legal/ illegal - art beyond law




artists: Chris Burden, Arthur Cravan, GAAG, Abbie Hoffman, Tony Labat (Foto), George Maciunas, Ann Messner, Dennis Oppenheim,, Antonio Riello, Janice Kerbel, Jackie Sumell, Jean Toche, Timm Ulrichs, Georg Winter...

Legal, Illegal, ... is concerned with actions from artists, in which the borderline between artistic staging and political act disappears, in which symbols run into actionism, illegality, or even criminality - actions that refuse strict categorization and seek a conflict between the systems of politics, art, and life. The project is based on the research of artistic strategies of scandal in their respective medial and political contexts. It will analyze actions that take place in the formal context of freedom of thought and freedom of the arts that, however, consciously quit legality in a gesture of provocation or scandal production, in order to address political and social conditions or else to question the art system itself. The focus of the project starts with the beginning of the 20th century. It is the aim of the project to examine the conditions, effect, and ambivalence of such actions: - What is their influence on the art system and on politics? - Which are the medial conditions for the effectiveness of such actions? - Is there a specific psychosocial artistic identity behind scandal production? - Where is the borderline of legitimacy? And can the art status guarantee immunity? The presentation in Berlin will take place on three different levels: actions and interventions in public spaces, an "exhibition", and a book. Actions, interventions: Since it is in the nature of these actions that no traditional work of art is created and that direct documentation is often sparse, the exhibition will try, when possible, to present the respective actions with the help of the original actors. A subjective and personal retrospective view of the event will help the theme to gain in liveliness and topicality. The ideas of the historical actions will be presented outside of the NGBK space, in the form of posters, newspaper ads, leaflets, Internet, websites, and film. The "exhibition" will take place in the NGBK space (c. 250 m2). In order to do justice to the theme and to the sensitivity of the actions, the exhibition space will be treated as a drop-in center, a bar or café, a base camp for the actions and interventions. In Berlin, additional space for installations is available. Films and videos will be shown at a program cinema. Should the original actors not be available, the project will concentrate on film material (i.e. Arthur Cravan, Abbie Hoffmann, International Situationists).

