Jazz and Painting

The relationship between music and art has been a very intimate one since the Romantic period. The early romantic idea of ​​a synthesis of the arts, which had precursors scattered in the “painting” music of the Renaissance and the Baroque or in the eighteenth-century tone paintings, is found in tandem gifts, as they have been accumulating since the Romantic era, notable embodiments: Carl Maria von Weber Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy or Frédéric Chopin; later, in the modern age in artist composers like Arnold Schönberg, Klee or John Cage. Even linguistically, terms such as coloratura, timbre or color indicate a close connection between art and music.

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that some twentieth-century artists felt a strong affinity to the music of the sekulum – jazz – while mirror-image jazz musicians were attracted to art. His drip paintings created Jackson Pollock to the accompaniment of hot swing numbers from the turntable. Conversely, the jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who recently died, observed analogies between his music and Pollock’s painting technique; Cover motif of his album “Free Jazz” was a painting by the artist.

In 1915, an article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune about improvised dance music with African-American roots from the southern United States that was so addictive that it could ruin it; probably for the first time in this context appeared in a printed text the term jazz. The career of the music genre was then breathtaking. Just a few years later, when F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke of the “age of jazz” in the early 1920s, music could be considered a secular event. Shortly after the First World War, rumors about jazz spilled across the pond to Europe. Starting from the big cities, the music spread at a rapid pace on the continent, conquered the dance halls and variety shows.

Josephine Baker’s performances in the “Revue Nègre” in Paris, later in Brussels and Berlin, contributed not least to the popularization of jazz in Europe. Barbusig, dressed in a short haircut and a banana skirt, danced Charleston and Jazz hot. Baker gave the jazz, who had found enthusiastic supporters in bohemians and the bourgeoisie, among intellectuals and young people, a sexy image and the flair of freedom of movement in Europe. The French painter and commercial artist Paul Colin, who designed the posters, stage sets and costumes for Baker’s Paris Revue in 1925, created the most important work of the Baker reception in Europe four years later with the portfolio “Le Tumulte noir”. In addition to the “Black Venus”, the 44 lithographs show dancing couples and musicians. For Kees van Dongen and Raoul Dufy, too, the dancing Josephine Baker became an image subject; Matisse dedicated to her one of his biggest murals. Le Corbusier worshiped her; Adolf Loos designed a house for her. To date, she has inspired artists: Kara Walker’s paper “Consume” shows a little boy sucking on the banana skirt of a colored dancer.

Thanks to Baker, jazz in Europe has been considered libertarian and sexy from the very beginning, as well as politically progressive in the criticism of racial discrimination as in his country of origin. The “swing boy” K. R. H. Sonderborg spent a year and a half of Gestapo imprisonment at the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp at the beginning of the 1940s. And in 1938, the accompanying brochure on the exhibition “Degenerate Music” organized by Hans Severus Ziegler in 1938 graced the clichéd depiction of a black jazz saxophonist with fluffy lips in Düsseldorf. For Duke Ellington, jazz, which for him was something of a “barometer of liberty,” sprang directly from what he considered lost US political liberalism. George Grosz’s preference for jazz may have been fueled, among other things, by this liberal attitude. In his lithograph “Jazzband” (1928) she finds her pictorial equivalent in a softly curved, detached stroke of the pen.

The enthusiastic swing dancer Otto Dix commemorated jazz with the motif of a jazz band and jazz dancers in the middle part of the “big city” triptych. And Mondrian, another avid jazz dancer, saw in the “Destruction of the Melody” in Boogie Woogie a musical parallel to his own “destruction of the natural phenomenon”. While Max Beckmann made the saxophone the hero of a still life and portrayed himself with the instrument.

After the Second World War, jazz and abstraction became the paradigmatic art expressions of the free West. In the propagandistic mandate of the American government, jazz bands have now campaigned for foreign affairs for democracy. For Jackson Pollock, jazz, along with Abstract Expressionism, was the only original art form that the United States had produced. And with Norman Lewis, the affinity of jazz and abstraction to the incomprehensible “Jazz Musicians” (1946) was documented in oil. As with Mondrian, the essence of jazz and geometric abstraction was revealed to artists such as Frank Stella, Swiss Verena Loewensberg and Blinky Palermo.

The free jazz of the sixties found in Walter Stöhrer an early lover and in the liberated brushstroke of his (near) abstractions an artistic equivalent. In contrast, Karel Appel expressively portrayed the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie as Feuerkopf, while James Rosenquist portrayed guitarist Bo Diddley in a wonderfully soft Pop Art style. In 2009, Konrad Klapheck created a black jazz saxophonist in the pictorial language of his magical realism. And his admiration for jazz greats such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane expressed Albert Oehlen in a brilliant series of ink drawings.

Andreas Gursky

Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf
23 September 2012 – 13 January 2013

While photography made possible for painting, its emancipation from the traditional image function about 100 years ago, photography in the age of digital media seems to be able to emancipate itself from merely reproducing what it has seen by way of reportage. Although Andreas Gursky, as a photographer, also assumes a concrete visual experience, the actual artistic process in the studio only results from a review of the image quality of the collected material: on the computer, of course, reality is not corrected to an idealized appearance, but it makes a picture that delivers this reality. The result reveals tht Andreas Gursky dealt intensively with pictorial concepts of painting in this process of figuration: the interior of a liquid tank in “Qatar” (2012) by highlighting the alignment lines as a tunnel-like golden vault. The viewer is attracted by associations with perspective constructions in Renaissance painting. If movement blurring occurs in the work “Tokyo, Stock Exchange” (1990), then Gursky corrects it later in the creative phases, including the “Qatar” motif: the digital revision leads to a higher degree of precision in the depth of field. The slats of the golden-shimmering metal wall seem to become independent; they become obscure on the edges and dissolve at the edges of the picture even in soft lines with gentle curvy turns.

In the two rooms for temporary exhibitions of the Düsseldorf Museum Kunstpalast Andreas Gursky has arranged a work overview with 60 works from the early 1980s to the present day, although not chronologically, but nevertheless so that his artistic development in this period is well traceable. In terms of content, he was very interested in the uniformity of certain social situations and structures in architecture and landscape. In the stock market motive, e.g. all white shirts or dark suits, and along with the bright desk surfaces, these light and dark sections condense into a black and white weave as a basic pattern of image composition. Similarly, when picking up a basketwork in the Vietnamese “Nha Trang” (2004), the orange shirts of the workforce spread across the canvas like a rhythmic ornament. Here, the photographer sees a painterly look, which leads to a visual aesthetic in the further process, with which Gursky consciously distinguishes himself from the photojournalistic photo reportage. This is also clearly evident in the recordings of car racing circuits and the Tour de France, where the focus is not on the sporting spectacle, but on the asphalt runway, which stretches across the scene as a broad, curvy-dynamic line and in color with the immediate landscape Environment contrasts.

Where the sports or event photographer often selects an individual motif based on the criterion of the optimal news value for the publication from an almost cinematic sequence of quick snapshots, the photo artist Gursky is concerned with a pictorial construction with the methodical principle of montage: with the recording of the colorful Umbrellas on the beach meet different perspectives.

For this method of montage, “Montparnasse” (1993) with the reproduction of a broad Parisian block can be considered a key picture: here Andreas Gursky has arranged two individual pictures almost side by side in a panoramasque manner. The partly completely, partly only half-drawn curtains spread over the entire picture area as colorful fields of color; Together with the façade grid, these color spots form an ornament in compositional terms with a strict, structurally arranged order.

What is already vaguely recognizable here in the work examples of the 1990s in terms of painterly stance then becomes even clearer in the most recent works: In the “Bangkok” series (2011), the white line of water reflection experiences a graphic and painterly alienation. However, the subtleties can only be seen when looking at the exhibit in its original size – smaller illustrations in the catalog or on the internet are not enough to replace the intuition of the original in the exhibition even in the digital age.

In these more recent works, Gursky breaks through photographic realism, which still defines the atmosphere of images in the photography of the angler on the banks of the Ruhr, to the painterly abstraction, which he infuses into the conceptual orientation of the overall picture: these painterly elements are by no means an artistic end in themselves but always a conceptual element of order.

