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Major new exhibition examines the role of the economy in shaping all aspects of human life
Mitra Tabrizian, City, London, 2008 (2008). Courtesy of ProjectB.

EDINBURGH.- From January to April 2013, two of Scotland’s leading cultural institutions; Stills, Scotland’s Centre for Photography, Edinburgh and Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Glasgow, present a major group exhibition across both venues. Featuring work from over 30 artists, ECONOMY marks the first time these venues have come together for the staging of a single exhibition.

Presenting works produced between 1989 and 2013, the exhibition includes pieces by acclaimed photographer Andreas Gursky (Germany), Tanja Ostojić (Serbia/Germany) and the Raqs Media Collective (India). The exhibition also incorporates two new commissions by Edinburgh-based photographer Owen Logan and the renowned Austrian artist collective WochenKlausur.

ECONOMY focuses on our recent history, when capitalism emerged as a globally dominant system following the end of the Cold War, and the division of the world between the two super-powers – the USA and the Soviet Union. The exhibition examines what happened since then: in both art and society, economic relations became increasingly central to what we do and, not least, are.

Guided by a set of keywords, the curators have selected over 30 works produced since the fall of the Berlin wall, which explore how the economy has come to shape ways of life in the 21st century. Experimenting with the imaginative documentation of social life, the artists address issues ranging from climate change, labour conditions, sexuality, migration, the crisis of democracy to the quest for alternative futures.

This ambitious exhibition is based on the curators’ own research at the University of Edinburgh’s History of Art department. By identifying a shift in artistic production towards a desire to engage with the impact of economic relations upon everyday life, the project sets out to make a significant contribution to the field of contemporary art history. Above all, ECONOMY seeks to refute the idea that contemporary art is cut off from the concerns and material conditions that motivate ‘real struggles’ and bring about ‘real change’.

Curators Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd said: “The economy is suddenly everywhere, discussed by everyone, all the time. Talking about it is no longer boring because everything is now so clearly connected to it: the way you have sex, your education, your cool shirt that should say ‘made in hell’, the climate, where you live and, ultimately, how you’ll die.

“It feels really relevant to present this exhibition across two cities which, although only 50 minutes apart, have such fundamentally different economic histories and realities.”

Seven keywords have helped the curators to articulate the themes of the exhibition and guided their selection of artworks. They are: crisis, enclosures, exodus, life, sex, spectres and work. Below is a brief description of some of the works included in the show.

At CCA, Tanja Ostojić’s provocative installation documents the Serbian artist’s search for a husband from the affluent European Union. Including the advert in which she posed shaved and naked for the camera and her subsequent marriage photos and divorce papers, this artwork was performed over five years of the artist’s own life from 2000 until 2005. Sex is also the site of Hito Steyerl’s critique of economic relations. Her autobiographical video Lovely Andrea (2007) links the demand for bondage imagery with the self-commodification of young women.

During the month of February the Austrian artist collective WochenKlausur will undertake a residency at CCA’s Creative Lab. Since its inception in 1992, WochenKlausur has created pioneering socially engaged art projects across the globe. Its itinerant practice addresses specific challenges facing communities. Through a series of concrete actions, it seeks to facilitate resolutions. Past projects have included setting up a shelter for drug-addicted prostitutes in Zurich and improving conditions in a deportation detention centre in Salzberg. In WochenKlausur’s own words: “artistic creativity is no longer seen as a formal act but as an intervention into society.” Working in close collaboration with local residents and Drumchapel L.I.F.E, a ‘Healthy Living Centre’ addressing health and wellbeing priorities for people living in the Drumchapel area, they will help to set up an association to encourage and support the foundation of small worker self-managed cooperative. This cooperative will work towards realising a project which local residents have been working towards for many years: the establishment of a community garden and shop with a local supply of affordable fresh food.

At Stills, Andreas Gursky’s famous depiction of a cacophonous trading pit, Chicago, Board of Trade II (1999), contrasts sharply with Mitra Tabrizian’s photograph of a pack of young bankers. Shot at the start of the financial crisis they pose in a grand marble foyer, indifferent to each other and the world beyond. Later on, Paolo Woods’ Chinafrica series captures another facet of contemporary capitalism: the Chinese conquest of Africa. In addition, well-known works such as Tracey Emin’s self-portrait I’ve got it all (2000) receive new interpretations, seen now to be part of our fast-transforming relationship with the economy.

Artists participating in the ECONOMY project include: David Aronowitsch / Hanna Heilborn (Sweden), Ursula Biemann (Switzerland), Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz (Germany), Tracey Emin (England), Claire Fontaine (France), Melanie Gilligan (Canada/London), Andreas Gursky (Germany), Kai Kaljo (Estonia), Owen Logan (Scotland), Rick Lowe (USA), Marge Monko (Estonia), Jenny Marketou (Greece/USA), Dani Marti (Scotland), Tanja Ostojić (Serbia/Germany), Anu Pennanen (Finland), Stéphane Querrec (France), Martha Rosler (USA), Hito Steyerl (Germany), Mitra Tabrizian’s (Iran/London) and Wochenklausur (Austria).

ECONOMY is curated by Angela Dimitrakaki and Kirsten Lloyd.

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