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BY MARGUERITE HUMEAU

THE THINGS

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presents

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'"TAR is a tremendous flight of fantasy for those who need to plan a way to escape from this planet or to save it."

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2015 May Characters

DIABOLUS NOVUS

Kendell Geers Vs. Okwui Enwezor

 

A TAR CONTRIBUTION ON THE 56th EDITION OF VENICE BIENNALE // 9 may - 22 november 2015

How can artists, thinkers, writers, composers, choreographers, singers, and musicians, through images, objects, words, movement, actions, lyrics, sound bring together publics in acts of looking, listening, responding, engaging, speaking in order to make sense of the current upheaval?  This is the question that Okwui Enwezor, the curator of the 56th Venice Biennale, put forward during the presentation of his project, called All the World’s Futures. Ewenzor has explained that his interest in conflict stems from the fact that “Over the course of the last two centuries radical changes have made new and fascinating ideas subject matter for artists, writers, filmmakers, performers, composers, musicians.” All the World’s Futures, therefore, looks to the Past. It focuses in particular on an intepretation of  Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus by Walter Benjamin.  “Benjamin - says Enwezor - at a time of an immense crisis compelled us to revision the representational capacity of art. He brought a focus to how the work of art can challenge us to see much further and beyond the prosaic appearance of things.”  TAR asked artist Kendell Geers to discuss Enwezor’s vision. Geers’ work deals with issues of conflicts and history interpretation, and is deeply influenced by his identity as a white Afrikaner raised during apartheid in South Africa.

 

 

 

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress

 

Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History", p. 249

 

 

 

 

 

“Art plays an unknowing game with ultimate things, and yet achieves them”

 

                                                                                                                                                  Paul Klee

 

 

 

 

Paul Klee painted and drew hundreds of angels but “Angelus Novus” is pulled out from the heavens as an icon of history. This is because the work was acquired by Walter Benjamin and ended up in the collection of Gershom Scholem, making it an icon of the “left” for it is understood to represent “the angel of history…. piling wreckage upon wreckage”

Through Benjamin’s eyes, history is read as a storm that propels the angel “into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress”

 

The unspoken truth is that this reading of the work is not the artist’s but Walter Benjamin’s fantasy used as illustration to his 1940 “Thesis on the Philosophy of History.” The words have attached to the work of art and consequently it is raised high in the clenched fists of the intellectual left as a definitive reading of both history and of art. Whilst the work is reproduced in the recent Tate retrospective, it was however not exhibited and were it not for Walter Benjamin it would simply be one more angel in the orchestral choir of Klee’s angels.

 

 

 

 

 

“Formerly it frequently happened to me that when questioned regarding a picture I simply did not know what it represented. I had not seen the subject, so to say. Now I have also included the content so that I know most of the time what is represented”

 

                                                                                                                                                    Paul Klee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The great problem with his story and with history is that it is not

an angel but a demon for it is not written in present tense but in retrospect.

 

 

History is a posthumous accumulation of interpretation that flies directly into the face of lived experience. Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I was witness to the erasure and rewriting of so-called history as the power to decide changed. What was once written into history as conquest and celebrated as a “Day of the Vow” with God himself was rewritten into another version of the same history as a “Day of Reconciliation.” In the transfer of power from Apartheid to Democracy, the days we once heralded as history were added, subtracted, renamed, reworked and reinvented. History is as much a fiction as any other mythology for it has little to do with what actually transpired in the past as much as it is and embodiment of the interpretation of the writer who has the voice to speak on behalf of all others. History is written by the winner and when the winner changes so does their story.

 

I can’t help wondering if Klee would have been happy with Benjamin’s reading of “Angelus Novus” and whether he would have accepted this hierarchy of interpretation in favour of the political reader. The 2015 Venice Biennial shall add yet another dimension to this hierarchy as Okwui Enwezor’s re-reading of Benjamin’s reading shall be elevated to the apex of the pyramid of understanding. The voice of the artist as author is neither heard nor considered as meaning is attributed in accordance with the needs and desires of critic and curator. By just looking at the actual work of art I fail to see much that Benjamin describes  - for where is anything that suggests history? Where is the storm depicted or the wreckage or the debris? Most of what Benjamin describes is simply absent from the image itself. If history’s wreckage and storm are depicted somewhere within this Paul Klee work of art, they are somewhere off stage within the wings of Walter Benjamin’s imagination. Whilst Enwezor certainly acknowledges this striking omission, he nonetheless cites the allegorical reading as definitive, perpetuating the valorisation of reading over writing and of interpretation over intention.