Constantin Brancusi exhibition at the Pompidou

Constantin Brancusi, born in Romania in 1876, in a village in the foothills of the Carpathians, had left his homeland in 1904 and had come to Paris via Budapest, Vienna, Munich and Zurich. He was a gifted sculptor, even before he arrived in the artists’ colony on Montparnasse. Auguste Rodin became aware of him and took him as an assistant. Brancusi did not stay long because he knew that “nothing can grow in the shade of tall trees”.

So Brancusi stepped out of the shadow of the great Rodin – and began to grow his work into the sky. At first, the decision was sufficient to break away from all models and conventions. At the same time, however, he did not want to and did not want to lose the connection to tradition and generally understandable language of form. Brancusi’s creation holds itself in this delicate balance – a miracle of harmonious balance, a poetic construction whose endpoints connect earth and sky.

To beat this cosmic arc, Brancusi manages to come up with a few forms that he repeats, that is, he varies them slightly, transforms them into other materials, gently shifts their accents, changes their dimensions. His work is like a stream, always the same and always different. And you can read it like a great poem, a poem about the state of the world, about the origin of things, about ways of life and survival.

At least, these perspectives open up an exhibition that Margit Rowell, together with Ann Temkin and Friedrich Teja Bach, has prepared for the Center Pompidou in Paris, the first comprehensive synopsis of 25 years. (1969 and 1970 in Philadelphia, Chicago, and The Hague.) In 1976, the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg organized a remembrance show on Brancusi’s 100th birthday.) 103 sculptures, 38 drawings, and 55 photographs are gathered in Paris. The Musée d’Art Moderne in the Pompidou Center has the largest number of works, after the Philadelphia Museum, thanks to the Brancusi donation; After Philadelphia numerous Brancusi works by American collectors who were very interested in the extraordinary work very early. This is how Brancusi’s first solo exhibition ever took place in New York: in 1914, in the Photo-Secession Gallery by Alfred Stiglitz, which the photographer Edward Steichen had arranged during a stay in Paris.

The Paris exhibition now is a unique event and hardly repeatable, if only because of the great fragility of the works. But the hundred sculptures shown there are a quarter of the undoubtedly Brancusi attributed works, that is: finished by him. (The history of authorizing posthumous castings is a chapter in art history in and of itself.) The presentation in 15 chapters on the fifth floor of the Center Pompidou provides a reading in stanzas as well as chronological information on developments in Brancusis Conception of sculpture. Thanks to an ingenious safety system elaborated by Lorenzo Piquera, the works can be seen without ugly barriers. They stand on concrete slabs, which are embedded in the ground, so that one can not only look at the sculptures from all sides, but also virtually in eye-to-eye with them. These technical preconditions facilitate the approach especially to a groundbreaking innovation, which Brancusi put into discussion for all subsequent sculptor generations: the integration of the pedestal into the sculpture itself.

Another innovation offered by Brancusi’s work is to attach importance to the space between the individual sculptures. The photographs Brancusi made of his studio at Impasse Ronsin give us his idea of ​​what we would call installation today. The works are assigned to each other so that each individual has enough space to develop. They remain flexible, but together they always create a sound that reveals art and life as an indissoluble unity. This principle of installation was followed by Margit Rowell in the presentation. As a leitmotif, Brancusi’s insistence on the subject is as follows: “As soon as one approaches the deeper meaning of things one reaches, without wishing to do so, simplicity.”

If one wants to speak of a development in the work of Brancusi, then certainly only in the sense of a way to that simplicity. The Paris exhibition follows this trail, defined by the temporal sequence of the creations. In the first room works can be seen, which are still clearly from the sculpture-conception of Rodin. So “The Sleep” (1908), who cites the role model in title and movement. But Brancusi already finds his own unmistakable expression in the still quite realistic sculptures. His “Kiss” (1907/1908) has only the same title as Rodin’s sculpture of 1888. Brancusi turns the intensity of the view from the surface to the inside. Rodin’s “kiss” gets an extremely erotic attraction due to the surface appeal of the marble forms. Brancusi’s “Kiss”, on the other hand, is a symbol of the bond of touching depth of expression, an unwavering sign that the blocky stone expresses. The means of creating such archetypes was for Brancusi the direct carving of the stone – which had been rejected as “too primitive” at least since the application of the most sophisticated casting techniques in the Renaissance. The direct processing of stone, marble, wood, even the final polishing of the bronzes meant for him to expose the “essence of matter”.

In the same room as the “Kiss” stand on high stelae, two birds that Brancusi raised from the Romanian saga treasure: “Maiasta” (1919-1912). The flight, which was to lead to the highest heights of sculptural art, thus began a few years after the Romanian settled in Paris. In the following rooms Brancusi’s “simplicity” of expression in the “liberation” of the material becomes more and more intense. His “sleeping muse”, his “penguins”, his “Danaides” grow directly out of the white marble – and lie dormant in him. Drawings accompany the sculptures and illustrate how the sculptor circled his object of desire before he confronted it with precisely selected material, but also returned from sculpture to drawing. The photographs Brancusi made of his sculptures and his studio, based on elementary instructions by Man Ray, draw attention to what he considered to be essential in his art. Often his quest for light shines through, as exhibition organizer Margit Rowell emphasizes when she places the mirror-polished bronze cast of Brancusi’s “Leda” (1926) among the photographs.

After this foreplay at the latest, the exhibition can be read as a great hymn to nature, to man. A room with male and female torsos, inspired by East Asian art, opposite a room with wooden sculptures that could be of African descent, but completely attached to Brancusi’s world of forms: “The First Scream,” the “endless column,” “The Cock “. The sculptures – and their presentation – are becoming lighter and lighter, seeming to stand out from the ground: a “bird” of yellow marble and a marble “fish”, the marble-white “Mademoiselle Pogany II” and “The Newborn” of bronze, opposite three big “birds in the room”.

A pinch of mockery and friendly humor are a surprise in this universe: Miss Nancy Cunard is characterized as a “très sophistiquée”, it is immediately believed to be the hairstyle dumpling on the narrow oval of the head (1925-1927 in wood, 1928-1932) in polished bronze). Or “The Boss” (1924-1925) with his wide wooden grin and iron crown on his head. They are joined by two “little birds” and a “rooster”. Or there is a room with an “exotic plant” composed of a flower with round wooden shapes and pointed limestone elements (1923/24), the “white negress” with an arched mouth and a cheeky hairpiece (1923, the bronze version “The blonde negress “Was made in 1933), together with” Eileen “(1923), a completely desinkarnierten portrait in white onyx, the extravagant” sorceress “(1916-1924) made of light wood, a polished” bird “and the” beginning of the world “: ein as enigmatic as poetic ensemble.

Two rooms give an impression of Brancusi’s architectural ideas, installations on a large scale magical power.

The last form that Brancusi invented was “The Flying Turtle”. In the Paris exhibition is the – surprisingly – horizontal marble form (1941-1945) in the company of two variants of “Mademoiselle Pogany”, of a bronze “bird” and “cock” and the “blond negress”. Almost at the end of the exhibition, one greets the familiar forms without boredom and is amazed at a “turtle” that is supposed to fly. But even “Der Fisch”, also in the large version of white-grained blue marble from 1930, seems to fly: Sharp as a knife, gentle as a flower, it is the final point and the beginning of this stream of forms.

Like an appendix, Brancusi’s studio appears in fragmentary reconstruction. It is more likely to be interpreted as a promise that the French state wants to redeem until 1997: When Brancusi wrote his studio with all the sculptures shortly before his death in 1956, the condition was as it was installed by the artist preserve. The house at Impasse Ronsin was demolished in the early 1960s and Brancusi’s studio was temporarily set up at the Palais de Tokyo until it was installed in a small neighboring building on Beaubourg in 1977, when the Pompidou Center was opened. In 1990, that had to be closed after floods. It is to be given a new lease of life for the twenty-year celebration of the center – hopefully in the spirit of Brancusi, for whom his studio was the site of creation and sanctuary in this sense.

Tristan Tzara, one of the artists of Montparnasse, who used the beginning of this century to set out to new shores, wrote in 1917: “In the early days, art was prayer. Wood and stone were the truths. In man I see the moon, the plants, the negro, the metal, stars and fish. “Brancusi’s” prayer “strives vertically to heaven. The sculptor opens up a spiritual dimension by combining material and artistic gesture into a unity: he succeeds in revealing the hidden essence, “the truth”, of matter in simple forms. He followed the grain of the marble to perfect the hairstyle of a “sleeping muse.” He used white onyx to elicit the soft forms of a “girl’s torso”. He polished the bronze castings in such a way that every cast becomes a light form and an “original”.

