Ivana Marjanovic: ”Ensemble of Conditions” of Possibilities for Contemporary Art in Open Space, Vienna News & Analysis (2009)

The exhibition project titled “Ensemble of Conditions” curated by artist Can Gülcü from Vienna has been recently displayed in Open Space, one of the very few politically and socially orientated art exhibition spaces in the city of Vienna. The Austrian capital city anyway tries to establish itself as a special point of competence for the region known as Eastern Europe. Vienna is for long suffering from the post-Austro Hungarian empire syndrome (1) and in such a way tries to compete with neoliberal creative cities; such as London-New York-Tokio, the so called metropolis of art and the art market that are making money for just carrying their own neo-liberal creative brands.

With this exhibition Open Space shows once again a clear distance from many contemporary art institutions and bank/insurance foundations that are those invest in art and culture evacuated from contemporary art out of completely different politics these days. The result of this neo-liberal way of framing art and culture is that on the one hand art is only exploited for commercial business until the last atoms and on the other contemporary art reproduces the national(ist) but in the same time global necro-capitalist state of things(2). As stated by Marina Grzinic art institutions and art projects of today, produced in the capitalist First World, function on the basis of unbearable abstraction meaning that an enormous quantity of creativity is being released, however, remaining cut off from what is most important: resistance.(3)

The “Ensemble of Conditions” aims to draw a difference in the space of art and the social, as many other shows want to demonstrate. This practice has to be seen as a counter-positioning in the field of strictly separated spheres of competences where the recognition of curators as the only capable and legitimate to curate contemporary art (a position reinforced from the 2000 on) must be seen as one of the mechanisms of what Althusser termed as art being one of the primal ideological state apparatuses. This brings us to the alleged issue that I would like to argue here firmly. This what in the new power positions given to curators, museums and galleries in the First Capitalist world a process that ensures the reproduction of relations of production, i.e. relations of exploitation of artists and their concepts for the survival of only and solely of curators, museums, galleries etc., is put to work.

The exhibition presents five positions: Ljubomir Bratic, Lina Dokuzovic, Muzaffer Hasaltay, Ana Hoffner and Martin Krenn. The curatorial concept as well as the art works critically deals with several topics: the issue of neo-liberal capitalism and its normalized mechanisms of exploitation and subjugation (racism, discrimination, heteronormativity and death); the issue of migration and the issue of hegemonized art history writing that is instrumentalized at such an extent that opposes today alternative forms of knowledge production and critical art practices. The works in the exhibition are contextualized powerfully and positioned as spaces of resistance that contribute to the broader struggle for global re-articulation of new social and political spaces and practices in art.

Ljubomir Bratic in collaboration with Can Gülcü staged an installation titled “Body of the State” that is primarily an archive that deals with the issue of violation/extinction and murdering of migrants in Austria in the last 10 years. Especially Bratic focuses on migrants of color that are those that bear on their body visibly imprinted the “difference” that is then used for murderous discrimination acts. This policy has been ordered by the Austrian state and executed by its police. The archive has been put together by Bratic for more than a decade and it is presented in the gallery space through a video, a map that chronologically visualizes the headlines of newspapers from his comprehensive archive and as well with displaying the archive itself (copies of many newspaper texts are available) in the gallery space.

The work points out how violence has been normalized, legitimized and represented through media channels as being necessary in order to preserve the good life of Austrians. One of the most disturbing files from the archive is the case of Marcus Omofuma from Nigeria who was murdered in 1999 by police in the airplane while being deported from Austria. This case is taken as the starting point of the construction of Bratic’s archive. This also covers an alarming documentation from the archive that displays the “Operation Spring” – the biggest police raid since WW2 launched in Austria dated 1999 when more then hundred African migrants were accused and imprisoned under the shield of “fighting organized crime.” This state of things has to be seen as a broader phenomena rooted not only in European colonial past but also in contemporary coloniality being present all around EU in the form of deterritorialized neo colonialism. As Bratic states in the exhibition’s catalogue, migrants appear as objects of description and serve as objects of the formation of further discriminatory narratives. They are constantly abused as the other side of the myth of the Western world,that is presented as being “the best of all worlds.”

