BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 09 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 30

Eva Grubinger

BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 09 SEP 96

A darkened room; four tables covered with green baize, four black lamps hanging low over each; chairs around the tables - this casino-like atmosphere is the defining feature of the exhibition 'Hype! Hit! Hack! Hegemony!' by Eva Grubinger, an Austrian artist now based in Berlin. The exhibition's title is a list of the games that can be played at the tables: Grubinger has adapted the rules and play of well-known parlour games, like Monopoly, and developed four new games. As their names suggest, they deal with art, pop music, the Internet and theory. A first glance reveals a popular form of leisure activity that is not associated with any particular 'scene' or age-group, but which addresses subjects that definitely are associated with certain groups and are not seen as leisure activities by their members.

Art, pop, the Internet and theory (as in political theory, or cultural theory with political aims) are areas essentially concerned with communication. In each field, the claims of individuals or defined groups are conveyed in a particular way and opened up for discussion. None of these particular spheres have defined ideal situations for free speech or equal rights, but methods and structures have evolved that make communication possible, control it, limit it and prevent it. Statements made within these spheres that reject such ad hoc structures have to accept the reproof that they are insufficiently aware of their own condition. Grubinger's games are a conceptually worked out result of this acceptance. Their content reflects this in that they transfer these thoughts from the sphere of art, where their status as art works places them, to other branches of activity.

All the games are about power. Hype! (all works 1996) is about the authority of institutions within the art world (museums, magazines); Hit! concentrates on the male-dominated music business; Hack! deals with the power of an anonymous network; and, finally, Hegemony! is about the influence of certain political groups. The players become critics of the institutions, marketing mechanisms, communication rites and so forth, that represent power. At the same time, they become participants in power because they have to make connections with each other or create confrontations. In this sense, Grubinger shows these cultural spheres as Foucault-like dispositives in which different discourses (power, specialist knowledge and rhetoric) cross over.

The four games can be bought as editions and, as such, are not restricted to exhibition within the gallery. But Grubinger links the generally possible (and intended) decontextualisation of 'Hype! Hit! Hack! Hegemony!' back into the context of art. This is shown not only by the dates of planned exhibitions in the near future, but also by the specially conducted games evenings, in which the art-spaces become games-spaces. (The effectiveness of this was manifested in the countless empty beer bottles and full ashtrays on the gaming tables after the opening). This leads to a second level on which the context of art is posed as a problem. 'Hype! Hit!...' only makes sense through the visitors' participation.

It is not much fun to stroll round the tables and savour the exhibition simply as an installation piece.

Grubinger's games are provided as tools that can be used by others and made into a functioning work. To a certain extent, this is a continuation of her Internet projects. In Netzbikini (1995), for example, she provided an address ( things/netzbikini) from which interested parties could download patterns to make an individual bikini. This identifies a basic intention of Grubinger's work: turning consumers into participants, and participants into producers. In Netzbikini, as well as this intended shift in structure, there is also a programmatic interest in the subject of 'gender': a garment that is unambiguously coded as female is offered for both sexes regardless.

Feminism, cultural studies, pop, theory and politics - these subjects play a central part in Grubinger's work and crop up at the same time as discourses that are in competition with art and which question its relevance. As well as siting these discourses and game programmes, of which art (as the subject of the game Hype!) appears as only one amongst others, she formally reinforces this intended link through the fact that the rules for all the games are contained in the booklet accompanying each individual game. The booklets also contain four essays by Kerstin Grether, Sabine Grimm, Jörg Heiser and Verena Kuni - all authors who work in an area whose agenda is defined by magazines like Spex, Texte zur Kunst and Die Beute, in which discussions about cultural studies and their political implications play an important part. Thus, the choice of authors and the close linking of their essays to the games is a definite strategic move by Grubinger. 'Hype! Hit! Hack! Hegemony!' may be fun, but it is not funny.