For some time now art and art history have been going in opposite directions. A revival of enthusiasm for painting and a renewed interest in Greenberg have re-established the idea of the pure image. 'Bohemian Dip' (1999) felt, to a certain extent, as if it were committed to the concept of theatricality famously criticised by Michael Fried. And this exhibition by three Berlin artists - Judith Hopf, Katrin Pesch and Nicolas Siepen - was certainly live: it only lasted an evening. In a venue better known as a club, the artists performed three tableaux vivants in a larger-than-life picture frame to a tape of voices narrating a dialogue that sounded like a radio play with music. A sign saying 'L'Entrepreneur' was stuck to one of the window-panes as though it was the name of the exhibition venue, but turned out to be the name of the bar in which the first scene is played out. It is 1886 and Detective Pinkerton 'the eye that never sleeps', offers the services of himself and his 30,000 assistants to the Chicago police chief, a man named Schaak, and to a factory owner, in order to put a stop to the unrest that is boiling up among the workers.
After a short change of scene, the furniture, foreshortened to indicate a sense of depth in the picture-frame of the stage, suggested a different establishment: an editorial meeting in a venue used by anarchists. Three people play out the scene: a waiter and two possible editors for Der Vorbote, the first newspaper of the workers' movement, one of them the impressive Lady Lucy Gonzales.
Newspapers and burlesque tableaux vivants were used in Chicago in 1886 for political demonstrations by anarchists. Occupying an ambiguous space between copy and physical presence, it is a medium that can establish a visible link between wish and analysis.
'Bohemian Dip' was concerned with the question of political forms which cannot and will not be separated from decidedly subjective desires. Lady Gonzales talks about 'good ideas with new content' with the emphasis on good ideas, as the dialogue jumps between 1886 and the present day.
The final scene - a picnic on the grass that looks like Manet's Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863) - is historically vague: simply described as 'later' in time. Utopianism has dissolved in a pistol bullet that was fired at Lady Gonzales at the end of the second scene: the story of the anarchists' revolts in Haymarket did not have a happy ending. A lot of people were killed, some were executed, and today there is almost nothing to remind us of the moment when anarchy represented a serious threat to American capitalism. This is by no means a reason to close the file; in other places, sentimental bits and pieces turn up that admit a narrative beyond the rhetoric of defeat and wailing about the inner conflicts in left-wing movements. As an off-stage voice remarks: 'Keep working on the fact that things can be changed... errrm, could we try that again please?'
Translated by Michael Robinson
First published in Issue 49