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Konzept

Schon oft diente der Deutsche Pavillon als ein künstlerischer Echoraum deutscher Geschichte und Identität. In diesem Jahr ist der große stille Raum mit seiner enormen Höhe und dem entsprechenden Volumen ein Resonanzraum, in dem der Produktionstakt einer globalisierten Welt zu vernehmen ist. Ausgehend von ihrer unterschiedlichen Reflexion der Begriffe Arbeit, Migration und Revolte verwandeln die vier künstlerischen Positionen das Gebäude in eine Fabrik, in eine imaginäre, verschwundene, virtuelle Fabrik, in eine Fabrik der politischen Erzählungen und der Analyse unserer Bildkultur.

Die Akteure, die die Arbeiten von Olaf Nicolai, Hito Steyerl, Tobias Zielony und des Künstlerpaars Jasmina Metwaly / Philip Rizk bevölkern, sind Figuren des Aufbegehrens und der Revolte. In allen vier Arbeiten begegnen sie uns, seien sie theatralischer, fotografischer, filmischer, virtueller und oder leibhaftiger Natur. Für diesen Pavillon des Aufbegehrens und der widerständigen Bilder stellt die vertikale Interpretation und Nutzung des Gebäudes gleich mehrere Bühnen bereit: von einer Art Basement bis hin zum Dach. Nicht zuletzt erscheint das Dach als Heterotopie, als ein ›anderer Ort‹, an dem sich Freiheit denken lässt.

Olaf Nicolai setzt das Dach als Schauplatz einer sieben Monate andauernden Aktion in Szene. Seine Protagonisten gehen dort einer rätselhaften Tätigkeit nach, einer Schattenökonomie unter gleißender Sonne. Die Choreografie seiner Figuren changiert zwischen funktionaler Handlung (der tatsächlichen Herstellung eines Objekts) und der ästhetischen Dimension dieses Tuns.

Hito Steyerls Videoinstallation Factory of the Sun zeigt eine Welt in Aufruhr und eine Bilderwelt im Aufbruch. In ihr geht es um die Übersetzung realer politischer Figuren in virtuelle Figuren, um eine neuartige Erfahrung des Bildermachens und -erlebens zwischen dokumentarischer Haltung und völliger Virtualität. Das neue ›digitale Licht‹ ist das zentrale Medium des Transfers von den Resten des Realen in eine zirkulierende, digitale Bildkultur.

Tobias Zielonys dokumentarischer Essay besteht aus Fotografien, die er in Berlin und Hamburg von afrikanischen Refugees gemacht hat. Zum einen sind sie Elemente einer autonomen fotografischen Bilderzählung, zum anderen sind sie Gegenstand zahlreicher Artikel, die afrikanische Autoren in den Herkunftsländern der Protagonisten, im Sudan, in Kamerun und Nigeria, in Zeitungen veröffentlichten.

Ein filmisch-experimentelles Kammerspiel ist die Videoinstallation von Jasmina Metwaly und Philip Rizk. Für ihr Filmprojekt Out on the Street hat das Künstlerpaar Kairoer Arbeiter und Arbeitslose in ein improvisiertes Studio auf dem Dach eines Wohnblocks eingeladen, um dort ihre eigene Geschichte von den Herrschaftsverhältnissen anhand einer privatisierten und abgewickelten Fabrik zu erzählen.

Nicht zuletzt lässt sich der Pavillon aber auch als eine Parabel für die Metamorphose von Bildern lesen, von Bildern im Sinne der klassischen Aufzeichnung hin zur Generierung, Verarbeitung und Projektion von Bildern. Aber auch als Statement zu einem veränderten Gebrauch der Bilder, der die Grenzen zwischen Dokument, Zeugenschaft und Fiktion verwischt.

 

Florian Ebner
Kurator Deutscher Pavillon 2015
Leiter Fotografische Sammlung Museum
Folkwang, Essen

Künstler

Jasmina Metwaly / Philip Rizk

Geboren 1982 in Warschau / Geboren 1982 in Limassol, Zypern
Leben und arbeiten in Kairo
Seit 2010 arbeiten Metwaly und Rizk regelmäßig zusammen
Biografie [PDF, 94 KB]

 

Out on the Street, 2015
Draw It Like This, 2015

 

In den Räumen Rooftop 1 und Rooftop 2 zeigen die in Kairo lebenden Künstler und Filmemacher Jasmina Metwaly und Philip Rizk eine Film- und Soundinstallation sowie eine skulpturale Arbeit.

Out on the Street ist ein Werk der Fiktion. Die Haltung, die Metwaly and Rizk gegen neoliberale Prozesse in Ägypten einnehmen, führt nicht in eine dokumentarische Bestandsaufnahme, vielmehr verfolgt das Künstlerduo mit seinem Filmprojekt eine Form des Theaters. Auf die Dachterrasse eines Kairoer Wohnblocks luden sie eine Gruppe von Arbeitern ein, um die Privatisierung einer Fabrik in Szene zu setzen, durchsetzt mit den alltäglichen Erfahrungen der Akteure. Ein großes Zelt auf dem Dach wurde zur Bühne ihres Films, sie betrieben dort keine reine Nachinszenierung, sondern improvisierten ein eigenes Stück. Die gemeinsam erarbeiteten emblematischen Szenen bringen die in Ägypten wirksamen Mechanismen der Macht und deren Sprache, die alltäglichen Demütigungen durch Vorgesetzte und die Willkür der Polizei zum Ausdruck.

Für die skulpturale Arbeit Draw It Like This im zweiten Seitenraum haben Metwaly und Rizk die Bodenfliesen des Kairoer Dachs verlegt, auf denen die Grundrisse der imaginären Fabrik nachgezeichnet sind. Die Fliesen zeugen von dem, was zuvor auf ihnen stattfand; jetzt, herausgerissen aus ihrer ursprünglichen Konstellation, haben sie ihre einstige Funktion verloren. Als ortspezifische Installation – im Besonderen als Bodenarbeit – lassen sie sich auch als Referenz an frühere Arbeiten im Deutschen Pavillon lesen. Draw It Like This ist kein Werk der Fiktion, es ist eine Karte, die nicht nachgezeichnet werden kann.

Olaf Nicolai

Geboren 1962 in Halle (Saale)
Lebt und arbeitet in Berlin
Seit 2011 Professor für Bildhauerei und Grundlagen des dreidimensionalen Gestaltens an der Akademie der Bildenden Künste München
Biografie [PDF, 68 KB]

 

GIRO, 2015
Lucarne, 2015

 

Während der Dauer der Biennale Arte halten sich drei Personen auf dem Dach des Deutschen Pavillons auf. Ungesehen von den Besuchern gehen sie dort einer rätselhaften Arbeit nach, einer Schattenökonomie unter gleißender Sonne. Sichtbar werden die Akteure erst, wenn sie von Zeit zu Zeit an den Rand des Daches treten, um Bumerangs zu werfen. Sie suchen nach einer geeigneten Flugkurve und der dafür idealen Form des Wurfobjekts. Die Bumerangs stellen sie in einer Werkstatt her, deren Umrisse allenfalls aus der Ferne auszumachen sind.

GIRO bezieht seine Spannung aus eben diesem dialektischen Zusammenspiel des Exponierens und Sich-Entziehens der Akteure, aus der Funktionalität ihres Tuns und der ästhetischen Dimension ihrer Choreografie. Die archaische Geste des Wurfs geht einher mit der zur Schau gestellten Möglichkeit des Scheiterns. Nicolais Aktion ist auch eine Meditation über Formen von Ökonomie – die künstlerischen Artefakte, die als Teil der Aktion entstehen, entziehen sich der sofortigen Umwandlung in rentable Kunstobjekte. Stattdessen wandert jede Woche eine Anzahl der fertigen Objekte an fliegende Händler, eine andere Schattenwirtschaft der Stadt.

Eine von Olaf Nicolai eingesetzte industrielle Dachluke im ersten Stock des Pavillons, die unter anderem die Funktion der Belüftung erfüllt, lenkt zugleich die Blicke der Besucher nach oben und erinnert an das Geschehens auf dem Dach.

