Collectivity Matters

J. K. Bergstrand-Doley, Dominique Hurth, Marcel and Anna (Mac), David Rych

Curated by Andrei Siclodi
Exhibition, Kunstpavillon, 14.06.2013 to 27.07.2013

The exhibition Collectivity Matters focused on the current potential of collective practices in art with respect to their manifestation as indicators of social conditions.

Collectives in art are often imaginary constellations that serve an artistic idea; under certain circumstances, they reflect realpolitik conditions. A dialectic visualization of one’s own activity often lies behind the label “collective”—by appearing as a “collective” or as a corporate form, it is possible to secure both visibility and “critical” credibility in the art field. But does this really have anything to do with critical practice?

What can collective action signify in the art context when, like art theorist Pamela M. Lee, one assumes that we live in the era of the “consumer sovereign”, whose activity consists primarily in selecting from what is on offer (and from a selection which he/she has supposedly determined)? Or, in an age when such selection is equated with “freedom” and thus with a free market—one that, in turn, reinforces the illusion of free human activity?

Finally, the question of collectivity in art is critically connected to the issue of organizational forms of artistic production and mediation. What forms of authorship are being claimed here, from whom and to what degree? What impact do other participants—curators, technicians, art educators—have on the artistic production process, or further on instituting the paradigm of collective artistic practice?

Collectivity Matters focused on dealing with such issues in an unorthodox and (possibly) contradictory manner; at the same time, it addressed current forms of exhibition display. The exhibition stemmed from an investigation into the projects, artistic ideas and working methods of participants in the Interna­tional Fellowship Program for Art and Theory at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen 2012/13. Their artistic approaches, fields of investigation and themes formed the starting point. The artistic practice of Marcel Hiller and the “collective” Magicgruppe Kulturobjekt, which he initiated, Kevin Dooley’s interest in work in self-organized contexts, David Rych’s project-ori­ented art practice (which often implies collab­-oration between a large number of participants) and Dominique Hurth’s insistence on the importance of individual artistic positions provided the initial motives for addressing the topic of “collectivity.” The curatorial concept was developed step-by-step, partly with direct reference to the participating artists’ projects and partly on the basis of a number of individual and joint discussions with the fellows. These discussions resulted in the creation of two artistic figures: the fictitious collective Marcel and Anna (Mac), and the fabricated individual J. K. Bergstrand-Doley. Both figures take part in the exhibition, presenting their own art projects.

The duo Marcel and Anna (Mac) refers to a “collaboration” between artist Marcel Hiller and the language output program of the Apple operating system, which employs the female computer voice “Anna”. The parodied name-giving, more reminiscent of duos in the field of folk music than collaborations in the art field, indicates distrust towards the latest hype surrounding collective practices—although to a certain extent, Hiller is partly responsible for it.

The installation Tool consisted of a flat-screen monitor hanging from the slightly opened ceiling of the Kunstpavillon, in an apparently unstable position requiring load restraints and ropes. The “protagonist” of the video shown was an object with sculptural qualities, a cast-off from the production line in a toy factory. Every once in a while, the computer voice “Anna” would speak a text taken predominantly from e-mail correspondence between the artist and the curator regarding the exhibition concept. The dialectics of the debate on “collectivity”, partly formulated in the curator’s early considerations, was further accentuated by the robot-like pronunciation of the computer voice, and continued in turn by the fragility of the installation.

Two other objects distributed in the exhibition space included an abandoned footstool without a seat—salvaged by Marcel and Anna (Mac) and now painted black, “elevated” to a work of art (Quitte)—along with a cylindrical glass container in which a still-life has been arranged. The object arrangement consisted of a pair of Armani sneakers, a toilet paper stand, two yellow-painted lemons, and some gift wrapping bows (Giorgio). Both items reflected Marcel Hiller’s interest in work with readymades, which in this case generated something like a pair of opposites (low and high), thus echoing the question of the “consumer sovereign” as articulated in the introductory text.

The fictive character J. K. Bergstrand-Doley refers to a cooperation between Kevin Dooley and Jens Strandberg. The pseudonym can be understood as an homage to J. K. Gibson-Graham, the name economists Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson used to publish The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (1996) and A Postcapitalist Politics (2006)—important works of feminist political economic study. J. K. Bergstrand-Doley’s contribution to the exhibition was called Dirty Abstract Body. The installation originated in a workshop that the two artists led in Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen in April 2013. The collective, practice-related experiment reflected on (possible) relationships between housework and creative work; the workshop was conceived as a heuristic experiment about work in the home, and considered the basic significance of working within fixed structures. The results of these practice units, or so-called “speculative objects”, were further developed and presented in the exhibition Collectivity Matters in adapted form. Following the conviction that firmly established, static structures stand in the way of development and emancipation, J. K. Bergstrand-Doley removed the glass roof from the left wing of the Kunstpavillon and installed “speculative objects” (most of which integrated living plants) in the building’s attic.

J. K. Bergstrand-Doley held an “address” at the exhibition opening; documentation of it could later be seen in the exhibition on a walled-in monitor on the stacked glass covering panels. The speaker’s standpoint in relation to the work in the context of the residency program—where not only does art have to be produced, but housework literally has to be done as well; where work goes hand in hand with privacy and regular presentations to the public, often making these indistinguishable—was located in the place where the architectonic system of the exhibition space had been broken through. Rejected Material, the title of the address presented, thus consisted of a list of materials used like those one finds in the description of an artwork, but in an extended sense: the list aimed to include everything—both the included and the excluded—, and so to grasp what is present through inherent, co-constitutive absent aspects. Consequently, explanations blended work with private life, despair with arrogance, a debate about the connotations in the title of the exhibition with a questioning of one’s personal standpoint. At the end of the speech, J. K. Bergstrand-Doley had to rely on assistance from the crowd to safely get down from his/her precarious position on the misplaced ceiling of the exhibition space. This symbolic act of collective rescue was successful.

