BY Alex Farquharson in Reviews | 13 SEP 05
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Issue 93

Invisible Insurrection

BY Alex Farquharson in Reviews | 13 SEP 05

A triad of anarchistic, architectonic works was clearly visible through Sala Rekalde’s plate glass façade from the street outside: an indoor garden of ‘invasive’ plants and litter (Jonas Maria Schul’s travesty of executive greenery The Modest Garden, The annihilation Garden, The Protest garden, Hybrid Litter Patio, 2005), a 20-metre wall painting of a free-form children’s playground (Nils Norman’s latter-day Bolshevik mural The Factory Floor, 2005) and a serpentine system of interlocking tables and chairs painted black, like the charred remains of a May ’68 barricade, which continued into the next room (Luca Frei and Xabier Salaberria’s Untitled, 2005). Together they occupied the whole of the Rekalde’s large front space, resisting its office-like interior and, by implication, the over-administered and privatized world beyond the institution’s transparent threshold. The sense of continuity with the urban scene was rendered explicit by Norman: a sign saying ‘museum’ (pointing in the direction of the nearby Guggenheim) was one of many items of official street furniture pushed to the margins of his composition by the exuberant playground that had usurped its centre.
‘The Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds’ roamed across continents and through history in search of paradigm shifts of varying kinds and orders of magnitude. Its mille plateaux included Paris during the 1789 revolution, Russia in the 1920s, Stockholm in the late 1960s, Austria in the 1970s, Britain during Punk, Lithuania after the Soviet Union, Korea once the economic bubble had burst, and Berlin, Johannesburg, Tehran and Turkish Kurdistan today.

The exhibition’s earliest points of reference were served up on Luca Frei and Xabier Salaberria’s furniture cum barricade. In a Power Point presentation art historian Dominique Lora explained how Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat (1793) was originally conceived and commissioned as a propagandist work of Performance art: it was paraded through the streets of revolutionary Paris on a mobile scaffold accompanied by a vast crowd. Kazimir Malevich was represented by his ‘Theoretical Charts’ (1927) rather than by paintings. He devised these to explain to European audiences during a lecture tour how Suprematism was the apotheosis of Western art movements, from Byzantium all the way to Cubism. Malevich even went so far as to claim that Suprematism had superseded the Revolution itself, taking the latter onto a spiritual plain.

Mysticism played no part in the revolutionary politics of El Lissitzky (Malevich’s colleague for a time at Vitebsk School of Art), yet he too is represented by pedagogical tools: 12 beautiful prints that demonstrate ‘The Four Arithmetical Operations: Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division’ (1928) to young children through revolutionary principals: the revolution adds (1 worker + 1 peasant + 1 soldier = 3 revolutionaries), while capitalism divides. (Of course!)

The ‘relationship between art and education’ was the starting-point for this exhibition, according to its curators – Carles Guerra, Lars Bang Larsen and Chus Martinez. Experimental, revolutionary and counter-cultural educational techniques, often orientated towards children and closely related to play, ran as a leitmotiv through most of the work. Slide documentation of Palle Nielsen’s adventure playground at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, in 1968 (Model for a Qualitative Society) was picked up by Norman’s mural. The latter was echoed in footage of a Mannerist mural (accompanied by a Mozart piano piece) featured in Deimantas Narkevicius’ elegiac film of a Soviet power plant (Energy Lithuania, 2000). Anita Fricek’s paintings, executed in an anachronistic illustrative style, depicted institutions across the political spectrum – summer camps, nudist colonies, boarding schools, religious orders and so on – through which society’s values were variously inculcated in Austrian children in the 1970s. Art & Language were represented by apoplectic text pieces deriding the bourgeois ideology of British art schools in the 1970s and a video of a desultory performance of fragments of Marxist theory set to music by members of The Red Krayola (Nine Gross and Conspicuous Errors, 1976). In Peter Friedl’s King Kong (2001) Daniel Johnston, the ‘Outsider’ singer–songwriter, sang a parable on boxing, bigotry and apartheid to a handful of children in a park in Sophiatown, an area of Johannesburg renowned for its avant-garde before its black residents were cleared in the 1950s, while Adrian Piper herself plays the part of the dance instructor for a largely white audience in her video Funk Lessons (1983), which surreptitiously deconstructs the way dance music is racially encoded. Music ran as a second theme throughout the show, featuring too in works by Begoña Muñoz, Christian Andersson and Fikret Atay.

‘The Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds’ borrowed its title from a far-reaching essay by Alexander Trocchi, originally published in Internationale Situationniste in 1962 and reprinted in the catalogue. Anticipating so much political activism and socially engaged art today, it could have been written in the mid-1990s. Trocchi’s ‘insurrection’ would happen not on factory floors but in ‘cultural jam sessions’ and free universities operating from the heart of metropolises (he identifies Black Mountain College as a prototype). While, as Brian Holmes points out in the catalogue, some of these revolutionary ideas have been appropriated by big business in recent years, there has been a simultaneous revival of interest in radical educational models on the part of artists and curators (for example, Copenhagen Free University, Arteleku in San Sebastián, Nomads and Residents in New York and even the next Manifesta).

Although not without dissonance, the exhibition was a fascinating, intellectually ambitious orchestration and interpretation of recent re-engagements with politics. The final irony was that this insurrection existed solely through representation: in images, objects and on screens, rather than as actual people on the floor of the institution, as Nielsen had done back in 1968.