I spent most of the weekend at Klartext Conference. Adriene Göhler who seemed more than one step ahead of the organizers on the topic opened it on Friday. A funny but hardly surprising detail she mentioned in her speech was that in 2004 about 150 funding applications handed in to “Hauptstadt Kultur Fond” started like this: “Im Jahr der EU-Osterweiterung”. This remark gives a good insight in the opportunistic thinking of so called critical artists, in times of professional fund hunting.

But funding seeking artists and cultural workers who position themselves in the proximity of activism are not alone in their belief that a boring idea with some political appeal is enough.
Listening to Hans Haacke, talking about his last minute research for the Rosa Luxemburg Memorial competition he was invited to shows the same attitude, only backed up by a big name who is beyond critique and obviously beyond auto critique.

Susanne von Falkenhausen, who did the interview with Haacke seemed like the perfect personification of the way society deals with a holy dinosaur like Haacke. In an arrogant and openly ignorant manner she started her interview with the pronouncing her suspicion that Haacke wasn’t at the right place at the Klartext Conference because he had always refused the pose of protest and worked as a “lonely warrior”. There is much to be said about the use of poses in art and I will certainly do so in the near future. However, von Falkenhausen used it to distinguish the serious artist Haacke from the naive protesters and fun guerillas who had gathered at the conference daring to call themselves artists.

Not being prepared, without apparent concept and clumsily moving around the technical terms that identify her as an art historian and that every fiber of her seemed to shout: You are a god and I am such good believer that I can see your godliness clearer than all those lost souls down there. Why do art historians of her age and women on protestant parish boards all look the same? It’s no surprise to me.

During the conference artists and artist groups presented their works and their way of working, which was in no case new but in most cases sympathetic. I liked the story (by Sezgin Boynik) about young people in Kosovo who mimicked western art after getting exposed to it and suddenly found themselves invited to international art shows. Pretty much the same as the YES MEN getting invited to business conferences without even intending so. Talking about the YES MEN – I missed them but everybody I talked to seemed to have liked their presentation. They are the stars of the movement.

My only addition is that the German satirical magazine TITANIC has been quite successful with similar interventions on a national level for a very long time and that they have managed to preserve their integrity namely by not becoming big stars in the territory of high culture. The YES MEN seem to live with the danger of becoming for critical art what U2 ended up being in rock music in the late 80s. Ask Bono how cool that was.

Another highlight was “Kamera Läuft”, a film by kpD (kleines postfordistisches Drama) that in a very entertaining way investigated the situation of precarious producers. Precarious producers are all the people who can not count on getting projects funded in the year of EU extention to the east. I did not request any funding last year but like most of the audience had little difficulties identifying with the precarious producers in the film.

Sunday afternoon there was a discussion panel without Catherine David. I did not hear an official explanation why she wasn’t there. I remember a series of events that Jörgen Svensson organized in Gothenburg in the 90s where he announced famous artists who then didn’t show up. He managed to address the problem of stars (and brands!) in alternative culture and at the same time was able to show the positive energy that a community seems to get from a belief in stars. The events were very nice gatherings with good discussions if I remember right.

Other than not Catherine David there were curators and directors of cultural institutions on the panel (Maria Lind/IASPIS, Shaheen Merali/Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Nina Möntmann NIFCA, Marion von Osten/curator of “Migration”, Simon Sheikh/Critical Studies Program Malmö). They presented their different exhibition projects in which they either try to establish a new perspective/new terminology (e.g. Black Atlantic by Shaheen Merali) or try to change the way institutions function (Maria Lind at the Kunstverein Munich). Both tasks to me seem important in order to encourage public discourse and in order to create spaces where thinking can be a bit more experimental than within the systems of conventional economy and media. I personally think that exhibitions and events at Haus der Kulturen der Welt are usually amongst the best in Berlin.

The showdown of Klartext took place at Volksbühne with Roger M. Buergel, Holger Kube Ventura, Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Rancière, Irit Rogoff. Moderator was Boris Buden, the title was “KünstlerInnen und KulturproduzentInnen als politische Subjekte. Opposition, Intervention, Partizipation, Emanzipation in Zeiten neoliberaler Globalisierung”.

Most interesting for me (and certainly most entertaining) were the talks by Jacques Rancière and Chantal Mouffe as they were with great accuracy about the very core of political and cultural practice. While Rancière looked at the fictional quality of politics, Chantal Mouffe was able specify what she thinks leads into dead ends:

1. Taking a moral position
2. Transgression

I can only enthusiastically agree. Fortunately transgression is not as popular amongst artists as it used to be, since main stream media went into that direction, but the moral thing seems to have become more important. Possibly that is because the ordinary visitor of art shows also needs his/her fix in that area as s/he is just a little too intelligent to be reached by religion (this theory does apply to Susanne von Falkenhausen, she must have chosen art over religion for some other reason).

Rancière pointed out that there is no duality between art and politics and that distinguishing strictly between them does not make sense, because politics permanently creates the narrative which then becomes the basis of discourse (just like art does), while Mouffe suggested that art and critical practice have the possibility and thus the power to invent and develop the symbols used in politics and public discourse. Together they declare and shape the territory of action for art and critical practice, without falling back to exclusive definitions.

Buergel’s demand that not only political, but also psychological investigation must be possible may seem like a step backwards for some. I think that the concept art makes sense only when it’s thought of as a singularity (something that is radically different than other areas of economic and functional activity). It is quite obvious that it can come close to this ideal only when given the freedom to point it’s spotlight anywhere. Something does not become art because of the topic it deals with nor because of the context it is placed in (those days are over), but because of not fitting in any other category. Therefore any artistic and critical practice claims the right to do things that don’t fit in any category, which is necessarily a bitter pill for any system (I know that I am a bit tautological here, but I guess you don’t get around it when justifying a singularity’s right of existence).

During a break on Saturday I visited a friend, Boris Riedel, who lives near the place of the conference. He showed me a video he had just finished, in which he interviews a graffiti artist and a young street artist (whose works contained political messages). It was not really surprising, but nevertheless remarkable that the graffiti artist did not have much respect for the street artist who uses templates designed with a computer. According to the graffiti guy no skill is needed to do that. The Graffiti artist, whose main interest is finding the most stylish way to spray his name (=tag), suspected street artists of generally being after getting into the gallery and museum system (making a face that expressed a mild version of disgust). At the same time the street artist, who was not as well spoken, seemed way more underground than the graffiti artist. I don’t need not to mention, that the graffiti guy’s demand for skill did not exactly place him on my team.

This video, which my friend has made as a final work for his education as an editor, was a very inspiring, almost revealing counterpoint to the discussions i was following this weekend. I could not have picked a better day to watch it.

On the topic: