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Anguish and Enthusiasm: What do you do with your revolution once you've got it?
Artefacts from the Cultural Revolution. Installation view, Anguish and Enthusiasm at Cornerhouse, Manchester. Image by Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon.

MANCHESTER.- Cornerhouse is presenting Anguish and Enthusiasm, an extraordinary group show of new and recent contemporary art investigating post-revolutionary periods and events. Exploring contrasting perspectives and observations from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and beyond, the exhibition considers politics, change and those who were lost along the way.

Featuring new commissions by Sarah Pierce, Andreas Bunte, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnec and Trust Your Struggle alongside existing work by an array of acclaimed artists including Eoghan McTigue, Pocas Pascoal and Jun Yang, Anguish and Enthusiasm is accompanied by a full film programme of features and shorts contributing to the exhibition’s themes (see ‘Notes’), and events further investigating the outcome of a revolution.

The impact of the moment invariably overshadows the aftermath of an event. But while revolutions often serve as landmark shifts in the history of a nation, people or cause, it is the post-revolutionary period that reveals most about the mind-set and outlook of those that map the new terrain. Frequently followed by Civil Wars and purges, many ideological principles and people themselves fall by the wayside.

Curated by Declan Clarke and Sarah Perks, this exhibition takes its title from the third chapter of Victor Serge’s compelling book Memoirs of a Revolutionary, focusing on the period just after the Russian revolution and Civil War prior to the founding of the U.S.S.R. The author gives first-hand testimony of the transition from the initial euphoria of the revolution’s success to a growing unease about the manner in which the Bolsheviks began to implement their revolution.

Following the critically acclaimed socio-political exhibitions Contemporary Art Iraq (2010), New Cartographies (2011) and Subversion (2012), this Cornerhouse group show aims to explore the painful and divisive process of building a new society along the hastily prepared guidelines of a spontaneous uprising, and the bitter battle that emerges in the race for a new power elite.

Trust Your Struggle have re-painted a mural on a wall adjacent to Cornerhouse with the intention of reflecting on the unchanged situation of the black community in Oakland, which has suffered extreme police brutality since it was first highlighted by Newton and Seale in 1966. The project also attempts to regard the potential neglect of working class ethnic communities within Britain, and the dangers of neglecting a more evenly balanced and socially inclusive approach to rebuilding Britain in the current economic climate.

Artist Sarah Pierce’s Gag is a new work commissioned by Cornerhouse. Her performance, the result of a year-long project specifically for the exhibition, deals with ‘inhibitions of return’ (loss of a demand, loss of speech, lost meaning) and the suppression of objects and events that had recently been the focus of attention.

Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnec’s practice often focuses on the production of images and visuals that shape our social and political imaginary. By using the example of the former Portuguese colonies and by studying how their process of liberation and the independence that followed, the artist seeks to understand how the visual productions of the 1960s and 1970s were able to support the revolution and rebellion against the colonizing power. Helped by the archives of the Cape-Verdean and Guinean directors, Kleyebe Abonnec’s new commission investigates the impact of image on the colonial liberations.

Known for his labour-intensive, hand crafted, silent, black & white 16mm film installations which explore the history of ideas and previous chapters of Western culture, Andreas Bunte presents a new film commission considering sites and phenomena that pertain to the former German Democratic Republic (DDR), and the impact the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 had upon them. Locations include a scientific research facility that developed a technique for the artificial production of diamonds, and a high pressure training facility that was constructed for athletes preparing for the Olympics.

Eoghan McTigue’s photographic work Empty Sign (1998, illustrated above right) depicts the notice board from Queen’s University in Belfast, cleared of content by the artist. Redolent of a mid-1950s abstract painting and with the traces of what was previously pinned to the board remaining, its bright red colour recalls the red flag of international socialism and the flag of the Paris Commune. Empty Sign recollects past radical traditions of students whilst presenting the potential of the notice board as a political space to be reactivated by contemporary university students, as central Europe again turns towards a period of division and upheaval. Queen’s University was a focal point of radical left-wing student activity throughout the 1960s and it was from its ranks that the students who set up the Derry Housing Action Committee emerged – this would later go on to become a key moment in the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland (1969).

Pocas Pascoal’s Il y a quelqu’un qui t’aime (There Is Always Someone Who Loves You), (2003) is a poignant and deeply moving film work about her family’s experiences as the independence of Angola from Portugal was confirmed in 1975. After 14 years of the War of Independence (1961 – 1975), the country slipped into a brutal civil war between the three nationalist parties vying for power. Pascoal recounts the tense and violent environment she and her family find themselves in as her mother endeavours to transport her and her sister to safety. Concurrent with this is her recounting her attempts to track down her family home and determine what actually happened through the fractured recollections of her 12 year old younger self, capturing the trauma and bitter reprisals that overwhelm people as they make the transition from occupation to self-rule.

Declan Clarke, Artist and Co-Curator of Anguish and Enthusiasm said: ‘I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with Sarah Perks on such an exciting exhibition. As we struggle to find our feet in the 21st century it seems an appropriate time to consider the precedents of perceiving, reflecting upon and depicting societies in the midst of seismic transition.’

Sarah Perks, Director of Programmes and Engagement at Cornerhouse and co-curator said: ‘This exhibition feels like the logical climax of our commitment to investigating international socio-political concerns, which I started with Contemporary Art Iraq (2010). It's vital to look at the moments after the outburst and hype, and not just to keep moving on to the next conflict zone.

‘I'm also really proud to have commissioned several key international artists, who are completely engaged with the ideas and debates of this exhibition.’

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