2009 : 2008 : 2007 : 2006 : 2005 : 2004 : 2003 : 2002 : 2001 : 2000 : 1999 : 1998 : 1997 : 1996 : 1995 : 1994

programthematic project seriesconcept

introduction : concept : artistic contributions : symposium

An exhibition project in 3 chapters

The Carnivalesque and Taboo
In Literatur und Karneval (Frankfurt/Main, 1990), Michail M. Bakhtin defined the carnivalesque as a way of turning the world upside down. The general order is broken down, and related fears, piety and etiquette are suspended. The carnivalesque stands for an inversion of the world, it cancels conventions and social codes. The carnivalesque is described by Bakhtin as play without a stage, a moment in which hierarchies are suspended, and where repressive and normative culture is confronted with the creation of an utopian and liberated space.

The carnivalesque can be understood as a practice of resistance – however, it also serves the interests of capitalist gain through the economisation, regulation and institutionalisation of society’s desire for pleasure. The dichotomy of the self-empowerment potential of pop culture phenomena and of the profit-oriented strategies of the culture and life-style industries poses the question of how much our global society is motivated by both the consumer principle and by the principle of carnivalesque resistance. The carnivalesque emerges through the violation or temporary transgression of taboos. Probably these concepts copy from and adapt to each other.

Hartmut Schröder’s and Matthias Rothe’s publication made for the homonymous symposium (2000) Ritualisierte Tabuverletzung, Lachkultur und das Karnevaleske (Ritualised Violation of Taboos, the Culture of Laughter and the carnivalesque; Berlin, Frankfurt/Oder 2002), expresses the interesting idea that the carnivalesque itself as a violation or a temporary transgression of taboo.

Considering the institutionalised element, it could be argued that this happens in a ritualised practice of resistance, which temporarily reverses the parameters of order, albeit on the basis of certain rules. Questions then arise as to what a taboo actually is, when it is authorised or broken and by whom. Why would it be appealing to break a taboo? And might it be that the carnivalesque produces its own taboos, which show a neurotic, ceremonial nature themselves? And might it not be that the temporary cancellation of taboos reinforces the whole mechanism of taboo?

Starting Point
The carnivalesque (in Bakhtin’s sense) as well as the spectacle (in Guy Debords’ sense) ask questions about their socio-political relevance, and about their aesthetic dimension. In this context, the way the media in particular turn politics into a spectacle is of great interest. A further important aspect is the question of how pleasure is gained in culture, as discussed by Robert Pfaller in Die Illusionen der anderen. Über das Lustprinzip in der Kultur (The illusions of others. On the pleasure principle of culture, Frankfurt/Main 2002), and what roles art or aesthetic practices contribute to, particularly as they are also affected by this principle. Why do playful, spectacle-like or carnivalesque events or activities generate more pleasure or increase emotions? What is it about the carnivalesque that makes it seductive and desirable? To answer these questions, it is important to consider the aesthetic side of the carnivalesque, or the carnivalisation of the aesthetic: To what extent is artistic practice also carnivalesque in the sense of a practice of resistance? In what ways are entertaining, absorbing and activist potentials evident in artistic practice? Potential areas of investigation include subculture, alternative culture and pop culture, which interchange between activist enthusiasm and disinterest in politics. It would be interesting to retrospectively compare the generation of the late 1960s with that of the eighties, the "fun society" of the nineties and today’s generation (e.g. fun guerrilla, communication guerrilla and flash mob). Art takes an interest in carnivalesque strategies of the kind pursued by the media and communication guerrillas. On the one hand, art investigates and comments on them; on the other hand art also often discovers a language within that can be used to call attention to critical social themes so that they can be presented for discussion. This exhibition project will be devoted to an investigation of the parameters of the carnivalesque and related taboo mechanisms, but it will also focus on artistic practices that deal with the subject in a substantial and a performative sense. The aim is not only to deal with the spectacle and its carnivalesque aspects, but also to research the phenomenon with regard to the forms and actions of artistic practices.

Three Chapters
This project is designed to investigate the carnivalesque as a mode of activist practice, as spectacle and as pleasure principle. The three chapters aim to ask various questions from different perspectives. They cannot be separated categorically, but comment on and complement each another in an attempt to deal with questions relating to the dimensions of media and space, subject and society, as well as anthropology. During the process of elaborating the chapters other perspectives and questions might become more dominant. Several dimensions of the carnivalesque will be considered, and, accordingly, three different set-ups or design/graphic space arrangements will be created, which will base the topic in a performative way on exhibition structures or design. This also leads to the question of how much the exhibition format itself is a spectaclular or carnivalesque phenomenon. Symposia and workshops will take place in the framework of this project. Additionally, it will be documented and discussed in the Shedhalle newspaper published twice every year. The results of the projects will be summarised in a concluding publication.

