Christoph Schlingensief: Fear at the Core of Things

A short text written by Maria Hlavajova, relating to the exhibition, Christoph Schlingensief: Fear at the Core of Things, on view at BAK from 5 February–29 April 2012 and curated by Kathrin Rhomberg. For more information regarding the exhibition, see here.

It is with excitement and anticipation that we bring together three major works by the late German theater director, filmmaker, author, and artist Christoph Schlingensief (1960–2010). On view in the exhibition Christoph Schlingensief: Fear at the Core of Things is the complex multimedia installation Animatograph—Iceland Edition. (House of Parliament/House of Obsession) Destroy Thingvellir, 2005; a reconstruction through research documents of his infamousAusländer raus— Bitte liebt Österreich [Foreigners out—Please love Austria], 2000; and the film Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker [The German Chainsaw Massacre], 1990. Together, the works attest to the artist’s push to create a “Lebenskunstwerk”—a work of life-art, or an artwork that intervenes directly in life.

Ever confronting the uncomfortable, these works reveal the mastery with which Schlingensief collapsed systems of art and politics through highly experimental means to arrive at an overwhelming sense of immediacy. In doing so, rather than placating viewers or forcing them to assume roles of consumers or spectators, he made a direct call to the public to take responsibility for the world as it is, and with this knowledge to think—and to act—otherwise.

Schlingensief’s practice, to my understanding, in a disarming manner held a mirror to western society. By scratching off the cheap veneer that camouflages the ruthless capitalist democracy at reality’s core, Schlingensief stripped the so-called West down to its fears, obsessions, and banal cruelties manifest in power and possession. In his work, Schlingensief questioned the world of Contemporary Art as it became known to us as a hegemonic practice developed in parallel to global neoliberalism over the last 20 years; he questioned it from his unique position as both art-world insider and outsider. It was not until shortly before his untimely death that his work got—at first reluctantly—admitted as it were into the Contemporary Art field, and then readily if recklessly claimed by its system (especially following the remarkable if provocative installment in the German Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale last year, which received the Golden Lion award). Yet Schlingensief seems to have always been consciously out of sync with art’s normalizing tendencies. He worked against the “business-as-usual” model and tirelessly advocated for the undoing of the dominant consensus, in both art and politics, which he believed was not only necessary, but also possible.

Today, when there is a movement afoot “occupying” many parts of the globe with a request to undo the world as it is, some of what is inscribed in Schlingensief’s work might become reality. Could it be that we find ourselves close to a critical point of radical change, with both the epoch of neoliberalism and the type of art it fathered on their way out? Is it possible that what we know as West is becoming “former” before our very eyes? And, can we, in sync with Schlingensief’s propositions, imagine Contemporary Art’s “formerness” as well? What art will emerge in its stead?

This exhibition is brought together as a site of experiment and research to tackle these questions in the context of BAK’s long-term project FORMER WEST. Before engaging with content of the exhibition, however, I would like to thank the exhibition curator and my co-curator in FORMER WEST, Kathrin Rhomberg. I would also like to thank Francesca von Habsburg; Daniela Zyman and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna; Aino Laberenz; Matthias Lilienthal of HAU, Berlin; and The Wiener Festwochen, Vienna. As ever, I am indebted to my team at BAK for their extraordinarily committed work and passion for art.