Smart Dystopian Territories

By Martin Conrads, 10 January 1997

Review of 'discord.sabotage of realities'

Late November in Hamburg, and the Kunstverein and Kunsthaus are hosting an event of quite extensive proportions: 'discord -sabotage of realities', organised by Inke Arns and Ute Vorkoeper, is this year's project for the annual 'Week of Visual Arts, Hamburg'. Its concept is to invert the logic informing the 'Peace Biennale', initiated by Robert Filliou and curated by René Block in 1985. In those days the objective of the show had been "to show peace more excitingly than war". Now that we've got end-nineties, Huntington, Neo-Lib and Microsoft it is seemingly more fitting to make it a hybrid media show based on kind of like the opposite concept. After world-wide calls for participation throughout the year, 34 selected projects (from about 500 submitted) are to be seen in 6 thematically different zones (Control/ News Services/ Everyday Life/ Border Politics/ State Machineries/ Science Fiction and Economy) by artists from countries ranging from China, Columbia or Iceland to (in the majority) Germany.

For the exhibition opening there was a full house, all the more popular because on the same evening Rirkrit Tiravanija's Video-/Library was being opened on the ground floor of the Kunstverein; a public room with lamps by Jorge Pardo and furniture reminiscent of some of Gordon Matta-Clark's floorfractals. Just one floor above and at discord Cornelia Schmidt-Bleek's Space-Lab seems to ironically adopt Tiravanija's cooking-orgy fluxus by technically treating his socialising concept to too much mass testing (you had to queue half an hour sometimes) and with a far more media-mixed approach - the meal-trays come from Frankfurt's Lufthansa Board Service and the atmosphere is contextualised with a video-phone display. Whilst dining you would meet everyone watching Kenji Yanobe's two 'Emergency Escape Pods' being rolled across the room; post-apocalyptic diving bells, equipped with survival kits and all sorts of displays which only work when you have enough coins to constantly insert in order to ensure your survival. Even smart dystopias seem to cling to late capitalism. What is remarkable at 'discord' is the fusion of visual impressions and sound clusters filling the rooms, deriving from such diverse sources as Jan-Peter Sonntag's modern minimal disco-headphones and subwoofing ambient cushion, to the video tape accompanying some virtual territory embassy like the Irwin/NSK-Staff from Ljubljana, issuing Passports for their 'NSK State In Time', or the Invisible Embassy of Seborga [] by Frank Riepe, an autonomous region in Italy every Swiss Army would manoeuvre against in advance anew. Next to it, the Institute for medial Diseases [] by the Swiss artist Markus KŠch seems to claim new territories for body criticism, curating mostly binary-defined deformities like the pixelbreeze syndrom or the fractal syndrome in his First Aid Room. But 'discord' also hosts the less baroque but trés sympatico projects like that catchy action indirecte by Heath Bunting, in which bar codes are fixed to postcards addressed to well-chosen stores and institutions in Hamburg to set off their portal alarm mechanisms when the postman steps inside. Or think of Peder Iblher's fake documentary on the 'Visitor' Enterprise - a secret robot series, stranded on soviet territory by the Pentagon in the early 60s to spy on military and industrial objects. The project, anything but successful then, was consigned to oblivion only to be rediscovered by two US-journalists just a few months ago. Iblher's slide show is based on the collection of remaining photoshots, now "captured and documented in a gigantic flood of banal and often empty and completely useless images". Proving to be a stunning work, 'Car of Desire' by the Tokyo artist Daisuke Nakayama tests your 90s type of subteconscious - a wooden 1:1-model of a futuristic car, softly shaped and massive, and hence the complete opposite of a Jason Rhoades' sportscar. Streamline-designed like a reified mutation of some very secret technologies lab this object claims a presence and identity as uncanny and murderous as Stephen King's Christine or Cronenberg's Crash-artefacts: equipped with razor-sharp blades on the outside to control your wish to touch it, it could be MacGuffin to a whole new series of Zizek-publications.

