BY Marius Babias in Reviews | 07 MAY 95
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Issue 22

When Tekkno Turns to Sound of Poetry

BY Marius Babias in Reviews | 07 MAY 95

There's been much speculation about whether constitution of the rave scene is political or hedonistic. Particularly in Berlin, at a moment when Techno has risen into the musical mainstream, asking this question makes sense for two reasons: not only is Berlin the continent's Techno capital, but at the end of the 70s it also laid down major guidelines for youth culture, especially in terms of underground politics. While Punk did not have an explicitly political programme, emerging more as a reaction to the ossification of the radical left, it nonetheless achieved political effect in the growth of anti-fascist organisations and artists' groups.

The Techno movement of the 90s has completely absorbed the spectrum of counter-cultural values and replaced them with a new aesthetic canon. To make a causal link between this, the triumphal march of the 'new technologies' and the burnout of Socialism in Eastern Europe, is to distract attention from the subcultural appeal of Techno. This previously ignored aspect is the central hypothesis of the exhibition, which was shown in a different form at the Shedhalle, Zürich, in the summer of 1994. Comprising talks (speakers included Renée Green, Katherine Moonan, Ute Meta Bauer, Yvonne Volkart, Sabine Grimm, Susanne Schultz and Bettina Allamoda); a film series (Martha Rosler, Helke Sander, Claudia von Alemann and Collectivo Feminista di Cinema); discussions on population policy and 'girlism'; and a 'traditional' art exhibition, the show set out to use the attractiveness of the technoid as the pretext for a critical discourse about genetics and biotechnology. As if this wasn't complicated enough, the organisers - Sabeth Buchmann, Renate Lorenz and Juliane Rebentisch - presented their argument from a radical feminist standpoint.

And there was more: the exhibition and the accompanying programme combined their critique of 'new technologies' with a violent attack on Conceptual Art, which was accused of having encouraged the social acceptance of technology through its enthusiasm for information technology. Prime examples offered were 'Information' at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970 and 'Art and Technology' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971. Conceptual Art as a kind of gender-killer is a bold claim. The linguistic and philosophical strategies of the so-called Conceptual Artists were principally aimed at the dematerialisation of the art object. In those days, technology wasn't linked with genetic manipulation, but with the hope of a positive change in society. The architect Buckminster Fuller, defamed in a lecture by Anke Kempkes as a forerunner of the Big Brother state, only used new technologies in order to build in as cheap and environmentally-friendly a way as possible. The accusations of colonialism levelled against Alighiero e Boetti, who had wall-carpets made in Afghanistan, and Lawrence Weiner, who dedicated a text piece to a tribe in Papua New Guinea, were actually grotesque. The programme only just stopped short of blaming the Conceptual Artists of the 70s for the ban on abortion, the destruction of the rain forests and Chernobyl.

Certainly, it's significant that in genome research women are relegated to the status of organ banks for male scientists. It is also true that socio-political developments in the cultural superstructure are prepared, accompanied or supported in an aesthetic way. But to conclude from this that art and culture are to blame, rather than seeking the reasons for the genetic colonisation of the body among industrialists and legislators, is to falsify and dehistoricise the problem. Despite the skewed conclusion, the aesthetic signification of art in the establishment of 'new technologies' cannot be denied. But American gender researcher Donna Haraway also revealed that the appeal of Techno can be redefined in an emancipatory sense. She sees the problem of biologically and socially determined gender identity as being resolved in the cyborg - half man, half machine - and this Manifesto for Cyborg provided heated debate.

The unclarified relationship of technology to artistic production meant that the actual exhibition section of 'When Tekkno Turns to Sound of Poetry' was a mere backdrop. Compared to the intensity of the debate on technological issues, the works of the exclusively female artists - including Yvonne Doderer, Lise Nellemann, Katja Reichard, Marion von Osten and Cornelia Schmidt-Bleek - not only fell far behind, but actually had a counter-productive effect. The spasmodic attempt to thematise visual evidence remained stuck in 'old-fashioned' media, such as photography, slide-projection and video. The discursive aspects of the exhibition - the text and film presentations - outshone the 'artistic' works in an aesthetic sense as well. In the end, the art was just a way of setting up a relaxed atmosphere. With one exception: Munich artists Elfe Brandenburger and Mano Wittmann investigated popular songs from the point of view of sexism and racism, inviting visitors to sing along with the dubbed lyrics. The synopsis of this precisely structured video-installation lay somewhere between theory and practice, but overall the message was that theory is more exciting than art; and art, if it's seen as the prosthesis of theory, becomes superfluous.