27.1.2006 - 18.3.2006
Graz. How is »Pain in a Building« imaginable without a body as a physical limit, without a perceiving subject that interprets a feeling as pain? Liam Gillick’s installation of this name in the Grazer Kunstverein does not provide any visual translation of this message: the half-sentence remains the sum of individual letters, threaded together on a chain and draped over a pile of cloths. The bodies and subjects, as we are informed by a short press release, only constitute themselves retrospectively in relation to the conditions of existence and balance of power. For example, in the admonitory »hailing« by a policeman, or simply in the consumption of a brand like Coca Cola or Ikea.
»A Person Alone in a Room with Coca-Cola-Coloured Walls«, the current exhibition in the Grazer Kunstverein, aims to be unsettling, and at the same time to sensitise viewers to the conditionality of the status of the individual in a pre-produced world. Sören Grammel, the curator and since June 2005 the new director of the Grazer Kunstverein, has given the show an appearance that, as he himself explains, »fosters productive confusion«, which could mean: an unsettling effect that throws the bodies back on themselves and stimulates the subjects to position themselves.
Some works in the exhibition cleverly show how such an identity crisis can be made productive: the young artist Lasse Schmidt Hansen, in his work »1/294.346.752«, rejects his role as consumer and the identification with the brand name Ikea that it implies by setting up and exhibiting a wrongly assembled set of Billy shelves, along with a calculation about the 294 million variations of such a wrong assembly. Octavian Trauttmansdorff’s video work »Zuwohnung« may have been born of a similar rejection of standardised forms of living: in it, a room in a transitional hostel falls into chaos seemingly of its own accord.
Presenting the assembly and disassembly of readymade parts as artistic rhetorics of an anti-establishment stance is obviously a main objective of this exhibition, designed by Sören Grammel together with the artist Bernd Krauss: Krauss, who, in his own artistic work, puts together furnishings and everyday commodities of various provenances to make new furniture that avoids any sort of useful function, laid construction netting, plastic sheets, wooden strips and similar objects on the floor of the exhibition spaces, thus applying the principle of collage to the exhibition display. Grammel himself says that he had in mind a »contradictory and associative rendering of the problematic« both formally and with regard to content. To assemble what does not belong together as a praxis of resistance, and understood here as a revocation of the curatorial authority to define meaning, is a nice approach. Nevertheless, the physical density that the space acquires through the collection of materials, references and genres sometimes leads to a diffusion of content. For, although the way the exhibition integrates works from the grey zone between art and design, like those by Bernd Krauss or by the music/art/design/model label »Fabrics Interseason«, is consistent and conceptionally exciting - because such works reflect the exhibition theme in their very form by addressing the viewer as a consumer -, they are combined with performative, agitatory works like those of Sanja Ivekovic or the artist duo Little Warsaw in a manner that blurs the presentation’s thematic thrust, sometimes giving one the feeling that the individual works are standing in each other’s way.
Little Warsaw, mentioned above, vividly present the way bodies and subjects detach themselves from social labels and reconquer their space. On display is a video of their performance »The Body of Nefertiti«, in which they removed the ancient Egyptian bust of Nefertiti from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin and placed it on a modern, naked woman’s body cast in bronze. This performance triggered a culturo-political controversy between Egypt, Germany and Hungary at the 2003 Venice Biennial. That which the artists saw as a purely personal homage to a symbol of classical beauty was understood by Egyptian politicians as an affront to the national and cultural history of their land; they turned the artistic intervention into a question of moral integrity.
It is only the knowledge of the public discussion surrounding the Nefertiti project that reveals the consequences of this intervention and – particularly in an era of the controversies surrounding caricatures and pictures – opens up a space for the reflection on the artistic freedom of expression in general. Unfortunately, the exhibition does not provide this kind of supplementary information in the form of accompanying texts or an exhibition publication. Just being unsettled – and Sören Grammel’s exhibition certainly achieves this – does make one awake and alert; but to derive something from this exhibition that can become productive, something like clarity, I must have the chance to mentally link the causes of my confusion with the means and effects of possible influence.