 

“It is the artistic mission to penetrate as far as may be toward that secret ground where primal law feeds growth”

Paul Klee

 

The subjugation of the artist and the work of art in favour of the critic, curator, gallery, collector and ultimately the market could just as well be a profound re-reading of the very same work. Instead of interpreting “Angelus Novus” as the “Angel of History” we could just as legitimately imagine that Klee was referring to and quoting the fourth Eclogue of Virgil and the expression “Novus Ordo Seclorum” that now appears on the Great Seal of the United States and on the back of every One Dollar Bill. Once again the will of the poet, in this case Virgil, has been subjugated in favour of the author of history and the re-reading of the poem translated into political rhetoric. Instead of “New Order of the Ages” the phrase has come to mean “New World Order” and can be read in terms of the all seeing all powerful Capital Eye of Providence watching us from above.

 

The demon represented in “Angelus Novus” might better be understood as none other than the New World Order of Capital Power in which the all seeing eye at the top of the pyramid speaks on behalf of all histories, past present and future. From this perspective the 2015 Venice Biennial could not have chosen a better guardian angel to embody its vision. It might be the mother of all biennials, but it cannot escape the present condition for the pavilions are already historically determined in favour of the wealthy, predominantly European countries that have been granted permission to build their embassies of nationalistic culture. The Palazzos will be prejudiced in favour of those countries and private collectors with the capital necessary to exhibit in the most exclusive of conditions. Press releases, statements, billboards and social media will put the words into our heads that we want to hear and we shall imagine critique, engagement and resistance predetermining our reading of every work. Every resistance however shall not be real for it will not be permitted to threaten the market as Capital dictates and decides what it needs and desires.

 

It would be irresponsible and foolhardy to offer any critique of the Venice Biennial based upon the curatorial statement that I have here been invited to respond to. Okwui Enwezor has, since the Johannesburg Biennial and Documenta, repeatedly displaced the epicentres of the art world and the Venice Biennial may well yet be the brightest feather in an already well decorated cap of achievements, but that discussion will have to await the actual exhibition. It is even more difficult to critique or comment in advance upon an exhibition that promises “All the World’s Futures.” Such megalomaniac themes are ubiquitous of Biennials today as they attempt to be all things to all people without really taking a stand on anything in particular.

 

Re-reading Klee through Benjamin opens an arena full of possibilities, all of which will be a soft imperceptible mist that hangs in the air over Venice as the art tourists gather from across the globe, kissing cheek by cheek trying to get the scoop on who the new artists to invest in are, where the private parties might be is and how to get into the inner circle of the world’s largest money laundering machine. The curatorial vision will matter little to the artists or the silent brokers ruining the ghosts in the machine as Enwezor’s own intentions will have to take a backseat to the drivers of the global art star ship enterprise.

 

The cult of the curator will nonetheless be out in full farce, washing away our interpretations and re-mixing our readings in favour of general consensus. Nobody shall dare to differ for that would make an outcast as we all agree upon who is in and who is out, what is legitimate and what is not. The curators and critics will be the voice of the galleries who in turn are the tongues of the collectors in the chain of power emanating from above. The voice that shall not be heard will be that of the artist and the blind spot will be the actual works of art. Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp will spread the word about what to think about what and whose ego to stroke and who is offside. Irrespective of reading or interpretation, the construction of power embodied within the institutions of art will have predetermined the rights to speak and the artists will simply have been instrumentalized one more time.

 

Plato suggested that artists be excluded from the Republic on the grounds that they are dangerous. We still are and that is why artists must be silenced and why Paul Klee’s tongue had to be ripped out by Benjamin’s reading. If allowed to speak, artists will point to the naked emperors dictating what the “Angel of History” is allowed and not allowed to be. Once permitted a voice, artists will call out the imposters amongst their ranks who have turned to producing for consumers now that it outranks any other labour for profit enterprise today and the stock exchangers turned artists will be left on the inside of the vault as artists release their angels and demons.

 

The very model that currently predetermines the reading of art through the “Death of the Author” is flawed, for it is built upon a foundation in which artists are disenfranchised and their visions diluted with the equivocatory rhetoric of the market demands. In the both Benjamin and Enwezor’s analysis, neither seems to take note of the most important screaming singular detail being that the artist Paul Klee was quite simply actually depicting an Angel. Whilst Benjamin goes to great length describing what is not in the image, he has failed to note what actually is - a divine spiritual being.

