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Without Firm Ground – Vilém Flusser and the Arts

19/11/2015 until 10/01/2016, Academy of Arts Berlin

15/08/2015 until 18/10/2015, ZKM Karlsruhe

Curated by Siegfried Zielinski and Baruch Gottlieb in collaboration with Peter Weibel

Exhibit website: http://bit.ly/20qsscu, http://bit.ly/1To3eb8


Reviewed by Eugenia Stamboliev

eugenia.stamobliev@plymouth.ac.uk


To review an art exhibition on someone who did not believe in them having a purpose presents an interesting challenge. In one manuscript Vilém Flusser declared that the art exhibition had lost its aesthetic or social function in the 70s, so something new has to come instead, something that enables a dialog between life and art; a space for a free encounter.

Flusser, thinker, philosopher, teacher and migrant, had a clear opinion of how to think civilisation and foresaw contemporary developments he already documented 20 years ago. Those ideas still resonate today and are kept alive within circles of academics, artists, and philosophers. It is therefore no surprise that this exhibition was born out of collaborations and responses by Flusser students (actual, virtual and imaginary ones). And yes, it is a space for engagement with Flusser and his work, which might be hard to access for those who never heard of him. But then, a dialog in the sense of Flusser, should be driven by curiosity not self–validation.

It is exactly terms such as curiosity, dialog and freedom that Flusser valued so much while they have become almost empty due to their misuse in Arts, Politics and Media nowadays. But Flusser used them with care and dedication. The same precision and dedication he thought with and wrote about.

On the surface, the exhibition "Bodenlos – Vilém Flusser und die Künste" (German title) looks like an art exhibition responding to Vilém Flusser's work. But this would not be a review of an exhibition on Flusser without risking a second glance while adjusting ones perspective, as Flusser would have suggested.

From the first "Standpunkt" (point of view) one is confronted by a retrospective exhibition including artists' work made in relation to Vilém Flusser's texts. It involves curators, artists, a catalogue, an audience and an opening. But the second point of view reveals a "Möglichkeitsraum" (room/space of possibilities) that consequently works against the idea of the contemporary art exhibition, one that is strongly situated within a market driven "ground", often unfree and obvious, one that Flusser criticised as being obsolete.

For example, studying the exhibition "book", with a substance that goes beyond merely a catalogue, gives a glimpse into the curators' work, which is constantly switching between theory and practice allowing the artists to contribute as much as theoretical thinkers as object makers in the actual space. Most important, all of these curatorial efforts avoid a sentimental documentation of Flusser's achievements but rather allow what Flusser himself advocated for, a present engagement, flexible standpoints and the freedom of daring to engage. This intellectual network spanned over time led to a collaboration put into space and on paper. Nothing is looked back onto nor is anything merely exhibited. Flusser seems present as curator, as artist, as thought, as space.

It is not surprising (at least for those familiar with Flusser's work) that there is no intention of completion, chronology or centralism. Rather, this space is created in the tradition of Flusser's thinking, as a network of non–hierarchical connections, as a space of entanglement, in which one can cross left or right at any given moment and disturb the structure, which is exactly the structure of freedom to choose, to think, to respond and to interact with whatever one finds inspiring. For those lucky enough to find a connection to Flusser, a new world of ideas is presented through Flusser. The three dimensional space and the physical objects are grounded in thoughts, artefacts, and relationships. What the title of the exhibition refers to is Flusser's life being a constant, unstable journey, yet his thoughts seem to have found a firm ground in other people's work, growing out of Flusser's idea of freedom.

It might have been flattering for Flusser (or considered necessary) to know that people engaging with his work tend to make new "networks" in their thinking, in relating, in imagining. After being influenced by Flusser one stops simply reading Flusser, one starts thinking Flusser.

It is striking what contemporary value Flusser's thoughts still have and how not only artists but also individuals can attach their thinking and making to his work. One could mention all the contributors included in this "spacial dialog" but this would suggest a hierarchy of importance and only limit the "Möglichkeitsraum" of interpretation that has to be kept open for the future as Flusser insisted himself.

Similar to the associated anthology "Flusseriana," [1] which was published simultaneously, this exhibition is a collective effort of people who might have managed to demonstrate what Flusser himself believed, that one can only survive in the memory of others, in this case, not only in their memory but also in their work. The spatial dialog full of niches, excursions and surprises is an achievement of all those who contributed and engaged themselves including those who curated, planned and live this "dialog", one that some might still just define as an art exhibition.


References:

[1] The publication of Flusseriana – An lntellectual Toolbox, a tri–lingual glossary of Flusserian terms, edited by Siegfried Zielinski and Peter Weibel with Daniel Irrgang (Univocal Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 2015) accompanies the exhibition.


Last Updated 1st February 2016

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