Absolute Democracy

1.Nikolay-Oleynikov-et_.al_.jpg

Nikolay Oleynikov, Can Real Democracy Cause Jaw Displacement?, Mural and fight library, 2012

Nikolay Oleynikov, Can Real Democracy Cause Jaw Displacement?, Mural and fight library, 2012

Can an activist art practice offer alternatives to the social order of late-capitalism? This question animated Truth is concrete. A 24/7 marathon camp on artistic strategies in politics and political strategies in art at the steirischer herbst festival in Graz. The camp’s founding query seemed to get an affirmative answer in the conference cum exhibition and film programme Absolute Democracy, all organized by Carlos Motta and Oliver Ressler. Their curatorial thesis was painstakingly optimistic, stubbornly insisting upon the possibility of freedom and equality even when many of the works suggest otherwise. This tension hangs over the contributions to the overall project from eight individual artists and six collectives.

The communal spirit of politics began with Nikolay Oleynikov’s Can Real Democracy cause jaw displacement (2012), an installation generated by a week-long workshop with eight participants from the camp. Oleynikov drew parallels between political and physical resistance with his novel workshops, like kickboxing classes and a ‘fight library’. Yet such exaggerated appeals for antagonism sit uneasily with his homey installation, which includes welcoming rugs for people to hang around in the gallery and thus suggests an unresolved dynamic between the project’s ethos and its practice.

The international collective Ultra-red’s Four Protocols for a School of Echoes (2010–12) took a more passive approach by presenting field recordings from four cities: Berlin, London, Los Angeles and New York. Each ‘sound object’ resulted from an Ultra-red member’s engagement with a specific political context and documents the proceedings of a local town meeting, a rally and a university seminar. In the recordings, moments of clarity quickly dissolve into the chaos of a room full of speaking voices. The work manifests the volatility of democracy as a political form, proving that its moments of success are hard won and transient.

Processes of collective identification are also examined in Nicoline van Harskamp’s Yours in Solidarity (2009–12), a multi-media installation that delves into the papers of the late Dutch anarchist Karl Max Kreuger. Harskamp displayed Kreuger’s correspondence with his compatriots in framed and projected text works. These epistolary exchanges were also animated by actors in a video of a scripted performance, which resembles a town hall meeting in a drab municipal conference room. Mixing banal statements with subversive sentiments, the piece produced a realistic Utopianism, which holds onto the promise of radical politics while acknowledging the history of its shortcomings.

Mariam Ghani’s Kabul: Constitutions (2003–05) also probes the limits of politics through an elaborate investigation into the Constitutional Loya Jirga. This ‘high tech tent complex’ was erected to house the Afghan constitutional assembly in 2004 (the Pashto term ‘loya jirga’ describes a traditional grand council of tribal elders). Ghani’s two-channel video shows the central plenary tent, hallways and checkpoints (a map was included to orientate the viewer through the vast structure). Yet the video’s careful study of the peripheral minutiae – guards pacing, people whispering in the stands – emerged as the work’s focus: the material reality grounding the formation of politics. Indeed, if the exhibition as a whole succeeded, it was not by proposing political alternatives, but rather by offering another material experience of politics.

Ellen Feiss is a writer based in London, UK.

frieze d/e

Winter 2012
Issue 7

First published in Issue 7

Winter 2012

Most Read

The derelict Croydon airport, Batman as a sainted figure, and a potential new work: a road movie going nowhere
The fourth edition sees Saudi artists delivering work that is unfettered, brave and relevant
The new director of London's ICA discusses rebuilding, restructuring and the integrity of culture
From Umberto Eco on fascism to Thomas Pynchon’s stand-in: what to read this weekend
Hockney’s masthead for The Sun and ways to make the bubble bigger: a cultural report from the capital
In the studio with Pedro Friedeberg, the last of Mexico’s Surrealists
Included in CTM Festival in Berlin, musician Guillermo Galindo discusses the instruments he builds from the discarded...
A round-up of the best shows in the city, ahead of this year's Zona Maco, which runs from 8 – 12...
Anish Kapoor to use $1m prize money to aid refugees; 57th Venice Biennale artist list published
Hauser & Wirth, London, UK
Could online communication provide a new model for contemporary writing? Patrick Langley on two debut novels from ...
Ahead of the India Art Fair, which opens this Thursday, Bharti Lalwani rounds up the best shows in the Indian...
How the volatile political climate in the US might influence this year’s voting
Various venues, Madrid, Spain
Centre d'Art Contemporain, Geneva
A report from Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 
A round-up of the city’s best current shows, to coincide with this year's Art Los Angeles Contemporary, which...
Rome has long been a draw for international artists and now, increasingly, galleries. Have Italian artists been left at...
Ahead of Artgenève this week, a round-up of the best shows in the Swiss city

Latest Magazines

Frieze Masters

October 2016
frieze d/e issue 25, Autumn 2016

frieze d/e

Autumn 2016

frieze magazine

Jan - Feb 2017