One of the hallmarks of anniversaries is that they can at times help to broaden our perspective – on what has been, what could have been, but also on what should develop in future. That is why this journal’s twenty years of existence (to drop claims to the somewhat grandiloquent term “anniversary”) in the first instance prompts us to be on the look-out: looking out for what has endured and persisted over the decades, for the expected and unexpected developments that have unfolded over this period, and finally, for the unrealised potential that continues to demand attention.
When the first edition was published in April 1995, still going by the name of springer at that time, a sea-change was tangible in many different realms. Electronic networking, which also served as the foundation for a new kind of art production, was just getting going.
Critical theoretical discourse with an international thrust was increasingly impinging on developments unfolding in art practice. Disciplines began to merge productively, although often with considerable strains arising from friction between them. Institutional spaces that were previously closed or hard to access began to open up towards new worlds beyond their walls. A brightly coloured chameleon on the very first cover design encapsulated this in a nutshell – as an emblem of imminent changes and re-adjustments to the situation, yet without drifting off into an opportunistic obedience to art market dictates.
20 years later we aim again to expand our gaze beyond the conventional and mainstream, and to counteract the accelerating standstill of the present (to put it polemically) with the prospect of something different, external, of the future. Our ambition is first of all to consider what became of the various upheavals or at least the promises of such dramatic changes in the 1990s. Which of the strategies developed back then, aiming to break out of existing boundaries and establish new constellations, have been realized, and indeed which have not been realized? What kind of recalibrations, in terms of a critical art discourse in tune with our times, still seem to be necessary, seen from the vantage point of the situation today?
On the other hand – and this refers to tangible, everyday work on art as a subject in its own right – we aim to trigger reflections on the type of (re)invigoration that would fit best, from today’s perspective, with the chameleon from those early days.
We have asked a number of artists close to the journal to come up with responses to these questions from their own points of view. Sanja Ivekovi, who has written for springerin on multiple occasions over the years, provides insights into her “Lost & Found” series: views of cultural institutions in former Yugoslavia or in the “new Europe” or, for example, shop fronts bearing the now almost anachronistic name “Solidarity”. Florian Pumhösl, who played a key role in designing the appearance of the original springer, has looked back to the mid-1990s and reworked a motif used on one of the early covers in a different form: a tram’s emergency brake, which may well have much greater symbolic power now than it ever did.
Louise Lawler, to whom we owe the exceptional cover for this edition, has actually spread her contribution throughout the entire edition. Looking to the broader context, a far-reaching “visual text” comes into being, counteracting the sclerotisation of contemporary global politics (drone war) with the lightness of objects and processes from everyday culture (Kölsch beer glasses, pattern-tracing).
The essays in this edition also take up the challenge of combining a sense for what is past with staying on the look-out for a viable future. Brian Holmes uses the ongoing economic crisis as a springboard to ask what kind of aesthetics best does justice to this state of affairs, also in the light of the challenge of overcoming paralysing imprisonment in a log-jammed present. His central example centres on violence from above and potential reparations for such acts, but is also directed to the more general question of which “structures of feeling” might point the way to a more emancipated future. In contrast, Keti Chukhrov addresses the fundamental elements of realism in tune with our times. She finds that only a new definition of the sensual aspects of art, conceived as a radically negative gesture, can push against contemporary alienation under the conditions of global capitalism. Chukhrov also digs deep into the past, looking right back to the teachings of Russian philosopher Michail Lifschitz, who developed his version of an aesthetic of realism as early as the 1930s.
Once again Critical Art Ensemble seeks to think beyond the foundations of realism that is focused on the present, and recaps the development of new experimental practices rooted in networking. The question of whether these practices will be successful is, in CAE’s view, entirely dependent on the broader framework in which this kind of cultural production is situated. Something akin to a movement towards the future can only develop if this framework can be subverted to at least some degree (as artists collective Group Material, led by CAE, has repeatedly managed to do). Abandoning well-trodden paths like this, which is easier said than done, is also a topic tackled by Hans-Christian Dany, who engages in his diagnosis of our era by examining the practice and theory of self-regulating processes. For Dany, as for many others, finding ways to remain attuned to the open-ended and unknown, flying in the face of assertions that future developments can be planned and predicted, is at one and the same time an important contemporary aspiration and a task to be taken on board.
That brings us to the next point on our “To Do” list: we would like to thank our regular readers for remaining loyal to springerin for so many years. Without your sustained trust and interest, the journal would never have been able to develop such resilience over the last 20 years, a resilience that is also the most important guarantee that it will continue to survive in the future.