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First U.S. presentation of The Museum of Non Participation exhibition by artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler
Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, The Exception and the Rule, 2009 (film still). Courtesy waterside contemporary, London and Galeri NON, Istanbul.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- The Walker Art Center presents The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal from April 18 through July 14, 2013, the first U.S. presentation of an on-going project by London based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler that has traveled to Canada, Egypt, Pakistan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

While working in Pakistan in 2007, Mirza and Butler found themselves trapped inside Islamabad’s National Gallery, watching as mass protests by the Pakistani Lawyers’ Movement—and subsequent violence from government authorities—unfolded outside. For them, this experience became a dramatic example of the challenges that artists and museums face in reconciling aesthetic practices with contemporary political conditions. In response, the duo developed The Museum of Non Participation, a roaming, ever-evolving collection of audio-visual works, workshops, presentations, and other activities.

This April, Mirza and Butler transform the Walker’s Medtronic Gallery into a multilayered installation and evolving social space that situates “non participation” at the crux of the shifting allegiances, contracts, and “new deals” that exist between nation states and their citizens. A selection of film and video works drawn from the fictional museum’s collection highlights the precarious nature of these relationships as witnessed through significant geopolitical formations. Hold Your Ground (2012) intersperses documentary footage of Thatcher’s London and the Arab Spring with the choreographed actions of a performer to dissect the language of public protest and civil unrest. Direct Speech Acts, Act 00157 (2011) offers overlapping testimonies or “speech acts” from actor and activist Khalid Abdalla, and artist Nabil Ahmed with an interpretation of the exhibition Act of State curated by Ariella Azoulay, to reflect on the relationships between political speech and action, the self and the collective, voice and silence. In The Exception and the Rule (2009), portraits of daily lives and public spaces in contemporary India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom reveal continued entanglements that are the legacies of empire.

Unraveling the roles that legislation, economic policies and directives of the ruling class have in orchestrating rules of engagement between state and citizen, Mirza and Butler debut two new works, the wall based installation The New Deal and the performance The Exception and the Rule. The former draws on the Walker’s history and collection to construct a narrative between policies of the expanded state in the New Deal era and the United States’ role in envisioning the governing structures of Iraq during the recent occupation. The Exception and the Rule involves a series of closed workshops with members of the Twin Cities community based on one of Bertolt Brecht’s short “learning plays.” The group presents an interpretation of the play on the exhibition’s opening night.

A series of short commissioned texts by Minneapolis-based and international contributors, published on the Walker’s website through the exhibition’s run, offer different constructions, interpretations, and definitions of non participation. The contributors include a playwright, anthropologist, educator and activists among others.

Karen Mirza and Brad Butler have worked together since 1998 with earlier works emerging from their interest in seminal avant-garde film. In 2004, they formed, an artist-run organization that combines film production and critical dialogue on contemporary image making. The Museum of Non Participation has been presented in Germany, Egypt, Pakistan, Canada, and the United Kingdom – including in an Artangel project in 2009 and as part of The Museum Show at the Arnolfini, Bristol in 2011. Mirza and Butler’s work was recently shown at the Serpentine Gallery (London), Witte de With (Rotterdam), Kunstverein Medienturm (Graz), as well as in Transport for London’s Art on the Underground program. They were nominees for the 2012 Jarman Award. Mirza and Butler are actively involved as member of the Precarious Workers Brigade and Arts against Cuts; their political alignment directly informs not only the content of their work but their collective approach to production.

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