“Missing citizens”(4) – though politically unrecognized – are not mute, weak, and helpless forever but speak loudly and even militantly. This was possible to see in the performance “Movement, Privatized – A Re-enactment” by Ana Hoffner staged at the opening of the exhibition. Appropriating the conceptual art work/performance “Walking in an Exaggerated Manner in the Perimeter of a Square” by Bruce Nauman, that is the emblematic male dominated heterosexual art work coming from the First capitalist world, Ana Hoffner, being herself migrant and queer, subverts it until the point of its total destruction. She appropriates the work and imprints on this male universal white body art position her migrant, queer, and TALKING body. She attacked Nauman’s work by transforming herself in a dog, making a clear reference to the much discussed performance by the Russian artist Oleg Kulik in reference to his performance taking place in 1990’s when he took the position of a dog that was not only licking but really biting people.

The performance starts with an ironical text about the existentialist male artist who walks within a square in his atelier, he is the master in his house, a male citizen in his country. The text is about those art works that are paradigmatic for their formalist hegemonic art positions that live safely within the “white” Square symbolizing the expanding neo-liberal depoliticized and privatized space. Nauman’s body that incarnates the Square is the target of Hoffner’s attack. Nauman’ body presents as well the audience body, as it is coming to the white gallery cube to have fun, and therefore Hoffner attacks the public as well; she is the dog that asks for a different position for migrants that are seen and treated as contemporary human animals, that are illegalized; they are the “Other” that has to be obedient and has to lick its masters’ shoes. She decided to talk and violate this space of unbearable repressive normality.

What happens when the politically unrecognized returns(5) and try to subvert the relations of hegemony and imperial representation? This is the topic of the film presented by Muzaffer Hasaltay with the title “Can We Talk to Each Other?”. The film deals with the artist himself who was taking part in a still ongoing scientific sociological study with the title “Constructions of Masculinity by young Turkish Migrants.” This study that is pushed by the Austrian sociological academic research milieu arrogantly inspects the biggest migrant minority population in Austria, the Turkish minority, in order to see the “consequences” for the future of the new supposedly threatening migrants virility. It is, simply to say a paradoxical and purely hegemonical study, especially if we think of the case named JOSEPH FRITZL (that raped for 25 years a proper daughter secluded in the basement of his house in Austria). Therefore we can say that Austrians should rather investigate their own constructions of masculinity! In this “scientific” (actually ideological) study the artist Hasaltay is classified as “migrant of the 2nd, 3rd generation.” How many generations will how to pass that the migrants in the European Union (Austria) will be recognized as equal citizens? Hasaltay decided to dissolve the subject-object separation and to transform it into a conversation between “equals.” Though this claim by Hasaltay in the film irritates the Austrian sociologist playing in it as well, making him feel uncomfortable, the question that has to be asked is rather if this turn is possible at all in the present state of things.

Can we turn the One into the Other, when the One actually exists because of the Other (without the Other the One would not have its constituting counterpart)? Rather, it will be necessary to eliminate this system of binarity on which is based the system of neo-liberal capitalism and develop a space of pluriversality of relations.

Martin Krenn presents two short films and posters that are part of his ongoing project titled “In between of the Movements” (please refer to http://www.in-between-the-movements.net). As written in the catalogue ”the project is concerned with the phenomenon of global networking of anti-capitalist movements and their effects on theory and practices of left-wing resistance.” The first film titled “Snip…Snip…Bang, Bang: Political Art Reloaded” is produced together with Gregory Sholette founding member of the artists‘ collectives “Political Art Documentation/Distribution” and “REPOhistory” and it is conceptualized as a “guided tour” through the history and present of political art in New York that is more or less excluded from dominant representational mechanisms and history writing (or if included, then it is about taking the least radical works, actions etc). Sholette reflects on the legacy of these collectives that were connected to social movements and acted as part of them (feminism, movement for black liberation, Native Americans’ rights).

