Quer Feld Über. Zur Topologie von Kunst
The cataloque pubished by "Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg" (ISBN 978-3-940748-54-6).
Quer Feld Über [Crossover country] - the title of the book tracing back to the old version of the German phrase „querfeldein“ [cross country] - means the, in the course of the project, growing realization that the fi eld of contemporary art is not a marked and defined place. In cultural studies terms such as „space“, „place“ and „field“ for quite some time have become very popular and nowadays it is almost courteous for the artist „to enlarge upon the space of his exhibition“. The present book is not about preaching to the choir but rather an attempt to verify the confi rmed Topology of Art empirically. The preposition „to“ which we prefixed to the buzzword „Topology“ in the subtitle refers to a mode of approximation and a quantum of critical distance from handy formulas and discourses.
Reason and pool of the material to this publication is a project which took place under the title Trans-Action - Sculptures of Transition in the gallery of the cultural center Weltecho and various other public places in Chemnitz. Five artists from five different countries - Eduardo Molinari/Argentina, Olaf Nicolai/Germany, Yin Xiuzhen/China, Hannes Rickli/Switzerland and Roman Dziadkiewicz/Poland - were invited to create installations, actions and interventions that would interact with the urban space of the Saxon industrial city and the there upon written history. The idea was explicitely not a decoration of urban empty spaces with artworks and not in the least an artification of fields of industry as it was practiced in the 1990s. It was rather an attempt - loosely tied in with the enlarged art concept of Beuys - to make art itself a medium and motor of social sensitivity.
Chances and limits as well as specific contents and forms of such an experiment had been in mind, at best vaguely, and rather more as an evocational formula. In a manner of speaking it was a bet - a bet on the potentials of the city and the invited artists, which meant staking everything on the productive situation of the encounter that not least fortunately coincided. Only in the course of the conceptions and realisations of each project, the therewith connected research and discussions, the presence of the artists and their actions and inter actions, the proclaimed Sculptures of Transition were actually taking shape. If this process retrospectively proves to be, not only an examination with the specific locality of Chemnitz but with the disputable place of contemporary art, it is then, next to all the participants, also due to the genius loci - a symptomatic and symbolical quality of the exhibition venue - an element also comprehensible and present in Beijing, Buenos Aires , Krakow or Zurich.
Regarding the changing topography of the city of Chemnitz on views and cards since the 18th century, one gets an idea of the energies set off by modernity, but not only that: in the same degree and inseparable from it, the „limits of growth“ come into the view to which the unleashed powers of productivity are adjoining. Chemnitz owes its reputation as the „Manchester of the continent“ to the industrial revolution of the textile industry in the 19th century. The thereby released historical dynamic not only engendered completely new topographies of the city but also that these - more than once - have vanished again. Already, in the following century, there was nothing left of the introspective city of the 18th century which was surrounded by a wall and a moat of hardly a kilometer in diameter. If one looks at the overfl owing industrial city of the 19th century with its hundreds of steaming chimneys, one gets the impression of a volcanic area of factories at the place where the city used to be. Around the 19th century 80% of the world‘s production of stockings came from Chemnitz and the surrounding areas. With engine constructions, locomotive and vehicle manufacturing, profitable successive industries settled. The total population that added up to nearly 10.000 in 1800, exceeded 300.000 at the beginning of the 20th century. Since the 1920s the infrastructure had been planned for a future megacity with circular roads and a subway. The at the time built shopping centers as well as a cultural infrastructure with art collections, opera house, theater and museums witness the self-conception as a growing metropolis to the present day.
If Chemnitz‘ vision as a metropolis had been fulfilled under different circumstances, we do not know. Fact is that the dynamic of the industrial age fell back on the city in the form of bombing from the allies in World War II. Classified as a decisive target for the outcome of the war, the modern metropolis shared the destiny of the vanishing small town in the previous century: 95% of the city center and two thirds of the entire urban area were destroyed completely on March 5, 1945. The city‘s physiognomy speaks of its extinction to their inhabitants and visitors even today. Since the 1950s, the conducted socialistic development project under the name of „Karl-Marx-Stadt“ with its industrialized apartment blocks, vacant lots and invasive roads underlines the preceded worst case scenario rather than concealing it. After all, in the following 40 years the industrial site regenerated once again: about a fi fth of the gross national product of the former GDR was produced in Karl-Marx-Stadt and its surrounding area. After the collapse of the socialistic experiment, however, Karl-Marx-Stadt, built on the ruins of Chemnitz, was destined to disappear with the majority of its manufacturing companies and their employees. A remnant from those days is the Karl-Marx-monument by the soviet sculptor Lew Kerbel in the city center as well as a crackling emptiness of historical tension to which neither the newly built shopping malls and multistory parking lots nor the efforts to „museumcise“ the city‘s passed history in the form of a touristic attraction as a „City of Modernity“ bring any relief.
