Saturday, December 14, 2013

Global Activism

Street protest in Cairo in 2011 by Arnold Faud
One of the largest surveys of Activist Art in recent years, the Berlin biennial in 2012, was not very well received. 

The Artur Zmijewski-organised show was roundly criticised for inviting protestors to “occupy” the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, which many believed made a spectacle out of social struggle. 

Now, the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, is taking another stab at the topic with “Global Activism”, organised by the museum’s director, Peter Weibel. 

Unlike political art, Activist Art “doesn’t happen in the traditional domain of art,” Weibel says. “It has no product that can be sold nor easily be exhibited in galleries and museums.” Instead, Activist Art revolves around documents, blogs, videos, magazines, etc. 

Thus the definition of art is turned on its head, with the curator rather than the artist establishing the artistic intent behind an activity. 

The approximately 200 objects on show come from nongovernmental organisations such as Greenpeace, protest movements such as ­Occupy, websites such as Wikileaks, and a host of blogs, including Actipedia, Visualising Palestine and Anon News. 

They will be shown alongside works by more traditional artists such as the photographer Taryn Simon, the Berlin-based Thomas Kilpper and the Turner-prize winner Mark Wallinger, whose recreation of Brian Haw’s protest camp originally in London’s Parliament Square, State Britain, 2007, will be a highlight. 

Pieces by the punk rock group Pussy Riot will also be on show. The expansion of art’s boundaries in the 1960s elevated everyday actions to the status of art. 

Weibel says: “Everybody was an artist; smoking a cigarette or not smoking one, could be called art.” And so, he says, books such as Julia “Butterfly” Hill’s account of living in a Redwood tree for 738 days, have a legitimate place in an exhibition. 

But the impetus for the show is the rise of mass uprisings in the Arab world and Turkey, which have shown that established systems of power can “at least for a short moment in history” be interrupted. 

“There are more and more non-governmental institutions,” Weibel says. “This is evidently because people feel that human rights and the environment are no longer protected by the government anymore, but might actually be threatened by it. 

What we are seeing now is a dynamic modern democracy, not created through normal parliamentary dynamics but through people going on the street and protesting.” Julia Michalska Global Activism, ZKM, Karlsruhe, 14 December-30 March 2014 Categories: Thematic

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