From Marinetti's 'Parole de Libertà' layed out in metal as 'librogetto' to the mould books (Schimmelbüchern) and literary sausages (Literaturwürsten) by Dieter Roth, from Bernard Aubertin's “Livre brûlé et à brûler” to Anselm Kiefer's cauterised books and installations with lead libraries, as well as rubber books by Dieter Krieg and the “Door to a Library” walled with books by Hubertus Gojowczyk,(2) representatives of various artistic traditions from futurism, dadaism to fluxus have analysed the nature and the essential characteristics of the book, including last but not least Kasja Dahlberg's “A Room of One’s Own / Four Hundred Thirty-Three Libraries” - an installation consisting of thousands of copies of the same book, the German edition of Virginia Woolf ’s feminist classic “A Room of One’s Own” with various marginal notes, markings and underlinings left by the readers.
Expanding upon this tradition the Czech artist Martin Zet's campaign supported by the 7th Berlin Biennale to collect Thilo Sarrazin's notorious “Deutschland schafft sich ab” “Germany Gets Rid of Itself ” for his installation and further recycling project should have come as no surprise, yet there are books and books. And if exhibiting and recycling some books might leave public indifferent this particular project has caused nation-wide controversy verging on heavy critique. Zet's “Deutschland schafft es ab” “Germany gets rid of this” the subtle word play that serves as the title of Zet's project has touched society's nerve as seldom art projects do, comparable maybe to the uproar related to Anselm Kiefer's art-books with black-and-white photographs depicting the artist himself posing as a Nazi.
Well, back in the 70-ies Kiefer was analysing the concept of “occupations”, real or imaginary, of the repressed aspects of national identity with all its taboo issues and relevant historical ramifications. What is at stake now is national identity again challenged with the problems of dealing with “the other” while coping with social and economic evils, especially when this identity is analysed by “the other” - a non-German artist within the framework of an international art biennale. Since how and what Germany “gets rid of” should, as might be widely believed, not necessarily be decided by a single individual, even an artist, but by community at large as “inessential”(3) as it might be.
Sarazzin's notorious book, the most successful political non-fiction publication of the post-war period written by former member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank whose scandalous resignation created quite a turmoil at the time, seems to have appealed to a large segment of German readership in spite of its racist assumptions and statements. Zet's project that sets itself the aim of analysing the nature of such a fascination as well as the issue of what and why should be disposed of in this country has brought the Berlin Biennale 7 curated by Artur Żmijewski unprecedented media-attention, turning it into a platform for heated socio-political discourse.
The issues touched upon by Martin Zet's project: those of dealing with “the other,” the related socio-economic injustices resulting in the upsurge of racial intolerance, poverty among others are a challenge in Russia as well, where the associated curators of the Berlin Biennale 2012 come from. The activist art collective “Woina” (Russian for War) has been radically attacking Putin's authoritarian regime by means of guerilla actions verging at times on the obscene, shocking, grotesque and the abject. These actions, as extreme as they might seem, are the means of last resort, taking into consideration Russia's current political climate. Some of the recent and most impressive of these being arson at the police station, or the 65 m long phallus painted on the drawbridge over the Neva river in Saint Petersburg, carrying visual references to the crucial bridge scene from Sergeij Eisenstein's film “October,” with all its revolutionary implications, challenging the conventional male authority.
For the 7th Berlin Biennale artist-curator Artur Żmijewski politics in art runs high on the agenda, and if there is anything important about art at all, it is its ability to create realities in the name of individuals that artists represent. Not translating political messages into exhibitions as is the common practice with artists but translating political messages into actions. Only such actions can subvert the current art system logics, and prevent the all-round “pollution of art”.(4) With the ambition to redefine the role of contemporary artists in present day politics the upcoming Berlin Biennale incorporating the occupation movement into its concept, seems to have set some new standards.
For the co-curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale, Joanna Warsza, whose projects analyse among others heterotopic socially site-specific spaces, experience in art is a category of cognitive process, whereas artists' role is that of facilitating social processes to encourage participation,(5) even at the cost of, as is sometimes the case, of provocation, transgressions and scandal, the means, in fact, introduced by artists to be further misappropriated by politicians.(6)
Construction of subversive situations, actions designed as scandals to shock, collaborative projects like art newspapers and magazines, political interventions: the practices accommodated by the Berlin Biennale curators and its framework projects as means of artistic expression reinterpret and augment situationist strategies, reviving activism in art aimed at creating new meanings and transforming the modes of artistic production in the era of neoliberalism. As for “occupations” real or virtual when the “war” is on the sky is the limit.
By Lily Fürstenow-Khositashvili
1 The title refers to a series of photographic self-portraits made by Anselm Kiefer in 1969 and published in the Cologne art journal interfunktionen under the title Besetzungen (Occupations) in 1975
2 Armin Zweite, Anselm Kiefer. Zweistromland, p. 77
3 “inessential commonality”, Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community 1993
4 Interview with Arthur Żmijewski, February 2011
5 Interview with Joanna Warsza, December, 2011
6 Interview with Arthur Żmijewski, February 2011