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Exhibition in the Great Hall

Participation. Politics of Community

Opening: April 21, 2010, 7 p.m.

The Salzburger Kunstverein was showing a group exhibit entitled “Participation. Politics of Community” in which participatory practices in international contemporary art were examined and on-site projects were realized. The term shall was subjected to critical analysis and its usefulness would be examined. Following Jean-Luc Nancy and his book, “La communauté affrontée,” we again examined the term “community,” an issue that had not lost its significance since the collapse of communism.

These days participation is considered a must in contemporary art, a promise that is often only kept on a basic level. What position is assigned to the co-producers? What kind of freedom do they really have? What kind of selection and steering mechanisms do artists incorporate in order to arrive at the desired result?

The exhibition compiled different contemporary approaches and strategies on this theme. Following a phase of actual analysis of social grouping problems in the 1990s, there is now more attention being drawn to symbolism. The focus of these new approaches is not on the direct socially-altering power of the individual works, rather on the ability to make actual problems experiential through artistic projects, to recognize power constellations, and, if necessary, to shift them or circumvent them through irony and camouflage.

Ruth Kaaserer’s piece entitled “Community Gardens” had the longest history, illustrating the occupation and shared use of wasteland as community gardens in New York City since the 1970s. In her long-term project the artist documents how democracy can work on a small scale.

The revival of significant historical events, such as Jeremy Deller’s reenactment of the struggles between British miners and the police in 1984 in his work, “The Battle of Orgreave” (2001), played an important role in the context of current participatory practices. The renewed confrontation with union struggles led to the introduction of a kind of therapeutic exploration of the traumatic events. Irena Botea’s piece pointed in the same direction, reworking the live broadcast of the 1989 Romanian revolution in “Auditions for a Revolution” (2006).

Demonstrating and releasing excessive social pressure was the chosen method of the now globally active “Complaints Choirs” initiated by
Tellervo Kalleinen and
Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. Using the cleansing effect of ranting, the participants are asked to formulate complaints, which are then sung in public. The Austrian version, the “Vienna Complaints Choir” by the artist Oliver Hangl, was performing at the exhibition opening. Protests, demonstrations, and public speeches were also the work of Sharon Hayes. At the last Istanbul Biennale she had asked her co-actors to read letters to past lovers aloud on the busiest street in Istanbul in order to test the political content of the private and re-establish a place for the private in public life.

Creating community through collective singing is a frequently used strategy in today’s contemporary projects. The Swedish artist, Johanna Billing, rehearsed the song “Magical World” by Rotary Connection with students in a suburb of Zagreb in 2005. The recourse to the political potential of the song contrasted with the current situation of children in post-communist Croatia creates an atmosphere floating between reminiscence and awakening.
Irene and Christine Hohenbüchler also worked with children of a post-communist country as part of the “Periferic Biennale” in Iasi; they were showing the resulting work, “socialprocesses,” at the Salzburger Kunstverein. Visitors were encouraged to enter into the process of self-perception through drawing and produce portraits in the exhibition.

Severin Weiser’s work, “Panic Proof / Krisenfest,” also requested the visitors to take action, inviting them to a treasure hunt while posing the question of the value of art. The young Israeli participants in Ruti Sela and
Maayn Amir’s project were likewise led astray, when they, invited to a meet & greet with young ladies ready for sex, found themselves in a setting in which the issue of the army, military service, and the omnipresent war is dealt with.

Documentary review of actual participatory projects, reenactments, the almost therapeutic work with specific social groups, performances in public space, the camouflage of current social strategies, and artworks that directly call the audience to action: these completely different methods showed the diversity of current approaches to a participatory practice, making the issues raised in the exhibition visible.

In addition to the exhibition of contemporary artists, we were presenting a historical outline of the topic in the form of sample pieces and an archive in the Cabinet.

Artists: Johanna Billing, Irina Botea,
Jeremy Deller, Oliver Hangl, Sharon Hayes, Christine und Irene Hohenbüchler,
Ruth Kaaserer, Tellervo Kalleinen/
Oliver Kochta Kalleinen, Ruti Sela/Maayan Amir, Severin Weiser

Curator: Hemma Schmutz
Project assistant:
Susanne Staelin

Ruth Kaaserer, Community Garden, 2005-2010, New York, phptograph

Ruth Kaaserer, Community Garden, 2005-2010, New York, phptograph
Photo: Ruth Kaaserer

Ruth Kaaserer, Community Garden, 2005-2010, New York, phptograph