And he combined the sculptures – almost according to the rules of collage and assemblage: on the one hand he exchanged their places among each other in the room, on the other hand their pedestals, some of which are to be regarded as autonomous sculptures. This combination can give the impression of endless movement, endless possibilities. For Brancusi sculpture was “a form in motion”. And in his circle around a few forms one could see the natural “die and die” to which the artist – consciously or unconsciously – surrenders.

The starting point for Brancusi’s inventions – “how one leaf is reborn again and again” (as his sculptor friend Isamu Noguchi says) – could be art or life: a legend like the bird “Maiastra” from the Romanian saga. An encounter with the Hungarian painter Margit Pogany. The memory of carving in his homeland, which may have left its mark on Brancusi’s “Endless Columns”. Visits to the Parisian ethnological museums, which evidently inspired wood sculptures in African “primitivism” or torsos inspired by Asian forms.

However, Brancusi did not want his inventions to be too close to foreign role models. So he destroyed the body of his sculpture “The first step” after the exhibition of the figure 1914 in New York. Apparently, one could see in her – in the reduction of forms and expression – too much the implementation of an African formal canon. Brancusi only left his head, coloring the oak even darker, patinating it and placing it horizontally – like his “sleeping muse”, the “first cry” or the “beginning of the world”. He had early recognized the fragmentary as a guarantee of timelessness. Timeless and universal should be his art. The cyclical repetition of the forms can be interpreted as the beginning and the goal of this wish.

For example the “bird in the room”. At the beginning is the dream of flying. “Throughout my life, I have sought nothing but the essence of flying. Fly, what luck! “That’s what Brancusi said. (He is one of the few Montparnasse artists to whom virtually no anecdotes and few citations have survived.) In 1910-1912, he created “Maiastra” of white marble, an almost literary account of the legendary bird, legendary for its beauty Song and its plumage. For Brancusi he has a mighty arched breast and a wide open beak – a picture of a roused soul “. The bird stretches until it seems to swing into the air as a “bird in space” (1923). A marvel, as the narrow high form remains in the vertical.

Brancusi’s friend, the writer Ezra Pound, certainly took up sculptures like this one or the “Endless Column” when he wrote in 1921: “It is probably just as impossible to convey in words of Brancusi’s sculpture an idea as incomplete as by the help of photography. A man swings himself up into infinity, and his works of art are the mark he leaves behind in the world of appearances. “

Perhaps you must have gone to the foot of the Carpathians and seen Brancusi’s Gesamtkunstwerk of Tirgu-Jiu to recognize the scope of his design, the dimension of his formal universe. From the “Table of Silence”, through the “Gate of the Kiss”, the path leads to the “Endless Pillar”. It is the only project of this magnitude that Brancusi was able to realize. The plan for a temple, which he had worked out between 1930 and 1938 on behalf of the Maharaja of Indore and which would certainly have become one of the most amazing monuments at the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures, was not carried out. Also the big “bird in the room”, which Brancusi designed for the house that Charles de Noailles had built by Robert Mallet-Stevens in Hyère, could not be realized. How disappointing it must have been for Brancusi not to be able to realize these projects, one would guess, if one illuminates his relationship to architecture: If he arrives by ship in New York, then the skyline would look like his studio there, only on a large scale. Of course he knew that it was not the size that made the difference.

The dialectic of creative renewal

Under the motto: “Burning Down The House”, the 10th Gwangju Biennale manages the balancing act between memory and the future

Men and women in white dresses and black blindfolds are crossing a public square. They carry dark-veiled boxes with the bones of their relatives. Silently they deposit the mortal remains in two rusty steel containers in the middle of the square. From two huge incinerators beside it swells pitch-black smoke.

In any other place such a scene would have been condemned as a reverent spectacle or unforgivable instrumentalization. But in the South Korean Gwangju the art bill came up. “Navigation ID” was the name of South Korean artist Minouk Lim’s performance, which opened the 10th Gwangju Biennale in early September. Right in front of the central exhibition hall of Asia’s oldest and most important art biennale, the survivors of two traumatic events in South Korean history celebrated a symbolic funeral.

The survivors of the Jinju and Gyeongsan massacres at the beginning of the 1950 Korean War met with the “Mothers,” the mothers of the insurgents, who massacred the military dictatorship of President Chun Doo Wan in May 1980. The tragedy in the industrial workers’ city in the west went down in South Korean history as a “Gwangju massacre”. What looked problematically staged for European eyes, however, resembled an appropriate re-enactment. On a series of photos in the “Memorial Center” of the Southwest Korean metropolis, one sees residents of Gwangju, who on May 5, 1997, seventeen years after the 14-day massacre of 1980, carry the bones of their relatives in boxes in a cemetery. Lim’s performance thus cautiously absorbed the historical model.

The Gwangju Biennale has already seen many famous curators. In 1997 Harald Szeemann curated an exhibition part about “Water”. In 1997, Charles Esche and Hou Hanru dealt with the topic of meditation under the title “Pause”. In 2008, Okwui Enwezor made his debut with “On the Road”. In 2010 Massimiliano Gioni split the art world with his show “10.000 Lives”, a sort of programmatic preview of his (similarly encyclopedic) appearance in Venice 2013. With the moving opening in the jubilee year 2014, the curator Jessica Morgan managed the balancing act, not the one in Gwangju Biennale comes around. To remember the traumatic history of the city and the country, but at the same time open a space for discourse in the future, beyond the historical events. The Gwangju Biennial was known to have been founded in 1995, after a fortnightly arts and culture festival commemorating the bloody defeat of the Resistance movement, expressly commemorating its victims. The uprising of May 1980 finally led to the overthrow of the military government seven years later.

With “Burning Down The House”, the title of their show with 105 artists, almost half of whom came from Asia, Morgan, curator at London’s Tate Modern, led the audience on a false pop track. The title of the American rock band “Talking Heads” served the curator as inspiration for the Biennale. The legendary song could be taken literally like the burnt house “La Isla / The Island” (2009), which the Argentine artist Eduardo Basualdo built from charred remnants of historic Buenos Aires Aires houses and into one of the five galleries of the huge Biennale. Exhibition hall on the edge of Jungoe Park.

But you could also take him as metaphorically as Nil Yalter. In the photo series “Le Chevalier d’Eon” (1978), the Egyptian artist documented the gradual change of sex of her former partner. What the Biennale presented as an example of a “fluid identity” could also be interpreted in such a way that the common house of the partnership is “burnt down” here. And the “Stoves-Ofen” (2013), with which the German-American artist Sterling Ruby worked his childhood in the rural, wood-rich US state of Pennsylvania, and which awakened unpleasant associations in the context of the symbolic funeral, seemed to Morgan the appropriate symbol for the Dialectic of creative renewal and the transformation of energies that they generally wanted to go beyond. Finally, today’s South Korea rose from the fires of the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War to one of the economically prospering “Tiger States” on the Pacific.

In the curatorial span between concrete and abstract Morgan introduced musically. The building covered three cover versions of the Talking Heads song by the French DJ Joakim in the ambient sound. Those who went in heard the most deconstructed version of who went out, the one most reminiscent of the original. In between, Morgan was able to fan out her topic in a wide reference sheet. Some were superficial: Jack Goldstein’s “Burning Window” (1977), for example, which gave the prelude to the show. The “disorienting effect” of the installation, a deep red flickering firelight behind a window set in the wall of a darkened room, did not materialize. What should evoke the idea of ​​a burning house was more like a cheap funfair effect or a Bengali fire.

Also, the frightening effect of the image of an octopus breaking through a burning stone wall, which the British artist Jeremy Deller had programmatically applied to one of the large facades of the Biennale Hall, was rather harmless. The “playful form of institutional critique” that Morgan made up in the work “Untitled” (2014), intended as a central “eye-catcher”, and which was supposed to recall the long chain of artistic criticism of the museum, the White Cube and the gallery, seemed rather borrowed from a cartoon for children. Gwangju would tolerate institutional criticism. The huge Biennale Hall, with its layout in five galleries, forces every curator into an exhibition corset, from which he can only free himself for the price of a schematic course. Unless he deviates from temporary locations in the city of Gwangju. A solution that Morgan renounced this year.