 

“The artist's power should be Spiritual”

Paul Klee

 

Angels do not rise up from history, nor are they born in wreckage or bound by time or history. Every child of any faith can tell you that angels come from the divine irrespective of their understanding of what that might be might be. In addition to “Angelus Novus” Klee painted, drew sketched and depicted countless angels, suggesting that Benjamin’s purely materialistic reading of the subject matter was extremely off the mark from Klee’s vision. Whilst I cannot find any reference to a friendship between Klee and Benjamin, the lifelong connection that Klee shared with the author of “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” Kandinsky, is well documented as is Klee’s preoccupation with what Robert Hughes calls “an all embracing theory of visual "equivalents" for spiritual states.” To speak of Klee’s work in general and “Angelus Novus” in particular without reference to the spiritual dimension is like speaking about Karl Marx without referencing Capital.

 

Whilst “All The World’s Futures” promises a great deal to all people with its shotgun ambition, it makes absolutely no reference to the spiritual dimension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can read “Das Kapital” line by line by but for as long as Capital itself is allowed free reign the exhibition shall remain shackled by materialist interests and Spirit shall mourn.

 

 

Spirit may be read as something real or metaphorical, the life force of things, the metaphysics of existence, Schrödinger’s Cat, Quantum entanglement, synchronicity or “Angelus Novus” but without acknowledging Spirit, the nature of art is dead. The true artist lives very close to their nature and understands that this nature cannot be excluded from nature itself. The division of scientific, political, social and aesthetic life into isolated specialities that comprise the contemporary experience materialist to the extreme and dislocates our individual experience of the world we live in from the world we depend upon to live. As an essentially materialist critique and Marxist analysis is ultimately no better than the Capital it invites us to contest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without the spiritual dimension and without a vision, our materialistic lives, the art and the histories it has invested in, will all simply disintegrate into dust and ashes.

 

 

The planet has called a state of emergency, put us on meltdown status because our species has devoured every resource and raped every opportunity available and we have overstayed our welcome in nature’s banquet of opportunity. We have divided every nature and created hierarchies in favour of our species. Within that hierarchy we created another with Capital and its voicemen at the pinnacle. Perhaps it might be wise today to return to the vision suggested by the poet Goethe, re-considering our relation to nature as being an integral part of own nature. Our perception and our reading of our place on the planet predetermines our placement within the co-dependent natural cycles of life and death. The hierarchical divisions that Capital has created in order to secure its own logic and profit has resulted in the breakaway of our species from the nature that we depend upon in order to survive. If kept unchecked, this arrogance will accelerate us into a freefall over the cliff of survival into the abyss of extinction. Fortunately the planet will survive even if we will not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Art is a simile of the Creation. Each work of art is an example,

just as the terrestrial is an example of the cosmic” Paul Klee

 

 

We are living in an extremely contradictory moment of an ultra confusing era. Whilst every agency of Capital promises to save the world with organic solutions and new age concoctions of yoga, massage, tantra, meditation, tai chi, anti-oxidants, renewable resources and rejuvenation retreats, they are all more often than not facelifted versions of the same old bank accounts. The lifestyles that exhibitions like the 2015 Venice Biennial are embodying and depend upon for support are unsustainable and unless checked the acceleration will only increase into complete meltdown. The artist, the dangerous artist, can show the way through the re-integration of human nature with that of nature itself, working in tune and with nature rather than against it. The artist, unperturbed by the dictatorial readings of curators, unshackled by the demands of galleries and collectors, unhinged from the flippers of fashion, will be free to express the world of spirit, to channel the inner dimensions of understanding that guide and locate the human animal in a holistic experience of all creatures, animal, vegetable and mineral. If artists take back their rights to speak, accept responsibility for their socio-political, intra-cultural and aesthetic role in channel the demons of future history, their voice may just open the doors of perception and the critics, curators, galleries, collectors, bankers, industrialists, politicians, stock brokers, entrepreneurs, merchants, businessmen and businesswomen may just come to their senses and the power that they collectively yield will be sufficient to stop the train of consequence from hitting the steel wall of mother nature’s wrath. In William Blake’s now ubiquitous words “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”

 

It is such a pity that in “All The World’s Futures” the world of Spirit will not be invited as a V.I.P. guest to the private party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monica Bonvicini

LATENT COMBUSTION #2, 2015

chainsaws, wood axe, black polyurethane, matt finish, steel chains - approx. 300 x 120 cm

© Monica Bonvicini, VG Bild-Kunst

Courtesy the artist, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, König Galerie - Photo Jens Ziehe

 

Xu Bing

Phoenix, 2012-2013.

 

56. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures

56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures

 

Photo by Alessandra Chemollo

Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia

 

Isaac Julien

DAS KAPITAL Oratorio

Padiglione Centrale – Central Pavilion ARENA

 

56. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures

56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures

 

Photo by Andrea Avezzù

Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia

 

Isa Genzken Luxury Cottage, Montauk, NY , 2000

Model Scale 1:50

 

56. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures

56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures

 

Photo by Alessandra Chemollo

Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia

 

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