Hito Steyerl

Geboren 1966 in München
Lebt und arbeitet in Berlin
Seit 2011 Professorin für Experimentellen Film und Video (Neue Medien) an der Universität der Künste Berlin
Biografie [PDF, 51 KB]

 

Factory of the Sun, 2015

 

Mit dem emphatischen Begriff des Sonnenlichts, diesem alten Symbol des Fortschritts, führt uns Hito Steyerls Factory of the Sun auf dialektische Weise, ebenso kritisch wie spielerisch, ins Zentrum der Debatten über unsere digitale Gegenwart. Nicht ohne beißende Ironie verrechnet Steyerl das utopische Potenzial des Internets mit seiner ›tödlichen Transparenz‹. Die Arbeit mimt die Form eines Computerspiels, um aus dieser vitalsten Form populärer Unterhaltung heraus die bessere Kampfposition einzunehmen. Denn es geht darum, die verbliebenen Handlungsspielräume der politischen Individuen und Subjekte auszuloten und zu verteidigen, angesichts der unentwirrbaren Verflechtungen von digitalen Informationsströmen, ökonomischen Interessen und sozialen und kulturellen Verwerfungen. Dabei basiert alles in diesem Spiel auf der Körperlosigkeit des Lichts als Träger von Informationen, Körpern, Werten.

Wie die verschiedenen Modes eines Computerspiels changiert der Film zwischen unterschiedlichen Realitätsebenen. Die Erzählerin ist zugleich die Programmiererin des Spiels, dessen Protagonisten uns als Zwangsarbeiter in einem ›Motion Capture Studio‹ vorgestellt werden – jene technische Einrichtung, die die Bewegungen einer Person in Lichtimpulse verwandelt und so die Grundlage für die Bewegung der Figuren in der virtuellen Realität des Spiels bildet. Innerhalb der wilden Montage ist der Tanz der Motor für die fortschreitende Metamorphose der Bilder. Zugleich ist er die spielerischste Form des Widerstands der jungen Protagonisten gegen die Übermacht ihrer unsichtbaren Kontrahenten.

Tobias Zielony

Geboren 1973 in Wuppertal
Lebt und arbeitet in Berlin
Biografie [PDF, 46 KB]

 

The Citizen, 2015

 

Tobias Zielonys Serie The Citizen setzt sich mit einer der großen politischen Fragen der Gegenwart auseinander, mit der Präsenz des ›Anderen‹, verkörpert durch afrikanische Flüchtlinge. Werden die Migrationsbewegungen unserer Zeit oftmals auf die Tragödien an den Außengrenzen der ›Festung Europa‹ reduziert, richtet sich Zielonys Blick auf die Selbstdarstellung dieser Menschen, auf ihre persönlichen Geschichten, auf ihren Anspruch, als politische Subjekte in Deutschland ernst genommen zu werden. Sie protestieren gegen die Einschränkung iherer Bewegungsfreiheit, gegen das Verbot zu arbeiten oder zu studieren.

Dieses neue Selbstbewusstsein setzt Zielony in seinen Fotografien in Szene und präsentiert diese in großformatigen Wandarbeiten, die das Layout von Zeitungsseiten aufgreifen – nur der Text zwischen den Fotos fehlt. Die Leerstellen verweisen auf die Brüche in den Biografien und auf das, was in der öffentlichen, medialen Debatte ausgespart wird.

Im Gegenzug bat Zielony afrikanische Autoren und Journalisten, sich mit seinen Fotografien auseinanderzusetzen. Die Ergebnisse in Form von Zeitungsartikeln finden sich in großen Schaukästen in der Mitte des Raums. Auf den weiteren Seiten dieser Zeitungen tritt schlaglichtartig die politische und soziale Realität Afrikas in Erscheinung, auf ganz andere Weise als sie in Europa wahrgenommen wird. Für den Besucher liegen Zeitungen zur Mitnahme aus, in der die von Zielony porträtierten Menschen zu Wort kommen.

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“100 Years of Now” 4/4
by Marina Grzinic,

PART 4 of 4

The shame of Europe:  Slovenia referendum on the 20 December 2015

 

I am elaborating racialization as a process of capital’s differentiation between citizens (first and second grade citizens), non-citizens (refuges, asylum seekers), and migrants; they are all violently, but differently, discriminated against, as the labor market under global capitalism imposes violent processes of racial, class and gender selection of im/migration in Europe. Europe is renewed today through a genealogy that excludes all those who are seen from its Western perspective as unimportant (that are constructed as subhuman through a process of dehumanization). I stated in the previous post that in  the homophobic Eastern Europe, especially the former Yugoslavia, Russia, etc., we see that the LGBTQI people have the status of second-grade citizens. Slovenia, which was a “model State” for neoliberal privatization, is today a turbo fascist neoliberal wreck that rejected a referendum in 2012 that proposed a family law which made it possible to regulate same-sex partnerships and other basic rights of the LGBTQI population in Slovenia.

Prior to the referendum in 2012 Tatjana Greif, Slovenian lesbian activists and prominent writer,   prophetically stated that “the judgment whether the majority of the population taking part at the referendum will be deciding about human rights of a minority is in the hands of the Constitutional Court. From the early initiatives for equality of same-sex couples and families before the law in the middle of the 1980s, through the paper- based draft laws in the 1990s and the passing of the controversial Registration of Same-Sex Civil Partnership Act (ZIPS) in 2005, up to today’s Family Law Act we are moving forward and backward little by little.” (1)

The leader of the civil initiative and of the campaign against gays and lesbians human rights in 2012 and as well the one promoting the referendum in 2015  is Aleš Primc.

Tatjana Greif explained that “this is the same Aleš Primc who in 2001 organized the civil initiative and the campaign against human rights of single women and gathered signatures for the referendum against artificial insemination. He succeeded back then. As much as 88% of those who attended the referendum took away from unmarried women the right to medically assisted artificial insemination. Public opinion expressed indignation at the idea of lesbians or disabled women having the right to children. However, these women have had children to this day despite undemocratic referendum decision. The public debate around the referendum about artificial insemination was, just as the debate around the referendum about Family Code, an example of hostile speech in its rawest form. What will be the outcome of this referendum remains a question to be answered considering the judicial and political moves of the governing regime which are unstable, unreliable and unworthy of civil credo. For this checkmate situation one is not to blame Primc and the crusade troops, since standing behind the puppet machinery are the Catholic Church and political parties directed by the Vatican. A sharper blow, however, is the recognition that the political system and Slovenian legislation has allowed and enabled for three decades the civil inequality and violation of rights of LGBT minorities. The huge lack of political will for the legalization of gay and lesbian rights, the silent consent to be sacrificial lambs of social minorities, panic avoidance of the voting risk of human rights of gays and lesbians, fear of political discourse about enacting sexual rights and legal arrangements of sexual citizenship reflect the moral paranoia of the left- and right-wing parties and are at the same time the most fertile environment for launching the ecclesiastic agenda. Fear, perseverance and renouncement. Repression and discrimination.” (Greif. Ibid)

The results of the referendum in 2012 in Slovenia, when 54.55% of voters rejected a law that would have expanded rights for same-sex registered partnerships, proved to be as announced by Tatjana Greif, just the beginning of a huge saga of homophobic, turbo fascist violent measures sanctioned by the Slovenian state. As a new referendum on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage will be held in Slovenia on 20 December 2015.

That in Slovenia is to be held in 2015 another shameful referendum is scandalous, though this seems not at the center of preoccupation of the EU. The Occident does not want to deal with it, and therefore engages in all imaginable post-human modes, while the present and historical modes of Occidental colonial de-humanization remain largely undiscussed. Gabriele Dietze writes in “Occidentalism. European Identity and Sexual Politics” that “Occidentalism does not only generate the fiction of liberated women and liberal men who provide freedom and rights, but also claims a special brand of enlightened relationship to homosexuality. In addition to women’s liberation, the tolerance of homosexuality is assessed as an ultimate proof of European superiority. The corresponding German discourse still betrays the effort involved in making the claim, because homosexuality has been completely legal only in the last 15 years. ‘Gay marriage’ has only been in place since 2001 (after a bitter fight stopping just short of the Supreme Court). The newness of the anti-discrimination legislation concerning homosexuality did not preclude making the tolerance of homosexuality a major imperative for granting German citizenship.”(2)

Online is given a dry history of the events prior to this shameful referendum on 20 December 2015 in Slovenia.

On 3 March 2015 the National Assembly passed a bill to amend the Marriage and Family Relations Act to the effect that same-sex couples could get married, after which opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum. On 26 March, the National Assembly voted to block the referendum on the ground that it would violate the constitutional provision which prohibits popular votes on laws eliminating unconstitutionality in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The proponents of a referendum appealed to the Constitutional Court, which on 22 October declared that the National Assembly does not have the ability to declare a referendum unconstitutional. The National Assembly thus on 4 November scheduled a referendum to be held on 20 December 2015. Per article 90 of the Constitution a law is rejected if “a majority of voters who have cast valid votes vote against the law, provided at least one fifth of all qualified voters have voted against the law”. A poll from November 2015 showed that 46% of respondents support and 54% oppose the bill. The poll suggests a strong division between different groups. While most women, atheists and residents of urban areas support the bill, a significant majority of men, Catholics and rural population oppose it.

