In the context of the John Heartfield – Photography Plus Dynamite exhibition at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin the laboratory addresses digitality, post-truth and historiography as well as contemporary artistic strategies against misinformation and propaganda. Impulse lectures and artistic contributions in the form of videos by Tatiana Bazzichelli, Göksu Kunak a.k.a. Gucci Chunk, Lynn Takeo Musiol, Luiza Prado, Mykola Ridnyi, Cemile Sahin, Eva Tepest, Christian Tschirner, Voin de Voin.
“Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.” (Timothy Snyder)
Fake news and campaigns of disinformation are, historically speaking, not a new phenomenon. The artist John Heartfield (1891–1968) fought against misinformation, propaganda, militarism, war and fascism throughout his life. His political photomontages, published in Arbeiter – Illustrierte – Zeitung (A – I – Z), became icons in the fight against National Socialism.
Because of digitalisation, however, technologies are now available to spread them even faster and more effectively than ever before. In the so-called post-factual age, the borders between truth and fake have become blurred, political strategies produce and use “alternative facts” and even deny scientific data and knowledge. Democracies all over the world are affected by these developments. Acts of truthtelling, whistleblowing and leaking information provide increasing resistance to regimes of contradiction, false information and wrongdoing. In the light of the global revival of the far-right and contested spaces of interpretation in society, the laboratory addresses digitality, post-truth and historiography as well as contemporary artistic strategies against misinformation and propaganda. How “truths” are deconstructed or revealed in fictional artistic contexts is investigated. The lab pursues an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach within each artistic or discursive contribution.
Given the Covid-19 crisis, this topic has gained new meaning: on the one hand, the pandemic has provoked conspiracy theories in alternative media; fake news is being circulated and “reality” is dissolving in isolation. On the other hand, management of the crisis has strengthened and legitimised the use of big data and digital surveillance of humans and bodies, their movements and virus loads. The state and laws of emergency are being abused to consolidate power and destroy the constitutional state. At the same time, the crisis is promoting racism and social mechanisms of discrimination and marginalisation and revealing social and global inequalities that affect marginalised groups within our societies in particular.
The Laboratory of Contested Space is part of the online educational programme accompanying the exhibition John Heartfield – Photography Plus Dynamite exhibition at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin. Originally planned as a public event at the Akademie at Pariser Platz, with staged readings, performances, artistic interventions and a panel, the Laboratory of Contested Space is taking place exclusively online. The participants will share impulse lectures and artistic contributions in the form of videos that have mainly been produced in quarantine. The recipients are invited to delve into the topic through political and artistic discourse, performances and personal narratives by the contributors. This format is a space for research and exchange with an open outcome.
With contributions by Tatiana Bazzichelli (artistic director, Disruption Network Lab Berlin), Göksu Kunak a.k.a. Gucci Chunk (writer, performance artist), Lynn Takeo Musiol (dramaturge, writer; fellow of der AdK), Luiza Prado (artist), Mykola Ridnyi (artist, fellow of der AdK), Cemile Sahin (artist, fellow of der AdK), Eva Tepest (writer, journalist), Christian Tschirner (head dramaturge, Schaubühne Berlin), Voin de Voin (artist).
The laboratory is curated by Lynn Takeo Musiol and the JUNGE AKADEMIE (Clara Herrmann / head of the department & Luise Pilz).
Featured by ARTS OF THE WORKING CLASS
The Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) supports the programme of events for the exhibition, in the context of which this digital offer was created.
Shadow Landscapes, 2020; © Luiza Prado de O. Martins
This GIF essay — a hybrid animation and text format the artist has been developing since 2018 — navigates the repercussions and the human cost of the covid-19 crisis in Brazil through anticolonial and feminist lenses. The essay discusses the eugenic policies of the neofascist Bolsonaro regime, outlining its entanglements with the deployment of biopower as a fundamental aspect of coloniality. In a non-linear timeline, the work examines the temporal processes that collapse into the current situation, discussing the central role of white supremacy in the formation of contemporary nation states in Latin America; capitalist notions of productivity and the body traced back to chattel slavery of the the colonial economy; and the confluence of anticolonial futurities and pathogen resistance.
