Art Goes Heilegendamn
24 May – 9th June. Various locations Rostock
In a summer dominated by Kassel, Munster and Venice, Art Goes Heilegendamn constituted an ambitious, if not always entirely successful, attempt to develop a political praxis born out of a desire to walk the tightrope between culture as a ‘de-escalating’ and ‘mediatory’ force (an occasionally somewhat conciliatory and quietistic trope) and the increasingly theatricalised and media-savvy gesture of dissent (staged intervention, direct action). The dialectic that emerged struggled to interrogate, let alone provide answers to, issues of the mediation of the political image but succeeded in providing a window into an effective model of artistic interaction with politics.
The recent G8 conference at Heilegendamn provoked predictable and reflexive protest from groups who felt excluded from the debate as well as raising serious questions about how the policing of this dissent and its representation are managed.
In the run up to the conference the police staged a series of dramatic raids across Germany using vague allegations of domestic terrorism to justify their actions and succeeding in further polarising the debate and antagonising groups who already felt disenfranchised from mainstream political processes.
What became apparent visiting Art Goes Heilegendamn situated, as were the protestors, in the nearby city of Rostock was the extent to which this had become a war over the control of images. On the last day of the conference talking to the participants in the protest as well as Adrienne Goerhler, former senator for culture in Berlin and the curator of Art Goes Heilegendamn, it became evident that the media images of violent confrontation between black clad autonomen and the police in their shiny new robo-cop body armour hardly typified the prevailing mood in the town.
These images served the interests of both the police, in justifying the expense of the operation, an extremely small minority of the protestors overly fond of the visual rhetoric of revolution and the media who are naturally never inclined to let objectivity get in the way of a good photograph. A handful of people throwing rocks at a water cannon does not an insurrection make even if Bild Zeitung would have us believe otherwise.
Goerhler’s project/gesamptskunstwerk functioned as a temporary autonomous zone. A space of dissent and debate – highly provisional in its aesthetic but announced boldly enough by a series of advertising pillars. Installed by a local contractor and co-selected by Astrid Proll – photographers shown here included, Franz Ackermann, G.M.B Akash, Sebastian Bolesch, Stephen Gill, Klaus Mettig, Susan Meiselas, Julian Röder, Martha Rosler, Katherina Sieverding, Jules Spinatsch, Larry Sultan and Kai Wiedenhöfer – they served to announce discretely the presence of the event whilst also smuggling into public space powerful photojournalistic images, the deconstructive Vietnam war collages of Martha Rosler and a conceptual refusal to participate, in the form of a near black monochrome pillar, by Katherina Sieverding,
Police prowled around the half completed streets of the city, drafted from Bayern and Berlin enacting weird macho bonding rituals but on the whole, and despite the highly visible presence of water cannon, the mood of the place seemed oddly relaxed. Elderly couples still queued for boat trips to Warnemünde, or sat in cafes admiring the view. Occasionally a teenager, wearing black would be stopped and searched arbitrarily but a circle of photographers was quickly formed and the intense heat dissipated any potential aggression as effectively as the omnipresent conflict resolution teams.
In the centre of the chocolate box town square ThorbjØrn Reuter Christiansen had installed a shed (Die Asylbox 2006), the dimensions of which matched those of the cell in which asylum seekers and refugees find themselves confined. A crappy fluorescent flickered harshly against white walls and by the last day of the exhibition, the monitor had given up the ghost in the blistering heat. Christiansen’s low key installation seemed particularly pertinent in that the last time Rostock had made the international news was in 1992 when a gang of local neo-nazis had burnt down a refugee hostel.
The sense that something strange had leaked into the already volatile, if outwardly calm, town in the form of slightly twisted carnival of relational aesthetics was further emphasised by Stan’s Café whose Of all the people in all the world saw the group commandeering a cathedral to measure grains of rice. Each grain a life. Solemn statisticians weighing their figures, the serious – ‘Number of refugees drowned at sea’, to the flippant, ‘Number of people injured in accidents involving scales’. (10).
At the Silver Pearl, the Art Goes Heilegendamm HQ – plots were being hatched over vegan cuisine. The two warehouses by the harbour that the project occupied were turned, temporarily, into a performance and discussion space and an exhibition venue respectively.
The architectural modifications were realised by Raumlabor Berlin who parodied the luxurious facilities of the official, Heiligerdam conference centre and resort. Jack Sparrow’s Castle served cocktails to weary protestors – perhaps after braving a sauna on offer in the caravan next door – whilst over the imposing tissue paper portico an inscription read, hic officina spati baccam argentam constuit. (‘This workshop constitutes the silver fruits of space.’)
