'Calculated' risks seem to be one of the crucial values of experience in today's Western society, which produces leisure time rituals such as bungee jumping, paragliding, and other extreme sports as its symptoms. Against the backdrop of this risk culture, the exhibition 'At Your Own Risk,' prepared by the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in cooperation with the Siemens Arts Program, highlights a particular form of art which, having emerged in the 1990s, turns the viewer into a user.
A cooperation between the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
and the Siemens Arts Program.
"Calculated" risks seem to be one of the crucial values of experience in today's Western society, which produces leisure time rituals such as bungee jumping, paragliding, and other extreme sports as its symptoms. Against the backdrop of this risk culture, the exhibition "At Your Own Risk," prepared by the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in cooperation with the Siemens Arts Program, highlights a particular form of art which, having emerged in the 1990s, turns the viewer into a user. Artists such as Carsten HÃ¶ller, Christoph BÃ¼chel, Jeppe Hein, Ana Maria Tavares and groups like the Critical Art Ensemble or gelatin have created constellations for the show which are attractive enough to make the visitors abandon their passive consumer attitude and embrace the risk of participating.
Incentives may either be an extraordinary experience such as crossing rooms full of fog or exploring mysterious labyrinths or be connected with a playful situation or expected findings.
Max Hollein, Director of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt: "The optional character of the installations presented in the exhibition 'At Your Own Risk' mirrors today's world that both promises a maximum of security and, with its demands for mobility and flexibility, requires a maximum of willingness to take risks - and increasingly so without any safety net or second bottom. This is why it seems worth exploring artistic forms of tackling this phenomenon."
In a globalized world, the "flexible individual" of Western society oscillates between "eating without risk," "traveling without risk," "playing fun games without risk," and "having affairs without risk," or even tries his luck and faces "the risk of founding a business," aims at "risk controlling" and "risk management" - if we believe the numerous how-to books. A society of multiple options seems to offer almost endless possibilities to the individual that must therefore also face endless risks and their consequences. The possibility allowing the individual to calculate, control, or avoid risks distinguishes these from dangers which are experienced as something coming from outside, as something the individual has no influence on and is subject to - for example in the form of uncontrollable results of environmental destruction, armed aggression, or the bureaucratic determination of the private sphere. That is to say that taking risks is an active process - which also addresses the visitor of the exhibition "At Your Own Risk" who has become an active user.
Martina Weinhart, curator of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, and Markus Heinzelmann, curator of the Siemens Arts Program: "Since the 'death of the author' has also been proclaimed in the fine arts in the sixties, forms more clearly oriented towards the user such as happenings, public art, or 'art as service' emerged - approaches blurring the boundaries between art and reality by integrating the presence of people into the work. The process is more important than the art object; what matters is the experience the exhibition provides as an option."
"At Your Own Risk" explores the concept of risk as a subject and, on the one hand, outlines the fields in which we are confronted with such a behavior in our everyday lives: drugs, sexuality, and gender relations. Other works are rather aimed at a metaphorical or epistemological understanding of the subject. A third level is given to playful experience.
The work by the US activist group of artists Critical Art Ensemble is one of the best illustrations of how narrow the scope for control, initiative, and decision may become in our everyday world. The group's contribution to the exhibition, specifically created for it, focuses on the practices of "biopolitics," the clutch of state authorities and economic structures at the individual's and the population's body. Visitors are invited to test food in a mobile public laboratory, find out whether it has been manipulated genetically, and reflect on the issue of consumption "at one's own risk."
The installation "Embedded" by Julia Scher deals with the phenomenon of control and surveillance: cameras mounted on beds document everything what happens on them, and the material is shown on monitors after a certain delay. If the visitors, in an exhibitionist fit, make up their mind to get involved in the work of art, they are deprived of the control over their own images in a striking way. They voluntarily surrender themselves to a system of surveillance - a decision which is not always up to us actually in reality.
Camilla Dahl's "Champagne Bar" is aimed at the dissolution of physical and emotional distances. The anatomically fluid form of the counter invites visitors to go for the nipples and have some champagne, yet also forces them to adopt a posture of submission. This play is both decadent and regressive, as well as explicitly voyeuristic - you risk no less than your identity within the social rules and conventions.
