Post-Peace re-staged: the politics of doing politics

Issue no3
June - July 2022
Make Friends Not Art

Post-Peace, an exhibition curated by Amsterdam-based Russian curator Katia Krupennikova, opened recently at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Germany. Winner of the Akbank Sanat International Curator Competition 2015, the show was scheduled to open in Istanbul March 2016, but was cancelled five days before the opening by the cultural centre of Akbank. One year later, the show is now hosted by two of the jury members that originally selected the exhibition for the prize.

Post-Peace was designed from the idea that peace in our current world order is one that is only possible through sustained violence and war, both locally and worldwide. In its current configuration in Stuttgart, the exhibition features as many as nineteen artists, who shed light on various aspects of this thesis - partly as an act of writing counter-histories, which should enable a different view on the condition of peace.

It was this objective that turned out to be problematic for the Turkish host in 2016. Among several issues, the work AYHAN and me by Turkish artist belit sağ was not accepted for the show. The work deals with issues of censorship and the control of images and media in relation to the killings of Kurds in Turkey. Although the artist and curator suggested to use another work, in the end, the entire exhibition was cancelled at a moment when most artists had already arrived in Istanbul for the opening.

Not surprisingly, the censoring disturbed and infuriated the artists and curator involved. In response, a public statement was made on e-flux, explaining the course of events from their perspective and expressing their collective outrage.[1] What at first had been one topic amongst many others within the exhibition, had manifested itself pervasively onto the show on a formal level as well as on other levels. It posed the need to respond in a significant way.

The exhibition in Stuttgart, with an accompanying conference about censorship, can be understood as an exercise in doing so. During a talk at the opening conference, Katia Krupennikova and the directors of the Württembergischer Kunstverein discussed how the re-staging of the show functioned as a sounding board, disclosing the effects of censorship and rendering audible – and visible – the entanglement of politics with the organization of art exhibitions.[2]

In a sense, the act of bringing Post-Peace to Germany is a chance to explicate the politically charged role of the visitor, the institute, and their contexts – and to deconstruct ‘peace’ in the heart of the EU. It brings to mind Foucault’s inversion of the statement of war as a “continuation of politics by other means” to “politics [as] the continuation of war by other means”, debunking assumed structures of detachment and bringing politics close to home.[3]

Ella de Búrca, Roof Without Walls (Defiance), 2017

Ella de Búrca’s Roof Without Walls (Defiance), placed right at the entrance of the exhibition space, communicates this fairly well, making us realize that we cannot remain detached. The work, consisting of concrete roof tiles, here applied as floor tiles, narrates the story of how Ireland, after its liberation from Britain, defied the financial violence imposed by its former colonizer, by marking all of its produce with the word “defiance”. Hardly avoidable, when stumbling upon it, is the question of how a country such as Ireland has been treated in recent years by the European Union for reasons of ‘financial health’. What is our relation to this, as EU citizens?

Dorian de Rijk, Winging It, Video, 2015

Various other works in the exhibition remind us of the ways in which our lives are constantly re-structured according to certain narratives. Amongst these, is Dorian de Rijk’s three-minutes’ film Winging it. Almost sixteen years after 9/11, a massive sense of insecurity is still being instilled in children growing up in New York today. The film shows fragmented shots of a governmental promotion campaign, against a UN-blue background, urging parents to design an emergency plan with their kids. These shots alternate with other images of the security regime, such as office night guards walking around Wall Street and Ground Zero who struggle with their assignment to stay alert during the night. The soothing voiceover, speaking of trust, positivity and bonding experiences, makes one wonder where this trust is grounded upon.

Anika Schwarzlose, Agendas And Containers, 2016

In her work Agendas And Containers, Anika Schwarzlose addresses the deeply ambivalent character of hallmark institutions for promoting peace in the Western World, such as the UN and the EU. Schwarzlose’s installation features among others a representation of the imposing interior of the UN General Assembly hall. But, in the image, the artist shows the Assembly hall under construction, its walls and large logo obscured by plastic. The use of this image demystifies the institution at large, as its aura is being disturbed and its evanescent and man-made character is exposed.

Ehsan Fardjadniya (A.S.I. Group), Hinterland, after ‘Stage for Tragedy’, 2017

Whereas many works provide diagnoses of a condition, the work Hinterland, after ‘Stage for Tragedy’ by Ehsan Fardjadniya’s (A.S.I. Group) seems to look for possible responses. Amidst global flows of power, it renders human stories significant. The work consists of boxes, made out of Euro-pallet wood, which together form a large, three-dimensional stage. The construction is inspired by a constructivist stage setting by Alexandra Exter, from 1924. In a constructivist vein, Fardjadniya’s stage allows for an open interpretation and appropriation of its shapes and surfaces. Simultaneously, the boxes are imbued with various meanings as they could be interpreted as stashed casks, or as weapon boxes. The stage can be disassembled, its parts repurposed, as happened with a ‘soapboxing’ performance during the opening event. As an installation within, and even beyond the exhibition, it provides a continuous invitation to visitors to use it as a stage, to perform and to speak up.

While post-peace provides insights in the complexities of peace, exploitation and war in Europe and the Middle East, it fails to discuss the consequences of ‘our’ WWII and its aftermath for former colonial regions such as in Asia or Latin America. The Württembergischer Kunstverein has addressed an important issue by re-staging the show and reflecting on the politics of censorship and the muting of voices and processes. But, the political weight of the exhibition has increased significantly after its censoring in Istanbul, having received attention even on German prime time television[4]. It should not be overlooked that this itself is a matter of doing politics, and that promoting the exhibition by making use of its censoring history is potentially a dangerous matter that could frame Germany, or the Kunstverein, or ‘us’ for that matter, as being ‘on the right side of history’, as opposed to a corrupted ‘other’. In that case, not much would have been won.

[1]; see also:

[2] Remarkably, the directors of the Württembergischer Kunstverein had faced a case of censorship themselves recently concerning The Beast and the Sovereign at MACBA in Barcelona.

[3] Foucault, M. (2004 [1976]) ‘Society Must Be Defended’. London: Penguin, p. 15.

[4] Tagesthemen 25-02-2017,, from 8’28”

Post-Peace is still on view until the 7th of May at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Germany

opening image: Anna Dasovic, And he knew that someone who had witnessed these things might be too stunned to speak, Video, 2016

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2022