The exhibition brings together a group of works that use a variety of approaches to comment on some passages and moments in the history of modernity (while not necessarily being involved with the styles and aesthetics of Modernism) that seem to have an afterlife in the present.
Runo Lagomarsino, Las Casas is Not a Home, 2009, installation view, photo: Serge Hasenböhler, courtesy of the artists and ELASTIC, Malmö, © Kunsthalle Basel
Report on Probability A is the title of a 1968 novel by Brian Aldiss, which employs the nouveau roman technique of narrative told from multiple viewpoints, in order to present an ambiguous story that revolves around the banal, almost trivial activities of a handful of protagonists. The additional appearance of extraterrestrials watching from "out there" acts as another means of mediating the plot, in which the allegorical scene painted by the Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd, is stubbornly present as a pivotal point, or perhaps just a vanishing centre of the deadpan descriptive prose. The novel's epigram from Goethe, "Do not, I beg you, look for anything beyond phenomena. They are themselves their own lesson," could equally well have come from John Clare or Robert Walser, and seems to tell us that instead of investigating the meaning of the story, we should learn to recognise nothing more than the materiality of events, the ever-changing skin of facts.
"Report on Probability" is a narrative hybrid that seeks to establish history on a foundation of unfulfilled possibilities, and turn it to our advantage, make it "useful". This mode of telling history favours "as if..." over "there was...". Neutral and rigid, reporting is a method used to give facts a definitive structure and bring them out of oblivion in strict chronological order. When applied to "probability" and not to commonly accepted "facts", report becomes a speculative exercise in thinking the-future-in-the-past, mobilising the intuitive and associative mind in order to teach us something that would have otherwise remained suppressed or forgotten.
In contemporary art, at least since the beginning of this century, the feeble echo of probability resounds from within history, its presence dressed up as fable, parable or fabricated evidence, assuming the form of "fictionary", a record of things and times that were not, often donning ethically ambivalent garbs of repetition, stylisation, pastiche and usurpation. This roundabout historical route, this island of possibilities from an earlier decade that heralded change but endlessly relegated it to the future so that it was never accomplished, seems to have replaced any solid utopia. Caught between political disappointment in the here and now and a disenchanted attitude towards promises of the future, artists have sensed a new locus of possibility in alternative readings of history - including the editing of existing cultural material - the lesson motivated by and embedded in the present moment. This meditation on lost history is, paradoxically, a pioneering endeavour, as it does not have a predefined goal but strives to animate the so far ossified, petrified, canonised and effectively neutralised versions of history. It also seems that we can glimpse in these attempts a way of abolishing the contradiction between the need to find forms of critical and political involvement on the part of artists in society at large and the imperative of aesthetic autonomy. The close and critical reading of the past can, perhaps, offer a way out of the impasse.
The exhibition "Report on Probability" brings together a group of works that use a variety of approaches to comment on some passages and moments in the history of modernity (while not necessarily being involved with the styles and aesthetics of Modernism) that seem to have an afterlife in the present.Anna Niesterowicz
's & Łukasz Gutt's film The Minstrel Show (2009) engages with a form in American entertainment that appeared in the 1830s and included white people performing burlesque or music acts in blackface. Although it lost its original popularity towards the end of the 19th century, the minstrels played a role in shaping stereotypes about blacks well into the 20th century, as the white, blackfaced performers continued to appear on TV shows and other forms of popular entertainment. Niesterowicz & Gutt staged a blackfaced big band performance of Frank Sinatra's song at the S1 Studio of the Polish Radio, where many outstanding recordings of classical and experimental music have taken place since the studio was established in 1991.
The Weavers (2009) by Anna Molska is a film based on a five-act social drama with the same title by a German author Gerhart Hauptmann, dating from 1892. The drama deals with the 1844 rebellion of Silesian weavers against the poverty of their lives, the harsh working conditions and exploitation they suffered in textile factories. "We'll stand it no longer!" one of the female protagonists' call for resistance, can serve as the play's motto. Molska worked with non-professional actors recruited from the coalminers who work in Silesia (today in Poland) and who often become jobless as mines close down due to the exhaustion of natural resources and economic "readjustment". The three miners gather by the fireplace on a slag heap and converse using words of the 19th-century naturalistic drama. The song in the background, also taken from Hauptmann's text, binds their fate with that of their 19th-century predecessors, the weavers, while the film continues with scenes shot on location in the coalmine.
Artists: Sven Augustijnen, Andreas Bunte, Patricia Esquivias, Runo Lagomarsino, Lars Laumann, Anna Molska, Anna Niesterowicz & Łukasz Gutt, Corin Sworn.
Curated by Adam Szymczyk.
Opening: Saturday, June 27, 2009, 7pm.