Lüneburg, Germany

Die Universität ist eine Fabrik

Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg

The opening at the new Kunstraum of the Universität Lüneburg was unwontedly overcrowded. Maybe it was because this small, very rigorously conceived exhibition was curated by Roger M. Buergel, the freshly nominated curator of Documenta 12. Only now is the Kunstraum, an annex of the university’s cultural-studies program, being characterized in the press as the “new king maker in Germany” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), although long-term projects with artists such as Andrea Fraser, Christian Philipp Müller, and Christian Boltanski and curators such as Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Astrid Wege have been happening here since 1993.

Since 1998, Buergel has held seminars at the university that have formed the groundwork for the exhibition series “The Government,” launched in 2003. With apt site-specificity, this exhibition used Michel Foucault’s analysis of institutional power to examine the theme “The University Is a Factory,” alluding to the higher-education reform currently challenging the European university system. Lüneburg is faced with a particularly drastic restructuring along the lines of privatization, which is why the university was on strike at the time of the opening. Interestingly, in pursuing this theme Buergel drew from the ’70s for three of the four works in the show.

Allan Sekula’s photograph-and-text work School Is a Factory, 1979–80, describes situations in which education leads to a dead end or is pursued ad nauseam. One photograph shows a Latin American woman being interviewed for a job. Just granting the interview was enough to fulfill affirmative-action requirements, explains the accompanying text; the woman did not get the job as a professor at an art school. (Some viewers may recognize her as Ana Mendieta.) Other photographs show film critics working as taxi drivers, or mathematics and photography students who, the text predicts, will not practice in the fields in which they were trained. Education is shown here as a false hope but also as a means of discipline through which certain kinds of subjectivity are created. Martha Rosler concerns herself with the personal catastrophes of teenagers suffering under a variety of expectations and pressures. Her video Losing: A Conversation with the Parents, 1977, reconstructs an interview with a couple whose daughter starved herself to death. The actors playing the parents give the scene a touch of reality TV; yet in its wooden detail, the episode seems less real than any soap opera. The parents’ rigidity and incomprehension suggest that hunger is equivalent to powerlessness, whether caused by poverty or as protest against mechanisms of repression.

Film sequences from both Harun Farocki’s Die Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten (The Creator of Shopping Worlds, 2001), and Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Tout va bien (1972) take place in supermarkets portrayed as tentacles of capitalist domination. While Farocki critiques this mode of power by way of amusingly earnest debates among industry consultants, supermarket managers, and baked-goods reps about the most effective placement of products in the bakery aisle, the plundering of supermarkets by discursively chattering consumer activists in the French film comes across as the subversive production of chaos. Education, family, and the temples of consumption are presented in Buergel’s exhibition as microcosms of the government. Escape lies not in the anorexic internalization of the pressure to conform, which weakens and extinguishes its subjects, but rather in revolution. Thus the motto of Tout va bien’s supermarket raid: “Change everything, but where to begin?”

Nina Möntmann

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.