Dr. Luiza Prado de O. Martins is an artist and researcher whose work engages with technologies and birth control practices and their entanglements with colonial hierarchies of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and nationality. Her current artistic research project, A Topography of Excesses, examines the transmission of indigenous and folk knowledges on herbalist practices and reproduction as decolonising forms of radical care.
Truth as a Construction – Whistleblowing as Art, 2020; © Tatiana Bazzichelli / Disruption Network Lab
The role of the artist has often been crucial in unveiling the construct around the concept of truth in times of repression and beyond. In the 1980s and 1990s, underground art networks such as Neoism and the Luther Blissett Project demonstrated that truth is a material that can be moulded, it depends on who is writing the dominant narrative. The multiple identity practices under the collective name Luther Blissett exposed the failures of media reporting and exploited poor fact-checking and a lack of source investigation by mainstream journalism. They created another level of information using fakes and pranks to show that the truth is always a construction. In the current post-truth scenarios, fakes and misinformation techniques are used by right wing propaganda outlets to create their own information agenda, delegitimising the work of mainstream media as they do so. However, their form of delegitimisation of power mechanisms is based on the production of chaos to build up another form of power, which is destructive in that it targets the vulnerable segments of society. Artists need to intervene in such feedback loop of disruption by producing literacy and awareness. In order to break this loop, artists analyse how information works and how the truth is produced. The key lies in the deconstruction of information as an artistic practice, tracing the sources, producing literacy and contributing to raising awareness by showing that information always delivers a specific, biased vision of reality. In this call to artistic action, the work of artists meets the work of whistleblowers, people who expose misconduct and wrongdoing by the powerful through acts of truthtelling. In the context of whistleblowing, truth is deconstructed as an investigation of sources, of hidden data and documents, to denounce abuses of power. In the art of whistleblowing, information becomes an occasion to reveal how power works, how it is constructed and what the systemic structures behind it are.
Stewart Home, Florian Cramer, The House of Nine Squares. Letters on Neoism, Psychogeography and Epistemological Trepidation, 1997, Invisible Books.
Monty Cantsin (ed.), Neoism Now!, 1987, Artcore Editions.
Luther Blissett, Totò, Peppino e la guerra psichica. Materiali dal Luther Blissett Project, 1996, AAA Edizioni.
Tatjana Bazzichelli is the founder and artistic director of the Disruption Network Lab, Berlin, leading the conference programme that has been taking place at Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin and at other locations since 2015. She has been appointed a jury member for the Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Capital Cultural Fund) 2019–2020 by the German Federal Government and Berlin for the years. Previously she was programme and conference curator at the transmediale art and digital culture festival transmediale, where she ran the year-round project reSource transmedial culture Berlin project. Bazzichelli’s work at transmediale was the focus of her 2012–2014 post-doctoral research at the Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University of Lüneburg. She received a PhD degree in Information and Media Studies at the Faculty of Arts of Aarhus University in 2011. Her PhD research, Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking (DARC Press – Aarhus University, Denmark, 2013), was the result of her 2009 visiting scholarship at the H-STAR Institute of Stanford University.
Awake!, 2020; © Göksu Kunak a.k.a. Gucci Chunk
Göksu Kunak’s interest lies in queer methodologies (especially chronopolitics) and hybrid texts that deal with the performative lingo(s) of contemporary lifestyles. In a world where experts are doomed, our reality shifts at the speed of a thumb scrolling down. Awake! is a reflection on this fragmented speed; surveillance, truth and trust. In the text, excerpts from semi-fictional interviews on diversity in business culture with the AI robot Sophia and several advertisements for objects and actions that control the body greet us through the format and hybridity of a TV/radio show. In addition to this, suggestions from Jehovah’s Witness magazines focusing post-truth culture to guide us to God and reflections on body politics such as Orientalist imagery – for instance, the Odalisque image in the Western canon – or the pharmocopornographic (Preciado) era ponder various methods of power structures.