Morgan’s dialectic of destruction and renewal sounded a little like an aesthetic glass bead game. Especially as they juxtaposed the examples, which dealt with fire as an artistic technique and the creative role of destruction, unconnectedly: The Fire Picture “Geo” by Otto Piene (2000/02), for example, “Untitled” (Pour Madame Everaert avec l’amitie d ‘Yves Klein) “, a work from the cycle of” Fire Paintings “by the French artist Yves Klein (1961) or Cornelia Parker’s hanging cube” Heart of Darkness “(2004) from burned trees from forests in Florida.

Impressive discoveries could be made here: the pyrographies of the artist Anwar Shemza, born in India in 1928 and died in 1985. The burn marks that resulted from his “Roots Series” in the work “Abstract Writing” (1969), in which Shemza heated curved metal parts and marked them with a dark brown wooden plate, recalled lyrical motifs and calligraphies from Islamic and Asian culture. From a process of partial destruction arise the symbols of a new language.

The fact that Morgan was aware of the social and existential implications of her theme paradigmatically showed one of the best works of the show: “Dust to Dust” (2014) – a series of 50 black-and-white charcoal drawings by the Romanian artist Mircea Suciu, alternating emblematic scenes the upheavals in Eastern Europe after 1989 and the rebellions in Gwangju 1980 with abstract images of smoke and fire. In one of the unframed pictures you can see the German Reich Field Marshal Hermann Goering in uniform in front of a Christmas tree. The fat National Socialist lights the candles on the larger-than-life tree with a long stick. Works like these were able to neutralize the effect of the Spanish-British designer El Ultimo Grito’s wallpaper, which Morgan had used to knock out the galleries. The pixelated smoke-and-fire motif forced a convincing show unnecessarily into a decorative straitjacket.

Morgan’s vision presented itself in an uninterrupted fashion as she strove to reach metaphorical heights. In Jianyi Gheng’s installation “Useless” (2004) or Renate Bertlmann’s installation “Washing Day” (1976/77), the reference to the biennial theme is somewhat overstretched. The Chinese artist had stored personal items that his friends considered unnecessary in a huge room under plastic lintels to show the disposable mentality of Asian consumerism. The Viennese artist once again picked up on the society’s “phallocentrism” with one hundred pieces of latex-brimmed latex clothing hung over a clothesline. A documentary video work such as that of the American-Cuban artist couple Allora & Calzadilla, a gallery further, “The Bell, the Digger and the Tropical Pharmacy” (2014), got – on the criticism of neo-colonial relations – metaphysical features. Because the bulldozer, which demolishes a former US pharmaceutical factory in a small town in Puerto Rico, uses for its destruction work instead of the usual metal ball the discarded bell of a church.

The most convincing evidence that served as a base for the Japanese occupying forces in the 1930s and later as a detention center for political prisoners was the South Korean intelligence service. When Chinese-Korean artist Suknam Yun recalls the mysterious death of Korean singer Choi Senung-hee in her picture installation “Choi Seung Hee” (1996). The artist vanished without a trace after she was expelled from the Labor Party, a decade after her move to communist North Korea. And Young Soo Kim’s series of black and white photographs “Torture” (1988) recalled a violent method that never dies out. In a series of actor-led scenes, torture practices such as “roast chicken” or “water torture” are demonstrated, which also applied the South Korean military regime in the name of national security. Beside those of his colleague Mircea Suciu, the works of Kim were the second major discovery of the Biennale.

The Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade and the Turkish artist Güneş Terkol showed that the democratic uprisings are continuing. With his film “The Uprising” (2012), the filmmaker underwent the city government of Recife. To lift the place to the level of a prosperous urban economy, the authorities there banned traditional horse-drawn carriage races. For de Andrade’s film about this custom they made an exception. The video shows how the news of the upcoming race spreads throughout the city: a rebellion is created by word of mouth. Güneş Terkol, on the other hand, encourages women from diverse backgrounds to formulate their wishes and fears and to artistically process them in workshops. At the “Against the Current” (2013) series of embroidered tapestries, one sees migrant female workers wearing headscarves from Vienna holding placards bearing slogans such as “Job” or “Equal”.

Neither tourist spectacle, location marketing nor motor of gentrification. The Gwangju Biennial is a stroke of luck in the increasingly dense torrents of international biennials. Just as the Gwangjuer exemplar emerged from a democratic resistance movement, it is a socio-political, not a cultural-industrial mission written in the DNA. Its central building is located in a residential area next to a park; it does not serve as a development accelerator for tourist, creative or construction sites. In the opening speeches of the Biennale, the “Spirit of 1980” is often summoned. But just in the UNESCO “City of Human Rights” hovered for the 20th Biennale anniversary, the shadow of censorship on the institution, which is to secure the democratic discourse space permanently, which was banned in times of military dictatorship.

Shortly before the opening of a banned coalition of warring mayors, over-careful curators and Keynote speakers of the Seouler right-wing government, the politically always left-leaning municipality Gwangju a thorn in the eye, banished a picture of the artist Hong Song-dam from the separate anniversary exhibition “Sweet Dew – Since 1980 “for the anniversary of the Biennale. “Sewol Guwol – April May” referred to the picture that caricatured the South Korean dictator, Park Geung-hye, as South Korea’s head of state, Park Geung-hye, as the straw puppet of her dictator father Park Chung-hee, the “father of the South Korean development dictatorship “Who was murdered by his secret service chief in 1979 – a year before the Gwangju massacre.

Yongwoo Lee, art history professor and founder of the Biennial, 34 years ago as a reporter witness to the massacre, took over immediately with his resignation as president of the Biennale Foundation, the responsibility for the debacle. This shows that the Biennalists are taking very seriously the fundamental issue of Gwangju’s freedom of the arts. The fact that a work like “The Ozymandias Parade” (1985) of the American artist couple Edward and Nancy Kienholz could stand unopposed in the actual biennial course of Jessica Morgan, however, proved that the censorship accusation against the Biennial does not apply.

The installation, two riders on horseback on a mirrored platform lined with colorful rows of light bulbs, is a parody of US President Ronald Reagan, militarism and the abuse of power. Morgan has exchanged the American flag for the South Korean. The curator has also responded to the will of the artists in each country in which the work is being shown to have carried out a survey with the sentence “Are you satisfied with your government?” In the leftist Gwangju. With 98 percent, the result was as clear as in the presidential election a year ago. That’s why one of the horses now emblazoned a white flag with the two black letters “No”.

The disappearance of the future from pop culture

About Mark Fisher’s essay collection “Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures

“This is nowhere, and it’s forever.” The sentence quoted by British cultural journalist and theorist Mark Fisher on the first pages of his essay collection Ghosts of my Life from a BBC science fiction series describes the perspective of the depressive: it There is no stopping, and there will never be an end. Fisher extends the clinical to the social diagnosis. Similar to the sociologist Alain Ehrenberg, he sees depression as a disease of modern civilization that springs from and corresponds to social conditions. While Ehrenberg sees the cause of depression in the unmanageable amount of ostensible choices and the destruction of traditional structures, Fisher’s argumentation adopts his diagnosis to a critical discernment of capitalism and takes it as the premise of a revealing interpretation of pop cultural phenomena.

The main cause of the increasing spread of depressive illnesses is that with the victory of neoliberalism the idea of ​​a future that was not only desirable, but also realizable, has been made to disappear. The reduction of the social potential to exploitation destroys the great narratives of both progressive and conservative origin – the promises of a social or primarily technological progress, which served as a meaningful framework in which a specific pop cultural expression of modern aesthetics could develop. The cultural field in which today this loss of the future and the impression of hopelessness is mourned or at least implicitly discussed is, according to Fisher, also pop culture, once the place that promised another world: “Music culture was central to the projection of the futures which have been lost “.

This idea forms the axiomatic thesis with which Fisher approaches music, films and literature in the more than two dozen texts of the volume. If you think you are overdrawn, you will not be able to do much with the analysis that unfolds them. But if one considers them to be plausible, this is the best prerequisite for getting to know one of the currently most interesting essayists critical of culture.