Yukinori Yanagi in his 'Wandering Position' demonstrates some new GUI metaphor for sensorimotor wilfulness: having nomadically traced an ant's course with pink chalk as it moved through a demarcated square-shaped area on the floor, Yanagi in this A. Bulloch-like drawing seems to give evidence to the nature of a mouse's movement on a screen. This all the more considering the sign next to the installation which states, "A frame is now given to you in which you are to wander". Luckily this work doesn't have to contend with the problem of presenting a website, but uses the trick of just revealing the nature of our most personal browsing strategies. Compared with, for example, Antonio Muntandas 'The File Room' one can see the advantage of not having to present a website by building a gigantic - and for the purpose of the presentation useless - installation with a kafkaesque bureaucratic touch and a few monitors. Muntandas webproject about censorship nevertheless is an important comment on different kinds of media manipulation and diverse versions of a society of control. The problem with the presentation thus might be the more general problem of exhibiting a website as a three-dimensional, self-sufficient installation - which can also be observed with other works at discord. Also as problematic in a similar sense, appears to be the decision to show compressed versions of 26 further projects in an extra room. There, contributions from the likes of arosa 2000, Joshua Decter or Pit Schultz can be viewed as abstracts of proposed projects - lack of space prevents one from knowing where one ends and the next begins. Not only located in Kunstverein and Kunsthaus, discord also expands across the city space, with actions by Louis Couturiere and Jacky Lafargue from France and Canada, who carry posters on their shoulders through the centre ville or some action by tonnage inc. from Austria, in which the furniture of three local cafés is exchanged. At first sounding promisingly anti-ambient, these people soon appear to be simply anti-style by tragically misunderstanding the bottom-up inversion of the discord-meaning - or wouldn't you get just terribly bored if someone calls oneself 'Ztilesab Groeg'?

Martin Conrads

'un-frieden.sabotage von wirklichkeiten/ discord.sabotage of realities' []

Kunsthaus and Kunstverein Hamburg Klosterwall 23 D-20095 Hamburg Until 19/01/97.

with works by:

Daniel G. Andœjar (E), Bertram Abel (D), Marcus Bastel (D/NL), Birgit Brenner (D), Heath Bunting (GB), Gary Carsley (AUS / NL), Chiarenza & Hauser (CH), Louis Couturier & Jacky Lafargue (CAN), Joshua Decter (USA), Bea de Visser (NL), die Farm (D), Peter Dombrowe (D), Stan Douglas (CAN), Gunnar Elksnat (D), eNHANCEMENT & mORErANCH (H), Juergen Erkius (D), Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani (D), Peter FitzGerald (IRL), Mark Formanek (D), Grupo Universidad deAntioquia (CO), Roman Haerer (D), Caroline Hake (D), John Halpern (USA /CH), Judith Haman (D), Klaus Heid (D), Lynn Hershman (USA), Invisible Embassy of Seborga / Frank Riepe (D), Christoph Irrgang (D), Irwin/NSK (SLO), Markus Kaech (CH), Christine Kruse (D), Korpys / Lšffler (D), Oleg Kulik & Mila Bredikhina (RUS), Muntadas (E / USA), Alex Oppermann / Moni Friebe (D), Daisuke Nakayama (J), Mary Patten (USA, Andreas Peschka (D), Protoplast Aktionsgesellschaft (CH), Jayce Salloum (RL/CAN), Hans-Peter Scharlach (D), Cornelia Schmidt-Bleek (D), Pit Schultz (D), Frantisek Skala (CZ), Oleg Soldatov (Uzbekistan), Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag (D), Wolfgang Stiller (D), Janos Sugar (H), Thomas Thiel (D), Ingarsvala Thorsdottir / Shan Zhuan Wu (D/IS/VR CHINA), tonnage inc.(A), tunguska index / Peder Iblher (D), Jamie Wagg (GB), Wang Yigang(VR CHINA), Martin Widerberg / Joachim Stein (S / D), Anja Wiese(D), X, Yukinori Yanagi (J / USA), Kenji Yanobe (J / D), Zhuang Hui(VR China).