Das Auto Rosi aber
26 Nov 2022 - 14 Jan 2023
And so there it falls into the funnel of meaning-making, the work of art, sucked in by the process in which media, politics, and society manufacture opinions. Faster and faster it corkscrews downward, the work of art, toward the one point that is its inevitable destination, the one possible exit: there it comes! Yes, there it is. The message.
We’ve heard a lot in 2022 about which message works of art send, what they mean to say and do. Squeezed like lemons, they’re supposed to explain themselves, where they stand on morality, which values they stand for, which politics they advocate, and accordingly how licit or illicit they ought to be. Now, we at KOW are friends of political art, even if we prefer to call it art with a focus on society. And that’s exactly why, as this weird year 2022, in which meddlesome tendencies have escalated and coalesced that pester art and other forms of free thinking and action, draws to a close, we thought it was time to take a fresh look at how things actually stand with works of art, with their messages and their politics. As in the past, we gazed in the mirror of our own gallery program. We set out the findings of our inquiry in a presentation of works by nineteen artists represented by the gallery. The show, with which we say farewell to the old year and welcome the new one, is a postulate.
The first thing that struck us: standing before a work, which aspects of it can we actually translate into our language (and whose language, for that matter, is that)? And even when language is literally in the picture (or is an object in its own right), what does it “say”? Or does it show rather than say something? Though if it does, what’s that? A meaning? Unlikely. What it lets us see is not necessarily what’s being shown. And vice versa. And what’s being shown doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on what it means. Sounds complicated? It’s not. What works of art do and achieve, an experience of form, is simply beyond the power of language, ideas, and theories to recover, it can’t be translated into political or moral messages, it’s impossible to squeeze through a funnel, to compress down to an essence, let alone an essence that would be cogent and universally acknowledged. The meaning of a work can never be adequately constructed, it always remains ramshackle, mutable, precarious, amenable to other and othering gazes, and it can take on a completely different cast the day after tomorrow.
To say that works of art harbor intentions, that they “want” something, would be to put it oddly. Strictly speaking, they simply stand and hang there and offer themselves to our looking at and thinking about them. They come with a context, of course, that embeds them in all sorts of premises and aims, too. Still, what becomes of them, which meaning they attain in society’s discourse, is up to the observations and communications of a third party—the audience. What can be said about the intentions of artists is a tricky question. There’s no doubt they take stances, have convictions, want to say and achieve something. Then again, many of them don’t mean to make a big fuss about their intentions. And good intentions, we all know, don’t automatically make good works. What’s more, artists know from daily experience that the form in their work keeps escaping their own intention and control, perhaps even (in the guise, say, of a physical material) defies it. Many works of art come into being in a passage through—in the fulcrum of—these tensions. To claim that works straightforwardly reflect the artist’s intention would be a bit naïve. Especially since communal or collective art forms make it even harder to attribute intentions. And the beholders? What about their intentions? Well, we might say those are half the battle. Their agenda, their designs, their situation contribute to making the work what it is. Yet they, too, experience that they’re never fully on top of it (and anyone who claims otherwise—because they are, say, in the business of evaluating art, as members of an expert committee or jury—can do so only by standing on their authority).
Does this mean that nothing is clear, nothing is cogent, nothing is dependable? No, it doesn’t. It means that views, interests, interpretations, people, and things are perpetually tangled up with each other and keep colliding, which is a good and wonderful and sometimes harsh experience. To be involved with art is to deal in differences and incongruities—and to have an instrument at one’s disposal with which both can be given form, can be cast into a poetic model in which signifiers, interpreters, and meanings can never be made to coincide. An ongoing commotion instead unfolds between them, one that can bring friction and blowups; everything can go awry and be derailed. This commotion sparks a game we might call democratic politics: it brings realities and doubles of the real to the scene, forms whose affiliations are never quite transparent and that our aspirations, intentions, and demands can latch on to—or bounce off of, as the case may be—in an engagement that’s never altogether under our control. We may find that a disruption of our wonted arrangements. But that’s exactly what we need: if we’re open to it, new arrangements emerge on the horizon.
They sometimes harshly disrupt arrangements, affiliations, and attributions, patterns of meaning-making and intentions: emotions. There’s nothing wrong with attributing emotional qualities to the experience of art, but those can run directly counter to intellectual or moral impulses. They can shatter a work (or a person) into colorful facets that are virtually impossible to put back together. That, too, is a form of the political. Pain and concept are very different stories. Both may be present, but they need not interlock and may in fact be utterly antithetical. That’s something we must bear. There’s no seamless identification of work/ feeling/ meaning/ message; indeed, the best we can hope for is that we can experience the inner conflict the work contains within itself. We may also find ourselves conflicted, as when we think something is absolutely gorgeous that we also believe to be, say, profoundly questionable on the moral level. Or vice versa. Can such conflicts be resolved? Sometimes they can’t. Is that bad? No, on the contrary, says the Car Rosi but.
Artists: Anna Boghiguian, Candice Breitz, Marco A. Castillo, Alice Creischer, Chto Delat, Heinrich Dunst, Anna Ehrenstein, Peter Friedl, Sophie Gogl, Clegg & Guttmann, Estate of Barbara Hammer, Hiwa K, Simon Lehner, Renzo Martens, Oswald Oberhuber, Mario Pfeifer, Santiago Sierra, Michael E. Smith, Franz Erhard Walther