– ASPN, Leipzig
with Michael Gumhold, Wolfgang Plöger, Nadim Vardag
exhibition views (1–3)
Famed, The Conscience
Famed, Bottle of Pop
from the series »10 Objekte ungeklärter Herkunft #7«
glass bottle, digital print
Photos: Stefan Fischer
To be active means to create, to work and to produce. Under the present circumstances activity turns into hyperactivity. Hyperactivity is the precondition for the ability to take part in social life. And in this way, we at the same time create what we have to endure – our own lives.
The Western world has moved on from the era of discipline and has entered an era of autonomy that is seemingly liberated from ideology, an era of self-determination and responsibility. But under neoliberalism the self is most of all an object of productive power and marketable ideas; it has to be, it wants to be. The tension between expected autonomy and the impossibility to lead your life and make decisions free of constraints causes anxiety, depression, stress, exhaustion. Performance holds the promise of happiness. Anyone can feel inadequate at any given time.
Despite these uncomfortable somatics the letting go, the diversion, the functionless, aimless drifting are threatening. To pursue the useless is hardly possible in a society where everything is made use of, even the mind. Nothing appears to be more frightening than to slow down the hyperactive forward momentum; passivity is persecuted. Not even someone who is unable to gain anything is allowed to be passive. Not even the excluded are allowed to rest. They should at least actively participate in consumption – by making choices between banal alternatives. To create meaning demands self-exploitation. At least for the sake of taking-part people must engage in competition.
The active decision to suspend yourself therefore remains a dream: to expel yourself as an individual shaped by neoliberal capitalism; to opt out, to exclude yourself, to stay away. I would prefer not to, these are the words Bartleby uses to decline to perform a task in Melville’s short story. This attitude is remarkable because it is now unthinkable. Behind his denial lies a desire for an opportunity to think different, to imagine different things, to feel different. While we are bound by the existing norms, we are all the while able to long for something else. But even our desires are guided by the principles of competition and exchange. Contemplation, the purposeless edification beyond worldly matters, is reserved to monks and nuns, who receive their guidance from their god. But contemplation is the prerequisite for gratuitous thinking – meaning a way of thinking that is not determined by need. A thinking without creative compulsion, without fulfilling an end, far removed from a principle of give and take may lead to something other than the given.
To manifest this otherness is considered the purpose of the arts, and to achieve this end artists often adopt a position beyond worldly things. The cliché of a detached, inspired artistic work contains a grain of truth. What is worth preserving of this notion is the potentiality inherent to passivity. Because hesitance, doubt, the act of stopping, of taking a look around make it possible for something not yet defined to enter and permeate our thoughts. That this new, undefined aspect might not be possible to be dealt with, that it is met with inadequacy, could illustrate the experience of being freed from constraints, to be able to do anything. The desire for suspension is a phenomenon of the crisis of the subject and a point of escape, a Utopian idea. What makes it so valuable is the fact that the impossibility of real suspension, the impossibility to suspend yourself, pervades every day of our lives.
– Henrike Böhm