Unlike Marcel Hiller, Kevin Dooley and Jens Strandberg, David Rych and Dominique Hurth participated in the exhibition under their own names.

In his video works, David Rych deals with the dialectics of staging reality in the mass medium of film. Rych produced three videos for the exhibition Collectivity Matters, in which two of the other protagonists of the exhibition—artists Kevin Dooley and Dominique Hurth—featured as actors. Each of the videos showed a short sequence in which the actors quote passages from films by Woody Allen and Jean-Luc Godard.

A dialogue from Woody Allen’s film Play It Again, Sam (1972) between Allen and a young woman in front of a Jackson Pollock painting in the Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art in New York was adapted for the exhibition situation in the Kunstpavillon (Déjà-vu 1). The work could be found directly next to the entrance to the Kunstpavillon, in the exact place where it was filmed; this positioning meant that it provided visitors with irritating, tongue in cheek “instructions” for interpretating the art on view. The sequence showing two readers on a terrace paraphrased a scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s La chinoise (1967), in which two students are sitting on a balcony reading the “Mao Bible”. In Rych’s re-staging, the books were philosophical works whose authors have played a key role in the (critical) art scene in the past two decades: Deleuze/Guattari, Hardt/Negri, Agamben, Foucault and Žižek (Déjà-vu 2). The third video work by Rych could only be seen in Leokino (the Innsbruck program cinema): a female figure sprays the word “CINEMARX” in red paint on a car parked in front of Leokino and then hurries out of the frame. Again, the sequence paraphrases a scene in a film by Godard, this time from One plus One (Sympathy for the Devil, 1968) (Déjà-vu 3).

In restaging individual quotes from the collective memory of film and art history, the protagonists of Rych’s video works questioned any assertion of a collective, critical consciousness in the art business.

In Dominique Hurth’s contribution someone in the rear of the hall, the artist investigated the potential of a curtain for changing a space. Here, she cited its haptic manifestation on the basis of her own collection of early photographic stagings of séances. She called upon the potential voice that might intervene by speaking behind the curtain, a curtain that serves as a filter, a backdrop, divider, split, separation, or simply as decor—a thing in the process of opening, hiding or simulating something. In the context of the exhibition Collectivity Matters Hurth’s interest in this object referred to ancient forms of oral teaching: the knowledgeable person speaks from behind the curtain to a group of listeners who hear this voice, but cannot recognize its cause or origin and therefore constitute only a passive audience. This circumstance finds certain analogy in the settings of the séance or the white cube: in two strictly controlled environments, where things can be attributed to a voice—or not, as the case may be.

someone in the rear of the hall was the continuation of foreword (language in the darkness of the world through inverse images), Dominique Hurth’s solo exhibition at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen.

Kevin DOOLEY (*1983 in Hastings/UK) lives and tries to work in Vienna. His work history includes six years in a supermarket, butchery, teaching, city tours and translating. He has an ever-increasing student debt of £12,500 (as of July 2013). Dooley spends a lot of time in the unemployment office. His work on the project Art Workers Inquiry, Part II: Spectres, part of his first-ever artist-in-residence program, felt like a holiday from unemployment with reduced wages. After visiting a political therapist and a relationship counselor, Dooley decided to be more polygamous and to focus on unionizing as a form of therapeutic empowerment.

Dominique HURTH (*1985 in Colmar/FR), lives in Berlin. She completed studies at Saint Martin’s School of Art, London (BA 2005), at the Academy of Arts, Berlin (MA 2007) and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, Paris (MA Visual Arts 2009) and was a Fine Art Researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2010/11). Exhibitions include: procreated by husband, put on ice by scientists, aroused by wife, Clockwork Gallery, Berlin (solo, 2013); Blackout, Look 13, Liverpool International Photography Festival, Liverpool (2013), le périmètre interne, Institut Français, Barcelona; La Triennale—Intense Proximity, curated by Okwui Enwezor, Palais de Tokyo Paris (2012), …aber wir sind der sprache scheißegal, Archive Books Berlin (together with Scriptings, Achim Lengerer, 2012).

Marcel HILLER (*1982 in Potsdam-Babelsberg, D), lives in Aachen and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts Münster in 2008. A Fine Art Researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht (2010/11), he founded CLUB 69, Münster (2008) and the Magicgruppe Kulturobjekt (2010). Selected solo exhibitions include der Makler, Georg Kolbe Museum Berlin and DESAGA, Galerie Desaga, Cologne (both in 2012). Exhibitions with Magicgruppe Kulturobjekt include those at Ludwigforum, Aachen, Extra City Kunsthal, Antwerp, tektonika, Kunstverein Nürnberg and Lothringer 13/laden, Munich (all in 2012).

David RYCH (*1975 in Innsbruck), lives in Berlin. He studied at the University of Innsbruck (1993-95), the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (1995-2001) and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem (1999/2000) and completed postgraduate study at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Marseille (2004/05). Rych participated in Manifesta 8 (2010/11) and the Berlin Biennal (2012).

Jens Strandberg works as an artistic janitor in Stockholm, Sweden. He is currently involved in a research project he calls Overhead and Behind— Three Joint Learning Exercises. These exercises include lessons in Working Conditions, The Refusal of Objects and Disturbing Distribution. Overhead and Behind is described as a socially engaged, non-linear heuristic DIY, learning-by-doing performance of research. The overall theme is to tackle questions around the “body of work”, i.e. the role of the “body” and “body-politics” in relation to work-processes, labor, products and commodities.


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