For an end without an end, as stated by Maldonado-Torres, “these dehumanizing forces, logics, and discourses hardly seem to find an end in the current neoconservative and neoliberal moment or in the liberal and Eurocentric radical responses that it sometimes generates. Continued […] polarities between sectors considered more human than others, the accelerated rhythm of capitalist exploitation of land and human labor – sometimes facilitated, as Fanon put it, by neocolonial elites among the groups of the oppressed themselves – as well as anxieties created by migration and rights claims by populations considered pathological, undesirable, or abnormal (to name only a few of the most common issues found today), make clear that decolonization will remain unfinished for some time.” (3)

 

(1) Tatjana Greif,  “Thank you for not tearing down the fence,” in DE-ARTIKULACIJA, no 1, 2012. Project within the visual segment of 15th Biennial of Art: DE/RE/CONSTRUCTION: space, time, memories in Pančevo, Serbia.

(2) Gabriele Dietze, “Occidentalism, European Identity, and Sexual Politics”, in: Hauke Brunkhorst and Gerd Groezinger (eds.), The Study of Europe, Baden Baden, Nomos, 2010.

(3) Nelson Maldonado-Torres, “Thinking through the Decolonial Turn: Post-continental Interventions in Theory, Philosophy, and Critique – An Introduction”, Transmodernity, Fall 2011, 1

“100 Years of Now” 3/4
by Marina Grzinic,

PART 3 of 4
Coloniality

 

At this point it is important to state that in the case of Eastern Europe, the former means that the historical processes of evacuation, abstraction, and expropriation are actually ‘over’ (as it was proclaimed by Germany in 2009, celebrating its twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Come, come to the country without borders” – and I would say without history as well); but in the case of the former Western Europe, it implies a purely performative, empty, speculative gesture. While the East is increasingly excluded from history, knowledge, memory, etc., the West is just performing its supposed obsolescence.

Terms such as Third World and First World are very problematic and can be seen as oversimplifying methodologies. Though taking this comment by Chandra Talpade Mohanty into account, I refer to these worlds as nomenclatures that denote possible conditions of formation and develop different strategies of empowerment. (1)

Making the West/East divide obsolete after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the EU allows for a repetition and subsequently a multiplication of another division in the EU: the Occident/Orient division. This presents a new normativization of the re/construction of the European Union (EU) as a unified entity (the One), and also it works by individuating a new Other in this newly-homogenized EU space. The question is why? The answer is, according to Gabriele Dietze, that this allows for dispensing with a substantial contingent of im/migrants, refugees, sans-papier (paperless), and asylum seekers composed of former colonized peoples from North Africa to Pakistan, Indonesia, etc., coming to Europe.(2) They are today represented as the new Other through the internalizing of the global external division produced after 2001 as the clash between the occidental, capitalist, Western, and civilized modes of life, culture, the social, and the political, as well as the Oriental, barbaric, noncivilized life of the Other(s). This turn was well defined in a German context with the title of an article by Stephen Brown for Reuters in 2010, “German Muslims must obey law, not sharia: Merkel.”

In the back of these genealogies stays the old ‘former’ Western Europe and its core of states, more to the point: Germany. It has been active throughout the 1990s and in the 2000s (until the 20th anniversary in 2009) with supporting (selecting and awarding in collaboration with many other EU states and EU agencies and West European branches and NGOs) numerous projects with which, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the nonexistent former communist East Germany (that was integrated after 1989 inside the powerful capitalist and democratic West Germany) had to be constantly reflected in relation and through other former Eastern European realities. Finally, all of them together as ‘a package’ in 2009 were speedily washed from their communist (or better to say, as it exposed, totalitarian) past. Parallel to the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the project “Former” West (2008–2014) was launched in order to constitute one single and at the same time historically-‘purified’ Europe, or more accurately stated: the EU.

Actually, what we see in front of us is a perverse logic that is not simply about a new “enlightened logic” of the “former” West being more civilized than the former East, but a process of new racialized discrimination politics in global capitalist neoliberal Western societies that take into its borders those “others” that were discriminated against in the past (for example the white gays and lesbians, queer, etc., as Western nation-State citizens) while at the same time producing new Others in the EU: migrants, refugees, sans-papiers, people and women of colour coming from other parts of the world and religious backgrounds.

In the homophobic Eastern Europe, especially the former Yugoslavia, Russia, etc., on the contrary we see that the LGBTQI people have the status of second-grade citizens. Slovenia, which was a “model State” for neoliberal privatization, is today a turbo fascist neoliberal wreck that rejected a referendum in 2012 that proposed a family law which made it possible to regulate same sex partnerships and other basic rights of the LGBTQI population in Slovenia.

So how to understand these differences between the West and the East in the EU?

It is important to state that this is not a case of some backwards populations. We are witnessing a change, the shift of the former Western nation-States, that are all colonial and anti-Semitic, into what is today possible to conceive of as the war-State; in the meantime, all the former Eastern European states are within the EU as just nation-State (s). Therefore, while the war-State(s) militarize (and include the former [LGBTQI] white Others into the military machine, while also producing new Others), the nation-State(s), as we know from history, violently patriarchalize and produce second-grade citizens inside its nation-body based on a firm homophobic, chauvinistic psychosis.

The violent effect of the substitution of biopolitics by necropolitics is evident in the process of granting citizenship. An illustrative case is the case of Italian Lampedusa, when 350 refugees from Africa drowned in a single day on October 12, 2013. But this was just an additional confirmation, crystallization as those following Deleuze will say, of the alarming scale of the refugee crisis in the EU going on daily and lasting more than a decade. However, the most perverse situation happened afterwards, when these hundreds of dead bodies were given Italian citizenship (but only so that the Italian government and the EU could bury them in Italy – it was obviously cheaper than to send the dead bodies back to their countries of origin and to their respective families). The Italian government decided to prosecute the few who did survive, as they tried to illegally enter Italy and the EU. This is the clearest sign of the perverse and violent new attitude that Western Europe has toward human rights (after the West had been heavily capitalizing its democracy on it for decades) and the occurrence of a new category of citizenship – the necropolitical citizenship.

The colonial/racial division is applied to citizenship, and we have two categories of citizenship: one is the category I will name biopolitical citizenship (the EU ‘natural’ nation-State citizens), and the other is necropolitical citizenship given to refugees and sans-papier (paperless) after they die on EU soil. While some are made ‘equal’ the other Others are left to die and are brutally abandoned, or their second-grade status as citizens is fully normalized in the EU.

These processes of invigorated control of borders, expulsion of refugees, etc., are judicially, economically and, last but not least, discursively and representationally (as different semio-technological regimes), ratified, legislated, and normativized. Today it is central to draw a genealogy of racism that parallels capitalism’s historical transformation and historicization.
Racism passed from institutionalized to structural to be today identified as social racism. To talk about social racism means (as argued by Nasim Lomani, an Afghan refugee that works in the immigrant social center run by volunteers in Athens, Steki Metanaston) “to talk about an all-pervasive racism; its violence legitimized by the State itself.”

Contemporary social racism is an all-pervasive racism that fully impregnates the neoliberal social body and is approved by the EU governments. It is socially-approved and internalized to such a micro level that the structures of violence produced by social racism are said to be a type of (micro) fascism. Making reference to Étienne Balibar’s repeated interventions on racism already in 1988 before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it is possible to claim that social racism constitutes the essential form of “European apartheid”.(3)

 

(1) Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western eyes. Knowing Academic and colonial discourses”, in: AA.VV, Postcolonial Studies, Madrid, 2008.

(2) Gabriele Dietze, “Occidentalism, European Identity, and Sexual Politics”, in: Hauke Brunkhorst and Gerd Groezinger (eds.), The Study of Europe, Baden Baden, Nomos, 2010.

(3) Étienne Balibar, “Y a-t-il un ‘neo-racisme’?” [“Is there a ‘néo-racism’?”], in: Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein (eds.), Race, Nation, Classes: Les identités ambiguës [Race, Nation, Classes: Ambiguous Identities], Paris, La Découverte, 1988.

“100 Years of Now” 2/4
by Marina Grzinic,

PART 2 OF 4
Racialization

 

When I started to write the first part of the four segments, having been invited to submit on this blog, we were still living in another Europe. This was the Europe (and / or the European Union) before the Paris’ attacks, when at least 129 people were killed and hundreds were injured, on Friday, November 13, 2015.

