Issue #22, 2005
Scene

AC:/DC Projects at Ludwig Museum Cologne
Dana Fabini

Christoph Schlingensief and Dan Perjovschi,

July 29 – September 25, 2005

 

 

Ludwig Museum Cologne owns two experimental areas (known as AC:/DC) where, starting November 2001, project exhibitions are organ­ized constantly in the aim to produce tension and to surprise the public with congenial themes and stylistic approaches.

Under the title Kunst veröffentlichen, the action is a collaboration between artists, Ludwig Museum and Stadt Revue – the cultural monthly of the city of Cologne, wherein a 16 pages insert is published containing images, texts and interviews commenting the exhibition events. From the very start of the action (initiated by the museum director, Kasper König) and until today charismatic personalities of the international art scene have been invited: Isa Genzken, Wolfgang Tilmans, Fischli/Weiss, Per Kirkeby, Bruce Nauman, Jörg Immendorf, Ex Argentina, Georges Adeagbo, etc.

For the connoisseur, the presentation Schlingensief/Perjovschi in July-September 2005 has subtly questioned not only the individual creative offer of the two artists but also an implicit comparison of their means of expression, highly personalized and owing to a different background in terms of politics and art, but equally rooted in social-political issues of extreme topicality. One can say without mistake that both artists have acquired in their respective countries an aura of enfant terrible as they were promoted positively in the media but also in negative terms in the specialized milieus. This is a no surprise situation if we take into account the clear-cut attitude of the artists who constantly ridicule, with fun and sharp criticism, explosive situations of the societies they live in but also of the global context.

AC: Christoph Schlingensief, Church of Fear

As Till Briegleb1 observes, no other German director deserves better than Schlingensief the attribute politic in the last years for the theatre and the actions he performs. His first films, from the ’80s, about Hitler, rapists and obsessed criminals who abuse society, followed by his theatre plays from the ’90s on the Berlin scenes, which demolish German icons such as Rudi Dutsche, Helmuth Kohl or Rosa Luxemburg, down to his recent actions in public spaces, all of Schlingensief’s approach­es seem to have in common the warning he cries out loud: don’t trust any certainty!

Professional provoker, clown, out with the bastard, no more director fee are just a few of the labels this artist acquired and he doesn’t give a damn about how his work is received and, at most, he finds in this nega­tive reactions material for new projects. Taking theatre to the street, in the good old tradition of Viennese actionism, of the movements like fluxus and performance, Schlingensief’s recent cultural exploits under­mine with vehemence present attitudes and ideologies. In Chance 2000 for example, he installs a container in central Vienna and simulates a kind of Big Brother game with asylum seekers wherein the last one left in the container has the right to a residence permit in Austria. The game is taken seriously and for authentic by the passers-by. Another example is his staging of Hamlet in Zurich with apparently repentant neo-nazis who are in mea culpa. This is an opportunity for him to invent a rehabili­tation program for the extreme right nationalists. Regardless of the theme he chooses – the mentally disabled, video pornography, interna­tion­al terrorism or politicians –, Schlingensief manages every time to surprise and provoke the public opinion and also that of the specialists. Even if he irritates or outrages people disobeying the rules of any con­sensus or tacit comfort, what he initiates is interesting for its topicality and the courage of the approach.

Churchof Fear has been created by Schlingensief together with 8 other founders at the beginning of the Iraq war, on March 20, 2003, and was proclaimed a public alliance of fear. After being first presented to the public as an information center at the Venice Biennial in 2003, this alliance counts today approximately 100 communities based in cities such as Frankfurt, Katmandu, Kabul, Paris, London, Rome, New York, Bombay, Vienna, etc. and over 370 sympathizing groups all over the world. Following the same basic pattern with slight variations in each location – a small wooden Caribbean style church wherein muezzin music is played and propaganda leaflets or membership declarations can be found –, Church of Fear dwells on the southern terrace of the Ludwig Museum overlooking the Cologne Dome. It is presented (not by chance) in parallel with the actions initiated in the city for the 20th International Day of the Youth celebrated in Cologne under the patronage of Pope Benedict XVI. (The election of the new Pope, of Bavarian origin, made many Germans state with patriotic pride: Wir sind Papst – We are Pope, and for the public event in Cologne thousands of pins with this slogan have been hand out free of charge.)

Churchof Fear, COF in short, under the protection of the democratic concepts pertaining to art institutions, propagates a kind of sacred-profane moral, preaching fear and right to fear under slogans such as: Fear is power! You have the right to be afraid! Fear is our explosive! We believe in nothing anymore! Faith has been taken away from us, but fear cannot be taken away! The battle against those concentrating fear in parliaments and media, on the market and in the circus arena has begun! No leader and no God will guide you! You are the action!

The underlying idea of these slogans is that all communities and faith systems (not necessarily the religious ones) in all times, maintain power putting to good use a sick frustration mood of the population, a mood capable of producing fear. COF proposes, like other of Schlingensief’s actions, a fundamental suspicion: instrumentalization of frustration, weak­ness and human pain with no scruple by pseudo-prophets and TV preachers who claim to be the carriers of absolute messianic truths for all mankind. Without making any redemption promises and without impos­ing to the followers any dogma, COF aims at molding this fear in a simi­lar way to the therapy art, first and foremost by raising awareness about it. Fear is the command, and confessing it, endorsing it prevents its pro­duction and use from the outside by false leaders, either political or reli­gious ones. It is of crucial importance in this process to identify the lobbies that speculate on this fear and that are diversely distributed in certain systems. TV shows, new economy directions presented as apoc­ryphal writings or fixed hierarchies, they all have in common a kind of sect missionary role that, according to COF, is not specific only to reli­gious systems outside the church but to any dominant system of public opinion and faith inducing. Redemption promises and paradise-like moods preached by the various spokesmen of such systems are ridiculed and perceived as anachronic in a modern society in ongoing change. Rationally analyzing the production of fear as power, COF demystifies the fear inducers in order to warn people about the manipulations engineered in politics, media, culture, economy, religion, etc.

Schlingensief’s actions, which function because of the entertainer quali­ties of the author endowed with the sense of satire, break the taboos and fight hard against the missionary hypocrisy of any kind that abuses shame­lessly of ideas that are essentially moral such as solidarity, honesty or humanity and stir instead confusion and panic amongst people.

For those who understand Schlingensief’s working method, which consists of calling to morality precisely with the means of a distorted harmony, his action theatre, despite the aggressive associative style, doesn’t shock anymore but invites to introspection and social analysis. One can say that through the institutional form of organization it puts into practice, Church of Fear practices in fact the creation, development and end of a sect-like community and confronts the differences between the systems of faith based on confession and hope and the markets based on facts and data, sketching the image of a society adrift, at the risk to lose faith in everything.

DC: Dan Perjovschi, Naked Drawings

Dan Perjovschi is perceived in the Romanian artistic milieus in the same contradictory manner as Schlingensief is in the German ones. Although his working method is obviously different from a stylistic viewpoint, in terms of concept it pertains to the same critical analysis of society meant to ridicule with fun and lucidity the socio-political mechanisms in the national or international context, which becomes of course provoking and unsettling for those who have too much community sect-like spirit.

The kind of satire drawing that Perjovschi practices is in the same time a diagnosis of the present society and a space of free opinion and non-inhibited communication that parodies the thinking clichés of the social body as well as the lack of responsibility of the individual (either public person or anonymous). This kind of drawing, described as “simple and direct as a boxing kick” by the German press2 on the occasion of the ex­hi­bition at the Ludwig Museum, is reduced to the essentials. He doesn’t describe but notes, doesn’t edit but points the finger. The image often becomes a kind of logo and is accompanied with text, also reduced to essence, unsophisticated and functional, in a language similar to the drawings. Perjovschi confesses that he intentionally developed this kind of drawing that anyone could do, he says, refusing deliberately an aca­dem­ic art education, excessively oriented toward formal esthetic specu­lation that is complacent with stylistic exercises hermetic to the wide public. In opposition and taking up a democratic vision, he offers an art for everybody’s understanding, cleaned of the suffocating pretensions of some esthetic clichés, an art which is close to the people, with topics from real life and wanting to communicate with as many layers of public as possible aiming at a dialog of ideas. For this purpose, the drawing is constantly approached through three types of actions: the cartoon drawing printed in the press (inevitably through the job of the artist and his passion to comment on the events in the media), the graffiti drawing in public or private spaces (on walls, floors or ceilings relating to the architecture of the action place) and the usual drawing on paper in the form of true cumulative series with a mix of ideas according to a flexible, dynamic and eloquent syntax.

In the last years, out of his despair to be confronted with financial or orga­nization constrains – always a problem for the east-european artist –, Perjovschi has developed an artistic strategy of maximum freedom of action: armed with only one pencil or a permanent marker he acts work-in-progress wherever he is invited, he faces directly the surroundings and the people and accepts the ephemeral character of his work that, once finished, disappears under new wall painting or is simply washed off remaining only as memory or in catalogs. Such examples are his 1995 anthro-programs in New York, the action at the 1999 Venice Biennial, the 2003 Kokerei Zollverein Essen Biennial or the recent ones (2005) in France (Le Quartier Quimper Gallery and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), the Istanbul Biennial, Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon or the Art Biennial in Prague.

