Space Matters

Susan Kelly, Ivana Marjanović feat. QueerBeograd, Sandra Schäfer, Lan Tuazon

Curated by Andrei Siclodi
Exhibition at the Neue Galerie, 21.06.2012 to 04.08.2012

The Space Matters exhibition investigated the role of space as a constant in artistic practices aimed at generating new forms of social articulation and action. Utopian, topological, emancipatory, and sociopolitical spatial approaches constituted a conceptual framework against which four discursive positions are developed, revealing a differentiated spectrum of issues.

When the general theory of relativity was first articulated—or in fact even earlier, when the mathematician G.F. Bernhard Riemann fundamentally challenged the autocracy of Euclidean geometry in the mid-19th century—it became clear that “space” could no longer be regarded as an absolute, three-dimensional quantity that exists independently of the observer and independently of time. Still, it appears that little has changed over the past 150 years with regards to the implicitness with which this absolute concept of space as an unalterable container is accepted in the collective awareness of Western civilizations. We still rely primarily on our senses, which tell us that even though the “space” we move and live our lives in may have “shrunk” from a subjective point of view due to the massive acceleration, it still remains firmly anchored in the three-dimensionality of traditional concepts. Yet if we understand space as something dynamic, something that at a certain point in time is defined by the, in each case “preliminary, outcome of the orderings of bodies on the basis of actions” (cf. Martina Löw: Raumsoziologie. Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 35.), we discover possibilities of reflecting and acting that enable us to better understand the ways in which power structures social space—a social space which in political terms is still predominantly contemplated and discussed on the basis of the epistemologically obsolete, absolute concept of space. The positions represented in the exhibition were thus concerned with borders, limitations and overcoming or questioning them.

Lan Tuazon’s installation The Fault of Form, a three-dimensional sculpture enhanced by a video projection (“augmented sculpture”)—the sculpture was created by the technique of kirigami, a traditional Japanese craft—dealing with utopia was right at the start of the exhibition. “Fault of form” was a fundamental point of criticism concerning the mass housing projects that began to boom all over the world in the 1950s. This critical response to formal and functional aspects shifted the focus away from the socio-economic conditions and prerequisites that eventually caused the deterioration of these buildings and the underlying concepts of living. Tuazon’s work refers to specific utopian architectures in order to explore them as representations of an ideal: architectural utopias of living together, e.g. Johannes Valentinus Andreae’s Christianopolis (16th century), Charles Fourier’s Phalanstère (18th century), Malevich’s suprematist city (architectone, 1920s), Chernikhov’s paper architecture (1950s), and some well-known examples of realized modern mass public housing projects—the Vele di Scampia near Naples (1960s and 1970s) and the Pinnacle@Duxton in Singapore (since 2001). Combining plans and motifs relating to these imagined and realized social utopias into a single spatial structure, Tuazon formulated a meta-utopia of community life that also includes a subjective history of utopian forms and concepts.

Sandra Schäfer’s film research project on the set of 1978ff dealt with the underlying reasons for and ways leading to the constitution of a new political space. Her project considers the instauration of the Islamic Republic of Iran 1978/79 as the result of the complex social and political activities of many of involved actors of various political stripes, both in- and outside the of nation-state territory of Iran. The acting bodies that define the political space are understood both as individuals and as a mass. Sandra Schäfer wrote of her two-channel video installation:

“The Iranian Revolution in 1978/79 led to the toppling of the Shah regime. Shortly afterwards, the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed. A broad base of leftists and workers, slum dwellers and peasants, members of the middle class—including feminists—and the clergy supported the revolution, which was also internationally interpreted as anti-monarchic, anti-imperialist, nationalistic and/or religious.

In the video installation on the set of 1978ff, I pursue the questions of why political Islam played such an important role at this point in time and why the foundation of the Islamic Republic was advocated by so many people with different political convictions and from different factions. I regard the Iranian Revolution not as a purely national event but expand the view to include interconnections, perspectives and modes of reception in the neighboring countries, the Middle East and the Global North.

I reconstruct the Iranian Revolution both exemplarily and fragmentarily as an urban phenomenon based on its representation in film, television and photography. From the perspective of media production and reception, I am engaged along with other participants in a re-reading of the events. The focus is on processes of handing-down and of translation into different contexts.

The two-channel installation integrates contributions from West German television, BBC Persian, Time Magazine, pictures by photographers Hengameh and Kaveh Golestan, excerpts from the documentary Schah Matt by Thomas Giefer and Ulrich Tilgner, as well as sequences on the intellectual Ali Shariati. I interweave the historical material with interview passages, excerpts from staged public debates and text commentaries.”
(cited from the booklet on the exhibition The Urban Culture of Global Prayers at NGBK Berlin. Berlin 2011, p. 44)

In her installation Score for a Complex Scene, Susan Kelly proposed a study of space under performative conditions. Three different people shown on three monitors enacted slow, basic movements or assumed specific poses: rotating, pointing, turning, standing to attention. The figures were superimposed against landscape images the artist recorded along the border between North- and South Tyrol. At first glance, the images appear to show picturesque places at lakesides, on green pastures, alongside highways or monuments in the countryside. But if we consider these places in the context of South Tyrolean history, the images take on a new meaning. Power poles, but also the reservoirs and dams associated with them: given the collage technique, the videos became instruction pieces for how to take action, not indicating any specific direction but nevertheless defining a specific local background and characterizing pivotal moments in history. One thinks of the political struggle that culminated in the 1961 “Night of Fires” that eventually led to massive changes in the legal and political status of South Tyrol. Finally, Score for a Complex Scene introduced a new form of action, one in which viewers themselves can perform using cards with instructions modeled after Décio Pignatari’s concrete poetry. The previously-mentioned “complex scene” is also a reference to the theater concept of the same name, which involves multiple scenes taking place at the same time yet in different places, but on the same stage. According to Susan Kelly, the concurrent jurisdictions of Tyrol south and north of the national border may be regarded as such a “complex scene”: a “complex territory that challenges map makers, artists and those involved in politics alike to depict its knotted histories, forms of governance and tangled orientations.”

