Diedrich Diederichsen

  • Otobong Nkanga, The Weight of Scars, 2015, polyester, linen, mohair, cotton, viscose, ink-jet prints on ten Forex plates, 8' 3 5⁄8“ × 20' 1”.

    “Critical Zones”

    SO NOW IT’S THE CRUST, the skin, the rind: There’s a new metaphor for the object of ecology, a new slogan for a new epistemology, a successor to the “blue marble,” “Whole Earth,” “Spaceship Earth,” Gaia, the Anthropocene, and all the rest. “Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics” is the title of the show that Bruno Latour, a dependable coiner of epistemological metaphors and neologisms, and Peter Weibel, acting as usual as the pandisciplinary authority on all fields and topics, organized for the

  • The Price of Intimacy

    The German writer and ethnographer Hubert Fichte (1935–1986) refused the constraints of custom and genre: His books combine autobiography, journalism, critique, and poetic avant-gardism with an ethnological practice that rejected the idea that research could be “pure.” Besides focusing on hunger, torture, human rights, and bisexuality, he made travel central to his work, turning his back on post-fascist Germany and increasingly spending time in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean in pursuit of encounters with and the study of non-European cultures. His dream, meanwhile, was of a global gay utopia. The political implications of this combination are complicated; Fichte tried to address them through a third-person alter ego who makes possible both incisive self-critique and reflections on its lack. His work is thus a precursor and an irritant to current debates in postcolonial and queer studies, as well as theories of identity politics and artistic research.Since 2017, Diedrich Diederichsen and curator Anselm Franke (with many partners and collaborators) have been organizing a multiyear project titled “Love and Ethnology,” which involves translations of Fichte’s books as well as exhibitions and events in locations where they are set. So far, the venues include Lisbon; Rio de Janeiro; Salvador de Bahia, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; and Dakar, Senegal, which will be followed by New York this December and a major exhibition and conference at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt next fall. Diederichsen and Franke seek both to reverse the relationship between Fichte and his subjects across the distances of time and place and to situate his work within the context of post-1968 experimentalism. Here, Diederichsen reflects on the contradictions generated in Fichte’s writing and how they can be made productive today. If the question is, What can we learn from Fichte? the right place to start is with that thorny word we.

    Writing the way you speak
    A kind of diary—ten years after the events
    An interview with myself
    Skillfully spontaneous
    Whatever else, no art
    No psychological coherence
    No equivalents

    —Hubert Fichte, Hotel Garni (1987)

    WE WHO WISHED to prepare the ground for decolonization remained colonial ourselves. This variation on Bertolt Brecht’s famous line “We / Who wished to lay the foundation for gentleness / Could not ourselves be gentle” applies to episode after episode in the history of European ethnology—not least among them the experimental and poetic attempts by Hubert

  • Daniel Knorr, Expiration Movement, 2017, smoke, text. Installation view, Zwehrenturm, Kassel. From Documenta 14. Photo: Bernd Borchardt. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.


    CONSTRUCTED FROM SCAFFOLDING on the Fried-richsplatz in Kassel, Martha Minujín’s Parthenon of Books, 2017, is unfortunately just more of the usual nonsense displayed at that location at almost every Documenta. The gigantic structure’s columns are wrapped in plastic cladding containing vast quantities of books that are or were forbidden somewhere in the world, many of which are among the staples of German households, including works by Goethe and Brecht, and the diary of Anne Frank. It turns out the last of these was banned not by a rogue state but by some American school districts (on account

  • View of “Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts,” 2016–17. Photo: Kai Althoff.

    Kai Althoff

    AN ART MUSEUM is a public place. Yet this status is often challenged by the argument that it excludes vast sections of the public and ultimately serves only a narrow—even elite—audience. In response, museums mobilize an army of educators, organize participatory programming, and deploy endless wall texts in their efforts to engage a wider public, as if didacticism alone could improve class relations. In this contested climate, the measure of an exhibition’s success often becomes, by default, the breadth of its appeal, the sheer number of visitors it can draw to the museum.

    From time to

  • Lynn Hershman Leeson, America’s Finest, 1994, M16 rifle, webcam, original software. Installation view.