After November 13, 2015, Europe radically changed: fear is all around; police and military patrols’ fully equipped are on the streets of Paris, Brussels, etc., massive detentions, alerts on airports, many public events are canceled because of security reasons (or just fault panic information). France, Belgium, Italy, BiH, Croatia, etc., have all increased security at their borders since the Paris’ attacks. We also witness in just 2 months a radical change of the EU politics in relation to what is called the refugee crisis, or, as I have been arguing for a while, would be better to call “the (West) European’s crisis” of human rights politics that started to deteriorate progressively after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

I wrote and published in 2013 on e-flux on what was at that point globally not known, and that was the Refugee Protest Camp in Vienna. I titled my analysis “The Refugee Protest Camp in Vienna and the European Union’s Processes of Racialization, Seclusion, and Discrimination.”

I exposed that “The question of human rights started to visibly disintegrate after the fall of the Berlin Wall. After 1989, the emergence of global capitalism caused refugee and asylum policy in Europe to deteriorate. It is said that the employment restrictions imposed in the EU today are meant to protect the citizens of the EU, especially in Western Europe, so their living standards do not decline. We are well-aware that wages have remained stagnant for a decade. Protests in the public spaces of European democracy are frequently suppressed by police and military forces (authorized by laws that originated in colonial times, as is the case in France).

In the biopolitics of the West, citizens are strongly differentiated in terms of class, gender, and race – differentiations, discriminations, and exploitations that multiply globally. This is not just a question of ‘diversity,’ as it is constantly presented to the public. On the contrary, the former proletariat has changed into a precariat, and increasingly sees itself as ‘the wretched of the earth.’ The perspective of the world seen from the side of the colonized, as formulated in Frantz Fanon’s famous work written during the Algerian anti-colonial struggle of the 1960s, shows that EU biopolitics is constantly reproduced by and through necropolitics.” (1)

Saher Selod, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Simmons College of Arts and Sciences, Boston, US, who studies the racialization of Muslims in the United States, and who argues that the experiences of Muslims is racial in nature, emphasizes one of my main thesis regarding the refuges’ flows in Europe. I argue that the way how the “former” West and today’s EU have been managing the situation of refugees is primarily a process of racialization.

Selod stated that Vilna Bashi Treitler makes a persuasive argument in “Social Agency and White Supremacy in Immigration Studies,” (2015) on this topic. Treitler’s article exposes racialization as more appropriate system than assimilation to comprehend the immigrant experience. Selod uncovers via Treitler how integration is not always possible due to structures that are racialized and reject certain groups from gaining access to (any) resources. Even more Selod argues “that racism needs to be understood contextually. Japanese experiences with racism differed during internment due to World War II than they do today. In a similar fashion, Muslims are increasingly experiencing more prejudice and discrimination due to their religious identity than they have in the past. Finally, not all racisms are equal. Experiences with racism and its impact are varied. In other words, racism is fluid.” (2)

Let’s look through what I would call an intensification of racialization of the refugees flow in Europe:

For a long time the refugees have been systematically forced into a situation of impoverishment, deprivation, and seclusion. This process was ignored by the nation-states in the “former” Western European countries. Their living conditions in the EU have gradually deteriorated.
In March 2012 in Würzburg, Germany refugees started a struggle to obtain the most elementary human rights. In November 2012 protests started in Vienna, Austria.

In a good year of the self-organized refugee movement in Europe with clear political demands for work, structures, rights, all came back, more or less, to “business as usual,” and then the case near the Italian island of Lampedusa, when 350 refugees from Africa drowned in a single day on October 12, 2013, presented a new case of EU necropolitics, of a murderous (necro) prevention (also in a form of a complete abandonment) of those trying to reach the EU. After a dense rhetorical stream of empty words by the EU politicians the day after, all went back to business as usual again.
On July 2015 according to the UNHCR the number of asylum applications for the month of June alone was over 28,000, and over 32,000 in July. The numbers started to grow and show a picture of a failed European’s, United States’ and the international agencies’ humanitarism to deal with mostly Syrians that after 5 years of war in their country, a large part under siege of Islamic State (or ISIS), decided to take the ultimate risk and leave the country towards Europe. More than 3 million Syrians have fled already their home country since the start of the civil war in 2011.

In 2015 thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants decided to use the roads across the Balkans to reach Germany, Sweden, and other richer nations. This has paralyzed the asylum system in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, while Hungary decided to construct a wall along the Serbian border. In November 2015 Slovenia began building its own barrier along the border to Croatia. Sweden has imposed temporary border controls, so that authorities could keep up with new arrivals. In the United States, several Republican governors said after the Paris attacks that they won’t accept any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the federal government has pledged to take in next year, citing national-security concerns. To Turkey is even offered visa liberalization with the European Union, if it will be able to “block off the migrant route to the EU.”

In September 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended the Dublin II agreement on the asylum rules, and decided to not send refugees back to the EU countries in which they first registered. On November 12, 2015 Germany decided to go back to Dublin II which means to send refugees back to countries where they first registered. Germany, which once welcomed Syrian refugees, said last week it would send some back to the first EU country they entered. The situation is schizophrenic and what is at stake are people, refugees and/or migrants and their lives.

Europe is at the verge to re-apply national borders of walls and barbed wire. There has been little consensus within the EU on how to handle the “migrant and refugee crisis,” and reaction to the Paris attacks is just another violent response. The refugees have been again and again caught in a situation of systematic abandonment. They have been the victims of a process of racial discrimination that has diminished and depoliticized the concept and the status of human rights.

 

(1) http://www.e-flux.com/journal/a-refugee-protest-camp-in-vienna-and-the-european-union%E2%80%99s-processes-of-racialization-seclusion-and-discrimination/
(2) http://www.racismreview.com/blog/2015/04/07/muslims-racialization-response-to-foner/

“100 Years of Now” 1/4
by Marina Grzinic,

At the Berlin conference with the title “100 Years of Now” HKW, October 2015, I elaborated on three points that are Europe, Racialization and Coloniality.

 

PART 1 OF 4

Europe

 

My initial proposal, in order to tackle the apartheid politics of the European Union – that is mostly the politics of the ‘former’, as they like to call themselves, Western European states, that are almost all colonial and anti-Semitic – is to intensify the political vocabulary of our analysis. Therefore it is necessary to intensify what the theoreticians of the decolonial turn (theoreticians formed by Latin American and the U.S.-Latin American context in the year 2000) propose as their point of departure. They argued rightly that on the back of modernity functions the colonial matrix of power; this matrix, they state, is modernity’s darker side. The colonial matrix of power coined by Anibal Quijano should be, as Joaquín Barriendos argues, understood as a hierarchical power machinery that works throughout capitalism but under an explicit form, of what Anibal Quijano calls the historical-structural heterogeneity; in other words, coloniality (Barriendos talks of coloniality of seeing) is a series of inconsistencies, referrals, and reformulations of the hierarchical model of power, which interconnect in its dis-continuity, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century.(1)

 

Today I propose to investigate the darker side of modernity and to conceive it as the darkest sides of the European Union (EU) and of neoliberal global capitalism. The darkest sides consist of four entangled levels of violent events and processes:
• Two modes of life biopolitics and necropolitics, former Eastern Europe and ‘former’ Western Europe;
• Global capitalism and its processes of financialization, dispossession, repetition, and the never-ending process of capitalist humanization (becoming human), with dehumanization as its darkest side;
• Capital’s racialization as a process of the socialized/normalized system of discrimination, of sorting bodies, labor, and life under the policy of violent exclusion, seclusion, and surveillance, and last, but not least, death and enduring war;
• The question of race, gender, class, citizenship (white citizens and the other: Black European citizens, Chicanas, Asian minorities, regulated migrants, former Eastern Europeans), and non-citizenship (for undocumented migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers).

 

On such a basis it is possible to argue that biopolitics has to be replaced by necropolitics. Necropolitics is the violent execution of bio power, but with the logic of war and the military machine; though we see in neoliberal global capitalism necropolitics, as well the exercising of freedom – that is, according to Sayak Valencia, rather a freedom that only can be understood in the form of one power that seizes the other. This creates a parallel power to the state without fully subscribing to it. As a case in her analysis, Valencia takes the narco-cartels in Mexico and the Mexican state. Necropolitics, coined in 2003 by Achille Mbembe when he was analyzing Africa as post-colony in the time after 2001, is also demanding for a radicalization today. In 2003, two dystopian figures of necropolitics, context and performativity, as exposed by Valencia, both seem free, traveling in narratives and etc., while those presented, transformed, and captured as non-subjects are restrained, exploited and disposed by militarized economic dynamics. For Achille Mbembe, as well as for Giorgio Agamben, the German Nazi state is a perfect example of the sovereignty of death, of necropolitics; Mbembe also identifies the system of slavery as one of the first places of execution of biopolitics, but he exposed that inside the colonies biopolitics worked with necropolitics as a form of governmentality; necropolitics then has its biggest and most lasting form in the state of emergency, and this is a case from past until today.