The second film by Krenn was done together with Ronen Eidelman near Tel Aviv and it deals with censorship of Eidelman’s art project “Medinat Weimar” by Bauhaus University Weimar. The project suggests establishing a new Jewish state in Thuringia, Germany, where Jews could migrate and therefore return to Germany. The new state is presented as a solution for the failure of Zionism but as well for the crisis in Thuringia and many other problems. Furthermore, the film deals with the position of Israeli activists in anti-globalist movements, the left in Europe and its position to the issue of conflicts in Israel/Palestine and Lebanon etc.

Lina Dokuzovic presents a work in progress under the title “Social Regulation under Market Deregulation: A Serious Game on Equilibrium.” The work is conceived as the patent for a game that is actually a (self)educating tool for critical reflection of capitalism through its analysis in history and present time. The aim of the game is to show that though, as formulated by Marina Grziniz, present late capitalism behaves as it is almost impossible to say that something is impossible today in capitalism (we can!), contemporary capitalism’s deregulation processes bring it constantly to a border of its im/possibility. As Lina Dokuzovic puts it in the catalogue “The ultimate goal of the capitalist system is to find ever-developing flexible means for maintaining the stability of an inherently unstable structure/market that makes profit through violence, slavery, appropriation and death.” The umbrella that is main part of the game or its playing platform, besides playing cards, instruction, and additional educational material (theoretical reader and graphs on the wall showing history of capitalism), visualize the contingency of capitalist fake equilibrium. If that is the aim of the game, then I would suggest a slight change in the title “Social Regulation under Market Deregulation: A Serious Game on the Impossibility of Capitalist Equilibrium.” The game is to be further developed in the future as it is in the present moment maybe too demanding and complicated for an exhibition framework.

In short, “Ensemble of Conditions” gives a very good insight in the antagonisms and dichotomies of Austrian contemporary art and society contextualized through the analysis of global capitalism.

May 2009


1. I claim this on the basis of an analysis of Austrian imperial and hegemonic aspirations that are reenacted through neo-liberal free market economy aspirations (i.e. exploitation) for new territories and projects in the EU and outside it. Cf. our analysis on this point in the essay “A Trip to the Imperial Capital – Analysis of the seminar ‘Writing Central European Art History’ initiated by Erste Foundation” written by Eduard Freudmann, Ivan Jurica and Ivana Marjanovi_ (ed.), eipcp.net, 2009 http://eipcp.net/policies/freudmannetal/en

2. See: Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee, “Live and Let Die: Colonial Sovereignties

and the Death Worlds of Necrocapitalism”, borderlands e journal, volume 5, number 1, 2006

3. Marina Grzinic, “Linking theory, politics and art”, Third Text, Volume 21, Issue 2 , London : Routledge, 2007

4. Cf. Rada Ivekovi_ that suggests the concept of missing citizen referring to Indian concept of missing women. She explains that “though the concept of the citizen has its limits in the state, we need to engage with them. Positing the missing citizen renders the category visible and countable. They are missing from both the place ab quem and ad quem. They are boat-people who drowned en route, those who are assassinated, removed but nonetheless present, silenced and depoliticized.” See: Rada Ivekovic, “Translating Borders – Limits of nationalism, transnationalism, translationalism”, eipcp.net, 2008, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0608/ivekovic/en

5. The Return of Politically Unrecognized is here taken from the title of Rada Ivekovic’s text “French Suburbia 2005: The Return of Politically Unrecognized”, in “New Feminism. Queer and Networking Conditions”, ed. Marina Grzinic and Rosa Reitsamer, Löcker Verlag, Vienna, 2008

For more info: http://www.openspace-zkp.org

Ivana Marjanovic is a co-founder of Kontekst Gallery in Belgrade. Currently a PhD candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Lives in Vienna and Belgrade.

From Mute, online magazine