Kunstler aus Kanada (1983)
“Kunstler aus Kanada,” Parachute, no. 31 (June – August 1983), pp. 46-47.
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Künstler aus Kanada: Räume und Installationen
Stuttgart February 10 - March 20, 1983
The projection was realized on the evening on February 13, 1983, three weeks before the National Election in West Germany. The deployment of the new generation of U.S. built nuclear missiles in West Germany as planned by NATO was the main issue of the election campaign.
The "Victory Column" functions as the main landmark in the city of Stuttgart. It was erected in 1846 to commemorate the military achievements of King Wilhelm II of Württemberg on the 25th anniversary of his rule.
Public Projection: Krzysztof Wodiczko
Production: Heinz Nagler
Historical research : Heinz Nagler, Leslie Sharpe
Photo collaboration: Reinhard Trocken-MüIler
Technical and organizational assistance: friends from Canadian and Stuttgart art communities.
Walking down the Königstrasse, the pedestrian heart of Stuttgart, it's the Canadian flags that first catch the eye; they hang from the city hall and in the store windows. Travel agents display them to promote the city-wide travel quiz about Canada, shoppers bustle about, carrying bags designed with the national symbol of Canada.
These are indeed Kanadische Tage—Canada Days—in Stuttgart. Everywhere you turn in the centre of town, you meet a small piece of home. Even the West German banks are in the act, offering stuffy Canadian banks a good lesson in promotion by sponsoring exhibitions of Canadian art in their foyers.
Happily, there is a coherence to what Canada is doing in Stuttgart. Canada Days consciously offers something for everyone... What a contrast to the recent, unhappy Okanada exhibition in West Berlin. OKanada was assembled by a committee, or a series of committees...
Canadian organizers naturally headed for the banks in planning Canada Days; just as naturally, the banks displayed interest. Better still, the banks each held receptions to kick off their exhibits. The happy marriage of self-promotion and culture...
All is not culture in Canada Days. Behind the whole idea lies the hope of interesting investors, traders and tourists in Canada.
Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail
The notion of coming to a country that was far away, new and different was an exotic one at first. And I wasn't primarily thinking of artists. Sometimes I even felt that the purpose of my visit, to prepare an exhibition of contemporary Canadian art, was an interference.
On the one hand, there is the "natural history" of Canadian art. It goes like this: first there is the fact of geography; then nationhood and the national "interest" of railway building; an impulse which is transformed in electronic communications systems; and further expressed in the interconnection of federal funding and the development of the parallel art gallery system. It is a positive history, not critical; and everything is on the surface, natural and unproblematic. Fundamentally, it is a bureaucratic history and explanation as a justification of what exists. Art is an unproblematic reflection of this existence; it serves as exportable value. When our whole history is marked by a colonial dependency, we continue to export the form of this dependency in the bureaucratic apparatus of our art.
On the other hand, there are the faits divers from West German newspapers this winter. In these scare stories from the popular press of wolf attacks in northern Canada, symbols of the German imagination coincided with a popular myth of Canada.
Between the two is Tilman Osterwold, the director of the Kunstverein in Stuttgart, the capital of the staat of Württemberg in conservative south-west Germany. In two blitzes across the country in fall 1981 and spring 1982, Osterwold, with a list composed somehow between himself and The Canada Council, chose fifteen representatives of contemporary Canadian art. At first, to outsiders as we remain in the production of our own culture, it appeared interesting: one individual, a European curator (in the year of Documenta), composing an exhibition for Europe instead of the bureaucratic selection destined for Berlin. The exhibition was to highlight younger artists, but not "new image"—that would not lend a profile (for whom ?) in painting conscious Germany. As it turned out, more than half of the artists were of Osterwold's generation. (Moreover, much of the work was completed and exhibited between 1979-1981.) Let us say that Osterwold recognized himself, or only had himself in mind. Subtitled "Rooms and Installations", the exhibition was mainly male and sculptural. Even the women artists could be associated with a "male" tradition of sculpture. It therefore only confirmed the male organization of contemporary cultural production in Germany with its regressive return to painting and figurative wood sculpture. And it legitimated the cultural, financial and educational institutions circling the patriotic and patriarchal monument to war and leadership—the "Victory Column" commemorating King Wilhelm II of Wurttemberg—in front of the Kunstverein.
Of course, Osterwold's projection into the other cannot be too recognizable an identity when it returns home. John McEwen originally wished to show Buck, his most recently exhibited work. Osterwold wanted The Distinctive Line Between One Subject and Another from 1980. This sculpture which opened the space of the exhibition and served as illustration for the first local review signals the real theme of the exhibition: the two wolves confirm Canada as exotic, nature at its wildest. To show Buck, a sculptural installation part of which is a steel figure of a male deer, would bring that romanticism home to Europe, not to domesticate it, but to display it as an ideological projection and disguise of the social realities of contemporary Germany. (Stuttgart is an industrial centre with a high proportion of immigrant workers.) To show Buck under the dome of the Kunstverein topped by a golden buck would make that identity and romanticism too clear. The deer is an omnipresent symbol in Germany; and the site of the Kunstverein is said to be the location of an old hunting lodge. One artist has called the cultural bureaucrats who occupy the present buildings "little deer". In Germany Tilman Osterwold is a "little deer"; in North American he is a hunter. In Stuttgart, the exhibition was called "Tilman's Garden" in a review; in Canada, Osterwold is the discoverer.