Naked Drawings, the work-in-progress at the Ludwig Museum is inscribed in the same referential system. The space, which always marks the artistic process with dynamics, has had this time a panoramic effect as in a theatre: from the halls of the museum’s permanent collections one could first reach an interior balcony, a loggia in fact 10–15 m high above the working space proper (a large white high square room). The show as seen from the gallery was both dizzying and inciting. The black drawings covering the walls, most of them accompanied by short texts (the punch line or the title) in English, speculated intelligently the surface in various ratios of size and intensity, more or less readable, so that they attract the viewer (initially hypnotized by the panorama) to come down on the scene and look at them closely. Within the space (or the scene) Franz West’s work Kantine was integrated – a sculpture-furniture with simple design, brut and functional, tables and chairs in white cardboard and black iron, highly compatible with the direct line of the drawings on the surrounding walls. On the tables the newspapers and magazines subscripted by the museum for the duration of the Perjovschi action were spread in order to provide him with the mix of news: The Guardian, Newsweek, Le Monde, The International Herald Tribune, etc. The viewer could also read peacefully, watch the artist at work or talk to him commenting together the news or providing him with personal news and ideas, identify with or confront the artist’s opinions, discover critical associations from a catching and funny perspective.

Those who are already familiar with Perjovschi’s actions can notice that on the basis of the usual layers (local and international media, news from individuals, daily experience, etc.) there are drawings that are dated but also repetitive drawings – 30–40% of them. For three years now, regard­less of the location the artist is performing in, his topics are the news in the Balkans, USA, EU, Islam, terrorist attacks, consumption society, high-profile politicians and the artist condition in society. The specific and dated themes are usually connected to the immediate context (here the city of Cologne and its issues) or to press events whose meaning doesn’t trigger a generally constant interest. Ludwig Museum has allowed the freedom to tackle any subject, no taboos, including that of attacking any open space of the museum – a freedom that Perjovschi used widely acting like a pirate in the museum, inserting graffiti in the halls with contemporary collections, in staircases and hallways, in corners and on ceilings, in less visible or difficult access spots. Moreover, during the exhibition he published on a weekly basis cartoon inserts in die taz commenting the happenings of the day so that, as director Kasper König remarked, he not only took ideas from the newspapers for his drawings but he reciprocated offering the newspapers ideas through his drawings.

The Prophet President and the Gun Who Dreamed to Be a Tank

It is pointless to make again overdone comparisons between the charms and stigmata of western and eastern democracy, with the difference in the concept of museum as institution, with the alternatives of the art scene, the media offers or the pure interpersonal communication over there and over here. This kind of opposition, them and us that we use in daily language has without a doubt a segregationist connotation presup­posing a false representation on particular. An attitude of democratic respect names the individuality without reacting in a tribal way.

But what deserves to be said here is the wonderful communication that a well conceived and organized exhibition can achieve. The alternative Schlingensief/Perjovschi at the Ludwig Museum, beyond the common adhesion to the dialog of concrete and topical ideas, has underlined the fact that these artists mirror implicitly the dilemmas of the society they live in. Through the form and idea of art they practice, they are exam­ples of the capacity to criticism and action of these societies and of the national context in comparison with the global socio-politic context.

They both are socially committed artists and moralists leading caustic combats against the confiscation and distortion of the democratic ideals. Schlingensief’s morals have structure, manifest, tradition, institution and references. Perjovschi’s morals are configured, make fun of everything indifferently, are spontaneous, dedicated and of conquering vitality. The play with the mechanism of power and the demystification of the false leaders pertains to both. Schlingensief denigrates the prophetic presidents and the corporations behind them through a church of fear wherein everyone has the right to plan fictitious terrorist attacks in a clearly organized form. Perjovschi makes us laugh with the image of the gun who dreamed to be a tank, in an amalgam of cartoons ridiculing incisively and unveiling the false discourses. Both caricature the mechan­isms of power with its own instruments: the institution with Schlingensief and the logo with Perjovschi. In a comparison in the field of art, both forms have the same communication power and abide by an esthetic of similar concepts.

And the amount of love or hate Schlingensief or Perjovschi stir in their origin milieus has no relevance whatsoever in regard to the interest they stir in the wide world.

Translated by Izabella Badiu

 

Notes:

1. 27 July 2005, http://www.schlingensief.com/index_ger.html.

2. The expression is Julia Friedrich’s, the curator of Naked Drawings.