The Kunstpavillon is located in Innsbruck’s magnificent Hofgarten park, some of which was planted by Empress Maria Theresa in person. The pavillon is one of three venues operated by the Tyrolean Artists’ Association, which invited the public to ‘desert’ as an option for active withdrawal, for deliberately exiting a deadlocked situation.
The curators Anne Faucheret and Sebastian Stein – together with a group of artists (Lisa Erb, Michael Dobrindt ‘after Marcel Hiller’, Kathi Hofer, Friedrich Kunath and Panos Mylonas) – opened the concept of deserting to debate. The usual division of labour between artist and curator was abandoned in favour of the collective. There were reading groups on texts by Paolo Virno, Jacques Rancière, Henri Laborit and Henry Miller, while the exhibition was understood as an intermediate result and a production space. Although each artist’s individual style remained visible, the artists accepted the aesthetic encroachments of the collective to a greater extent than would commonly be allowed within the definition of an autonomous art work. This also had an effect on the ‘emancipated’ viewer, who was encouraged less to seek out meaningful links between the various narratives and more to be prepared for ‘scenes of dissensus, capable of surfacing at any place and at any time’ – as Rancière puts it in his description of the sensible order in which there is not just one possibility for representation.
Visitors were taken down a peg or two by Michael Dobrindt’s intervention. Standing in for Marcel Hiller – this deputizing, too, was understood as an expression of desertion – Dobrindt lowered the height of the door linking the gallery’s two rooms to 1.50 m, forcing visitors to bow down to the architecture. This seemingly dogmatic dramaturgy of the inevitable was then contradicted by loose accumulations of objects and materials salvaged in part from the venue’s basement: leftover bits of carpet, plastic sheeting, towels or boards, as if casually strewn around the space. Nothing was casual, of course, and certainly not coincidental, and so began the stimulating task of discovering the sensory qualities of the exhibition furniture, the objects, pictures and materials. For Kathi Hofer, this form of archaeology involves the question of how our perception of historical conditions and images is shaped. In her study of the corporate design of Faber Castell’s famous green pencil, she dug for motifs that underlie aesthetic experience. On one of the ugly bar tables that are a seemingly indispensable element of event culture and which was part of the exhibition, she placed a glass containing a bundle of Faber Castell colour pencils. The motif recurred later in the exhibition, this time in a black and white photograph. In the standardized greyscales which for decades defined reproductions of fine art, Hofer traces a history of reception in which translation becomes an allegory about winning and losing.
The ‘treasure of Kirkenes’ – a small town in the north of Norway on the Arctic Ocean – is how Panos Mylonas describes a head-like piece of cast metal which he uses to reconstruct the history of a Polar expedition undertaken by Adolphus Greely in the 19th century. The head-bowl serves as a MacGuffin, an empty, evocative vehicle for research into the ‘re-pre-lithic society’ founded by the artist with the aim of constantly developing new theories in the grey area between reality and projection.
‘Désertieren’ commended itself as a blueprint for an argumentative/combative culture of letting go and of grasping the new. Rather than the much-quoted ‘I prefer not to’ of Bartleby the scrivener in Herman Melville’s story, then, the project followed an appeal formulated in the first of a series of quotations that made up the text accompanying the show. In the words of jazz cosmonaut Sun Ra: ‘If you find earth boring, just the same old same thing, come on and sign up with outer spaceways incorporated.’
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 3