Positionings. Critical Responses to the “Refugee Crisis” in Art and Literature
FKW // Zeitschrift für Geschlechterforschung und visuelle Kultur, www.fkw-journal.de,
Special issue, No. 67, Autumn, 2019, ed. Liesbeth Minnaard, Kea Wienand
Deadline for submission proposals: December 1, 2018
The recent rise in migratory movements to the European Global North and the simultaneous increase in attempts to forestall this immigration has resulted in numerous images and narratives that try to capture and mediate the happenings at Europe’s borders. Many of these representations render the actors involved in these migratory movements suspect, and present those happenings as beyond our control. At the same time, however, representations of flight and illegalized migration have been accompanied by discussions about their appropriateness, their moral justifiability and the diverse ways in which they are being mobilized. Part of these discussions, that not only take place in the fields of art and literature, but also in popular culture and public media, is the search for more ‘critical’ approaches to the topic; a call for new grammars and alternative imaginaries that avoid the criminalizing discourse on terrorism and threat, and that escape the pitfalls of the “overarching trope of victimhood.”i The question at stake in this issue of FKW is what counts as critical in our current situation? What does a critical position actually entail in a Europe
that emphatically stages itself as ‘in crisis’ and as at loss with its identity?
Chantal Mouffe states that “critical art is art that foments dissensus, that makes visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate.”ii But
what does this mean in a time in which claims of crisis and states of exception determine the dominant consensus, and the ideas that ‘we need to stop this’ and that ‘there is no alternative’ are
primarily explained in terms of drawing lines and closing borders. In a time in which a supposedly feminist agenda is invoked in order to legitimate acts of hostility and violence against
‘others’iii or to install and justify mechanisms of exclusion?iv And in a time in which the use of adjectives such as
fake and bogus result in a broadly felt sense of distrust? We, as editors of this special issue of FKW, believe that it is of the utmost importance to intervene in such debates about defending
Europe and protecting an (ill-defined) European identity and to reflect, from a gender-critical, cultural-analytical point of view, on what it means (or should mean) to be critical about suchlike
discourses and practices.
We therefore invite contributions that discuss thought-provoking perspectives and possible answers and alternatives in the fields of art, literature, theatre and performance, but also in the broader fields of popular culture and political activism; contributions that ponder on the question what it means to be critical in these various fields of cultural production, and critical in respect of what (and what not)? What are the – ideological, material, moral – effects of critical artistic positions? And can critical artistic interventions actually bring about a broader shift in people’s thoughts and attitudes towards these migratory processes, or is the current topicality of the refugee crisis in art and literature simply profitable, as was suggested in regard to the various works on the refugee crisis by Ai Weiwei?
The 67th issue of FKW aims to address suchlike questions and to explore both the possibilities and the limits of artistic forms of critique on Europe’s migration politics. We welcome contributions that address the above-mentioned questions as well as related issues, either on a more philosophical/theoretical level or by discussing specific case studies from the fields of art, literature, performance, activism and popular culture.
This issue of FKW will be bilingual: contributions can be written either in German or English.
Proposals for contributions are due December 1, 2018. Please send an abstract (in English or German, 250 words maximum) and a short CV to the issue editors, Liesbeth Minnaard (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Kea Wienand (email@example.com), who can also be contacted in case of questions. The submission deadline for accepted contributions is March 30, 2019. The 67th issue of FKW will be published in Autumn 2019.
i Celik, Ipek A. (2015): In Permanent Crisis. Ethnicity in Contemporary
European Media and Cinema. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press.
ii Mouffe, Chantal (2007): Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces. In: Art and Research: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods 1, no. 2, o.P.
iii Butler, Judith (2004): Precarious Life. The Power of Mourning and Violence. London/New York, Verso.
iv Hark, Sabine und Paula-Irene Villa (2017): Unterscheiden und Herrschen. Ein Essay zu den ambivalenten Verflechtungen von Rassismus, Sexismus und Feminismus in der Gegenwart. Bielefeld, transcript.
Statement to the documenta14 (2017)
From the point of view of the
Research Group ART PRODUCTION AND ART THEORY IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL MIGRATION the documenta14 has:
_ through their theoretical subsidence,
_ through the diversity of chosen locations, exhibition formats and presentation forms as well as
_ by initiating public debates in various media formats
enabled heterogeneous, particularistic perspectives on art. The exhibition has established "other" narratives of art history – i.a. from the view of exiles, refugees, displaced persons – and thus from the perspective of those who are in the (western) art system generally not perceived or consciously marginalized.