    Lynn Hershman Leeson

    I'VE NEVER HAD works of art take so many photographs of me. Soon after entering Lynn Hershman Leeson’s recent show at the ZKM, I was met by Past Tense, 2014, a projection displaying a frantic succession of pictures of animals on the brink of extinction; the image collection was sourced by searching “endangered” on Flickr and was updated on a regular basis throughout the course of the exhibition. But these creatures were not the only things on display. My own picture, apparently taken moments ago by a smartphone on a pedestal as I was peering at the installation, was smuggled in at regular

  • Diedrich Diederichsen

    A decade ago, when Per Leo, a young German novelist, was organizing the books of his deceased grandfather, a former SS official, he made two piles: “cultural heritage” and “barbarism.” Yet Leo eventually found himself forced to create a third pile of texts that he could not definitively put into one or the other category—those by strange (anti-) modernist and anti-Semitic poets or cultural philosophers such as Ludwig Klages. So the research began for Der Wille zum Wesen (The Will to Essence) (Matthes & Seitz), a brilliant history of the ways in which the often lamented increasing anonymity

  • Page from Thomas Hirschhorn’s 33 Ausstellungen im Öffentlichen Raum, 1989–1998 (33 Exhibitions in Public Space, 1989–1998), 1999, booklet, 8 1/4 x 11 3/4". All works by Thomas Hirschhorn © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

    Diedrich Diederichsen

    STRONG ASSERTIONS are the most prominent feature of Thomas Hirschhorn’s art. He always acts with great decisiveness. This raises many questions, some of which—one might hope—could be answered by the publication of his writings. It turns out, however, that he took the same approach to the the texts collected here. Eschewing argument, Hirschhorn aggressively condemns all relativism, claiming that art does not need to be “put in context.” Rationalizations, qualifications, and other civilian affectations are almost entirely absent from these texts. Instead, there are assertions, proclamations,

  • Diedrich Diederichsen


    The author Hans-Christian Dany, known in the German-speaking world for his literature on drugs (especially speed), has published Morgen werde ich Idiot: Kybernetik und Kontrollgesellschaft (I’ll Be an Idiot Tomorrow: Cybernetics and the Society of Control) (Nautilus Flugschrift), a critique of the ideological complex built on the relations between cybernetics and the exploitation of postmaterial labor, in which control is no longer established in relation to fixed parameters within a system, but is developed via the fostering of endless, open self-optimization. I’m

  • View of “Ed Ruscha,” 2012. From left: In God We Trust, 1994; You Dirty Rotten Bitch, 1997.

    Ed Ruscha

    The German word for “letter,” Buchstabe, incorporates the word Buch, “book,” as if to remind us that books are the natural place of residence for letters and signs in general, like an animal’s burrow. Ed Ruscha is an artist who has a unique relationship to letters, both as signs and as inhabitants of books. For the exhibition “Reading Ed Ruscha,” the artist gave a lecture in which he spoke with admiration and melancholy about the bookworm, and noted with sadness its impending extinction with the looming end of the printed book. Ruscha describes the bookworm as an artist—he sees the inhabitation

  • Rabih Mroué, Double Shooting, 2012, film stills, waterproof paper, wood. Installation view, Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin. From “The World Is Not Fair.” Photo: Valentin Fasta.


    IT WAS A BRILLIANTLY SUNNY afternoon as I walked onto the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin. In the 1920s, this massive field in the south of the city hosted Germany’s first commercial airport, but it had been used since the eighteenth century as a military parade ground and (now again) for public recreation. The airport closed in 2008, and the space is today a gigantic park. Being there, one feels as if some salt lake or tideland had been transposed to the middle of the city. This sensation is not only due to the scale of the place but because, in contrast to most European parks, there is no landscape

  • Paul Chan, Sade for Sade’s Sake, 2009, video projection, 345 minutes. Installation view.

    “Before the Law”

    WHAT IS THE CONNECTION between Fritz Cremer’s O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter! II (O Germany, Pale Mother! II), 1961, and Paul Chan’s Sade for Sade’s Sake, 2009? The former, one version of which stands at the memorial site of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, is a bronze sculpture of an exhausted woman with downcast eyes, while the latter is a projection more than five hours in duration that shows silhouetted figures engaging in copulation, masturbation, and rape. And is there any link between Giacomo Manzù’s spare figure of Catholic interiority Cardinale in piedi (Standing Cardinal),

  • Florian Pumhösl, Tract, 2011, stills from a color film in 16 mm, 9 minutes.

    Diedrich Diederichsen

    OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, it seems an increasing number of shows have given rise to vehement debate. Such debate has often been both informal and productive: Conversational circles that for years enjoyed consensus on the merits of this or that exhibition are now having to reevaluate their views in light of new controversies. The largely tedious legibility of rooms filled with art—tedious because we now read them automatically—has been repeatedly upturned, as is evident not only in a surprising plurality of readings but also in almost physical responses on the part of viewers. And while