• 04​ 04​ – 13​ 07​ 2017 •
Enigmatic Majorities


Tue 4 4 2017 / 19:00
Exhibition opening

Tue 11 4 2017 / 19:00
Screening of short films by Ferhat Özgür and Chulayarnnon Siriphol, artists in conversation with Ekaterina Degot
In English

Opening hours:
Thu/Fri 15:00 – 19:00
Sat/Sun 14:00 – 18:00
The exhibition is closed: 13. – 16.4., 11.5., 18. – 20.5., 25. – 28.5., 4.6. and 15.6.

Venue: ACADEMYSPACE, Herwarthstraße 3, 50672 Cologne
Free admission

The silent majority has spoken – so at least the populists would tell you. All over the world, minorities are being pushed back into place. New culture wars erupt, as self-proclaimed national mainstreams reassert their ethnic, religious and political identities. But what does it really mean when “the people” themselves suddenly appear in uncountable numbers, as enigmatic majorities?

In the short films featured in this show, artists face “the people” in moments when that category is celebrated or only just constructed, manifesting itself in uncanny images and bizarre social configurations. Confused orders of battle replace any clear geometry of left and right. There is no clear ideological vector; the compass is broken and its arrow can swipe to any side.

This is how political theorist Ernesto Laclau described the notion of “the people” at the heart of populism: a floating signifier, ready to gravitate this way or that. Laclau insisted that this openness was something positive. It could supply democracy with truly universal concepts of justice and good. But today, we observe quite the opposite: democracy is abolished by popular demand, majorities become enigmatic, inscrutable, and threatening, while difference is drowned in the silent static of unanimity.

In the European context, it was the great French Revolution that created the first images of the people. One of these is Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, provocatively read in Cristina Lucas’ video re-enactment La Liberté Raisonnée (2009). It serves as the prologue to the show. In disbelief, we witness the tragic aftermath of the revolutionary événement. It is in this perverse reversal that the very emptiness of the notion of the “people” reveals itself in its unpredictable oscillation.

Such emptiness is to be found at the very heart of the pageantry invented to reaffirm national identities. A belligerently anti-Western popular re-enactment of the fall of Constantinople in Ferhat Özgür’s film on contemporary Turkey (Conquest, 2016) strangely rhymes with the somewhat boring idyll of Tomáš Rafa’s Swiss National Day in Rütli (2011), where “real” Swiss citizens (and no migrants) celebrate a relatively new national holiday, oblivious (or proud) of their “cleansed” ethnic monotony.

Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Myth of Modernity, filmed during the Thai political crisis of 2014, shows the empty signifier of the “people” in the moment of its emergence. It floats up as a pyramid-shaped modernist abstraction that at the same time represents traditional Buddhist forms of worship, as mass experience gives way to idealistic reveries. It is another variety of such enigmatic mass experience that Chinese dancers impart to middle-aged Germans in Xiao Ke and Zi Han’s choreographic piece Republic of Dance (2016), performed and filmed in Weimar.

How to resist these enigmatic majorities, when they are less innocuous, and nationalism and obscurantism take the upper hand? One answer can be found in Anand Patwardhan’s rousing fragment from a much longer anti-fascist film he is currently producing. The voice of reason dares religious mercenaries and nationalists to stop the wheel of progress; rational thinking will triumph regardless, even when it finds itself in the minority.

As a postscript, the exhibition features a series of photographs by Anne Arndt that depicts the uncanny phenomenon of individual bunkers built in Germany during the Second World War. The sadness and loneliness of these shelters lost in the middle of nowhere serves a metaphor for contemporary fragmented neoliberal humanity, where there is no longer such a thing as society. New grandiose collective identities, tribal as well as imperialist, claim to overcome this fragmentation, when in fact, they only amplify its scale, creating illusory individual discursive bunkers for entire nations.

ANNE ARNDT creates installations integrating photographs, sculptures, and moving images. In her works, she analyzes political concepts and their relation to architecture and society. She approaches her topics through a multilayered process and includes the beholder in a, at times, physical way. Anne Arndt lives and works in Cologne.

CHRISTINA LUCAS investigates the mechanisms of power in her performances, happenings, installations and video art. Her works have been on display in several museums, including Mudam – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxemburg), Kunstraum Innsbruck, Centre Pompidou (Paris), and Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki).

FERHAT ÖZGÜR's artistic works cover a wide spectrum ranging from video and photography to installations. His works have been on display in MoMA PS1 New York, Centre Pompidou (Paris), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) and Museum der Moderne Salzburg, among others. He is currently participating in the group exhibition Shame: 100 Reasons for Turning Red at Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden. Özgür is currently professor at the Yeditepe University Istanbul.

ANAND PATWARDHAN is a Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker whose human rights-oriented work is often subject to suppression by the Indian government in power. While some of his films explore the rise of religious fundamentalism and casteism in India, others investigate unsustainable development. Many were awarded at international film festivals in Mumbai, Leipzig, Paris and Hong Kong and other venues.

Since 2009, TOMÁŠ RAFA has investigated notions of nationalism in Central Europe through his ongoing documentary film project, New Nationalism in the Heart of Europe. His documentary details the creation of conflicts that arise from prejudices, superstitions, and resentments in the region. Rafa’s film has been screened in museums and galleries across Europe. He is based in Warsaw.

The filmmaker and visual artist CHULAYARNNON SIRIPHOL lives and works in Bangkok. His works have been screened in many film festivals in Asia and Europe, including in the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Hamburg International Short Film Festival and the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art. His film Myth of Modernity was honored in 2014 at the Thai Short Film & Video Festival.

XIAO KE completed a traditional Chinese dance education and then studied contemporary dance in Shanghai. Since 2002, she has closely collaborated with contemporary artists und has founded several artists’ collectives. ZI HAN is an audiovisual artist and performer. In their Cannot Help Art Collective, founded in 2011 and based in Shanghai, both artists engage in interdisciplinary investigations of social issues.