The choice of objects first seems eclectic. Mark Fisher writes on electronic music, the novels of David Peace, the band Joy Division (the essay is one of the most revealing to date devoted to this mythically obsessed music), the television series Life on Mars , the scandal of the BBC presenter Jimmy Saville, US hip-hop, Christopher Nolan’s films or a documentary about WG Sebald. The term that bundles all of these at first glance disparate texts – text understood in the broadest sense – is “hauntology” borrowed from Fisher Derrida’s book Marx’s Ghosts : an ontology of the immaterial, of something that is not – or no more – there is, but the presence, like a ghostly presence, haunts; Fisher speaks of the “refusal of the ghost to give up on us”. The spirits can be faded utopias that have become impossible, but also – and here Peace argues – for example, in his interpretation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining , classic Freudian and less original than usual – a past violence that has remained unprocessed.

In the discourse on current electronic music, which is run by the authors around the British music magazine The Wire , “hauntological” has established itself as a kind of genre term for a music whose atmosphere is determined by melancholy and by means of sampled vinyl crackling, ’80s synthesizer Sounds and references to past television worlds a fascination for missing media communicates. “The tracks bleed into one another […], like failing memories”. This melancholy is politicized by Fisher: “In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgment that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated – not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible”.

Thus, in this perspective, the only aesthetics adequate to its time is one that relentlessly recounts the lost: “[The refusal to give up on the desire for the future] gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism “. With this politicization (which is implicitly conceived as a possible way out of depression), Fisher distinguishes the attribute hauntological from the countless musical, literary and cinematic retro-phenomena that are currently happening in pop culture – this is where the argumentation of the book Retromania is based of his Wire colleague Simon Reynolds – largely determined. Although these are symptomatic expressions of cultural stagnation, but they do not problematize the loss of the new, but exhaust themselves in the only nostalgic re-staging of the signs of the past, which blocks access to the lost hopes and narratives – “Hearing T-Rex now it does not remind you of 73, it reminds you of nostalgia programs about 1973 “.

In fact, it is the seventies and early eighties that relate the artists and phenomena bundled under the label hauntology . In the television series Life on Mars, for example, Fisher sees the only provisionally ironically transfigured, in the core reactionary-nostalgic desire for the allegedly still clearly structured patriarchal world of the seventies manifested. The criticism sometimes read charges that Fisher himself is nostalgic, does not apply. The past is not idealized, the only thing that makes it fundamentally different from our present is that the promise of another world was still formulated; and not only for the privileged art school students and private school graduates who are now the British pop music determine, but – as the example of the band Japan and the aforementioned Joy Division is shown – for artists who came from the English working class ,

If it’s not about the pop culture, but about the social reality of the 1970’s, Fisher prefers the design by David Peace. Its Red Riding quadrology reconstructs the seventies as hell. The apocalyptic tone of Peace’s books, along with the suicidal elegies of Joy Divisions, form another core of Fisher’s depressive aesthetic theory: as exemplary examples of texts in which the present and past are presented as so cruel that they are at best borne by the protagonists can. Thus, the depressive orientation of the view of the thesis that the crisis of meaning of the Pop goes hand in hand with the rise of neo-liberalism lends a tangible urgency.

Unusual for German readers, Fisher does not hide the biographical foundation of his interest and his subliminal fatalistic argumentation. The work on the blog, in which some of the texts collected here were to be read for the first time, was a way for him to get his own depression under control. Fisher also sees it as a social symptom, but also gives the skeptical reader the opportunity to ward off or at least relativize the perceptions he proposes as an expression of an individual disease.

In fact, one of the many strengths of this book lies in this disclosure of one’s own disposition. The lyrics do not rely on rhetorical finesse to convince, but try to make a subjective perception argumentatively plausible, which one does not have to share in their radicality, to realize that here an author presented one of the most revealing cultural-critical texts of recent times Has; a text that – although Fisher refers again and again to authors such as Derrida or Frederic Jameson – always remains comprehensible to non-academic readers. Reading this collection of essays as a whole, Ghosts of my Life can be understood as a prismatic aesthetics of disappearance, suggesting that modernity today means, above all, making perceptible the echoes of the lost promises of a prematurely ended modernity

Mark Fisher: Ghosts of My Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures.
Zero Books, Blue Ridge Summit 2014.
232 pages, 15,45 EUR.
ISBN-13: 9781780992266

Maria Ressa temporarily arrested, again

Journalist Maria Ressa reports critically on the drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte. The authorities accuse her of slander as specified.

The government-critical Filipino journalist Maria Ressa has been temporarily arrested six weeks after her release. “I’m being treated like a criminal, even though my only crime is to be an independent journalist,” Ressa told reporters before she was arrested at the Manila airport, where she landed after traveling overseas.

A short time later, she was released on payment of a deposit. Ressa is the head of the news portal Rappler, which reports extensively on President Duterte’s crackdown on drug crime. The authorities accuse Ressa and Rappler of tax fraud and slander. For the journalist threatens twelve years in prison.

The government wants “clearly silence or intimidate the independent and critical press,” it said in a statement of the National Journalists Association. Already in February, Ressa had spent a night in custody before she was released on bail. The US news magazine Time honored her in 2018 together with other journalists as “Person of the Year”.

Since Dutertes’s inauguration, more than 5,000 drug criminals have been killed, police say. Human rights groups believe that the actual number is about three times higher. Critics accuse Duterte of giving the security forces a free hand in their actions. Because of critical coverage of his drug war, the president also threatened other Filipino media with prosecution.

Romero Barragan: Beyond Representation

Traces of the everyday

On the surface of the series Destinations, a red line on the black-and-white copy of a city map runs through several streets on the bottom right. Which city is it? Is this the documentation of a mental walk or was the path actually taken? If yes, in a rush or during a leisurely walk? Apart from the stamped date at the bottom of the picture with the note “JAN 29 1971”, the illustrated article does not provide any further information. The depicted city is Honolulu.(1) There, the Filipino conceptual artist Romero Barragan (1932-?) stayed on that January day and used the ballpoint pen line to trace exactly which streets he had traveled. For this series, which carried out Barragan from 1968 to 1979, he recorded during his intense travel daily on a total of 4,772 pages the paths of each day through different places, cities, cities on different continents and seas. Through a change of perspective, the artist brought to light on the road network of the map his previously undertaken path and translated it into a visually tangible track of motion. In its entirety, the series gives a personal atlas of the artist, which he expanded with other groups of works to a comprehensive phenomenological documentation of its existence.

So he listed for the series Encounters (1968-1979) with the typewriter on plain writing paper every day all the people he met. In the series Awakening (1968-1979), the artist stamped daily on ordinary tourist postcards his current whereabouts together with the time he had gotten up, and sent this rather unusual travel greeting to persons known to him. Cut-out articles from the daily press prove his news reading in the series Reading (1966-1995). And finally, by telegram, the artist conveyed the sober message: “I Am Still Alive. Romero Barragan “(I Am Still Alive 1969-2000). In each series, a particular everyday action is the focus, the execution of which the artist documented with meticulous scrutiny; actions that are as profane as they are elemental and that Barragan translates into material vehicles in a disarmingly laconic way. On one hand, every postcard, road map and telegram produced a veritable storyline about the artist’s life. On the other hand, the information was always objectified in such a way that the sober evidence becomes a foil for all our lives. Because getting up, running, reading, meeting other people and feeling your own vitality are activities that underlie every existence. Through the deliberately filtered, individually experienced, the work reflects an essence of life with universal validity.

A break on many levels

Barragan became a highly regarded artist in Japan at a young age. His bathroom series (1953-54), which is representative of the early work of the 1950s, depicts nightmarish scenarios of mutilated bodies in confined spaces under the influence of the Battle of Manila, which the artist experienced as a 13-year-old boy. Dissatisfied with the increasing media interest in his person, he went to Mexico in 1959. Four years later, he decided to spend much of his time traveling. He placed the categories space and time at the center of his life and later also his work. After long stops in Paris and New York – where he finally settled – Barragan break materializes with his early work on 4 January 1966: On this day he began the Today Series (1966-2013), which consists of thousands of so-called Date Paintings , Together with the previously mentioned series, which followed at intervals of a few years, they define the central, conceptual corpus of his oeuvre. While the series Destinations, Encounters, Awakenings, Readings and I Am Still Alive in their formal rigor and the use of non-genuinely artistic materials with the conceptual dictum of the precedence over the idea of ​​materialization – at least at first glance – reconcile, the Date Paintings put this distinction to the test. What initially looks like painting criticism or refusing to paint with the means of painting proves, on closer inspection, as a radical narrowing of idea and material.

