation as a Swiss national myth.
Cemile Sahin, It would have taught me wisdom
In Cemlie Sahin's work, the goddess Minerva wears a flowing robe with the camouflage patterns of modern combat uniforms from France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Turkey - the signing ceremony of the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 is depicted in the background. The work is based on the artist's research on the Treaties of Sèvres and Lausanne (1923), both in terms of the visual language and the underlying narrative. They were the last of the treaties reorganising nations and redrawing borders after World War I. The Ottoman Empire was forced to give up 80% of its pre-war territory. Although the treaty was never ratified, the effects are still being felt in Turkey a century later. The moment of signing is captured in the photograph. On the table, as an ornament or writing set, stands the sculpture of the Roman goddess of wisdom and fine arts, Minerva. "That I did not receive in time the French Minerva it would have taught me wisdom" runs across the photograph in orange letters - a phrase attributed to Wilhelm II, one of the losers of World War I.
Yael Bartana, Two Minutes to Midnight
What if women ruled the world? Yael Bartana asks this question in her performative video work Two Minutes to Midnight. A group of female experts, consisting of fictional characters and real scientists, comes together in a peace council in the face of an imminent nuclear threat. They are looking for solutions and must act wisely because their goal is to prevent war. The female government relies on a feminist strategy that tries to take into account the needs of society as a whole.
The art performance is based on Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. But writer-director Yael Bartana reverses everything. The war room full of men is now a peace room full of women. And while in Dr. Strangelove men destroy the world, now women try to save it.
Footage was recorded at live performances in Aarhus, Berlin and Philadelphia.