"Landscape with Exit and Exit II (Rotterdam Lounge)" by Ana Maria Tavares provides room for another kind of self-reflection. Two runway passenger steps flank a large-format mirror on the ground. When a visitor has climbed the swaying stairs to expose himself, he is either confronted with another visitor who has climbed the other stairway or with his reflection. The latter forces him into instability. Once again, "I see myself seeing" turns into a risky experience.
The computer animation "Funhouse" by the Norwegian artist Sven PÃ¥hlsson confronts the visitor with the maelstrom of the deep in form of a virtual roller coaster ride with rapidly writhing rails. The projected pictures, which fill the entire room, convey a weird, latently menacing atmosphere. The viewer is sucked in by what he sees, and there is hardly any difference left between the fears springing from "real" motives and the feelings aroused by the computer-generated worlds.
Doing away with boundaries is also the subject of Christoph BÃ¼chel's contribution. Who enters his montage that encompasses several rooms will be swept away by the chaos and become part of something overflowing which systematically undermines the visitor's autonomy. In the end, even everyday reality appears to be a looming backdrop, since it is hardly possible to say where the pretended chaos ends and the real world begins.
The installation by Ann Veronica Janssens evokes a different kind of spatial feeling. Visitors will find themselves facing a room full of thick fog from which they are separated by a glass wall. They may either view the room from outside or enter it and confront themselves with its irritating atmosphere in which space and time lose their precision.
Jeppe Hein also sees the visitor in the middle of his work. A hexagonal fountain, specifically made for the rotunda outside the Schirn, forms a vertical wall of water on each of its sides. Whenever a visitor approaches the strong jets directed upward, the water dries up, granting access to the center of the fountain structure. As soon as the visitor has entered, the water wall rises behind him again. He has to approach it again so that he can leave the fountain without getting wet.
Henrik Plenge Jakobsen's work also relies on the involvement of the visitor's body. Laughing gas bottles mounted on the luggage rack of a car's roof and connected with the interior of the vehicle by means of tubes offer "passengers" the chance to enjoy a short euphoria.
Carsten HÃ¶ller invites the visitors to grasp one of the 20,000 white placebos flying through a glass aquarium and swallow the tablet. Though the "art patients" know what they are dealing with, the tablets seem to have an effect - the question is how.
What gelatin will present in the exhibition is also open so far. The Austrian group of artists has once described its work as the expression of its intention to create situations which we miss, which we long for. So gelatin provides us with situations which would never have occurred to us as something we miss and yet have a lasting effect on us.
Press preview: Thursday, 26 June 2003, 11.00 a.m.
List of artists: Christoph BÃ¼chel, Critical Art Ensemble, Camilla Dahl, Gelatin, Jeppe Hein Carsten HÃ¶ller, Ann Veronica Janssens, Sven PÃ¥hlsson, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Julia Scher, Ana Maria Tavares.
Catalogue: "Auf eigene Gefahr/At Your Own Risk." Edited by Markus Heinzelmann and Martina Weinhart. With a preface by Max Hollein and Michael RoÃŸnagl and contributions by Manfred FaÃŸler, Markus Heinzelmann, Vanessa Joan MÃ¼ller, Wolf Singer, Raimar Stange, Aglaja Stirn, Martina Weinhart, Niels Werber. German/English, 320 pages, ca. 80 color illustrations. Available with 4 different cover motifs. ISBN 3-936919-01-1, Revolver - Archiv fÃ¼r aktuelle Kunst, Frankfurt.
Exhibition dates: 27 June - 7 September 2003. Opening hours: Tue, Fri-Sun 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Wed and Thur 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Admission: 7 euro; reduced 5 euro.
Supported by: Merck, BRIO Kontrollspiegel GmbH, Bund fÃ¼r Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e. V., DCA, PRO HELVETIA, Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Media partner: Journal Frankfurt. Press contact Siemens Arts Program: Julia Fleischer, Phone: +49-89-6 36-3 35 87, Fax: +49-89-6 36-336 15
Venue: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, RÃ¶merberg, 60311 Frankfurt
Phone: +49-69-29 98 82-118
Fax: +49-69-29 98 82-240