Since nature is lost for these Germans in the intense industrialization of their country (and in the subjective internalization of industry's constraints), "nature" be-comes the site of the contradictions of that ruthless technical process and alienated social relations. "Nature" is ideology; and New World Canada is the extreme case or as extreme as can be made into a cultural exchange. Thus the social contradictions this ideology covers in Germany is repeated for Canada. Except now artists are the objects of this social relation and domination: guest artists instead of "guest workers".
Artists were to serve this ideology. They were treated as ideological objects, as the irrational entities that secrete the magical irrationality of art; but they were ready-formed in selection and ordering in exhibition. ("[Artists] are different in nature, but they come into contact with people who view their work, with the public." "They are like magical stage directors", Osterwold says of Lyne Lapointe and Stephen Cruise. "Their stage is the subconscious which they reveal creatively without having to objectivate it.") Any deviancy from what was expected or planned (that is to say plans were not made; promises were) could not be accommodated or tolerated. ("Brian [Boigon] arrives on the scene without baggage, without plans, and reacts spontaneously to the situation with the materials of the house", says Osterwold in the completely pretentious ego-gratification that passes for the catalogue essay, a mutual interview with Bruce Ferguson. In fact, Boigon arrived with carefully detailed plans from which he wished to build. Consequently, his work could not be accommodated.) Many of the artists were lied to about the assistance they would receive; others were given assurances that were not kept. In the end the exhibition came off, but on the backs of artists. Meant to be an exhibition of installations, the Kunstverein was incompetent to build them and too parsimonious to fund them properly. Artist's work was torn down in the case of Brian Boigon; Tony Brown's installation had its slides thrown away; Spring Hurlbut was given a derelict hired from temporary help instead of the two technicians promised and the wrong materials; Krzysztof Wodiczko was not given enough money or assistance to properly complete his public projections; etc. Artists were left on their own. Some artists, however, were treated in a hierarchy and therefore have no perception of the real social relations enacted there. On the day of the opening and after, almost a third of the pieces were not up due to bureaucratic difficulties and obstructions that the artists encountered. But by the next morning the curator had escaped once again to nature, this time to Tunisia for a holiday. (The exhibition, incidentally, was opened by the mayor of Stuttgart, the son of General Rommel.)
Social reality is mystified in a mystification of nature. The disguised domination of that nature that finds expression in these individualist fantasies is repeated against the artists: they are treated as their objects, even though they were there installing their work. (We can repeat what Marx said, that "the relationships be-tween producers, within which the social characteristics of their labour are manifested, take on the form of a social relationship between the products of labour.") At the same time in West Germany, another version of nature was being contested by the Green party and ecology movement in the federal elections. This was no irrational return to nature but a critique of East-West military blocs directed against the capitalist mode of production. Osterwold and his bureaucratic type protest against a "rational" and "objectivist" art (i.e., a critical art) which to them reflects the rational techniques of industrial society. Osterwold protests rational technical procedures within a limited sphere within the irrational totality of capitalism. It is the former that determines the division of labour of the specialist bureaucrat, and the latter totality that directs his fantasies. Osterwold is a cultural ideologue who serves the dominant order in the downturn of the economic miracle (and protects Europe's cultural heritage from the demands of the workers in the economy) by decontextualizing this art and bringing it into his own thematic order. The way he has chosen it, there is no critical art here. I do not want to criticize the Canadian work because of the ways it was limited by the exhibition as much as by the curator's framework of choice. Work that involved language was chosen more for its denial of language's conventional and communicative potentials; semiotic work was chosen more for its reinforcement of fashion than its deconstruction of systems. Installations were conceived, not in their critical and contextual history, but as symbolic universes ("Contemporary art releases us from all commitments."); or as a type of musical phenomenology, even though that irrationality is based on a measure (ratio). I leave it to Theodor Adorno, one of the anti-authoritarian representatives of the Frankfurt School, to set this irrationality in its place:
Works of art which by their existence take the side of the victims of a rationality that subjugates nature are even in their protest constitutively implicated in the process of rationalization itself. Were they to try to disown it, they would become both esthetically and socially powerless: mere clay. The organizing, unifying principle of each and every work of art is borrowed from that very rationality whose claim to totality it seeks to defy.
* The author is indebted to the artists for passing on information and especially to Krzysztof Wodiczko.
The artists in the exhibition included: Brian Boigon, Tony Brown, David Buchan, Melvin Charney, Barry Cogswell, Carole Conde/Karl Beveridge, Stephen Cruise, Spring Hurlbut, General Idea, Lyne Lapointe, John Massey, John McEwen, Al McWilliams, Rober Racine, Krzysztof Wodiczko.
• This projection was not part of the exhibition Artists from Canada.