 

As neoliberal global capitalism seems to be almost an absolute historical form of capitalism in this present moment of historicization of capitalism, that means that it is “pure” in terms of being raw and non-mediated in the way it dispossess and makes surplus value from death, racialization and subjugation. I propose that when speaking of coloniality, racialization and dispossession in the back of the EU and neoliberal global capitalism, we also use absolute comparisons. This is why we need to talk about the darkest sides. We are not ‘pure’, but sold, waged – though again, differently, depending on which side of the colonial/racial divide we are situated.

 

There are two discontinuities in Europe that marked it significantly in the last decades: Europe after the “fall” of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and after the “fall” of the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001. I use the quotation marks because nothing happened by itself! To these two we have to add the crisis that hit the world in 2008, also an outcome of the development of global capitalism in the sector of finance. The outcome has been that Europe/EU has been “reborn”, not in a biopolitical but in a necropolitical mode of global capitalism, and of a capitalist mode of reproduction of life, producing subjectivities. It is possible to state that what happened in the last decade is a “colonizing turn in Western thought,” as described by Nelson Maldonado-Torres, by which we identify that along “the paradigm of discovery, we see the propagation of capitalism, racism, the modern/gender system, and the naturalization of the death ethics of war.”(2)

 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, post-Cold War Eastern Europe was re-launched as the former Eastern Europe in the 1990s to again be made obsolete in 2004 when the most significant enlargement to date of the economic and political union of the West European states known as the European Union (EU) occurred. In 2004, ten former Eastern European countries happily joined the EU and soon, a few years later, some others followed in greater or lesser numbers. Then, in 2008 not only was the crisis chasing and destroying our lives, though differently, depending on our geopolitical position – that means from which side of the colonial/racial divide we were/are situated – but a new project was launched to bring a final end to the former Eastern Europe. This project for contemporary art research, education, publishing and exhibition called Former West was launched in 2008 and continued through 2014. Former West is supported by the European Cultural Foundation (based in the Netherlands, and the project itself is organized and coordinated by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht) and represents a final performative-repetitive rhetoric emptying of the history, politics, economy, and society of the former Eastern Europe and consequently of the EU. It indicates in its title “former”, and without any question mark or hesitation. The West plays with a speculative form of itself; it wants us to think that it is all about fiction[alization], that it is somehow imaginative or fictional. The word ‘former’ presents a speculative setting that gives the West the possibility to repetitively perform its own supposedly outdated or (to put it better) obsolete condition of historical existence; being former means to be passé, and therefore for Western Europe it is not necessary to be conscious of its own historical (colonialism, slavery, vigorous anti-Semitism, exploitation) and contemporary hegemonic regimes of power (based precisely on these ultra-violent processes of past capitalist accumulation) – and therefore not necessary to be responsible for it.

 

In accordance with these claims, I use the word former in ‘former’ Western Europe in quotation marks; the quotation marks point to a performative trope, while in the case of the former Eastern Europe the former denotes its conditions of im/possibility.

 

 

(1) Joaquin Barriendos, “Coloniality of seeing. Visuality, capitalism and epistemological racism”, VV.AA.Desenganche. Other visual elements and sounds, Quito, Tronkal, 2010, 137.

(2) Nelson Maldonado-Torres, “Thinking through the Decolonial Turn: Post-continental Interventions in Theory, Philosophy, and Critique – An Introduction”, Transmodernity, Fall 2011, 1.

Response by Alison Dean
by Jeff Derksen,

In “What Is Already Going On: The Photograph and the Encounter”, Jeff Derksen asks “how can we imagine a critical context in which an image such as the ones of the body of Alan Kurdi can intervene in a political context?” Derksen productively focuses his discussion on the structure of encounter in which the photograph might help to bring about political change. When faced with the same question, however, I consider the possible effects Derksen identifies for the photograph—the potential “interven[tions] into the mode of the production of meaning”, the very processes by which the photographs themselves gain entry “as elements within a possible encounter”—as inseparable from the affects and aesthetics through which they function. Like Derksen, I am considering media images of young Syrian Alan Kurdi. But rather than set a formal reading of the affect of the photograph aside, I want to take up the analysis of affect that Derksen’s approach leaves out.

According to Nicholas Mirzoeff, photographs like those made of Alan Kurdi’s body (a representation that takes an abstract concept or category and represents it in the form of a single, vulnerable body) are able to intervene in political and social discourse largely because they encourage an “unconscious recognition” that ties them to figures familiar from art, history, and religion. “We can open our eyes to this photograph because it reminds us of images we know well,” Mirzoeff claims. As a result, “[s]uch iconic images carry the power of the sacred”[1]. Looking at one of the most widely circulated photographs made on the beach in Bodrum, Turkey, on September 2, 2015, Mirzoeff identifies Sergeant Mehmet Ciplak’s posture as reminiscent of the Virgin Mary holding Christ’s crucified body in Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, or the representation of mother and children in Dorothea Lange’s depression-era Migrant Mother photograph. The photograph of the Sergeant carrying the body of Alan Kurdi is striking because of the violent break it marks; it shows irreparable damage and failed civic responsibility in the form of a deceased child. This photograph also gains force, however, because rather than showing something entirely unique, the image performs a kind of repetition. Even if it is an unconscious echo of iconic imagery, the forms and themes are familiar, and they function within a structure for which viewers have a largely pre-conditioned response.

The photograph Mirzoeff addresses was made by Nilufer Demir, a photographer with the Dogan News Agency. Another, slightly earlier, photograph from the same series shows the body of Alan Kurdi lying on his front, stretched across the line where water meets land. Here, the child’s body recalls that of a sleeping toddler, and that impression is heightened in part by the adult who seems to stand guard beside him. But closer inspection brings a jarring realization. Face-down in the water, this child is not asleep. If a photograph that recalls a mourning Mary figure can guide viewers to unconsciously lower their guard, making them more susceptible to the pathos of the photograph, as Mirzoeff suggests, then this slow double-take encourages a similar process. For the viewer who is navigating through pages of leading headlines and framing commentary (particularly as they appear on a crowded computer screen) the calm, quiet attention this photograph encourages might lull a viewer into looking closely at an image from which they might otherwise turn away. There is an apparent absence of violence. While the photograph looks out onto choppy waves and a relatively uninviting beachfront, the body is not visibly broken, there is no rapid movement blurring the lines, and no aggressive action threatens to erupt within the frame. This illusion of wholeness delays the viewer’s recognition of visual codes associated with war, tragedy, or death. This is an image of atrocity that does not politely announce itself as such upon first glance. As is the case with both images, however, once the viewer realizes the unnatural stillness and impossible posture of the body brought on by rigor mortis, they have already taken the time to look. Perhaps they were comfortable, or partially distracted, and have even allowed themselves to look closely. They have become implicated in the events of the photograph.

But this sense of implication is precarious, and often short-lived. For many, the violence of a photograph lies in the fact that its easy reproduction means there is nothing stable or sacred about the context of the image. Many have decided not to reproduce the photograph based on the fact that, rather than offering some tangible, political impact, it has almost immediately been adapted as a meme, circulated as a social media commodity, and used as clickbait. This double-edged life of the image is not unusual. How effectively certain photographs play on emotional and affective responses largely determines which ones circulate, how far, and for how long.

But first, there must be a photograph to share. There is far more attention paid to Alan Kurdi than to his brother, Ghalib, whose body also washed up ashore, but without Demir there to photograph it. Though both boys appear, smiling, side by side in family snapshots circulated after their deaths, it is Alan’s abject body that has been granted symbolic status. Consider also Rehan Kurdi, Alan and Ghalib Kurdi’s mother, whose identity is commonly reduced in media reports to that of “a woman” who drowned along with the boys. With the notable exception of photographs of her coffin, lined up next to the others (in order to show father and husband Abdullah Kurdi’s loss), Rehan Kurdi is more often visually absent from the images shared in the news and social media. While her individual identity is largely displaced, however, her familial role is necessarily invoked. It is not Rehan Kurdi’s body that anchors the Pietà, or performs the Migrant Mother, but Sergeant Ciplak’s. With this twist on familiar iconography, the photograph of Sergeant Ciplak carrying Alan Kurdi’s body benefits from both a combination of maternal and religious symbolism, and the apparently universalizing authority of a uniformed male body. Now here is a photograph that can travel.

When it comes to photography, affect has both social and economic purchase. It sells papers and lifts website statistics. Not surprisingly, then, the photograph’s mobilization within social media exacerbates the sense that someone like Alan Kurdi has been denied the dignity owed to the dead. As images of his body flash unceremoniously across iPhone screens and are swiped past within Facebook feeds, they are left side by side in the same frame as advertisements, volatile comment threads, and the chatter that clutters the visual field of everyday life. Underlying the objections to reproducing photographs of Alan Kurdi’s body is the idea that the deceased boy does not have the right to choose how he is seen, by whom, or in what context. The nature of these photographs highlights the fact that Alan Kurdi has no control over his (image’s) location and movement. In this sense, the debates surrounding the circulation of these photographs resemble those regarding refugees, migration, and precarious citizenship, writ large. Here, the photographs are repeatedly asked to stand in for, and as, the bodies and situations they depict.