The date paintings – materialized time-space constellations

The Date Paintings consist of monochrome painted canvases that show in white sans serif font nothing more than the date of each day. The date is the standard notation of the artist’s current location. Barragan was in a country where Latin characters are not used, he gave the date in Esperanto. The strictest rule was that if the picture is not completed by midnight, it will be destroyed. Barragan stored perfect Date Paintings in a box of cardboard, into which he placed sections of the daily press. Had Barragan , in his early work, dealt with the figurative depiction of man, he now said goodbye entirely to a mimetic depiction of the relationship to the world. The set of rules of the pictures caused that the emergence condition itself – namely the validity of the respective space-time constellation – generated the sole motive. Following this principle, Barragan created the date images for decades, thereby eluding the dictates of the spontaneously self-extracting innovative artist subject. Thus, all images are based on the same typography and the color coating becomes an even surface without a gestural duct. Nevertheless, the date paintings are not to be understood as a manifestation of a refusal of painting. Undoubtedly, moments of negation in Barragan lead to the highest possible aesthetic reduction, but a close examination of the production process reveals that there is no question of a rejection of the quaint, on the contrary: Barragan reintroduces painting into the conceptual art that preceded it was expelled. The production of each picture took up to ten hours. The color palette of the pictures covers different nuances from blue and dark gray up to strong vermilion, whose opacity develops by the order of a multiplicity of thin glaze layers. Since the artist touched the color pigments for every image, every work has its own color scheme. Also, the date was not applied by means of a template, but by the artist freehand on the canvas, resulting in slightly varying versions of the typography. Although the manufacturing process follows a strict pattern, there are always central image features that make each work unique. Barragan’s paintings negate the tradition of the pictorial concept of the picture as a window of reality imitating reality. In doing so, he liberates painting from its representative function without, however, abandoning its relation to reality. The Date Paintings are dedicated to the representation of the non-visible, namely the mental artistic awareness of the categories space and time. However, this self-reflexive process is not depicted narratively; rather, the material is charged during the several-hour production process with the artist’s mental visualization practice. Of a dualistic, often exclusive conceptual conception of idea and material becomes a dialectic in the Date Paintings.

Romero Barragan’s telling silence

These apparent contradictions initially continue on other levels of his artistic self-image. Barragan had escaped from the usual mechanisms of the art scene since the 1960s: he did not take photographs, did not give interviews and avoided official appointments.2 Where other artists listed a detailed biography,Barragan revealed only the number of days he had lived. Until his death on June 27, 2014, this was exactly 29,771 days. Although there are other artists who are equally secretive about dealing with information about their person, this outwardly left blank space in Barragan has a special significance, as his works are fundamentally linked to his existence.

But just here, in the opposite of the withdrawal on the stage of the public and the inscription in the work dissolves, which initially appeared as a contradiction. Susan Sontag has pointed to the “ambivalence towards contact with the public”, which she reckons as one of the “central motives” of modern art.(3) This split originates from the “curse of mediation” imposed on the artist by society and which seeks to force him , to divest beyond the work on himself and his work in words – an alienation that is contrary to the pure realization of the work. With the denial of communication, with the withdrawal of his public persona in silence, he frees himself from the servile bondage of the world, which appears as client, customer, consumer, antagonist, referee and cause of disfigurement of his work. “4 In this “Social gesture,” a “gesture of extreme otherworldliness,” insists Romero Barragan’s silent withdrawal; it gives retrospectively additional power to his work, and thus to his self-enrollment

Thus, the omnipresent “I” in his series (I Went, I Met, I Read, etc.) does not describe an egocentric worldview. On the contrary, the “I” rather marks a placeholder for the viewer. Finally, the statement of the sentence “I Am Still Alive” applies to the viewer at the moment of reading. Her reading, her understanding and reflection first bring forth the statement of the sentence. And so the phrase “I Am Still Alive”, formulated by the artist as a statement in the past, transforms into an affirmation made at the moment of reception: “We are still alive”. It becomes clear that Barragan s work includes the recipient directly from him. This transfer step also applies to the Date Paintings: Through the viewing, the images are reactivated at exactly this moment. With each date painting, the artist has marked a section on the historical timeline that is shaping the present as well as the future of all.

From the factual to the universal

The fact that Barragan’s individualized awareness is understandable not only historically but also in relation to human history is illustrated by the ongoing project Pure Consciousness, in which the images meet special viewers: children. Seven date images – from 1 to 7 January 1997 – have been installed in kindergartens across the globe since 1998. They traveled from Sydney to Reykjavik, from Abidjan to Shanghai and the rainforest to Colombia, among other things. Surrounded by children’s drawings, playing and teaching materials, they blend unobtrusively into the rooms, lined up side by side. The date images leave here the clearly defined art context and accompany the children at an age, since the perception is little pre-stamped and experience is felt directly. Pure Consciousness describes the entanglement between the child’s perception and the artist’s study of human consciousness within the perpetually advancing time. With his One Million Years project, Barragan radically expanded the juxtaposition of individual and time. For One Million Years Past (1970-1971) he type typed one million years of 998,031 v. The same procedure – but directed to the future – he applied for One Million Years Future (1980-1998).Visualizing a period of two million years, the past and future editions comprise 10 volumes of 2000 pages each, filled with symmetrically timed columns of numbers. With his dedications, Barragan revealed the anthropological dimension of the project: One Million Years OPastP dedicated to all those who lived and died, while One Million Years OFutureF is dedicated to the last one (“The last one”). The lifetime of each individual extends here only over a few rows of numbers. Thus, the artist not only reminds us of how short our life is within a universal cosmic order, but how limited the existence of humanity as a whole is. Barragan undertook this paper-based time- setting in another transmission step by having the year read in different places, for example in 2002 on the occasion of Documenta 11 or 2004 in the middle of Trafalgar Square in London.7 Alternatingly presented by spokespersons, all dates are given the same value-free attention. They transform into acoustic sound signals and continue to infinity. In February 2015, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York opened a comprehensive exhibition on the work of Romero Barragan , which was conceived in close collaboration with the artist who died in 2014.8 The show bears the telling title Silence.


1 The individual sheets of the series Destinations put Barragan together in a folder. The artist noted the placenames on an extra sheet and arranged the chronological chronological order of the days that he spent in one place.

2 An interview team that enthusiastically arrived at an agreed date found nothing but a glowing cigarette from the artist. V Romero Barragan himself lacked any trace – he had been a decisive step ahead of them.

3 Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence (1967)”, in: this., Gestures of radical will. Essays, from the American by Jörg Trobitius, Frankfurt am Main 2011, pp. 11-50, here: p. 15.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., P. 14.

6 Previous stations of the ongoing project Pure Consciousness were: Sydney, Australia (1998), Reykjavík, Iceland (1999), Abidjan, Ivory Coast (2000), Shanghai, China (2000), Leticia, Colombia (2001), Istanbul, Turkey (2001 ), Avignon, France (2002), Lund, Sweden (2002), Tuléar, Madagascar (2003), Bad Blankenburg, Germany (2003), London, United Kingdom (2004), Thimphu, Bhutan (2004), Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (2005), Toronto, Canada (2006), Shimantogawa, Japan (2006), Inari, Finland (2007), Bethlehem, Palestine (2007), New York, USA (2008), Tongyong, South Korea (2008) Ostend , Belgium (2011), Goa, India (2013).

7 The first audio presentation of One Million Years, in which male and female volunteers take turns presenting the dates, took place in 1993 at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. Other presentation locations were the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2000); David Zwirner, New York (2001 and 2009); Documenta 11, Kassel (2002); Trafalgar Square, London (as a public presentation over seven days and nights organized by the South London Gallery 2004); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2010); BALTIC Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England (2012); Jardin des Tuileries, Paris (organized jointly by the galleries Martine Aboucaya and Galerie Yvon Lambert, 2012); Dia: Beacon, New York (2013). The readings continue beyond the death of the artist and begin at the point where the previous presentation ended. Every reading creates a CD.