*1985 in Ankara
Göksu Kunak a.k.a. Gucci Chunk is a writer, performer and performance maker based in Berlin. She participated in The Parliament of Bodies curated by Paul B. Preciado and Viktor Neumann as part of Bergen Assembly 2019, KW Institute for Contemporary Art Pogo Bar, Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneve CAMP, HAU Berlin City Lights, Bâtard Brussels 2016, Broken Dimanche Press reading series at Tropez Berlin, Pioneer Works NYC curated by Belladonna* Collaborative, 3hd 2019 (HAU Berlin) and 2nd <Interrupted =“Cyfem and Queer> curated by Creamcake, 1a Space Hong Kong as part of the exhibition Hactivate Yourself, TABLOID PRESS Readings and Montez Press Radio, NYC.
Her first book #225 I thought this would was published by Belladonna* Collaborative; texts and poems have appeared in the book Portrait Wayne McGregor, commissioned by The Bavarian State Ballet, on the official page of The Absence of Paths, the Official Tunisian Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennial and on the blog The History of Painting Revisited in collaboration with Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle for the Fahrelnissa Zeid Retrospective.
Presence as Future Shock: Public Morality and Queer Ethics in a Time of Pandemic, 2020; © Lynn Takeo Musiol & Eva Tepest
“I may be very sick just a few days from now and I may have infected others. My body might have caught the coronavirus in the past, making my future and those around me uncertain.” (Iris van der Tuin)
The Covid-19 crisis confronts our society with a non-linear understanding of temporality and the need to consider individual freedom against the background of the safety of all. This individualisation of responsibility means that many are faced with the difficulty of transferring privileges that were considered a matter of course into an extensive network of solidarity. At the same time, this shift means a crisis for queer minorities in a double sense: If contact restrictions are measured according to the social standard of the traditional nuclear family, the solidarity practised for so long by alternative lifestyles will be eroded. In order to prevent this contradiction of a present without resistance, a truth without physical attachment, we advocate for queer ethics of intimate forbearance and political radicalism. In concrete terms, we look at exemplary artistic strategies from the ACT UP milieu.
*1990 in Leverkusen, lives in Berlin and Hamburg
Lynn Takeo Musiol is a free artist and writer with a focus on class, queerness and climate. She/he last worked as a curatorial assistant at the Maxim Gorki Theater’s Berliner Herbstsalon; from the 2020/2021 season, Lynn Takeo will be working as a dramaturge at Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf.More about Lynn Takeo Musiol
Eva Tepest is a writer and journalist. She regularly writes for taz, Tagesspiegel and Missy Magazine on culture and the media, queerness, feminism and the Arab world.
On Turkish television, footage of mountains in which terrorists are said to be hiding is part of everyday reporting. These images ultimately serve domestic political stability through a seemingly external enemy. In Sahin’s video work, consisting of a montage of news images, this is contradicted by the cutting technique. The image of the mountain has become an absurd and downright comedic part of everyday life and entertainment culture in Turkey. car, road, mountain is part of an installation that can be seen as part of the ars viva Prize 2020 exhibition at Kunstverein Hamburg. The installation consists of photographs, a video work, an advertising banner and two aircraft evacuation slides. They refer to news images and the fact that they can be manipulated. The nine photographs show various people posing on Ardahan Mountain in Turkey before what is known as the Shadow of Atatürk. The mountain itself casts this shadow when the sun is at a particular height and has become a place of pilgrimage because of it. The aircraft evacuation slides themselves become mountains in the exhibition space and connect the individual elements of the installation. (Bettina Steinbrügge, Director of Kunstverein Hamburg)
*1990 Wiesbaden, lives in Berlin
Cemile Sahin is an artist. She studied fine art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and at Berlin University of the Arts. Her works move between film, photography, sculpture, sound and text. The starting points for her works are images or stories, which she re-stages in her multimedia installations. Through this, she questions the functionalisation of media and the meaning of different perspectives for historiography, and explores the question of how history and its telling changes if it is constructed through the narratives of different perspectives. Cemile Sahin is the winner of the ars viva Prize 2020 for visual arts.More about Cemile Sahin
Back to the Future, 2020; © Christian Tschirner
I grew up in the GDR, a society described by Czech dissident and later State President Václav Havel as post-totalitarian. In his essay on “living in truth” (The Power of the Powerless, 1978), a standard reference work for Eastern European dissidents, Havel not only examines the relationship between power and resistance in socialism as it actually existed but also puts forward the thesis that Eastern European societies were extreme versions of Western European consumer and industrial society. What is more: They expose the technical civilization of the capitalist West’s own latent, directional tendencies. With the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing populists all over the world, Havel’s thesis has gained surprising significance. So my question is: What does a look back at my socialist youth tell us about our near future?