With this concept and the choice of the two equal locations Athens and Kassel, the international curatorial team led by Adam Szymczyk deepened the critical approaches of earlier documenta editions as well as it expanded the narrowed view of the art production and art theory in the wake of global migration by a non-Eurocentric perspective.
The following aspects of the d14 should be emphasized as being particularly innovative and traiblazing:
On the critique of the documenta14
Particularly the thematic focus of the documenta14 on migration and flight, as well as the decisions of the curatorial team far from the art market, have led to violent, often disproportionate and unspecific critique while and after the exhibition – of the entire structure of the d14, and finally of the freedom of it’s artistic director (incl. the supervisory board, selection committee and rules of procedure).
For example, the German newspaper Die Zeit opposed against the installation of the Arnold Bode Prize winner 2017 Olu Oguibe on the Kassel Königsplatz and the new exhibition sites in the Kassel Nordstadt: "The Documenta offers platitudes [...] in excess [...]. A concrete obelisk quotes the Bible: 'I was a stranger and you hosted me'.” And the critique finally led to the statement "[...] that Documenta14 had crashed so badly at the end that she abuses the art and does not even shrink from making Kassel's migrant Nordstadt the backdrop for her repentance and lamentations [...]."(Die ZEIT, 15.6.2017).
Daily newspapers such as Die Welt called for the "absolute freedom" of the Documenta curators to be restricted, to control the supervisory board and, if necessary, to depose him, as well as to replace the artistic director if he turns out to be as "negligent and incompetent as Adam Szymczyk" (Die Welt, 28.7.2017); and the Neue Züricher Zeitung pleaded for the "disempowerment of the airy-fairy and intellectually outraged curatorial caste" and questioned the selection committee and the rules of procedure fundamentally (NZZ, 2.8.2017).
When, after many protests, the performance Auschwitz on the Beach was cancelled by the documenta management in Kassel and replaced by a conference – in which the Italian philosopher and activist Franco "Bifo" Berardi brought up and explained his (regretted) comparison of the European migration policy with the Holocaust – the predominantly negative judgment in the press was sealed. There were only a few voices left, who supported the documenta team's response on this issue, as Philipp Ruch, the spokesman for the "Center for Political Beauty" in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, (SZ, 27.8.2017) or the editor the magazine Monopol Elke Buhr, who was committed to the "great-like setting" of the show.
But there were also distinctly different voices, so by the German party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD), which called Olu Ogiube’s obelisk on the Königsplatz as "ideologizing and disfiguring art" and furthermore connected this statement with the announcement, to call for demonstrations in front of the Obelisk in "every attempt by refugees".
After the end of documenta14 and the news of the budget overrun, the exhibition motto "Learning from Athens" became the vehicle for the renewed stereotypical devaluation of Greece, as it had already emerged in the wake of the former financial crisis: The press response ranged from rather ironic headlines in the German television news Tagesthemen ("Learning from Athens – the failure documenta14", 14.9.2017) or on Deutschlandfunk ("To learn from Athens – does that mean debts?", 23.8.2017), up to more accusingly statements on a populist website close to the AfD ("Learned from Athens: The bankruptcy of documenta", achgut.com, 13.9.2017). This was followed by a complaint filed by the AfD at the Kassel prosecutor's office against the documenta management "for embezzlement” and to proceed “all other crimes coming into consideration". Here the overlapping of the (cultural) political dimension of the criticism of the documenta14 by particularly right-wing party-political objectives became particularly clear.
The prevailing image of the "failure" of the documenta has been increasingly relativized in recent months – through comments by the participating artists and associates, through analyzes in the press (including Deutschlandfunk, 17.9.2017, Der Spiegel, 3.12.2017), in art-historical journals (Kunstchronik, 12/2017), and an open letter from more than 130 museum directors, artists and other experts from 16.1.2018.
With our statement we want to support the previous comments and demands, as well as continue the debate.
