Making Things Public - Kiállítás Karlsruhében

As soon as you enter the show, you feel that something odd is happening: lights, sound and labels seem to react to your presence as a visitor in some invisible and yet palpable manner. You have just encountered the atmospheric conditions of democracy. Soon you will discover that the whole space of the show is embedded in the phantom public, a work of art that aims to lend a different, emotional colour to political involvement and political envelopment. Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy Opening: Sat 03/19/2005, 7pm, ZKM_Entrance hall Exhibition: 03/20/-08/07/2005 ZKM_Museum for Contemporary Art Without a doubt, this is an unusual exhibition. Building on the much acclaimed Iconoclash by the same curators (ZKM 2002), it aspires to nothing less than to renew what constitutes an art show as well as ways of thinking about politics and methods of establishing new forms of collaboration between artists and academics. The reason for such an undertaking is that we live in rather discouraging times as far as political life is concerned. Just the right moment, then, to make a fresh start by bringing together three modes of representation that are usually kept apart: How to represent people? Politics. How to represent objects? Science. How to represent their collective gathering? Art. The main idea behind this show is that politics is all about things. It's not a sphere, a profession or a mere occupation; it essentially involves a concern for affairs that are brought to the attention of a public. The public is not cast in stone for all time. We're not talking here about the people as represented by their elected officials. The public has to be created for each new issue, for each new matter of concern. So the question we wish to raise is: 'What would happen if politics were made to revolve around disputed states of affairs?' This is why the show begins with a section entitled no politics please, which takes visitors on to other types of assemblies in several different cultures. Politics is not universal and nor is democracy, but collecting people and things undoubtedly is. This issue of collection is crucial to the next sections the puzzle of composite bodies and the good and the bad government. It turns out that the oldest meaning of the English and German word for 'thing' concerns an assembly brought together to discuss disputed matters of concern. Hence the choice of the slogan from Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, a neologism invented for the show. This major shift is reflected in the aesthetic of the show, in the ways in which the over one hundred installations and works of art are presented, and in the general physical and virtual architecture. What we are trying to do is compare modernist with non-modern attitudes to objects. In effect, we are moving from objects to things. It's at this point that you enter the great courtyard accommodating the assembly of assemblies. Visiting it, you begin to see that there are many other types of gatherings which are not political in the customary sense, but which bring a public together around things: scientific laboratories, technical projects, supermarkets, financial arenas -the market place, too, is a parliament-, churches, as well as around the disputed issues of natural resources like rivers, landscapes, animals, temperature and air -the parliaments of nature. All these phenomena have devised a bewildering set of techniques of representation that have created the real political landscape in which we, live breathe and argue. Hence the question that can be raised in respect of all of them is: they may be assemblages, but can they be turned into real assemblies? After passing through the next sections making up the third part of the show, you begin to understand that parliaments, too, are complex technologies. Instead of saying that voting, talking, arguing and deciding are quaint pieces of machinery, you begin to consider them with great respect because of their delicate set of fragile mediations. Instead of looking for democracy only in the official 'sphere' of professional politics, this section draws attention to the new conditions enabling things to be made public. No mediation, no representation. The next logical step is to imagine what representative assemblies could become if only they could benefit from all the techniques of mediation considered earlier. Time to enter the fourth and last part of the show and to imagine the future of politics by developing a new eloquence and new political passions. When you leave the exhibition, it will have become clear that the repertoire of attitudes and passions that are usually associated with taking a political stand is much too narrow. There are many other ways of reacting politically in other non-Western traditions, in the old political philosophies, in most contemporary science and technology, in the new web-based spaces and in the instruments of representation, of which parliaments are only a part. So why not try an 'object-oriented democracy' and 'get back to things'?! During their stay, visitors will have left many traces for the Phantom Public to be activated and it, in turn, will have left some traces on them. Without fully realizing it, you as a visitor have become at once an actor in, and the screen of, an invisible work of art that has tried to put flesh on the bones of the new Body Politic. Collectively exploring the unintended and unexpected consequences of our actions was the only way, in the words of the great American philosopher, John Dewey, "for the Public to come into being". This is precisely what we have tried to do with the visitors to this show: to reassemble them and make them part of a totally new Thing.