BY Okwui Enwezor in Reviews | 04 MAR 97
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Issue 33

Inclusion/Exclusion: Art in the Age of Global Migration and Postcolonialism

BY Okwui Enwezor in Reviews | 04 MAR 97

What is there not to love about 'Inclusion/Exclusion', curated by Peter Weibel? It had everything going for it: more than 50 artists drawn from every conceivable corner of the globe, including Mona Hatoum, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gabriel Orozco, Joachim Schoenfeldt, Vic Muniz and Nedko Solakov, not to mention a really cool title. What is there not to love when an exhibition of this nature alights in a town as sedately urbane as Graz, with its fierce loyalty to the myths of the nation; myths which those whose jobs it is to keep the demographics of the city as undisturbed as they were three centuries ago bring to the delicate work of border policing? I'm talking about the immigration officers who see to it that one's arrival in town is made unpleasant enough to ensure that any thoughts of lingering quickly vanish. And since Austria was not a colonial power, I was even more puzzled by why it would take an interest, despite the obvious fad for the topic, in Post-colonialism.

However, it is one of the signal failures of this exhibition that very little of the obvious discomfort felt towards 'foreigners' and the conflict around the territory of the metropoles of Austria and of other parts of Europe, were in any way explored. The idea of 'Inclusion/Exclusion' was just that: an imported theoretical fancy, as distant from Austrian and European Realpolitik as possible. This leads to the question of whether theoretical sincerity alone is enough within an exhibition as broadly defined as this, if it evades some hard, uncomfortable issues within its own territories. It would have been interesting to see how artists from Austria, Germany, France, Britain and Spain (the latter four being colonial powers) would have interacted with the rest of the multicultural pack had they been invited to participate.

If Weibel's awkward omnibus failed to register in the nerve centre of what Post-colonial means, it's only because the grounds for what constitutes a centre/margin discourse were neither properly defined nor attentively pursued. Though the superb accompanying symposium, which included Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, a mesmerising Slavoj Zizek, Ernesto Laclau and Catherine David, amongst others, did in some way make an attempt to articulate these issues. Unfortunately, the high-flown discourse did very little to engage with either the exhibition or why artists make art on such a topic. How, for instance, do I connect Kcho's rickety boats, Meyer Vaisman's bricked up wall, Shirin Neshat's large portraits of herself in Islamic garb carrying a gun and accompanied by decorative Farsi text, with the Graz immigration experience?

In purely discursive terms 'Inclusion/Exclusion' seems like an attempt to smuggle the exhausted question of marginalisation and multiculturalism into the fold of globalism in a kind of redemptive exercise, but without any of the unpleasant consequences. So Joachim Schoenfeldt's mural C-print of a robbery in progress in Johannesburg, outside the context of that location, becomes another event in the day of a metropolitan melting pot. But there is something truly nasty about the different paths through which the image arrives at our cognitive faculties that is not easily essayed in its benign recontextualisation.

The exhibition could also be read in terms of how Europe today interacts with its Others. By now, those of us who travel the great autobahns of the international circuit, where art and Otherness join symbiotically, know what to anticipate (perhaps too hastily) of exhibitions that limn the sharp contours of the multicultural image world. We know to expect an extravagance of signification, amply evident in the tourist sign paintings, with their poor spelling and grammar, of Middle Art from Nigeria; or excessive displays of strangeness, easily supplied by Cheri Samba's riotous and lacerating social comedies of a hopelessly corrupt Zaire, paintings that combine exotic flaneurship with a generous helping of caricatured African and American figures conversing in hybridised French and Lingala.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, we encounter the work of artists who could be said to have made the leap from Post-colonialism to Global Internationalism, but can't quite resist the temptation to signify in the ambivalent tongue of displacement. Mona Hatoum presented a rather bland floor installation comprising a grid of soap (of a brand popular throughout Palestine and the Middle East) on which she had etched what appeared to be a topographical drawing. This gesture was echoed by Miguel Hernandez Rios who presented a huge map wall piece, and by Guillermo Kuitca who showed, well, maps, and Huang Yong Ping... yes, yet another map.

In other rooms, Iké Udé presented virtual fashion magazine covers depicting images of identity as performance and masquerade; Carrie Mae Weems' photographs registered identity as genetic memory, which Kendell Geers, in the piece Score (1994), revealed how the need for equitable representation of identity according to a quota often ends up as misrepresentation. Stan Douglas' magnificent video piece Ruskin B.C.: Pursuit, Fear, Catastrophe (1993), a detective story set in a silent movie format with a tinge of period film noir and accompanying music, was far more than any notion of Globalism or Post-colonialism, in the meagre form evident here, could accommodate.

This is a good exhibition if measured by the sheer number of the artists assembled. But one must really ask from which point does it emerge into the full light of the Post-colonial moment? According to the show's thesis, Post-colonialism is particular to specific groups and areas and can be read by consulting a checklist, a menu of grievances tabled by the displaced, who are then recovered on a grid of representation. I am neither convinced nor satisfied by such a scenario, simply because it impedes the critical strategies of the artists involved. Though Weibel's selections were carefully made so as to avoid the obvious assumptions of what Post-colonial art looks like, it still does not manage to show us that to talk of the Post-colonial is to evoke its Siamese twin: the coloniser.