*1968 in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg
Christian Tschirner trained as an animal keeper and later studied acting at the Ernst Busch University for Dramatic Arts in Berlin. He worked as an actor in Frankfurt/Main and then became a freelance director and author. He has been a dramaturge since 2009, first at Schauspiel Hannover and then at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg from 2013. Since the 2019/2020 season, he has been the chief dramaturge at the Berliner Schaubühne theatre.
No! No! No!, 2017; © Mykola Ridnyi
The main heroes of the film are the young people of Kharkiv, a big city located in Eastern Ukraine. They reached their early twenties just as war broke out in the neighbouring region of Donbass. They are not soldiers, doctors or volunteers and do not practice any other professions or vocations primarily associated with warfare. They are all artists or work in the creative industries: an LGBT activist and poet, a fashion model, a group of street artists, the creator of a computer game. If it seems that they are standing back from the challenges of the time, this would be a superficial impression. In addition to the creative principles, they are all united by the need to resist. Restricted by the war and the flywheel of Russian propaganda on the one hand, and by uncontrolled Ukrainian right-wing radicals on the other, the heroes of the film try to decipher emancipatory coordinates for living under the conditions of the time. The heroes react to and reflect on political events through their specific relationships with the urban space and the reality of social media.
Geert Lovink, Critical Theory of the Internet, 2019, Garage.
*1985 in Kharkiv, lives in Kyiv
Mykola Ridnyi graduated from Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Fine Arts in 2008. Mykola was a founding member of the Kharkiv-based artistic collective SOSka group and co-founded the artist-run gallery of the same name. He combines different artistic activities: Mykola is an artist and filmmaker, curator and author of essays on art and politics. Site-specific installations and experimental films constitute the current focus of his practice.More about Mykola Ridnyi
ANNA – Palindrome of Behaviour, 2020; © Voin de Voin
In the context of the laboratory, I will present my long-term sequence of research emerging in different formats: the piece is dedicated to my grandmother Anna, who was an actress and gave up her career to join and dedicate herself to working with the agricultural party in Bulgaria at the time, a representative of the Democratic party. She ended up being tortured in prison in the 1930s in Sofia, Bulgaria because of her political views and activism.
The lecture performance ANNA – Palindrome of Behaviour speaks about trauma passed down through generations via DNA; the existence of traumatic transmission, not only through the passing on of stories from parent to child by means of affective or unconscious cues but also by the imprinting of these events on DNA, through complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms. Through epigenetics, trauma mutates genes, affecting the lives of families across generations. My work focuses internally on the residues of these processes and seeks to expose these effects, telling stories of individuals or groups. It creates a portrait of the present via incorporated performative praxis leaning onto scientific discoveries, in order to deliver a reflective outcome and radical thought. The method so far has been to be fully aware, to re-direct, to transform, to give a place in the performance to experience and re-enact a traumatic collective insinuation – by this experience being witnessed and shared, trauma is surpassed and can be healed.
Moshe Feldenkrais, The Potent Self: A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion: The Dynamics of the Body and the Mind, 2002, Frog Books.
Giorgio Agamben, Idea of Prose, 1995.
David Rattray, How I Became One of the Invisible, 1992, The MIT Press.
Patricia Kathleen Robertson, Connect With Your Ancestors: Transforming the Transgenerational Trauma of Your Family Tree: Exploring Systemic Healing, Inherited Emotional Genealogy, Entanglements, Epigenetics and Body Focused Systemic Constellations, 2017, BookBaby.
*1978, lives and works in Sofia
Voin de Voin holds an MA from DasArts – Academy of Theatre and Dance, Amsterdam, and diploma from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam, Goldsmith College, School for New Dance Development, London, and EICAR – International Film and Television School, Paris. Since July 2016 he is running an independent art space called Æther Sofia. Since 2018, he has been working with Marie Civikov on a platform for exchange under the umbrella Æther Haga in the Netherlands.