Elmgreen and Dragset
Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas
The exhibition will bring together a series of works by artists working in a cultural field that can be best described in terms of a “culture of camouflage", which, according to Spanish theoretician, Danne Ojeda, is a particular characteristic of Latin-American art but can also be used to discuss aspects of culture as a whole. The works show experimental, liberating actions which employ diverse materials.
The culture of camouflage. Group show
Curator: Shaheen Merali
Artists: Donald Rodney, Elmgreen and Dragset, Hetain Patel, Hew Locke, Johannes Wohnseifer, Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah, Lisl Ponger, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Sabine Fassl, Shilpa Gupta, Song Dong, Yukiko Terada and Zhang Dali
The exhibition will bring together a series of works by artists working in a cultural field that can be best described in terms of a “culture of camouflage", which, according to Spanish theoretician, Danne Ojeda, is a particular characteristic of Latin-American art but can also be used to discuss aspects of culture as a whole: “It is evident that a culture born out of and built around resistance to hegemonic domination would inevitably develop into a culture of camouflage. In repressing resistance, power only makes it stronger by forcing it to create more subtle and sophisticated strategies for survival". (1)
The exhibition and connected activities, which include a panel discussion between the artists, Shaheen Merali and Bettina Steinbrugge, guided talks and a publication, will help to investigate circumstances of domination in regard to the practice of freedom. The works have often been articulated in conditions that artists tend to describe as being `extremely limited or completely impossible` where liberation becomes less of a desire and more of a necessity. The works show experimental, liberating actions which employ diverse materials - high art used as a strategy alongside site specificity in order to realise and enmesh power structures, histories and positions which counter histories and make resistance into sites of works.
Some of the work is articulated by employing the camouflage pattern itself to make further opaque that which makes the situation difficult and acknowledges the precautious, if not hidden, position attained for the freedom of expression. Donald Rodney´s work, from his final monograph exhibition prior to his untimely death, will provide a monumental entry point to the Kunstraum of the University of Lueneburg. His work will partly cover the Kunstraum, reflecting it back to its original usage as a space dedicated to service tank units as barracks in the National Socialist Era. This installation allows the viewer to read two converging points, seemingly unconnected, but allowing an understanding of historical-geographical debates from perspectives that are rooted in race and memory. It is in the very fact of potential translation that every act of liberation opens up new relations of power, which in turn exposes the inherent danger of domination. Liberation has to be mainta ined, that is, the reinstated mobility of power relations has to be controlled by what Foucault calls, “practices of liberty".“Amidst the forces that affect us, we can exert a transformative power. Foucault returns to Greco-Roman antiquity to discover the self understood as individual agency characterised by autarky and auto-affection. The ‘disempowering’ forces, which we resist, whether material, historical, economic or socio-political, are simultaneously the forces that power our ability to create ourselves differently. This is what Foucault meant when he proposed that we should all summon the power to create our lives as a work of art- give it a different form from the one imposed upon us by external forces. What Foucault called an “aesthetics of existence" should therefore be understood as a practice of freedom." (2)
The works by the artist Sabine Fassl deliberates on the opaqueness of nature’s strategic power of design as employed in the flora and fauna culture, whilst Shilpa Gupta allows direct glimpses of a struggle with the disinclination of common-sense and the rise of the repetitive monstrosities in the world. The artists, Hetain Patel and Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah, use their own bodies to make paintings and performances which have multidirectional and cryptic language, drawing on their ethnic backgrounds to frustrate the misleading transparency of contemporary multicultural discourse. Whilst Elmgreen and Dragset´s single image of youth in a camouflage t-shirt, head cropped but penis erect, confronts the idea of the representation of the “natural" body. Nomeda and Gediminas Urbona’s performance and production of camouflage clothes for a fashion show in the trans-national public spaces of post communist Lithuania, floats between social history and the mechanisms of vocalisation.
The two artists who are based in China, Song Dong and Zhang Dali, provide interesting works which observe their historical and political complaints. Song Dong has been writing a diary using water on stone for a number of years- this invisible tome is made available for the audience within the gallery to write their thoughts in water on a large flat stone- it remains evident for a fleeting moment before the temperature in the room evaporates that which has been ephemerally written. Subversively, Zhang Dali has been spending the last two years recombining the original images of Mao Tse Tsung with doctored propaganda works to reflect upon the mechanism of modern Chinese visual culture. Yukiko Terada´s sewn works are partly based on her sister who passed away in 2002, using the human body to construct forms of memories and spatial absences. Whilst Johannes Wohnseifer and Lisl Ponger’s images provide an intriguing model drawn from the art historical lineage to fix the past within the present. These fragments help to expose a media saturated world that does not really report in its inflexible closures. The work of Hew Locke is presented in a vitrine with other objects which are deemed as “low" culture in western Europe- Locke’s brooch of the Black Queen and his other multiple of a shopping bag is designed saturated within a multitude. This overkill brings to the surface the collective graphic entity of street culture as fashionable uniform or even camouflage as a monoparadigm of sub-cultural chic. Shaheen Merali
(1) Aarnoud Rommens, “C stands for Censorship", in AS Mediatijdschrift no 176 Winter 2005-06 Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, Theory and History of Literature, Volume 4, Antwerpen: p. 68
(2) Benda Hofmeyer, “From Usurpation to Subversion: Foucault meets Cultural Capitalism - About a little place called AVL-ville", in Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, Theory and History of Literature, Volume 4, Antwerpen: Mediatijdschrift no 176 Winter 2005-06, p. 107
Shaheen Merali is the Head of the Department of Exhibition, Film and New Media of Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HWK) in Berlin where he has worked since 2003. At the HKW he has curated Dreams and Trauma, (2005) a film festival and moving images installations / exhibition by twelve artists of Palestinian and Israeli origin and the seminal exhibition, The Black Atlantic, with new commissions by Isaac Julien, Keith Piper and Lisl Ponger /Tim Sharp. He co-curated `The First Chapter-Trace Root: Unfolding Asian Stories` for the 6th Gwangju Biennale, Korea 2006.
As the head of the Department of Exhibition, Film and New Media he has managed and organized group exhibitions and commissions including 2006: Tropicalia, A revolution in Brazilian culture (curator Carlos Basualdo) ; Interventions : Four site specific works from Brazil (curator Luiz Camillo Osario) ; Image of the Sound : Football -Thirty Brazilian artists (Curator Felipe Torboda) ; China, Between Past and Present (curator Wu Hung and Christopher Philips) 2005: Spaces and Shadows, Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia (curator Jeab Gaweewong and Ong Keng Sen) and About Beauty (curator Wu Hung) and in 2003/4: Far Near Distance, Contemporary Positions for Iranian Artists (curator Rose Issa) and Bodycity, Siting Contemporary Culture in India (Curators Geeta Kapur and Jyotinder Jain).
His most recent publications as responsible editor include Spaces and Shadows, Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia and About Beauty (an interdisciplinary project on contemporary and intercultural notions of Beauty) both in 2005. In 2004 he co-edited Far Near Distance, Contemporary Positions for Iranian Artists.
The project is carried out within the framework of the project translate. It is supported by the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union. In cooperation with Kunstraum der Universitaet Lueneburg
Image: Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, Powerless Structures, installation view at Klosterfelde Berlin, 2002
Opening: 24 November 7 pm
Artists' talk: 25 November 2006 2 pm
Kunstraum der Universitaet Lueneburg
Scharnhorststrasse 1, Halle 25 - Lueneberg