“Die Gewalt is der Rand aller Dinge"

Generali Foundation

At the beginning of each year, the vestals of the Austrian temple of Conceptual art, the Generali Foundation, surrender their austere chambers for the sake of experiment: an exhibition straight from the artists’ laboratory. For 2002, Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann, artist-writers specializing in the political dimension of art, organized a show on the theme of artistic work and militancy: “Die Gewalt ist der Rand aller Dinge” (Violence is at the margin of all things). Three questions assert themselves: How do artists treat the theme of militancy within their own system? What can aesthetic praxis accomplish? And how does it relate to classical understandings of the concepts of the real (politics) and the symbolic (art)?

As a historical reference, Creischer and Siekmann provided photographs of the Paris Commune of 1871: Fighters on the barricades and the toppled Vendôme column inaugurate the field of photojournalism as the democraticmedium par excellence of the late nineteenth century. Links to Gustave Courbet, realism, and the rise of mechanical reproduction all enter into the canvases, postmodern in their effect, of Gérard Fromanger. For the two works from his 1975 series “Hommage à F. Topino-Lebrun,” this French artist and activist reworked photographic documents of the murder of the revolutionary Gracchus Babeuf and of the riots in Toul, the prison made famous by Michel Foucault. An illuminating path of visual communication led from Gerd Arntz’s pictograms of the ’20s and ’30s, via the Cold War comics of Seth Tobocman, to recent works by the Argentinian Grupo de Arte Callejero, who commemorate that country’s brutal state-sponsored terrorism in the ’70s and early ’80s with laconic and denunciatory “signs” painted with synthetic resin in public places. Creischer and Siekmann also clarified the link between socialist infographics and the antiglobalization movement.

The contemporary works here were consistently by artists for whom art is always already political engagement. For example, Thomas Klipper, who occasionally tattoos parquet floors using small chainsaws, was represented here by city portraits of places that were important for his artistic and political socialization. Klaus Weber exhibited DEMO INVERSE (Inverse protest), 2001, the video of an event he carried out as a properly registered demonstration in Berlin in 2001. The simultaneous entry of an “activist” car mounted with loudspeakers and a “repressive” police personnel wagon functioned as a model for the relationship of content and (external) form. Linda Bilda’s Plexiglas sculpture of Joan of Arc could be understood as an homage to a historical figure who had accepted battle as a possibility. With a series of drawings concerning the controversial “rational individualist” Ayn Rand by Christoph Schäfer, photographs of a dislocated Belgrade by Katja Eydel, sound installations by the Ultra-red group, Woody Guthrie appropriations by Global Dustbowl Ballads, and Dierk Schmidt’s paraphrase of Géricault, among others, the curators made a sophisticated loop around the theme of activism in art.

Thesis and antithesis were ultimately recapitulated by the two unexpected stars of the exhibition: Yvonne Rainer’s 1980 film Journeys from Berlin/1971 relates relationships of power to personal circumstances. The film, which concerns the end of Rainer’s work as a dance performer, documents anticommunist repression in West Germany in the late ’60s and pinpoints the situation that moved the second legendary figure in the exhibition, Charlotte Posenenske, to abandon art altogether. “Art,” said this sociologist, who died in 1985, “can contribute nothing to resolving pressing social problems.” Could be, one was tempted to think—all the while failing helplessly in love with Posenenske’s grandiose Vierkantrohr aus der Serie DW (Rectangular tube, series DW), 1967, made of corrugated cardboard. Being industrially produced, this sculpture-at times mistaken by members of the public for a ventilation duct—self-consciously leaves the realm of art to merge with the social environment.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger