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Every person is an artist: global aCtIVISm opens at ZKM in Karlsruhe
Protesting on Demand. Photo: Floating Lab Collective. Courtesy: Floating Lab Collective.

KARLSRUHE.- The exhibition global aCtIVISm is dedicated to the field of new, twenty first century forms of artistic expression along the lines of an augmented concept of art according to which every person is an artist. Global activism is politically inspired and seeks to draw attention to abuses in the political sphere by means of actions, demonstrations and performances, and demands changes to existing conditions. On the basis of objects, photographic, cinematographic, video-graphic and mass-media documents, the exhibition shows just how different the roles of art can be in the various regions of the world.

The dynamics of modern democracy began with the three-minute Gettysburg speech held by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, which promised a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. And it is with this invention of the people (Edmund S. Morgan, Inventing the People. The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, 1988) that the concept of democracy stands and falls. In the American Declaration of Independence (1776) people were guaranteed inalienable rights, among which were “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but, above all, that “governments [...] derived their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

Consequently, democracy lives from these dynamics between the government and the governed, between politics and the people. However, what happens when those who represent the people no longer protect the rights and interests of the people, but rather violate them? One possible answer has been demonstrated over the last few decades with the founding of NGOs, non-governmental organizations. These latter assume tasks such as environmental protection, the upholding of human rights, etc. that were originally the responsibility of governments. A second, contemporary example is the current practices of activism, initiated by citizens the source of which is a democratic citizenship. As the word CIVIS (Lat. citizen) in the word activism implies, it involves a new form of “performative democracy” (P. Weibel): through actions and demonstrations, the transformation of existing conditions is demanded in the public sphere.

Through actions by small groups such as Pussy Riot, or mass movements like Occupy and much else, more recent repeated spectacular protest movements have shifted into the focus of a worldwide public. In entirely different, though always impressive ways, they show what civil engagement can achieve in the widest possible sense. On the one hand, the discussion turns on the crisis of democracy, even we speak of a post-democracy. On the other hand, numerous movements of civil participation are everywhere on the increase throughout the world. The Boston Tea Party (1773) slogan, which led to the outbreak of the American civil in 1775, ran: “No taxation without representation”. The citizens of today evidently demand “no taxation without participation”. global aCtIVISm shifts this new citizens’ engagement to the center of an exhibition. This is suited to effectively counter the conformism of the so-called art market, but also cultural pessimism and its lament of the power of consumerism.

With the exhibition Net_Condition (1999), CRTL [Space].Rhetorics of Surveillance, from Bentham to Big Brother (2001) and Making Things Public (2005), the ZKM had pointed out the options and risks of digital society early on. Similarly, the ZKM has presented the practices of artistic performance and public participation for many years. The practices have now clearly expanded in the spheres of politics.

Art and action entered into a new fusion ever since the expansion of art in the mid-1960s, which then liberated itself from purely artistic intermediality, and increasingly concerned itself with social and human agendas. Art and agency flow into a new form of activism. The artistic function changes from producer of works to the system fugitive, or system critic, capable of pursing tasks formerly the responsibility of state authorities, such as the judiciary, the economy and the administration. In a certain sense, art, like philosophy and media theory forms a place of exile in which fundamental civil tasks are still perceived. The artist’s function also changes with his media: instead of oil paintings, flyers, placards, graffiti are produced, and in the place of wooden structures online portals; transparent, media appearances and Youtube videos replace art film productions.

The exhibition shows global activism or artivism as the first new art form of the twenty first century by means of photographs, films, video, blogs, social media and other mass media documents.

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