ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Life Worlds and Image Worlds

Everything Counts


Mattias Olofsson »Culture Constructing Nature« 2005

Text by Jacob Birken

In modernity it has often been claimed that since their separation from the court and church, the fine arts have lost their representative function; that they no longer serve to represent the powerful and the mediation of their worldview, but rather ultimately stand for themselves – put simply, l'art pour l'art. However, this is evidently not such a straightforward matter, for contemporary art might very well be seen as representative of a prevailing system – in our case, then, a democracy partly determined by the market.

To the essence of the market and of democracy belongs counting, and, at least in democracy, justice means that in counting nobody is to be excluded. This idea also comes into its own in curatorial work, where an exhibition is meant to convey a comprehensive picture of an art scene – or even, as is the case with ours, that of the plurality of art worlds. During the work on the The Global Contemporary, however, I found myself asking more frequently, whether the mode of “representation” in art ought rather to be treated not so much as a standard, but as a problem. According to what criteria may we determine who may represent whom? The readily employed criteria for this, rapidly turns out to be over simplified and reactionary, such as the question of national affiliation, or place of birth. But how is the concept of proxyship to be understood? The fact that an exhibit should stand as “representative” of the artistic production of a region or scene, means that the artists in question, all of a sudden, become “mouthpiece” for others, though without any such intention.

In art itself, however, the power relations – which creep in by questionable means as a consequence of this idea of representatives – are themselves, happily, shaken. When, in the Xijing Olympics, the utopian site “Xijing” is celebrated as a peaceful and humorous antithesis to the otherwise not entirely benign native countries of the three artists, the absurdity of these identity branding events – such as international sport’s events – becomes visible. In Mattias Olofsson’s series on the ‘great Stina‘, a Laplander who had been degraded to a circus attraction in the 19th century, we are confronted with the insight that exclusion on the basis of regional affinity or according to a binary notion of gender cannot be discussed solely as a historical phenomenon.

In my view, the plurality of art worlds means that we reject a division of the world into irrevocable identities and their unambiguous representations – and that this is accompanied by the hope that the visitors to this exhibition understand it not as an “accredited” illustration of contemporary art production, but as a detail from a present which, by virtue of its respective character, also takes place in all other locations.


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