Raumlabor had also managed to accomplish a pod hotel with a riverside view but not, at least on the evidence of my visit, the proposed mini-golf course. The architectural project realised here was both utopian in its aspirations as well as slyly ironic in the poverty of its construction, embracing the pragmatism of plywood and polystyrene and the contingent aesthetic of the refugee camp/commune which is increasingly becoming the look dé jour at the cutting edge of socially and environmentally conscious architectural discourse.
The piratical theme adopted by Raumlabor seemed particularly apt in the light of the temporary detention of the woman whose Piratbyrån[i] T-Shirt was apparently sufficient evidence of subversive intent for her to be forbidden entry to Deutschland.
Francis Zeischegg had installed her hide outside the compound. The Hochsitz which constituted the logo of the project, seemed hardly fit for the task. Balancing precariously on a trailer Zeischegg’s structure felt a little too discreet in scale as did the miniature fence (Wildgatter) she had built part way across the compound’s courtyard.
Inside the exhibition space Jutta Konjer and Manfred Krobath, working collaboratively as Kroko, presented a series of nine black and white photographs in which they undertook a series of apparently futile and mildly surreal activities. An attempt was made to relight a broken gas lamp, whitewash a semi derelict hut, rake the sand on the beach, attack a large pile of wood in the forest with axe and saw, climb, the as yet incomplete, fence surrounding the G8 conference site (as opposed to simply walking around it). A sense that Heilegendamm / Rostock was being in some way ‘prepared’ for artistic intervention through the arrival and activities of this couple who looked like they hand wandered out of the cast of a Beckett play.
Gustavo Romano exhibited a video, Time Notes, a project in which an alternate currency, denominated in temporal units, is proposed to passers by. The notes themselves were pinned to the wall bearing ambivalent slogans and quotes about the abstract nature of monetary systems.
Ursula Bieman showed The Black Sea Files comprising a map and three monitors which documented extensively the geopolitics of the trans Caspian oil pipeline and its effects on both the economies and ecologies of the communities it traverses.The documentary aesthetic and the recurring motif of borders was further evident in Justus Herrmann and Sefa Inci Suvak’s Migration Audio Archive, a number of grey pods in which the listener could hear the personal narratives of migrants.
Arahmaiani showed Stitching the Wound a large multi coloured soft sculpture comprising the Arabic word Allah which also provided a space for the weary visitors to rest.
Azra Aksamija’s Frontweste und dirndlmoschee, Nomadic Mosque presented prototypes of multi purpose hybridised religious clothing which would seemingly allow the worshipper both to camouflage and celebrate their faith taking ‘functional fashion’ to absurd and politicised lengths.
Judith Siegmund’s contribution took the form of an extensive vox-pop of Rostock’s inhabitants on their feelings toward the summit whilst Andreas Rost’s Solo for Ramallah showed a Palestinian traffic policeman directing cars on a crowded street with the absurd virtuosity of Jacques Tati. There were further video contributions from Dropping Knowledge, Kein T.V, Rainer Görss and Mieke Gerritzen.
While the ‘provisional’ aesthetic might be intellectually correct in that the Hacienda remains unbuilt, the anti-spectacular look of the show felt deflationary – the effects of the heat and budgetary constraint conspiring with intellectual fatigue and self indulgent performance art to make the outcome seem, at times, indifferent.
In fairness though, this was a show about function and process rather than aesthetic. A camp rather than an exhibition, where distrust of the autonomous artwork (even whilst embracing the subversive potential of its autonomy) seemed to have developed into presentational issues.
The sincere attempt to open a channel of dialogue at the risk of becoming an absurd armed enclave ringed by Police, tear gas at the ready, was ultimately embraced by and triumphed over by the curatorial team of Adrienne Goehler and Jaana Prüss who between them succeeded in creating a genuine dialogue amongst the show’s participants, the local politicians and townsfolk as well as the diverse groupings of the protestors. The Black Bloc dined with the mayor. Which really is not a bad epitaph for the project and more than compensates for the shows overall lack of aesthetic impact.
The Art Goes Heiligendamm project was accompanied by an extensive series of talks, discussions, performances and screenings (notable amongst which was the decision to make the Silver Pearl available to the World Parliament of Clowns) as well as a twelve page supplement distributed with the TAZ newspaper. In the course of the exhibition ten thousand visitors passed through The Silver Pearl.
In the early stages of planning the exhibition a number of invited artists took objection to what they saw as the conciliatory rhetoric employed by the project[ii] and instead initiated HOLY DAMN IT: 50 000 posters against G8.
[i] [i] Pirate Bay, a Swedish organization that campaigns for the liberalisation of copyright reform.
[ii] ‘We clearly oppose this instrumentalization of artistic works on the basis of a mediating legitimization of G8 politics” Public Statement, May 21, 2007, Critical answer to ”Art goes Heiligendamm“ by the international art project “HOLY DAMN IT: 50 000 posters against G8
Art Goes Heiligendamm
Critical answer to ”Art goes Heiligendamm“