Vom Handeln at Halle für Kunst / Lüneburg, Germany

Vom Handeln
Will Benedict,
Bernadette Corporation, Stephan Janitzky, Steffen Jørgensen, HC Playner,
Puppies Puppies, Ulla Rossek and Diamond Stingily

Curated by Stefanie Kleefeld
March 11—April 15, 2018
Halle f. Kunst Lueneburg
Reichenbachstraße 2
Postfach 2128, D-21311

The exhibition “Vom Handeln” is a conceptual
continuation of the three-part group show presented at Halle für Kunst in 2016
and 2017 dedicated to “fantasy,” “expression” and “authenticity.” The show
resulted from the attempt to formulate concepts for those moments that interest
one in works of art, meaning to positively designate aspects that are met by
interest and response, and not only to use a negation to formulate the fact
that that quite a bit of contemporary art exhausts itself to a high degree in
running through references, in evoking a critical impetus, in a vocabulary
schooled in discourse, or in glossy superficiality. Surprisingly, this attempt
has brought notions to the fore that are mainly regarded as obsolete and
reactionary (Fantasy, Expression, Authenticity). Which seemed interesting,
though, because it immediately prompted the question of whether these concepts
could be applied to contemporary art in a way going beyond their clichéd,
essentializing/ substantializing meanings. And if so, how? With the awareness of
the great extent to which these concepts are charged and questionable, the
exhibition series sought to find out how far and in which direction they might
lead us.
While emptied critical and political art
practices have been rightly criticized ever more vehemently in recent years,
discernible in the growing interest of contemporary artists in ambiguity, the
fantastical, surreal, poetic, magical, and abject—in a desire, then, to no
longer seamlessly tie art practices to discourses, references or politics—the
situation now seems to appear much more complicated. Evoking moments of
“fantasy”, “expression” and “authenticity” may no longer be under the general
suspicion of contributing to a hopelessly outdated concept of art, but one
should watch out that in the wake of the critique of the “political as style”
(James Meyer) or of a mainstreaming of critique (Helmut Draxler), a “new
sensitivity,” “intensity as style,” so to speak, does not start to creep in,
which, by rejecting a platitudinous anti-aestheticism, aims at reactivating a
notion of the autonomy of art limited to the formal.
Even if this danger – as a shadow of this new
sensitivity or inwardness or urgency of contemporary art practices already
looming on the horizon, so to say – has been kept in mind and formulated in the
frame of the three-part exhibition series, these considerations are now to be
given more room and the focus is to be placed on the motif of “action” with the
current show. “Action,” understood not as a practice, but in the sense of
Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on the “vita activa”—active life—that occurs in
relation to the world, by means being interested in, e.g. caring for the world.
However, this should be distinguished from the (renewed) vociferous call for
the political in art that is being made in response to the current global
political and social situation. Because what creeps in again is an
appropriation or exploitation of art – namely, being responsible for making a
(political) contribution – that it neither can nor must do justice to. For the
notion that art’s mission lies in being “political” is not only highly
idealistic; art cannot be activist or politically radical at all, since it
would then be politics and no longer art. If art wanted to be political, it
would have to simplify things to such a degree that it would forfeit the entire
complexity of aesthetic experience. It would then be pedagogical or amount to
agitprop. Such an equation would also pose a great threat, because, as of
Christoph Gurk points out, addressing or simulating the political risks making
art an agent of massive de-politicization and a “pressure relief valve that
enables the system to operate all the more effectively.” For engaged art
practices are usually not bound to a concrete political subject or situation,
but merely culminate in a “romantic notion (…) of permanent revolution.”
(Helmut Draxler). Revolution at all times and nowhere, so to speak.
One should not fall back behind these considerations
on the relationship of art, politics and engagement. Nevertheless, the
exhibition by no means grasps itself as dedicated to art and politics. It is
not intent on conveying a picture of what “good” or “contemporary” “politically
committed” art could look like; just as it is not interested in classifying art
as such or attributing categories to it. Instead – like the entire exhibition
series – it is also based on considerations pertaining to art practices in
general and on the attempt to understand the moments that make artworks
interesting. If the focus is on the ambivalence between aesthetics and
commitment, which needs to be explored, on the vacillation between these two
poles, which in the best case cannot be arrested, then this also indicates why
the moment of “action” can be understood as a conceptual continuation of the
thoughts on “fantasy,” “expression” and “authenticity”; and also why the
exhibition itself features artistic positions that maneuver between the poles of
aesthetics/poetics and commitment and therefore, as Hannah Arendt would say,
struggle to set themselves in relation to the world.

Photos by Fred Dott