A kind of repetition with a difference, photographs such as these do have the potential to open up a space for awareness and change. As Jeff Derksen attests, however, the photograph is only one element in a potential encounter. Within this model, the circulation of affect is a valuable part of the critical discussion regarding the mobilization of photography for social and political change. The real danger is, of course, that the focus can shift entirely to debate over the life of the photograph and concern over the precarity of images, rather than the actual lives—and the very real political responsibility we have to them—that the photographs represent.

 

[1] “Don’t Look Away from Aylan Kurdi’s Image.” https://theconversation.com/dont-look-away-from-aylan-kurdis-image-47069

 

The Photograph and the Encounter
by Jeff Derksen,

In The Migrant Image, T.J. Demos asks the central question of “How is it possible to represent artistically life severed from representation politically, as when it comes to photographing the stateless who are denied the rights of citizenship and the legal protections of a national identity?”[1] This question was recently amplified and cast back into the realm of political representation with the mass media photographs of the body of the three-year old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi. The photographs (which we won’t reproduce here) either are cropped shots of the boy’s body on the beach in Turkey, a wider image of the Turkish policeman standing back and gazing at the young body, or the image of the policeman holding the small body. When the story emerged that Alan and his brother Ghalib (who also drowned) and their father Abdullah were ultimately trying to make it to Canada — and that their refugee application submitted by the boys’ aunt had been rejected by the Canadian state — these globalized images were suddenly linked into a larger south-north context, and brought into a particular political moment of Canada electoral politics. [2] In Canada, commentators speculated on how the photograph itself might resonate in the current election or spur a change in the nation’s refugee policies. An editorial in a national newspaper is symptomatic of the political and affective frame the images had entered: “Canada’s response to the refugee crisis has been terribly disappointing…. That little boy on the beach has changed everything.”[3] This, in turn, set off a reflection on the deepening neoliberalization of Canada’s role in the world system and its cynical policies toward refugees (which is approached as a national security issue rather than a rights-based question) in relation to the more open and humanistic approach Canada showed when it quickly mobilized immigration officers to bring in 50,000 refugees from Vietnam during 1979 to 1982. This image of the vulnerability of the refugee moving through the rationalized and revanchist global terrain determined by war, trade, and borders gathers particular and profound meaning as a sign of the present refugee crisis and its link to the past imagined as more just.

Writing about the Madres and Abuelas of the Plaza de Mayo, Judith Butler argues that their struggle to stop the history of the disappeared in Argentina from falling into oblivion (following Water Benjamin’s warning on the history of the oppressed) is a matter of “cross-temporal empathy” between the past and the present and points out that “part of what a body does (to use the phrase of Gilles Deleuze, derived from his reading of Spinoza) is to open onto the body of another, or a set of others, and that for this reason bodies are not self-enclosed kinds of entities.”[4] Circulating in the global media, but grounded within the particular political and cultural context in Canada (in which the historically constructed idea of the nation as a compassionate and open one clashes with the new forms of racism the Canadian state is generating) these images of the body of Alan Kurdi also become matters of a cross-spatial empathy. Butler proposes that public and artistic documentation of bodies in war (and their destruction) are important to open bodies outside themselves, “to not remain enclosed, monadic and individual.”[5] T.J. Demos also locates the importance of the documentary image in a nexus where the present moment of “crisis and emergency” globally coincides with a crisis in post-Enlightenment paradigms of truth that generates a “new investment in the potential political use value” of documentary practices.[6] From there, Demos is able to compellingly argue that the documentary mode has effectively been picked up by artists wishing to intervene in the world. [7] My inquiry here is how can we imagine a nexus in which an image, such as those of the body of Alan Kurdi, intervenes in a political context and disrupt the neoliberal enclosure of the body and its political use value? How can such a photograph — which, in the Canadian context opens a critique of the present and a reevaluation of the past in order to create a future effect – intervene? Rather than reading this image through an affective economy (within which it forcefully circulates) or through the very real use value of documentary practices, I want to turn to the structure of the encounter to locate possible political and cultural effects for photography (in media, in documentary practices, and in artistic contexts).

In a 1982 essay, Louis Althusser aims to bring out, from repression he says, a materialism of the encounter. He does this via, “A curious philosophy which is a ‘materialism of the encounter’ thought by the way of politics, and which, as such, does not take anything for granted.”[8] Derived partially through Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation (a theory which bears a particular weight in our present) and his explanation of how a mode of production takes shape, Althusser reworks Marx’s use of encounter as a way to understand how a mode of production arises from “elements that are independent of each other…in the absence of any organic, teleological relation between these diverse histories.”[9] For Althusser, the encounter is aleatory and contingent : “One reasons here not in terms of the Necessity of the accomplished fact, but in terms of the contingency of the fact to be accomplished.” [10] Yet, he continues, once accomplished, “nothing guarantees that the reality of the accomplished fact is the guarantee of its durability.”[11] Althusser’s philosophy of the encounter (and elements) is siteless and cut free from space and place, but Andy Merrifield very usefully grounds the encounter with Henry Lefebvre’s theory of the transition from “the city” to “the urban: “The urban, we might say, is the place of the drama resultant from the encounter and the site where we encounter the drama of the encounter itself.”[12] From there Merrifield is able to outline particular instances of a “politics of the radical encounter” through the contingent, but also through the facts of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and on to the offensives in Spain and Greece and through to Occupy – movements and moments that all swerved through contingency to materialize, even if without a guarantee of durability.

It is tempting to write that the photograph is the “site where we encounter the drama of the encounter itself” – substituting the photograph for the potential of urban space – but within the politics and materiality of the encounter, the photograph is an element in the contingent meeting of elements that can lead to an accomplished fact. There can be no guarantees that these elements cohere into an encounter. But thinking the photograph as an element in an encounter does give the photograph a relational heft within other elements – in this case to the crisis of the refugees, the poverty of Canadian refugee policies (a marker of neoliberal interventions into the body), and the stakes of the national election. This particular photograph also is an element that helps spur the realization of the gap between the nation and the state: the state enacts policies that cut across the historical cultural understanding of the nation that has been built up through narratives of Canada as a humane and multicultural nation (possible only if the Canada’s present colonialism to Indigenous people is totally overlooked!).   A photograph, even the most iconic ones — for instance, the photo of the young Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running, arms akimbo, her clothes burnt off from American napalm in 1972 – can not “change everything” or be the singular image that changes a particular politics.[13] But, as elements within a possible encounter, photographs can potentially alter the structure that they exist within and can intervene into a mode of the production of meaning and extend bodies and politics beyond enclosure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] T.J. Demos, The Migrant Image: the art and politics of documentary during global crisis, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013), p. .xv.

[2] This initial story was altered as the refugee application was for Abdullah’s brother Mohammed.

[3] Marcus Gee, “Canada’s Failure to Act on Refugee Crisis Begins with Stephen Harper,” Tuesday, September 8, 205. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadas-failure-to-act-on-refug

ee-crisis-begins-with-stephen-harper/article26266375/

[4] “Bodies, Vulnerability, Coalitions, and Street, Politics,” in The State of Things, Marta Kuzman, Pablo Lafuente, and Peter Osborne (eds), (Oslo: OCA, 201), p.180.

[5] Ibid. p. 181.

[6] Demos, op. cite, p. xvi.

[7] Ibid, p. xvii.

[8] Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Trans. G.M. Goshgarian. (London: Verso, 2006), p.173.

[9] ibid, p.199.

[10] ibid, p.174.

[11] ibid, p.174.

[12] Andy Merrifield, Politics of the Encounter: Urban Theory and Protest Under Planetary Urbanism (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013), p. 58-59.

[13] Phan Thi Kim Phuc immigrated to Canada, via Cuba and Russia and lives there today.

Refusal to Show: Trevor Paglen
by Niels Van Tomme,

Trevor Paglen, Black Square, 2015

Trevor Paglen, Black Square, 2015


This is a declassified page from a report about Stellarwind, the NSA’s main data mining program. Why did you choose to make an abstraction of such concrete document?


I’ve been looking at these kinds of pages for many years, and I always thought they were a really poignant collision of the aesthetic, the political and the imaginary. When I look at these kinds of documents, I can’t help to think about what might lie underneath those massive redactions. I’ve also thought about how these kinds of documents (in the American context) appear at roughly the same moment in time that abstract painting reaches its apex with figures like Ad Reinhart and Anges Martin.


The image also refers to modes of abstraction as we know through Malevich. Let us consider the beautiful contradiction at the heart of Malevich’s conception of abstraction — art at once as an absolute, a pure spirit, and as an instrument, a means of realizing a new social order — an impossibility that seems to negotiate the distance between aesthetic experience and political action. What does this particular document gain from its abstraction?


I’m drawn to the internal dialectic that an image like this encapsulates. On one hand, the document instills in me a desire to know what’s behind it. It seems to hold the promise of some revelation, but doesn’t deliver on that promise, suggesting maybe that it’s up to me, the viewer, to research that document or covert program. So there’s some analogy to the old abstract/avant-gardist ideal in there. On the other hand, this document is an instrument of state power, and a profoundly anti-democratic one at that. In that sense, it also is a negation of that old idea of liberation through the refusal of representationalism.


There are of course fierce, well-known critiques of abstraction out there, especially in relationship to politically motivated art. Perhaps the most astute example is the towering oeuvre of the late Alan Sekula. For Sekula, the “false humanism” of aesthetic abstraction in effect mirrors capital’s modes of abstraction and exploitation (of the economy, of labour, etc.), which in itself is becoming a widespread aesthetic. This aesthetic should be counteracted by what he calls a “political geography,” a way of talking with concrete words and images about the system and our lives within it. How would you respond to such analysis?


I sympathize with Sekula’s argument a lot and think that it’s totally valid. Even the smartest defenders of abstraction (I’m thinking here of Adorno) knew that their neat arguments didn’t really work once you added things like political economy into the analytic mix. On the other hand – and this is coming from someone who’s a pretty hardcore materialist – I think that some of the most powerful forces shaping the world are themselves unrepresentable (secrecy, economy, or climate change, for that matter). What I find compelling about this image is that it seems much more dialectical than either a “straightforward” abstract image, or a more strictly representational image would be on their own. This image is somewhere in-between, calling attention to the fact that abstraction in this case goes hand-in-hand with secrecy and state power, and on the other, does make me want to engage with it in a way that more aesthetically-mundane documents don’t.


Trevor Paglen deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism, and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us. More info here.

Refusal to Show: Eva and Franco Mattes
by Niels Van Tomme,

Eva and Franco Mattes Emily’s Video, 2012, Screenshot from video

Eva and Franco Mattes
Emily’s Video, 2012, Screenshot from video

 

Im about to watch Emilys video.


Who is Emily?


That’s exactly the point! Emily is irrelevant to the video. Well, she was fundamental to the work, but not in the way people think. The viewers who are watching the video were random volunteers who replied to our online call to watch “the worst video ever,” a mysterious video sourced from the Darknet that was later destroyed. If you responded to our call, a girl named Emily, our assistant, would come to your home and show you the video, filming your reaction with a webcam. Since the title, Emily’s Video, is the only information at hand, you cling to it and hope it’s also going to reveal something about the content. Maybe it’s  a way to avoid confronting the actual content, you focus on a detail in order to avoid the main subject… But it’s the absence that makes the work, the fact you don’t know what they are watching, that black hole you fill up with your imagination. And everyone has a different idea of what the “worst” is, it’s very personal.


Why do some people not want to see Emilys video?


Well, when you see something you cannot unsee it. Some people were afraid of “mental scars. On the other hand a lot of people responded to the call, so they did want to see it. But I’m not going to say anything about the original video, the one they are watching. The subject is missing. From people’s reactions you can glean emotions, even some hints at the content. It’s evident the video is horrible, and yet you want to see it. Susan Sontag wrote that the desire for pictures of bodies in pain – think tortures and beheadings – is almost as profound as the desire for pictures of bodies naked, like the depictions of hell in Christian art, that for centuries satisfied both these elemental desires…


Should we nevertheless still care about the original video?


Since the original video was destroyed, the second hand experience of watching people who are watching it becomes the only possible experience. This is as close as you’ll ever get to seeing the original video. We experience almost everything from a distance anyway, through monitors, word of mouth, magazines or even our own distorted memories


Which brings us back to the mysterious Emily of the title perhaps she is relevant as a stand in for our increasing fragility with regards to empathic perception within the hyper-saturated, isolated sphere that is the internet.


Eva and Franco Mattes inhabit the web and skillfully subvert mass media to ultimately expand into and affect the physical space. More info here.

Refusal to Show: Herman Asselberghs
by Niels Van Tomme,

Herman Asselberghs: Looking at the first picture in The Last Pictures, June 2015.

Herman Asselberghs: Looking at the first picture in The Last Pictures, June 2015.

 

Dear Niels,


In attachment, you’ll find my contribution to Refusal to Show. Thank you for inviting me to participate. Considering the title, I find it most fitting not to show work of mine and instead offer you an image by another artist. My guess is that you’ll be familiar with it: it is the very first photo in the The Last Pictures series. As you know, this 2012 project by Trevor Paglen consisted of etching a collection of 100 still images onto a silicon wafer nested inside a gold-plated aluminum disc and putting it into geosynchronous orbit on board the EchoStar XVI television satellite. As you read this mail, the spacecraft drifts around Earth and it will continue to do so ‘indefinitely’, until the sun gradually expands and finally swallows the hull, and our planet, in flames – four to five billion years from now. Hence the project’s title: due to its enduring archival format, the set of pictures will outlast all human spectators. 


Of course, The Last Pictures could hardly be filed under the heading that you propose. For all of its explicit intention to critique the grand gesture that the project itself inevitably is, this beautiful and complex art work still subscribes, by nature I would say, to what you rightly identify as ‘contemporary culture’s exhaustive imperative to constantly produce visual evidence’. The evidence presented here does not aim at a glorious representation of humanity, as did ample previous messages send into space. The artist deliberately includes, side by side, visual records of genuinely magnificent and truly horrific moments in the history of life on Earth. To any alien intelligence that once might actually take a look at this early-21st century artifact, the pictures sample will probably mean very little, though, if anything at all. To us, now, with or without the book version’s explanatory captions (that are not on the disc in orbit), the collection clearly reads as part warning part memorial to a species that eagerly embraces progress, regardless of the catastrophic consequences. 


That is where the first image in the series comes in: a rear side photo of Paul Klee’s 1920 Angelus Novus ink wash drawing. The small aquarelle is forever tied to Walter Benjamin’s use of it in his final essay On the Concept of History. At the heart of this seminal 1940 text is an interpretative evocation of the Klee painting that accompanied and inspired the writer ever since he purchased it in his youth. Benjamin turns Klee’s modest angel in a true Angel of History with eyes, mouth and wings wide open, reluctantly gazing at the ruins of the past while facing a storm that drives him ‘irresistibly’ backwards into the future. ‘What we call progress is this storm': it must be the writer’s best-known and most-quoted piece of text, and Trevor Paglen in his turn offers the full paragraph in reprint as the opening note on the 100 pictures. That leaves us with the question of why the artist decided to show the backside of the aquarelle, and in doing so refuses to show? 


Yours,

Herman


P.S. In case you are wondering about the stamp on the lower part of the page: it was put there by a former librarian in the otherwise outstanding school library. Her irreverent handling of art books cost her her job and made me almost decide on not presenting you this picture. But hey, a refusal to show should be based upon a valid reason. A wish for pristine quality seems not good enough to me.


Dear Herman,


That’s a great observation. If I remember correctly, the exhibition related to The Last Pictures, which was on view at Metro Pictures in New York in 2013, opened with this exact same image. I always read it as a performative act by Trevor Paglen within his own project, highlighting the artist’s ambivalence towards this imperative to always produce visual evidence. Can photography truly show us something other than the mechanics of its own modes of representation? It seems that in the work of Paglen images become the marker of something that lies beyond the notion of visuality altogether. In that sense, this opening image “shows” us an image without offering us a representation of it. Perhaps we don’t need this representation any longer? 


Yours,

Niels


Dear Niels,


Here, I think, is a promising outline for a sci-fi film. In the distant future, an intelligent life form from outer space stumbles upon a dead communication satellite. On board, the creature discovers an intriguing set of images documenting an ancient culture on the nearby planet Earth. The space-time traveler becomes fascinated with the first picture in the series and succeeds in decoding its data. Convinced that the still image depicts the back of another picture, she sets out on a journey to locate the physical object and look at its front side. She descends upon Earth where she encounters a post-apocalyptic landscape devoid of human existence. She travels to what once was Jerusalem and enters the remnants of the Palestinian Museum (the erstwhile Israel Museum). When she ultimately comes face to face with the original image – an old painting by a certain Paul Klee, she realizes that she is looking at a representation of herself: an alien being hovering over the ruins of a grand civilization. Outside, a storm is building.