The catalogue will include 6 - 8 comprehensive essays by prominent authors, contributions by artists, documentary texts, and interviews. In addition to a further compilation of pieces still yet to be researched (that in a later phase will be selected according to strict criteria), the essays will treat general issues such as: art and sabotage / terrorism / smuggling / theft / invented identities / guidance towards illegality / the history of politico-artistic actions / methods and aims of illegal artistic actions / the legal situation. Further venues: The project aims at being presented at several venues (maybe 4), such as NYC and Graz. Here, the exhibition form and the choice of actions can of course vary from the presentation in Berlin. It is generally to be remarked that the nature of such "artistic actions" makes them occur most frequently in times of political and social unrest. People, whose interest is social criticism rather than personal headlines, often initiate them. Their actions serve "consciousness, readiness, and awareness" (quote Hakim Bey / Die temporäre autonome Zone, Berlin 1994). Looking back, the actions are suspended between myth and reality - one of the reasons for this is that they have often been handed down to us through imprecise or exaggerated press accounts. One of these mythical figures is the writer Franz Jung (1888 - 1964), known to us today principally through his autobiography "Der Weg nach unten" ["The way down"] (1961).In 1920, Franz Jung agreed to travel to Moscow for the KAPD (a section of the German communist party). His mission was meant to "reveal the dangers incurred through the sinking of members into political apathy and slavish obedience". With the help of a sailor and together with another comrade, Jung boards the trawler "Senator Schröder" in Cuxhaven as a blind passenger; the ship is bound for Iceland. At the height of Helgoland the clandestine passengers, declaring themselves to be representatives of the "Russian Soviet Republic" emerge and force the trawler to take course on Russia. Sailing under the red flag through minefields and without any maps, the trawler reaches Murmansk on May 1, 1920. Jung is then escorted to Moscow via Petrograd and the "Senator Schröder" is handed over to Russian port authorities. The trawler finally makes its way back to Cuxhaven, where the crew is thrown into jail. "Understandably, that no longer interested me" is the comment provided by anarchist Jung in his autobiography. We now move on in time to the first years of the war in Vietnam and to the founding of Fluxus by George Maciunas, who describes the goals of the movement as follows: "Fluxus objectives are social (not aesthetic). They are connected to the group of LEF… of 1929 [sic] in Soviet Union (ideologically) and concern [themselves] with: Gradual elimination of fine arts […]. This is motivated by desire to stop the waste of material and human resources… and divert it to socially constructive ends […] Thus Fluxus is definitely against [the| art-object as non-functional commodity - to be sold & to make livelihood for an artist. It could temporarily have the pedagogical function of teaching people the needlessness of art including the eventual needlessness of itself. It should not be therefore permanent." (letter to Tomas Schmit, 1963, quoted from: C. Phillpot, J. Hendricks (ed.): Fluxus. Selections from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection, MoMA 1988). As recorded in the internal information organ "Fluxus News Policy Letter" no. 6 of 1963, plans for sabotage were from the start part of the program. One plan saw the blockade of bridges and tunnels with trucks and cars covered in Fluxus posters. A traffic chaos would then paralyze Manhattan. Another idea planed the distribution of a fake issue of the New York Times with news of the closing down of famous museums, together with Fluxus propaganda. The protagonists were definitely intent on attacking the traditional art scene: Classical concerts were to be disrupted by smoke or stink bombs, exhibition previews by the delivery of palm trees and bricks etc… In January 1970, the radical section of the Art Worker's Coalition called "Guerrilla Art Action Group" or GAAG (1969-1976; counting in part the same members as the Fluxus movement) became known by holding a memorial service dedicated to the massacre of Song My, a Vietnamese village, in front of Picasso's Guernica. A baby lying on the floor surrounded by wreaths was part of the action, which took an end as soon as the police arrived alerted by museum officials. Jean Toche, Belgian destruction artist and together with Jon Hendricks founder of GAAG, is arrested by FBI officers because of threatening to kidnap museum directors if the Iranian Tony Shafrazi is not liberated. Shafrazi had been jailed in 1974 for spraying the words "KILL LIES ALL" on Picasso's Guernica. He was released on bail. This action didn't stop him becoming a successful gallery director in New York. In September 1970, a New York art dealer was arrested for injuring flag laws. His crime had been to exhibit anti-war work of American sculptor Marc Morell. Hendricks and Toche reacted by organizing the "People's Flag Show", an exhibition in which every art-piece had to use at least a part of the American flag. The show was provocatively located in a church. The organizers were arrested whilst NBC was filming the preview. The exhibition fell to censorship and was closed. Following an action by Abbie Hoffman in August 1967, the balcony at Wall Street's Stock Exchange has been glazed off, in order to prevent direct contact with the trading-room. Abbie Hoffman threw 300 Dollar bills onto the floor; the brokers' "scramble for the bucks" and subsequent disruption led to immediate bedlam. Abbie Hoffman then burned bank notes on the street and stated in interviews that money should be banished and made worthless. This kind of action was called "guerrilla theater" and Hoffman declared: "guerrilla theater can be used as a defensive and as an offensive weapon, like blood". As a reaction against nonsense election campaigns, Cuban born Tony Labat kidnapped the head candidate running for governor of California in the style of the Red Brigades. The candidate, himself an artist, was in Labat's eyes running for fun. Labat wanted "to give him a taste of the reality of a real politician", this meaning that he could easily become victim of a kidnapping. It has been repeatedly said that the world would never be the same after September 11, 2001. Most particularly in the US, direct or indirect censorship, political surveillance and not least violation of human rights have increased as a matter of course.In December 2002, "thing" is taken from the net, incurring the disappearance of hundreds of websites. The reason for this was that the website belonging to the Californian group "yesman" was a reconstruction of the site of an American multi and provided details of the company's machinations.

Buch : Legal Illegal Herausg.: Schmetterling Verlag Stuttgart und NGBK Berlin ,gefördert durch den Kunstfonds Bonn Ausstellungskuratoren: Helen Adkins / Kai Bauer / Hans Winkler, Buchredaktion: Corinna Weidner Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst e.V., Berlin, October - November 2004 - Kunstverein Neuhausen, Feb- March 2005