The Research Group ART PRODUCTION AND ART THEORY IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL MIGRATION
vehemently takes a stand:
_against the exclusive, hasty and populist focus on the budget overrun of the d14, which was not singular in the history of the exhibition, and which is attributed to the longer duration and the exhibition in two places in the current case;
_against the political absorption of exhibitions and exhibition critique, which is guided by migrant / xenophobic interests and contradicts the specialized requirements of global exhibition projects;
_against the public distribution and media dissemination of marginalizing and segregating political content and political insistence in the context of the documenta14, which stand in stark contrast to the requirements for a balanced and competent press work as well as the cultural-political tasks in Germany, and which in the sense of a competent, free and open cultural promotion are not acceptable.
Looking to the future, the Research Group ART PRODUCTION AND ART THEORY IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL MIGRATION shares the view of the documenta14 team:
"that it is time to put the system of added value to such mega exhibitions as the documenta to the test. [...]. The expectations of ever-growing success and economic growth not only lead directly to exploitative working conditions, but also jeopardize the possibility that the exhibition will remain a place of critical action as well as an artistic field of experimentation."
However, this will only succeed,
policy-makers in Germany bethink of their duty of cultural promotion and educational mandate, fundamentally reflect the framework and budgeting of exhibition projects as the documenta, and if
they expressly speak up for the continuity of one of the most important exhibitions for contemporary art under artistic and curatorial acceptable economic and socio-political
_if curatorial independence and adequate artistic-curatorial working conditions are ensured before, on and after documenta (e.g. 5-year contracts, etc.);
_if, as an exposed international exhibition, documenta remains fundamentally committed to its history and the diversity of artistic positions and modes of work, as well as to the recent global conditions of contemporary art production beyond conditions of the art market.
On the subject of documenta14, Monopol aptly states: "Adam Szymczyk's documenta14 captures the best of documenta's history: Arnold Bode's insistence on democracy, Harald Szeemann's radical questioning of the concept of art and the courage to chaos, and from Catherine David and especially from Okwui Enwezor the insight that the Western art system is a west-centred, colonial organization that desperately needs a more global perspective." (Monopol, July 15, 2017).
For the research group ART PRODUCTION AND ART THEORIE IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL MIGRATION and its members, the documenta14 has provided new impulses for the further examination of the manifestations, cultural practices and subject-specific dimensions of migration and flight. The documenta14 has made it clear that artistic theory and practice in its history up to the present is generally not conceivable without a continuous, open and lively cultural exchange – and that the migration of actors, ideas, insights and things is the actual "normal case" plural cultural expression.
We hope from the next documenta that their artistic direction with an international team of curators will continue to develop different perspectives on the role of art and the conditions of global art production and present it to an international audience – free from market interests and without unprofessional, petty-bourgeois or right-wing populist motivated permanent criticism.
The statement will be published in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte in June 2018.
Representing the Research Group ART PRODUCTION AND ART THEORY IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL MIGRATION, this statement is signed by:
Dr. Buket Altinoba, Institut für Kunst- und Baugeschichte, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)
Dr. Charlotte Bank, Berlin
Dr. Irene Below, Werther/Westf.
Dr. Cathrine Bublatzky, Heidelberg Zentrum für Transkulturelle Studien, Universität Heidelberg
Prof. Dr. Burcu Dogramaci, Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Prof. Dr. Elke Gaugele, Institut für das Künstlerische Lehramt, Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien
Prof. Dr. Gabriele Genge, Institut für Kunst und Kunstwissenschaft, Universität Duisburg-Essen
Prof. Dr. Birgit Hopfener, Art History, Carleton University, Ottawa, CA
Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos, Arbeitsbereich Mode und Ästhetik, Technische Universität Darmstadt
Dr. Franziska Koch, Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context, Universität Heidelberg
Katrin Nahidi, Berlin
Dr. Miriam Oesterreich, Arbeitsbereich Mode und Ästhetik,Technische Universität Darmstadt
Prof. Dr. Kerstin Pinther, Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Dr. Angela Stercken, Institut für Kunst und Kunstwissenschaft, Universität Duisburg-Essen
Apl. Prof. Dr. Melanie Ulz, Institut für Migrationsforschung und Interkulturelle Studien (IMIS), Universität Osnabrück
If you would like to support this statement as a professional colleague or institution, and also wish to sign it, please send us an e-mail (with name, institution / institution) via the following form:
Prof. Dr. Anja Baumhoff, Kunst- und Designgeschichte, Hochschule Hannover Fb III
Regula Rickert, Kunstpädagogin, neue-galerie.net
Dr. Anja Baumhoff, Hochschule Hannover