Chapter I: 30 October - 19 December 2004
Places of the Carnivalesque and Stages of the Spectacle: Medial-Spatial Relations
In Andere Räume (Other Spaces) Foucault claims, that "there are (?) probably in every culture, in every civilisation, real places - places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society - which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality."1 What Matthias Rothe and Hartmut Schröder propose is that these counter-sites are read in the sense of Bakhtin as carnivalesque spaces. Where is the resistance potential of the carnivalesque space to be found nowadays? The temporary suspension of taboos can be located in scientific discourses, in transition phases, or situations of emergency, in religions, media strategies, etc.

In The Society of the Spectacle (Hamburg 1978), Guy Debord investigates the spectacle, which is both a result and its foremost goal, conceived and produced for the world to see. According to Debord it is the economies of power that produce the spectacle, institutionalise it in a target-specific way, ritualise it, and, for reasons of accessibility, mediatise it. Is it the media that produce the collective spectacle and the carnivalesque?

The dominance of the media in the carnivalesque leads to the question of public space, which is increasingly relocated into the domain of the media. In The Society of the Spectacle (Hamburg 1978), Guy Debord investigates the spectacle, which is both a result and its foremost goal, conceived and produced for the world to see. According to Debord it is the economies of power that produce the spectacle, institutionalise it in a target-specific way, ritualise it, and, for reasons of accessibility, mediatise it. Is it the media that produce the collective spectacle and the carnivalesque? The dominance of the media in the carnivalesque leads to the question of public space, which is increasingly relocated into the domain of the media. It seems as if we are permanently pursued by the public domain, even if we are not in a public space. On the one hand, we can participate in great spectacles of fun culture in private, in front of the TV or maybe on the Internet, without being physically present. The non-public carnivalesque, on the other hand, can enable collective participation through media broadcasts: this is why the media has invented formats like "Big Brother", turning mass media into a stage. Furthermore there is the question of how much political stages are turned into the carnivalesque and into spectacles in the same way: politics as entertainment or politics in talk-show format by making politics personal, entertaining, fictitious and emotional. The first chapter of this exhibition project will focus on the investigation of the architecture, space and the media nature of the spectacle.

A symposium on carnivalesque strategies in the media and as form of activist practices will take place at the Shedhalle on Saturday, 11 December, 15.00-19.00.

Artistic contributions:
[Songül Boyraz] [Gardar Eide Einarsson] [Marcelo Expósito] [interpixel]
[Thierry Geoffroy/Colonel] [Christian Jankowski] [Rudi Maier] [RELAX]

Chapter II: 29 January - 27 March 2005

The thematic exhibition series in three chapters entitled "Spectacle, Pleasure Principle or the Carnivalesque?” examines the mode of the carnivalesque in terms of the dichotomy between its potential as a vehicle of resistance and its appropriation in service of commercial ends. While the first part of the series was devoted primarily to investigation of the (media) spaces in which the carnivalesque takes place or is presented, the second part focuses on the characters – the addressees and the producers – of the carnivalesque.

The carnivalesque needs no stage – it is play without a stage (Bakhtin) that ignores the boundaries between audience and "performer”. Unlike the traditional carnival, the mode of the carnivalesque can be found in everyday life, independent of spatial and temporal constraints, and may be chosen as a form of expression by both individuals and groups. It employs mechanisms of appropriation, expropriation or alienation to generate signs and symbols which actually or only ostensibly deviates from the existing hegemonic order. The carnivalesque may be understood in this context as cultural practice through which society communicates about itself.

This practice may be employed within the context of the culture of commercial spectacle as entertainment for the passive satisfaction of curiosity and the generation of material longings. At the same time, however, the carnivalesque offers emancipatory possibilities for the active production of meaning and the construction of identity.

Viewed from this perspective, the question of the "self” as a carnivalesque subject arises, and one is prompted to ask to what extent it is possible to distinguish between individual and collective behaviour patterns. Who is actually laughing at whom? Is the carnivalesque character necessarily an extra, or can an "extra in its own day-to-day world” use the carnivalesque to develop his or her own options for action? How do ideas about subculture movements as producers of "style” relate to these questions? And what do we make of the uncertainty that emerges in the discussion of collective patterns of identification when sociological definitions resort to such designations as "bobos” (a cross between hippies and yuppies) and "puppies” (a hybrid of punk and hippie)?

