“Future Perfect” Exhibition The Spectre of Capital

Armin Linke: Ghazi Barotha, hydroelectric scheme, workers praying, Hattian Pakistan 1999
Armin Linke: Ghazi Barotha, hydroelectric scheme, workers praying, Hattian Pakistan 1999 | © Armin Linke

The current “Future Perfect” exhibition organised by the ifa-Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural relations) is touring the world at the moment with a showcase of contemporary art from Germany. Its present port of call is Porto Alegre in Brazil. Goethe.de spoke with its curator, Angelika Stepken, about artistic approaches and conceptual points.

Frau Stepken, the title suggests that the exhibition is about visions of the future, but that is not the case, is it? What is it about then?

The title works like a trap. Future Perfect refers to the tense of the verb that expresses the completion of an action in the future – something will have been. I started planning the exhibition back in 2011 in collaboration with Philipp Ziegler. It was in the middle of the financial crisis. The essay entitled Das Gespenst des Kapitals (The Spectre of Capital) by cultural scientist, Joseph Vogel, provided us with some major impulses. In it he traces the historical path of how structures found in the realm of finance capitalism spawn certain thought patterns. His conclusion is – what tomorrow will bring, is already being assessed today, that is how speculation functions. In the figurative sense this can be understood as the future being permanently consumed in the present. This was what became the conceptual point of departure for the exhibition.

How have the artists then dealt with these ideas?

The artistic approaches allude in different ways to the idea of the future being perceived as a finished past. In his film, Die Probe (The Test) Clemens von Wedemeyer depicts an election rally. The candidate is rehearsing his speech backstage, deviates from the text and generally propagates the idea of withdrawing from old political ideas. The question of whether he will correct this deviation when he is speaking to the voters remains open. Wedemeyer raises issues like – are things like change and radical politics still possible today?

The exhibition goers set the tone

„Future Perfect in Frankfurt“ (Trailer) | © Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) via youtube.com

Time is often used as an aesthetic medium in the realm of art. How have the artists implemented it?

Wedemeyer’s film uses the loop approach, that is how he deals with the future. Film can make time reversible. A person can be shot dead and then get up again. In a sound installation Dani Gal reverses Conversations Regarding the Future of Architecture into Architecture Regarding the Future of Conversations. There are two record players playing both the A and B side of an LP of architects’ speeches from the 1950s. When exhibition goers come closer to the installation, the volume and speed change. It is no longer the architects who are setting the tone, but the exhibition visitors for they exert an influence on the recording, up to the point of making it incomprehensible.

Many of the works focus anew on things from the past. Is that also a way of approaching the future?

We asked ourselves the question – how would we feel, if we had no idea about what the future held for us? With their works the artists have created moments of activation in the present. Nasan Tur, for example, has developed a very specific approach – he provides a number of backpacks or sets of various utensils that exhibition goers can rent for use in a public space, for example, to cook something or to demonstrate something.

In an international context are the works viewed in different ways?

After the launch of the exhibition in Frankfurt in the summer of 2013, it moved to its second port of call, Warsaw in Poland. In both cities the reactions were similar, mostly due to the proximity of the German and Polish art scenes. Then we moved on to Kaliningrad where we were given quite a surprise. There we were dealing with a very young audience that was very much into discussion. As a result of current legislation in Russia admission to the exhibition was restricted to people over the age of 16.

How come?

The Danish artist, Henrik Olesen, is represented at the exhibition with a series of collages about the mathematician, Alan Turing, who developed the binary code for computer language. He himself, however, came to grief because of the binary logic prevailing in society at that time. Due to his homosexuality he was forced to undergo hormone treatment and in the end committed suicide. The Russian authorities categorised this as an “obscene element” and that is why there was an entrance age limit.

Germany brings forth transnational art

The exhibition shows many works by foreign artists who live in Germany. How do they deal with specifically German themes and issues?

They tell German stories from a different cultural perspective. Greek artist, Yorgos Sapountzis, for example, has produced a performance video called Fast Cast Past in which he shows two sculptures done by sculptor, Richard Scheibe, who was commissioned to produce art for the Nazis and then carried on producing for others after the Second World war. One of the sculptures represents a fascist member of the “master race”, the other from the post-war years represents German resistance during the National Socialism period. Sapountzis uses soft coloured fabrics and even his own body to set off these harsh figures.

“Lives and works in Berlin” has become a kind of trademark. What effects has this influx of artists from all over the world moving to Berlin had on Germany?

After 1989, when the Wall came down, the production of art in Germany opened up, for example, to post-colonial issues. It is above all artists who do not come from European countries who raise such questions, for example, Mexican artist, Mariana Castillo Deball. Today Germany produces transnational art. Here I only have to think of We are the people by Danh Vo, who as one of the boat people from Vietnam ended up in Denmark at the age of five. He reproduced a full-size model of New York’s Statue of Liberty and then chopped it up into pieces, two of which can be seen at the exhibition. These two fragments symbolise two things – the dream of freedom and its failure.

Angelika Stepken curated ifa’s Future Perfect exhibition in collaboration with Philipp Ziegler. Since 2006 she has been the Director of the Villa Romana in Florence. Before that she managed the Badischer Kunstverein (Baden Art Association) in Karlsruhe.