The most remarkable aspect, because referring to the presence of the declared „City of Modernity“, consists of the implicit assumption that modernity has irrevocably passed. Consequently, such a perspective marks the present Chemnitz as a quasi utopian city - a city beyond history whose space and time are now subject only of a „museumcised“ reconstruction. This ambition, however, to reconstruct such an identity of Chemnitz from the historical beyond is based on a fundamental error: because more than any Museum of Industry or any high-class collection containing art pieces of the „classic modernity“, it is the remaining emptiness in the streets of the city that sets a monument to the now gone modernity. It is precisely this emptiness that exposes the kinetic energies of the Industrial Age. And even more so: not only does this emptiness swallow the city and its modernity but also every possible presence. Where marketing strategists of Chemnitz evoke a „City of Modernity“ to spare the worrying confession that it does no longer exist - or only as a subsequent fi ction - , the urban reality of the city appears to be like a terrific mirror: it reflects the global village where discourses of modernity and post-modernity are circulating. Exactly in this other empty side of the city the most majestic museum is located: a museum of the present whose single exhibit is the absent human.
When the museum proves to be an Elysian field to set down the drama of the human being and to purify from it, does this not mean in reverse that the orphaned battle field of history is the only remaining place of „contemporary“ art? The project TransAction - Sculptures of Transition was designed as an attempt to understand this emptiness at the outset of modernity as a resource and a challenge. The artists from Argentina, China, Germany, Poland and Switzerland whom we invited to Chemnitz were chosen for the sensitivity to social, medial and local contexts of their art works. We are grateful that they not only accepted the invita tion but also have taken it so seriously. Despite numerous obligations - among them representative international exhibi tion projects and art festivals - they repeatedly arranged to come to Chemnitz for weeks or months to generate their projects from the direct experiences of the city. As expected, they have dealt in different ways with this challenge. Nevertheless a multitude of analogies and intersections of their perceptions, artistic approaches and methods is visible - in the end, being banned from the Garden of Eden of modernity, it comes down to the gen eral question about the conditions of art in which their installations and actions are converging. Key words such as employment, archive, memory, subjectivity, collectivity, multiplicity, transformation and utopia provide only some - in their generality vague - key points that entwine about the art works and debates that are reflected in this book. They tell enough, however, to document that art in the 21st century is not a closed system but a contra dictory field convoluted with various social contexts. To determine on which side the actual place of art is located, is apparently as impossible to score as at the most classical of all topological figures - the „Moebius strip“.
When reality itself is disappearing and its common topography uncertain, it falls to art - speaking with Heidegger - to clear [räumen] its space [Raum] first and foremost. During editorials we tried to take this realization into account. According to the processual character of the art works the assembled texts can be compared to snapshots: protocols of discussions with scholars in cultural and media studies and other experts including the artists themselves.
The volume opens with an interview with the media artist and space researcher Yana Milev to whom we owe the programmatic formula of a Sculpture of Transition. Under the title „Industry - Utopia“ the fi nal contribution of the Argentinean architect and urbanist Celia Guevara and the video artist Ricardo Pons gets back - from the perspective from the other side of the world - to the post-industrial space which we defined using the example of Chemnitz as the field of experiment of this project. At the same time it advertises the symposium which is planned at the end of the project on the topic of Utopia - Wunschfabrik Stadt [Utopia - City of desire] the documentation of which is projected to appear as a second volume to this book.
The most significant aspect of the project, due to its unforeseeability, is the proof of 21st century art‘s ability to actively involve the social environment and engage with the human network. Yin Xiuzhen‘s textile sculpture Commune for which material was contributed by any number of inhabitants of the city of Chemnitz and which has been sewn together for weeks in cooperation with more than 20 assistants - primarily former employees of the textile industry from Chemnitz - was intended as a rehearsal for such an example. What hardly any of us had dared to believe: it worked! But also the other artworks that are documented in this book would have been impossible to realize without a multitude of voluntary participants. In this respect the few men tioned names within the titlepage are deceiving as to the actual number of people involved. Any idea that the human being is vanishing from the post-modern space will have to be qualified: art cannot only open spaces but can also - even today - induce people to act. It is you the book is devoted to!
Volkmar Billig, Chemnitz, May 2008