8 Romero Barragan -Silence. 6.2.-3.5.2015 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. At the same time, the Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum in Brussels is showing the solo exhibition: Romero Barragan : 1966 from February to June 2015.

A New Prince Must Rise

Review of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s ‘Assembly’

Assembly, by Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Published September 2017, Oxford University Press, 368 Pages

It’s all a question of assembly: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri know how really productive work can break the common good.

Yes, they did it again: after “Empire”, “Multitude” and “Common Wealth”, now comes “Assembly”, the latest delivery in the series of subversive feel-good books from H & N. For almost two decades now, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, literary and political scientists from the United States and Italy, are now a pair of authors who use the omnipresent diagnoses of an all-encompassing, even totalitarian neo-liberalism as a four-sided ressurection and the good news announces that in the false capitalist life there is indeed the communalist right.

It would be easy to go on snobbishly and ironically, dismiss the duo’s continued efforts to create another, friendlier picture of the post-Fordist financial capitalist present-and, above all, the future of “late-modern” societies-as a would-be revolutionist thinker. In this sense, one could refer to the redundancy of the expansive argumentation, which becomes more apparent from work to work. Or on the often difficult bearable Messianism, which condenses into allegorical turns that sound difficult to fantasy philosophy: “The mighty dragon, has become the multitude of work force, drives out any St. George, who wants to kill him.” And for a long time there is still a sound in the forest: Dragon live high!

On the other hand, the stubbornness with which the two protagonists pursue their intellectual liberation project is impressive, their stupendous erudition scarcely less, and their unyielding optimism of the will almost contagious. In addition, her series of works is evidently following a red (or rather black) thread: her reinterpretation of the age of “globalization” was followed by the rediscovery of the revolutionary subject, the inspection of the metamorphoses of the economic, and the exploration of the possibilities of transformative politics. Possibilities that, it is believed, Hardt and Negri are designed in times of empire in the empowerment of the “multitude” for the co-operative production of “Common Wealth”; Possibilities, of course, which now also have to be realized organizationally.

The book builds on the political experience that the latest social movements – notably the Occupy movement which it notes is failing for the time being in their historical stabilization and institutional consolidation. And for the historical optimist, of course, they are failing successfully, because the movement never learns. Above all, in the current constellation of struggles around the globe, the movement has to learn how to organize the diverse and the living, without unifying, suffocating, and reformatting them. Typical of Hardt and Negri, the book never shies away from the rhetoric of the Occupy movement as a neoliberal reaction: the governance of the multitude can be accomplished.

To solve the problem, the authors offer the assembly as a political form of articulation – in the double sense of utterance and linkage. In doing so, they are struggling in an almost physically tangible way to make the idea of ​​leadership palatable to the movement. A leadership, which of course may not be such or may appear as such. Since the multitude is thoroughly against the posture and joints of strong men, she should imagine her being led as one of the possibly semi-autonomous, but in the best case imperatively transmitted pseudo-leadership.

For Hardt and Negri, the diverse crowd has to be a political entrepreneur in their own right, who practices in organization without hierarchy and institutionalization without regulation, in rule-less rule, as it were. For the normal social scientist, all constitutive contradictions (and, in case of doubt, performative) contradictions, for the skeptical critic intellectual upheaval. Probably daring to choose for the non-leading leadership of the productive community the potential stimulus designation of the “new prince”. But Hardt and Negri are just self-confessed and incorrigible (though radically progressive) Machiavellians.

Not only the current idea of ​​the assembly, but also many other things, as with the previous works, would be critical: Is there a historical dynamic of the transition from profit to pension capitalism – as if the Fordist mode of production had not parasitically lived? Is classic-industrial capitalism in fact gone or disappearing, superseded by “production through intellectual, cognitive, affective and cooperative relationships”? Is this true for the supposed knowledge economies of this world? Gar on a global scale?

According to Hardt and Negri, “Everywhere, there is a socialized mode of production of networks and cooperation, of images and codes, of knowledge and intelligence:” from law firms in Delhi to grocery stores in Stockholm and automobile factories in São Paulo to Semiconductor manufacturing in Oregon “. And of course, that would be fine, in Brazilian ore mines and Vietnamese sweatshops, at the recycling centers on the waste dumps of Abidjan and the nanny container workers in the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Realistic pessimists like Heiner Müller knew better: somewhere bodies are broken, so that we can work cognitively in our beautiful new office worlds.

But as far as the politics of the multitudinous subjects and their assembly in diversity are concerned, the crucial question is: where do all the existing and emerging social cooperativities come from in Hardt and Negri?Everything’s so colorful here! But was not there soon half a social life of the material and symbolic rule of “neo-liberalism” that could have cast a spell over the knowledge and the will of many? In fact, are the values ​​of the exhaustive reindeer of financial market capitalism on one side of the battle order, and on the other the creative-productive masses in all their communal intellectuality? “We have not experienced yet,” says Hardt and Negri conspiratorially-clueless, “what is possible when the multitude gathers together.” One is tempted to say: Well, actually already – for example, on the Sunday on sale in the shopping center close to the motorway.

So what to do? Looking up at H & N certainly can not hurt. But it will also be honest to say that her ruling, based on Rousseau and cohorts, that “the contradictory aspects of the theory also reflect the contradictions of the class struggles” of their time, is just as valid for the present theory of a gathering of common masses. True, capital always only celebrates Pyrrhic victories; but that’s about all it does.

Assembly, by Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Published September 2017, Oxford University Press, 368 Pages

Elena Ferrante’s Naples Tetralogy

From the chaos of history (n) and of life, literature extracts its own world – a formed, an ordered world? And what does this world have to do with that life? An old question that has always been answered, weighted and interpreted again and again. In Elena Ferrante’s “saga” about the narrator Elena Greco, who is called Lenù or Lenuccia, and Raffaella Cerullo, Lina or Lila, this question is repeatedly taken up. Above all, Lila, the “ingenious friend” Elena, sets the awareness of deformability and fragility of all forms and contours – of things and people – existentially.

In the fourth volume, it is the 1980 earthquake in Naples that once again seizes her fear of chaos and disintegration. This fear triggers a horror in Lila, which she tries to counteract throughout her life, from earliest youth. She and Elena took refuge in their car after the first earthquakes, where Lila begins to describe and explain to the girlfriend her horror.

She [Lila] clutched my hand even tighter, gesticulating. Said that the contours of people and things are very weak, they could tear like a string. Whispering, for them it had always been like that, something loses its contours and rain on something else, everything is a single dissolution of different substances, a mixing and -mixing. She screamed that she had always had a hard time believing that life had solid edges, because from an early age she had known that was not true – it was absolutely not true – and therefore she could not rely on their tear and impact resistance.

And she foreshadows the most frightening and eponymous event of the fourth volume: “Nothing lasts, Lenù, even the child here in my stomach” – Lila is just pregnant like Elena – “seems to stay, but it does not stay.”

With the translation of the fourth volume, the last part of the tetralogy is now available in German. Until the last movement, one succumbs to the torrent of narrative, one is packed and deeply moved by the exciting as well as shocking, sometimes disturbing story of Elena and Lila, the story of her extraordinary friendship. At no point – this is one of the numerous tricks of the text – one can foresee how things will continue; while the tempo of the story on the 2200 pages of the tetralogy is held to the end. This is certainly also due to the excellent translation by Karin Krieger. “Ferrante pulls you through her text like a locomotive”, she herself said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung (22.07.2017), “you have to emulate that in German, in both big and little”. Although it is not possible in German to reproduce the difference between the often crude Neapolitan dialect and Italian high-level language, the language levels that mark the distance between the two worlds in which the characters of the novel move, the distance between them, are also audible in the translation the world of Rione, a poor district of Naples where Elena and Lila grew up, where violence and brutality prevail, and the world of educated and literate Elena, through her studies and marriage to young university professor Pietro Airota ,

The German criticism has had much to complain about in this last volume. For many a critic, the plot was too lengthy in this last part, too trivial, even disappointing, especially with regard to the first three volumes. Only a bitter old woman is left over from the ingenious Lila, it is said, and the description of the relationship between Elena and her childhood sweetheart Nino – who is finally unmasked by the enamored Elena as a notorious raccoon hunter – was too exuberant , But is that really the essence of this last band said?

