Visual Arts in Germany: Exhibitions and Artist Portraits

Pictograms of Globalisation - Andreas Siekmann

Werk Andreas Siekmanns; © Foto: Uwe RiedelExhibitioin view; © Foto: Uwe Riedel

The main focus of Andreas Siekmann’s work is on the changes taking place in our society and the impact of globalisation and the shifting of economic responsibilities. In this context a major role is being played by the economisation and privatisation of the public sphere. For his analysis Siekmann has developed a distinctive method with which he is able to transpose the findings from his meticulous research into an unconventional pictorial language that is easy to grasp.

From 30th September to 18th November 2012 at the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach an exhibition by Andreas Siekmann is being held entitled Verhandlungen unter Zeitdruck (Negotiations Under Time Pressure). Siekmann, who was born Hamm in 1961, uses the exhibition to examine the economic restructuring of the former East Germany (GDR) after the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Work of Andreas Siekmann; © Foto: Uwe RiedelBack then it was the “Treuhandanstalt” (Trust Agency) that coordinated and supported the transformation of former state-owned enterprises into private companies over a period of four years. The process was heralded as a measure for securing economic consolidation and promised an economic upswing, the like of which had not been seen before.

Since 2006 Siekmann has been systematically researching this process and is now able to document the complex operations with their positive aspects and, in particular, with their negative aspects, i.e. the criminal machinations.

Committed to the “Cologne Progressives”

Work of Andreas Siekmann; © Foto: Uwe RiedelIn his work Siekmann makes aesthetic use of the anti-subjective language of the pictogram that was very much a part of the political constructivism of the “Cologne Progressives” (a group of artists in 1920s Cologne headed by Franz Wilhelm Seiwert). Although this reduced and schematised method guarantees the documenting of real figures and values only in summary form, it nevertheless shows them in relation to each other.

Despite the fact that Siekmann completely rejects any colour contrasts and depicts all the statistics and images in signal-red, he still manages to create an amazing effect. Siekmann’s use of a whole range of graphic techniques such as silk-screen printing, inkjet printing, silhouetting, fabric painting and water colours brings about a feeling of relief in the observer. The proportions of the schematised subjects also change; there might be one little figure representing umpteen thousands of laid-off workers, whereas one large briefcase passed from hand to hand records sales figures in per cent.

Ausstellungsansicht; © Foto: Uwe Riedel

Caught in a vicious economic circle

There is a 21-page booklet, a kind of “musical score“ so to speak, that to a certain extent condenses all the exhibits into concentrated form and at the heart of the exhibition in Mönchengladbach there is an oval-shaped, mechanical stage - a theatrum mundi that with the help of mobile figures on conveyor belts demonstrates just how inescapable the cycle of economic power structures and capital flows is. The stage revolves in front of a backdrop made up of photos of windowless buildings in Berlin - the places where the Treuhand agency was active - as the symbol of the global economic theatre.

It is really quite remarkable that it was the Rheingold Collection of all things that bought Andreas Siekmann’s comprehensive educational project, as the Rheingold Collection is in fact funded by industrialists - by collectors who themselves are part of the business mechanism. For the tenth anniversary in 2012 four other museums in the Rhineland area are presenting further important elements of this top-calibre collection.

Exhibition view; © Foto: Uwe Riedel

A carousel of the “exclusive”

Siekmann’s revolving stage does in fact have a predecessor - in 2002 on the Place Royale in Brussels was the first time he set up a revolving installation - this time a carousel. In this seemingly amusing work of art the carousel of life-size wooden figures is set up around a statue of a monarch or regent. In 2007, on the occasion of the documenta 12 exhibition, it went to Kassel where the figures danced around the statue of Friedrich II, the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. Every town it went to it encircled a statue of the resident regent.

The carousel is part of Siekmann’s ongoing art project entitled Die Exklusive. Zur Politik des ausgeschlossenen Vierten (The Exclusive. On the Politics of the Excluded Fourth). What is meant is Siekmann’s idea of a fourth power - the exclusive - in addition to the executive, the legislative and the judicative, i.e. the group of those people who are disadvantaged by our global, market-oriented society, namely the group of refugees, those who are either kept out of or kept in restricted areas, the group of low-income earners and those who are exploited by the exporting of raw materials.

Part of Siekmann’s 2012 exhibition called Vor dem Gesetz (Before The Law) that was held at Cologne’s Ludwig Museum included a huge selection of colour prints on paper taken from the Internet that had been augmented with a few expansive stencils. Although these images that had been posted on the net by non-governmental organisations pilloried serious cases of illegal trading, abuse of authority and torture, they were in turn used in a perverted way for the purposes of deterrence.

Exhibiton view; © Foto: Uwe Riedel

Squashed up symbols of the city

Siekmann’s elaborate projects might sometimes be somewhat text-laden, yet their whistle-blowing, provocative content is obvious due to the vivid and meaningful illustrations. This applies in particular to his earlier work for the Sonsbeek ’93 open-air exhibition that was called Platz der permanenten Neugestaltung (Square of Permanent Re-organisation).

Work of Andreas Siekmann; © Foto: Uwe RiedelFor this project Siekmann depicted seven different potential users of a public square and their interests in the form of amusing, colourful drawings and displayed them provocatively in show cases. Among his fanciful images the Platz der Gartenarbeit” (Gardener’s Square) collided, for example, with that of the Verschwender (The Wastrel), the children’s playground with that of a community fairground.

In his contribution to the 2007 Sculpture Projects Muenster exhibition Siekmann targeted the very rampant method at that time of allowing artists to create publicity for municipal or private investors by creating standardised-format sculptures as the symbols of the city. Siekmann took these three-dimensional abominations from various cities and painted scenes of economic transformation on them and then had them squashed up in a compactor to form a big, fat globe-shape. They were then displayed, along with the compactor, amidst the baroque charm of Muenster’s Erbdrostenhof Palace, where they created quite a stir as criticism of the ever increasing influence of various stakeholders - criticism in visual form.

Ausstellungsansicht; © Foto: Uwe Riedel

Renate Puvogel
works as an art historian and art critic in Aachen/Aix-la-Chapelle.
Translation: Paul McCarthy

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
November 2012

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