Ivana Marjanović’s project KVARenje queer-a (the “spoiling of queer”) focused on practices for constituting an emancipatory space with the potential to articulate a critique of the hegemonic dynamics of a seemingly superordinate emancipatory discourse. An analysis of the methods and approaches adopt-
ed by local and transnational collectives such as Queer Beograd established a connection between the criticism of nationalism, conservatism in states undergoing a period of post-communist transition, and the neo-colonialist reality in East Europe. Ivana Marjanović wrote of the project:

KVARenje queer-a seeks to re-politicize the category of ‘queer’ by interrogating the geopolitical determinants that shape its dominant genealogy—a genealogy that relegates the ‘East’ to a temporal space of delay. KVARenje queer-a challenges reductive East-West binaries by exposing other histories of queer, such as dissident currents within queer culture, transnational proposals for redefining queerness, and local productions of gender and political difference through art, visual culture, activism and underground culture before, during and after socialist Yugoslavia.

KVARenje queer-a takes as its starting point Queer Beograd’s (the transnational collective) suggestion to translate ‘queer’ in Serbian as ‘kvar’. ‘Kvar’ means the malfunction of a machine, for Queer Beograd it refers to the definition of queer politics as a nexus of various struggles against subjugation, including anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, the feminist/post-feminist/queer/LGBT-struggle against patriarchy and heteronormativity. ‘Kvar’ means representing and celebrating malfunction in a capitalist, racist and homophobic social machine.”

KVARenje queer-a presented a discoursive spatial installation, comprised of a statement by Ivana Marjanović as a wall piece, the first video documentation of the Border Fuckers Cabaret (produced specifically by Queer Beograd for the exhibition Space Matters), and a recording of the two-part Büchs’n’Radio show Queer politics in culture and arts—the case of Belgrade, which was based on the relevant lecture by Ivana Marjanović.

Jet Moon (a member of the Queer Beograd collective) writes about Queer Beograd and the Border Fuckers Cabaret: “Queer Beograd is a queer, anti-fascist collective that has been working in Serbia, organizing radical cultural festivals (among other activities) since 2005. A key part of the festivals cultural program has been the founding of a political theater in the form of the Border Fuckers Cabaret […] As a collective, our work has always been to make connections between all aspects of our society, to understand how these factors impact us and perpetuate a system of oppression. […] In Queer Beograd’s Border Fuckers Cabaret […] a show that crossed the borders between nations, cultures, genders and sexualities […] activists became performers. [It is about producing] queer cabaret that contains topics such as anti-militarism, sexism, homophobia, anti-capitalism, and uses laughter and sexiness to seduce an audience towards more radical political sensibilities. […] We wanted to focus on the issue of border control—in terms of immigration and the economic and cultural implications of the EU—then build an understanding of queer and anti-fascist struggles into this. We ended up with a show of pieces addressing subjects ranging from detention centers, genocide, anti-fascist struggles and domestic violence, capitalism and homophobia and transphobia—which doesn’t exactly sound like fun, but we believe it is all about how you present it. So with humor and a great soundtrack, we ended up with peace activist soldiers doing burlesque, anti-fascist faggots flying the rainbow flag, live nude girls demonstrating their frisking techniques and of course all kinds of things getting smuggled across the borders.”
(cited from: Jet Moon: Queer Beograd Borderfuckers Cabaret. In: Kunst, Krise, Subversion. Zur Politik der Ästhetik, eds.: Nina Bandi, Michael G. Kraft, Sebastian Lasinger, Bielefeld 2012, p. 293-302)

Susan KELLY is an artist, writer and educator currently living in London. She writes, does performances, public artwork and installations and is a lecturer in Fine Art and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Susan Kelly works independently and collectively with the Micropolitics Research Group, the Carrotworkers’ Collective and the Precarious Workers Brigade. Over the last ten years she has worked in Belfast, New York, Toronto, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk, Tallin, Zagreb, Innsbruck and elsewhere.

Ivana MARJANOVIĆ (born 1979 in Yugoslavia) is a freelance cultural producer in the field of contemporary arts and theory. She is co-founder of the Kontekst Gallery and member of the Kontekst Collective in Belgrade.

Sandra SCHÄFER is an artist and writer based in Berlin. Her works deal with the representation of gender, urbanism and (post-)colonialism. She works with a focus on film and video installations and collaborates with artists and theorists in Kabul, Tehran, London, Barcelona and Berlin.

Lan TUAZON (*1976 in the Philippines) is an artist living and working in New York. Her art practice addresses the order of things as it relates to built and imaginary environments. She has exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, New York (solo), Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart (solo), the Bucharest Biennale 4, and the Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart.


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