Allow me to consider once more the beautifully outrageous ambitions of The Last Pictures project. To send out into space a catalogue of images to be disclosed and acted upon, seems to me nothing less than the Alien premise in reverse. Instead of a tale of Earthlings discovering a mysterious object in a derelict alien spacecraft stranded on a faraway planetoid, here is the future promise of an extraterrestrial species spotting a strange, terrene relic in the orbital debris of our times. How one would wish this artifact as being as invasive as the one in the 1979 SF classic! I just love Trevor Paglen’s delightfully mischievous opening move in denying that first hypothetical onlooker a crystal clear image. In doing so, he is luring the alien spectator to indeed engage with both the picture’s content and – to borrow your words – ‘the mechanics of its own mode of representation’. 


I hope it is not too farfetched to discern in Paglen’s iconoclastic approach a proposal to earthbound viewers to look at all images from the alien’s point of view. For I do believe that we still need pictures. Let me return to the title of your project: I don’t think about it as a call to throw in the proverbial towel, nor as a plea for rejection or resignation, and thus a license grant to show whatever. On the contrary, I think about any ‘refusal to show’ as being exemplary ways of showing that one cares about images, that one cares about what to show and what not, and about how to show and how not. 


Yours,

Herman


Herman Asselberghs is a Belgian artist whose work focuses on the questioning of border areas between sound and image, world and media, poetry and politics. More info here.

Refusal to Show: Beate Geissler & Oliver Sann
by Niels Van Tomme,

gxs-vspc-06

Beate Geissler & Oliver Sann
detail from desktop, obstructed 4, 2015, acrylic black on inkjet print, 19.5 × 13.75 inches (50 × 35 cm), courtesy Cindy Rucker Gallery, NYC


This obscured image follows a recent, absurd controversy in which powerful financing houses sought legal action against a project of yours. Isn’t this refusal to show in actuality an impossibility to show?


It is. From the beginning on in this project, when we started to research financial markets, electronic trading and high-frequency trading, it became obvious that there isn’t much to see. In fact we can even go so far to say, that the core of the market, the transaction itself, is invisible, unlike in a human marketplace. Code, information or data are subject to proprietary angst. Representation becomes all the more contested. It’s therefore not surprising that images, mundane beyond the imaginable, come to be terrain of conflict. We agreed not to show certain images in the future and therefore decided to replace those images either with images of poodles, or to paint over the original image. Media capitalism in today’s globalized culture tends to maneuver its participants towards the production and dissemination of images in a tranquilizing fashion, but at the same time financial markets gravitate within the processes that determine us towards an independence of technology through a lack of representation. The scopic regimes migrate underground. To refuse to show as an individual seems in the realm of electronic media an exercise in futility, images appear inevitably. The refusal to show may be the symptom, not the cure, and therefore successful because it’s a failure, a revolt.


Are you suggesting an inherent link between this particular notion of failure and the nature of revolt?


Yes, refusing compliance is the spark, that yields new perspectives – it seems innate to transformation. An apostasy from images though appears to be out of the picture, out of the world.


What does the specific process of concealment of the image consists of?


The original photographic image is printed on a luster inkjet paper, which doesn’t allow the ink to sink in but to dry on its surface. Applying an acrylic black paint in a single coating amplifies the thickness of the original color application and creates a reflecting relief. How to show what we are not able to see?


In the end, would you regard the resulting “new” image still a documentation of some sort, or has its function shifted entirely?


The aesthetic changes of the image indicate that it has gained commentary, meta text, a short history of some sort, which enhances reading into it. It maintains its function as a document; it shifted to a document of obstruction.


Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann are German artists, living in Chicago. Their work concentrates on inner alliances of knowledge and power, their deep links in western culture and the escalation in and transformation of human beings through technology. More info here.

Pavillon

Der Deutsche Pavillon befindet sich in zentraler Lage auf dem Ausstellungsgelände der Giardini della Biennale di Venezia. Er wurde nach Plänen des venezianischen Architekten Daniele Donghi im neoklassizistischen Stil errichtet und zur Biennale 1909 eröffnet. Bis 1910 hieß er Bayerischer Pavillon.

1938 wurde das Gebäude durch den Architekten Ernst Haiger im Sinne nationalsozialistischer Architekturideale umgestaltet. Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg wurde mehrfach über einen Umbau oder Neubau diskutiert, einen konkreten Entwurf reichte 1957 Arnold Bode ein. Aus finanziellen Gründen wurden diese Pläne jedoch fallengelassen und der Pavillon bis auf kleinere Eingriffe – Verbesserung der Beleuchtungsverhältnisse, Rückbau einer Zwischenwand zur Apsis – bis heute nicht grundlegend verändert. Das Gebäude gehört der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, es steht in Italien unter Denkmalschutz.

Das Spektrum der deutschen Beiträge reicht von der sezessionistischen Kunst des Kaiserreiches über die traditionalistischen und modernen Strömungen während der Weimarer Republik, die gleichgeschaltete Kunst des Nationalsozialismus, bis hin zu den vielfältigen Positionen der Nachkriegszeit und der zeitgenössischen Kunst. International renommierte Künstlerinnen und Künstler wie Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Jochen Gerz, Ulrich Rückriem, Hanne Darboven, Bernd und Hilla Becher, Hans Haacke, Nam June Paik, Katharina Fritsch, Gerhard Merz, Rosemarie Trockel, Martin Kippenberger, Candida Höfer, Tino Sehgal, Isa Genzken und Ai Weiwei haben den Pavillon bespielt.
Chronologie

Literaturempfehlung:

Die deutschen Beiträge zur Biennale Venedig 1895–2007, hg. von Ursula Zeller, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, überarb. und erw. Ausgabe, Köln: DuMont, 2007, 400 Seiten, 170 Schwarzweißabbildungen, 100 Farbabbildungen Euro 34.90.
Bestellung

Besucherinformation

La Biennale di Venezia 2015
56. Internationale Kunstausstellung
All the World’s Futures

 

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9. Mai – 22. November 2015

 

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Presse

Pressemitteilungen

Pressekonferenz, 7. Mai 2015, Deutscher Pavillon, Venedig

PM Eröffnung des Deutschen Pavillons
Olaf Nicolai, Details zur Arbeit, Kurzbiografie

Hito Steyerl, Details zur Arbeit und Kurzbiografie

Tobias Zielony, Details zur Arbeit und Kurzbiografie

Jasmina Metwaly & Philip Rizk, Details zur Arbeit und Kurzbiografien

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ausführliche Biografien (Künstler/innen + Kurator)

 

Pressekonferenz, 10. Februar 2015, Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin
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Biografien (Künstler/innen + Kurator)

 

Pressemitteilung, 4. Februar 2015, Essener Stiftungen:

PM Essener Stiftungen für den Deutschen Pavillon 2015 [PDF, 202 KB]

 

Pressekonferenz, 24. Oktober 2014, Museum Folkwang, Essen:

PM Präsentation Künstler und Konzept – Museum Folkwang Essen [PDF, 522 KB]

Konzept Deutscher Pavillon 2015 [PDF, 26 KB]

PM ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) [PDF, 522 KB]

PM DSGV (Deutscher Sparkassen- und Giroverband) [PDF, 62 KB]

Pressemappe komplett [PDF, 2,7 MB]

Bildmaterial

Olaf Nicolai: Bild 1; 2; 3; 4

Copyright: Olaf Nicolai: GIRO, 2015, VG Bildkunst
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Copyright: Hito Steyerl: Factory of the Sun, Videostill, 2015 (Installationsfotos: Manuel Reinartz)

Tobias Zielony: Bild 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; Installationsansichten: Bild 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7

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Copyright: Jasmina Metwaly & Philip Rizk: Draw It Like This, 2015 (Installationsfotos: Manuel Reinartz)

Porträts der Künstler, 2015

 

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Team

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Projektleitung

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Ausstellungsarchitektur

Bernhard Tatter

 

Technische Produktionsleitung

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Architekturbüro Venedig

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Grafische Gestaltung

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Nicola Reiter

Pascal Storz

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Fotografie

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Lokale Koordination und Eventmanagement Venedig

Tomas Ewald

 

Biennale-Team des ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

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Nina Hülsmeier, Koordination

Tanja Spiess, Administration

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Impressum

Herausgeber

Deutscher Pavillon 2015

im Auftrag des Auswärtigen Amts und des ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Kurator

Florian Ebner

 

Redaktion

Hendrik von Boxberg

Tanja Milewsky

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Übersetzung ins Englische

Louise Bromby

 

Grafische Gestaltung

Fabian Bremer

Nicola Reiter

Pascal Storz

Helmut Völter

 

Umsetzung Website

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