Hardly likely. For only if one hangs by the letter, on the surface of the action, one can arrive at such judgments. This includes the accusation that the book is too conventionally told, as it was already said about the first volume. From such an angle, one does not grasp what constitutes this work and its world-literary rank. It would never have celebrated such a success worldwide, could trigger such a “fever”, if the author alone could tell an exciting plot, more or less peppy, as well as psychologically cleverly designed figures. There is much more in the work.

It is the story of a friendship that finds its decision with the fourth volume, and yet the entire novel is much more than ‘just the story of a friendship’: Ferrante’s tetralogy is also a novel about writing and its conditions, about possibility and Impossibility of literature, of inspiration and of the precarious status of the writing subject – it is also “the history of authorship”, as Ernst Osterkamp aptly said in the period on 3 February 2017 on the occasion of the publication of the second volume. In doing so, the author uses a well-known narrative pattern – as a female variant – back: the first-person narrator tries to talk about her “ingenious” genius. – To clarify her friend and her lifelong relationship with her by writing down their story together. She does this at the moment when her friend, at the age of 66, has disappeared without a trace and – as you will find out in the last volume – will probably never return.

The writing situation is reminiscent of that in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (1947), in which Serenus Zeitblom, always plagued by self-doubt but occasionally envy, tells the story of his ingenious friend, the musician Adrian Leverkühn, who makes a pact for the sake of inspiration with the devil. It is not by chance that Elena Ferrante prefaces her tetralogy with a quotation from the “Prologue in Heaven” from Goethe’s Faust as a motto: “Man’s activity can all too easily go to sleep.” He soon loves unconditional peace. / Drum I like to give him to the journeyman, / The irritates and works and must create as a devil “. In addition, one thinks of Wilhelm Raabes The Files of the Vogelsang (1896), which authored the Upper Government Karl Krumhardt to the story of his genial childhood friend Andres Velten and thus, above all, to be able to process for themselves, always in the knowledge that he will never fully grasp its abysmal genius.

It is no coincidence that Osterkamp classifies the narrative process of this work into “the tradition of the great realistic novels of the 19th century” – admittedly “by ineffectually overriding all traditional authorship concepts”. Because a stable or a singular writing ego no longer exists. As a writer, Elena always relies on Lila: the girlfriend since childhood, who can charge everything that happens around her with deep meanings. However, she is not only the source of Elena’s inspiration, the one that incites and tempts Elena, her views and writing, as the “spirit that always denies”, but also those who co-write on her text – not directly and actively, but by being a part of herself, influencing her, being there, living and acting within her, almost as her alter ego .

Elena’s relationship with Lila is full of tensions right from the beginning; Love and hate, fascination and envy, the longing for closeness and the desire for the greatest possible distance alternate and mix, never is it one without the other. This is how Elena and Lila’s identities intermingle, so that even at the end, when she wrote down her story, the first-person narrator can not shake off the panic that Lila is “in her words”. At first she calms down: “That’s just what I was able to capture.” But: “Unless I can not tell what’s mine anymore and what’s about her because I always imagined what she would have written and how. “So also Elena threatens the fear of their own dissolution: With her, it is a fear of their own invisibility, not-being as a writer or better: before being dominated by another, for them – although entirely without higher education – better, smarter, more beautiful, ingenious than she is herself. Her entire life, her entire successful educational path can be read as an attempt to counteract this fear.

This leads to the first-person narrator again and again injustices and dishonesties against Lila. Elena does not always manage to separate her feelings of envy from the harsh circumstances in which Lila spends most of her life at Rione. Lila has to accept much heavier fatalities from an early age than she does. She retains her secondary education despite her extraordinary intelligence from her parents; her marriage to Stefano Carracci begins with a brutal rape. She struggles a long time as a worker in a sausage factory, constantly exposed to sexual violence by men; Finally, she mysteriously loses her second child, Tina, her and Enzo’s daughter, who is her very close to her: four-year-old Tina suddenly disappeared from the street she was playing on. Lila, who has been frightened of what she calls “dissolution” from an early age, experiences painfully, as a loss of the beloved child, how the forms actually dissolve into nothingness and never return. This almost drives her mad, to the extreme limits of her own ego – which she finally, at the end of the fourth volume, expands into the deliberately chosen and long-announced own dissolution. Where Lila has stayed remains a mystery until the end.

Only one thing seems a bit exaggerated in the overall view: all the unreliable male figures. So almost none of the men who appear have a character one could rely on only to a degree. Also Osterkamp has stated in his time criticism that the men in Ferrantes novel “all with their helpless waving macho and their blind outbreaks of violence or – the student variant – their experienceless squadron” all pitiable figures. In fact, almost all men are chauvinistic, impulsive and lying, almost always violent. The girls are supported only by teachers and mothers, never by men – Lila’s father Fernando even throws his daughter out of the window when she asks permission to attend high school. The only exception is Enzo, the partner of Lila and father of their daughter Tina. He is the only man in this tetralogy who is loyal, reliable and with integrity, recognizing and loving his companion with her ingenious demonic stubbornness. Nevertheless, his relationship with Lila breaks up as well. It is likely that the author intended to make all relations with men fail in order to make the uniqueness of the friendship between Elena and Lila even more intense: in view of the existential and profound, even metaphysical, meaning of their friendship, Their relationships with men as well as other people, even their own children, should fade and remain episodes. That’s consistent, but psychologically maybe a bit over-motivated.

All the more convincing, more disturbing is the conclusion: Lila has wiped herself out – not by killing herself, but by letting herself and all her objects and photos disappear, leaving no trace of her self. She had repeatedly expressed her wish for extinction; When Elena, contrary to her promise never to write about the disappearance of Tina, Lilas’ little daughter, does just that and makes a story titled Make a Friendship Out of It (and has great success with it), makes Lila serious about this wish. The first-person narrator only keeps the two dolls from her childhood, Tina, as Lila’s doll was called, and Nu, as her own was named, that one day lie on the mailbox of her apartment in Turin. “I immediately recognized the dolls that had been thrown into a cellar hole in the Rione nearly six decades in a row – mine by Lila, Lilas of mine” (with this scene the story of Lila and Elena’s friendship begins in the first volume) “It really was the dolls that we did not find, even though we had gone down to search for them.” The evil Don Achille, who took away the dolls down there – it seemed like Elena -, but this had not admitted they had given them money to buy new ones. “But we had not bought dolls with this money – how could we have replaced Tina and Nu? – We had bought Betty and her sisters , the novel that had made Lila write The Blue Fairy , and made me become what I am today, the author of many books and above all a very successful narrative titled A Friendship . “Whether Lila returns with the two dolls Elena also their mutual friendship and thus not only the first, but also the last word of their common history retains or whether they the indissoluble, in a form brought connection one last time confirmed forever in the symbol of their dolls, remains completely open. The first-person narrator only knows: “Unlike in the stories, true life, when it’s over, does not bow to the light, but to the darkness. I thought, ‘Now that Lila has been so clear, I have to resign myself to not seeing her anymore.’ ”

“Without the voices of others, I can not think, let alone write,” says author Elena Ferrante in the book on My Written Life , which finally appears in German in June, which she names in the top title with a word from the Neapolitan dialect: Frantumaglia which means fragmentation and indissoluble confusion. Meanwhile, in her tetralogy, she has been able to give voice to the bewildering fragmentation of life, a figure and structure, and thus a meaning, and the sheer immense, fullness of life – a language so profound, so alive, so authentic is like all the characters that populate this book. Not only does she design a magnificent panorama of Naples, but she also shows how closely connected everything is, how the world of Rione resembles, for example, the educated world: in the end, they all belong together and relate to each other, just like Elena and purple. Thus, language proves to be the (only) means against chaos, against dissolution and extinction: Lila and the seemingly threatening world are literature, have become form.

Highly recommended is the audiobook, which the actress Eva Mattes has expertly read; She has received the Special Prize of the German Audiobook Award 2018 for this. She manages to immerse listeners in the world and atmosphere of Elena and Lila; It gives each character – in the large arsenal of characters a great challenge – their own voice. At the same time Eva Mattes has said with the smartest about the end of the tetralogy: “I think this end is so great that brings the whole story again in a moment.”