In the field of tension between economic interests and subculture strategies of subversion, the carnivalesque poses questions about structures of power and dominance in a society that is shaped by such categories as race, class and gender. As a subtle form of experimentation, it opens the way to a critical reassessment of the fixation on simplistic attributes of identity, gender roles and constructions of social space. The carnivalesque promotes the development of images that oppose prevailing norms and advocates a policy of attention to the body that is initially beyond the pale of societal patterns of order but are frequently rapidly re-appropriated by them.

As cultural practice, it reveals the hybrid identity of the subject as a construction that is largely influenced by the interplay of real and media elements.

The artistic positions presented in the second part of the exhibition series examine and de-mystify everyday codes and expose their deceptive character. The exhibition focuses on artists’ approaches to social and historical codes and linguistic inventions and on an analysis of current individual styles that become visible on a surface but also appear to respond to an voice coming from "offstage”.

Artistic contributions:
[Songül Boyraz] [Annika Eriksson] [Jesper Just] [Marion Porten]
[Corinna Schnitt] [Szuper Gallery] [Artur Zmijewski]

Chapter III: 17 June - 24 July 2005

The third chapter now attempts to interpret the carnivalesque as an expression of social desire. In this context, the relationship between the carnivalesque and play, pleasure and the taboos associated with them will be examined.

There is a danger that the playfulness, laughter and the carnivalesque are not taken seriously by the representatives of high culture. In contrast, their defenders see pleasure as a catalyst, play as a vehicle for social integration and the carnivalesque as a strategy of subversive political articulation and humour in service of resistance. The entertainment industry is criticized by those who refuse to laugh when commercial interests govern, as in the case of the exploitation of politics for the purpose of entertainment. This dispute is by no means new. Plato wanted to ban laughter in his ideal state, and Aristotle responded with a pamphlet on the meaning and purpose of laughter. Arguments for and against a culture of laughter or pleasure have been offered again and again. It is interesting to examine the questions that precede this dispute, so to speak: why do people laugh, and why is laughter infectious?

The very existence of festivals, play and carnivals clearly suggest that there is a social desire to create a "different” or externalized space and opportunities to establish it are sought for. The aspect of play appears to be a constant throughout our cultural history. Humour and play have often been used in the arts as strategies for the presentation of issues of social relevance. For subversive symbolic practice, which also stimulates the production of meaning by other systems can indeed by presented in a playful manner.

In Homo ludens. Vom Ursprung der Kultur im Spiel (Homo Ludens. A study of the Play-Elements in Culture), Johan Huizinga argues that religion as well as art, sports or magic, and ultimately all culture, trace their origins to play. We are aware that we are playing, and for that very reason we play with a "sacred earnest” that sometimes causes us to take the game more seriously than life itself. Robert Pfaller describes this relationship between play and earnestness in much the same way: "The pleasure we derive from fiction and the knowledge that it is fiction belong together. The emotional and intellectual aspects do not exclude one another; on the contrary the one presupposes the other. There is no pleasure without better knowledge.” Thus it is this ambivalence between awareness of the playful character of an action, on the one hand, and simultaneous seduction by the illusion, on the other, that appears to generate pleasure.

Like the playfulness, the carnivalesque is a vehicle for the realization of the social desire for an externalized space. They both create free space beyond the pale of representational order by subversively questioning the constructed images with which power is maintained and legitimized. A position can be taken within society that opens a view of society from the outside. This paradoxical constellation raises the question of how a space can be marked out, which enables people to experience the "self” as the "otherness” and the internal as the external. Crucial in this context is the matter of dealing with taboo. For violations of taboos are based on disturbances in expectations and social agreements; and it is these disturbances that make the perception of taboos possible in society and which foster reflection. In this sense, taboos and violations of taboos serve as an interface between inside and outside, self-perception and the perception of others. They promote the building of community, as they draw a boundary between the "self” and the "Other”.

(1) Michel Foucault: Andere Orte (Other Spaces). In: Aisthesis. Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer anderen Ästhetik (Perception today or perspectives of another aesthetic), Leipzig 1991, p. 39

(2) Robert Pfaller: Die Illusionen der anderen. Über das Lustprinzip in der Kultur (The illusions of others. On the pleasure principle of culture) Frankfurt/Main 2002, p. 115

Artistic contributions:
[bankleer] [CREAM] [Josef Dabernig] [Ursula Mayer] [ROR] [The Negus Society]