Things we sense about each other

Screen Shot 2021 03 16 at 10 41 23

The Badische Kunstverein serves as the hub of a European-wide exhibition and research project which bears the dual title Things we sense about each other and Things we share with each other, and which is designed to reflect upon objects that testify to political and cultural projections and counter-projections in European society. Objects which – depending on who interprets them, who claims them, and who resists their putative meanings – are the bearers of divergent and often antagonistic attributions of identity. In the context of the rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion, of the displacements and distortions of ecologies and economies, of an increasingly nationalist politics of identity, of technological upheaval and the massive transformation of the shared lifeworld, which threaten to tear apart European societies, objects often serve as substitutes for fundamental assumptions about the Other. They are hence multiply-charged semantically, so that one and the same object may be given contrary definitions.

Things we sense about each other and Things we share with each other take the form of an exhibition and an academy, for which the Badische Kunstverein, together with our partner institution tranzit.at in Vienna, has invited curators from Sarajevo, Lvov, Kiev, Baku, Prague, Minsk, Yerevan, Krasnodar, Timisoara, and Bucharest to engage in long-term dialogue, beginning in 2021, about the image of Europe. Quite deliberately, the Karlsruhe partner cities of Krasnodar and Timisoara were integrated into the discussion – a network that remains unique in its scope.

The exhibition Things we sense about each other first features contemporary artistic positions which address conflictual objects, while secondly integrating a number of objects which have been selected from ethnological perspectives, and which symbolically embody various ideas and visions of Europe: everyday objects and works of art, political symbols, gestures, melodies, plants, articles of clothing. In many instances, they confront us as shapeshifters: detached from any single horizon of meaning or action, and instead invested with perpetually shifting significance. In Europe, they have the potential to serve as antagonistic elements, or instead as tools of mediation and conciliation in a dialogue between a multitude of social and cultural constellations. The artists in the exhibition expose the problematical and conflictual status of these objects to full view, at the same time investigating the transformative potential of the narratives that are embedded or embodied in them. The foreign, disconcerting, uncanny, or unconscious forces that inhabit the contradictory space occupied by the things we sense about each other thereby become materially available to the senses. Truth and fiction are destabilized; opening up now is a space of negotiation for new modes of collective life.

Things we share with each other is the title of a traveling academy which is functioning as a digital platform during the state of emergency brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic – in the future, it will be located successively as a mobile, nonhierarchical research group in various cities within a larger Europe. Introduced successfully as a format in 2016 by tranzit.at, and already implemented at various locations, the academy organizes public events in the form of workshops, panel discussions, and “schools,” becoming networked on location with local actors, who are invited to engage in joint teaching activities. Addressed critically by the academy alongside various themes are the divergent outlooks for an emancipatory and democratically conceived Europe, specifically from the perspectives of art and culture, which seem to be called into question along the margins (but also at the center) to an increasing degree.

The participants in the academy, which will take place for the time being in virtual space, are invited to deepen the exhibition in Karlsruhe, to identify additional European conflict objects, and to identify their potentially problematical status, at the same time exploring their transformative potential discursively and posing questions such as: What allows a specific object to function as a representation of a specific cultural complex, and: What does its materiality reveal? How and to what degree do discourse about and classifications of this materiality color our perceptions?

During the current Covid 19 pandemic, with its accompanying restrictions, the periods of residence of the traveling academy – consisting of the participating curators and artists, but also, museologists, ethnographers, visual studies scholars, and filmmakers from the participating institutions , among others from VCRC in Kyiv, ECLAB in Minsk, AICA ARMENIA in Yerevan, Tranzit.ro in Bucharest, and the KICA (Krasnodar Institute of Contemporary Art) – will be replaced temporarily by digital activity, with local branches operating in the partner institutions (until physical encounters become feasible once again). In this way, the process of reciprocal exchange will be maintained, while at the same time, new possibilities are sketched out for the digital overcoming of borders – always however in the awareness that digital technology cannot replace physical collaborations, and that it continually generates new forms of exclusion.

The associations, institutions, and free cultural scene in the partner cities are not suffering not just from financial losses, as in Germany, brought about by the Covid 19 crisis. They are also located in conflict and crisis regions, where civil rights are currently under threat by illegitimate authority or warfare: Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan. It therefore becomes all the more crucial to negotiate these European questions collectively, across borders, and through long-term partnerships between regions, while shifting them into the focus of society-wide attention in a sustained way through discussion formats and artistic interventions. In order to maintain this ongoing discussion with our partners, we are developing new digital formats that facilitate the joint curating of the exhibition despite the challenges presented by physical distance, while simultaneously insuring communication between academy members. The academy takes on the task not simply of accompanying the themes of the exhibition, but also of investigating, exposing, disseminating information about, and confronting these sources of conflict in a sustained way.

Curators of / participants in the exhibition and traveling academy:

Larissa Agel (Vienna), Damir Arsenijevic (Sarajevo), Anja Casser (Karlsruhe), Yvonne Fomferra (Karlsruhe), Leyli Gafarova (Baku), Michaela Geboltsberger (Vienna), Veronika Janatkova (Prague), Anna Karpenko (Minsk), Eva Khachatryan (Yerevan), Serhiy Klymko (Poltava and Kyiv), Georg Schöllhammer (Vienna), Raluca Voinea (Bucharest), Zip Group (Krasnodar)

The exhibition will take place within the framework of the European Cultural Days Karlsruhe 2021.