all our tomorrows

the culture of camouflage
November 24th, 2006 to January 14th, 2007

International group exhibition in the frame of the project translate

Artists: Donald Rodney, Shilpa Gupta, Hetain Patel, Owusu-Ankomah, Elmgreen and Dragset, Song Dong, Zhang Dali, Yukiko Terada, Hew Locke, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Sabine Fassl, Johannes Wohnseifer and Lisl Ponger

“The exhibition will bring together a series of works by artists working in a cultural field that can be best described in terms of a ‘culture of camouflage’, which, according to Spanish theoretician, Danne Ojeda, is a particular characteristic of Latin-American art but can also be used to discuss aspects of culture as a whole: ’It is evident that a culture born out of and built around resistance to hegemonic domination would inevitably develop into a culture of camouflage. In repressing resistance, power only makes it stronger by forcing it to create more subtle and sophisticated strategies for survival‘. Rommens 2005

The exhibition and connected activities, which include a panel discussion between the artists, Shaheen Merali and Bettina Steinbrügge, guided talks and a publication, will help to investigate circumstances of domination in regard to the practice of freedom. The works have often been articulated in conditions that artists tend to describe as being ‘extremely limited or completely impossible’ where liberation becomes less of a desire and more of a necessity. The works show experimental, liberating actions which employ diverse materials - high art used as a strategy alongside site specificity in order to realise and enmesh power structures, histories and positions which counter histories and make resistance into sites of works.

Some of the work is articulated by employing the camouflage pattern itself to make further opaque that which makes the situation difficult and acknowledges the precautious, if not hidden, position attained for the freedom of expression. Donald Rodney’s work, from his final monograph exhibition prior to his untimely death, will provide a monumental entry point to the Kunstraum. His work will partly cover the Kunstraum, reflecting it back to its original usage as a space dedicated to service tank units as barracks in the National Socialist Era. This installation allows the viewer to read two converging points, seemingly unconnected, but allowing an understanding of historio-graphical debates from perspectives that are rooted in race and memory. It is in the very fact of potential translation that every act of liberation opens up new relations of power, which in turn exposes the inherent danger of domination. Liberation has to be maintained, that is, the reinstated mobility of power relations has to be controlled by what Foucault calls, ‘practices of liberty’.

‘Amidst the forces that affect us, we can exert a transformative power. Foucault returns to Greco-Roman antiquity to discover the self understood as individual agency characterised by autarky and auto-affection. The ‘disempowering’ forces, which we resist, whether material, historical, economic or socio-political, are simultaneously the forces that power our ability to create ourselves differently. This is what Foucault meant when he proposed that we should all summon the power to create our lives as a work of art- give it a different form from the one imposed upon us by external forces. What Foucault called an ‘aesthetics of existence’ should therefore be understood as a practice of freedom.’ Hofmeyer 2005

The works by the artist Sabine Fassl deliberates on the opaqueness of nature’s strategic power of design as employed in the flora and fauna culture, whilst Shilpa Gupta allows direct glimpses of a struggle with the disinclination of common-sense and the rise of the repetitive monstrosities in the world. The artists, Hetain Patel and Owusu Ankomah, use their own bodies to make paintings and performances which have multidirectional and cryptic language, drawing on their ethnic backgrounds to frustrate the misleading transparency of contemporary multicultural discourse. Whilst Elmgreen and Dragset’s single image of youth in a camouflage t-shirt, head cropped but penis erect, confronts the idea of the representation of the natural body. Nomeda and Gediminas Urbona’s performance and production of camouflage clothes for a fashion show in the trans-national public spaces of post communist Lithuania, floats between social history and the mechanisms of vocalisation. The two artists who are based in China, Song Dong and Zhang Dali, provide interesting works which observe their historical and political complaints. Song Dong has been writing a diary using water on stone for a number of years- this invisible tome is made available for the audience within the gallery to write their thoughts in water on a large flat stone- it remains evident for a fleeting moment before the temperature in the room evaporates that which has been ephemerally written. Subversively, Zhang Dali has been spending the last two years recombining the original mages of Mao Tse Tsung with doctored propaganda works to reflect upon the mechanism of modern Chinese visual culture. Yukiko Terada’s sewn works are partly based on her sister who passed away in 2002, using the human body to construct forms of memories and spatial absences. Whilst Johannes Wohnseifer and Lisl Ponger’s images provide an intriguing model drawn from the art historical lineage to fix the past within the present. These fragments help to expose a media saturated world that does not really report in its inflexible closures. The work of Hew Locke is presented in a vitrine with other objects which are deemed as ‘low’ culture in western Europe- Locke’s brooch of the Black Queen and his other multiples of a shopping bag is designed saturated within a multitude. This overkill brings to the surface the collective graphic entity of street culture as fashionable uniform or even camouflage as a monoparadigm of sub-cultural chic.

curated by Shaheen Merali (House of World Cultures, Berlin) in cooperation with Kunstraum der Universitaet Lueneburg

Head of the organisation: Bettina Steinbruegge

Students participating in the project: Florian Brauer, Waleska Briken, Katrin Dölle, Christa Dziallas, Marina Gerber, Sarah Hartung, Ann-Kristin Hohlfeld, Dagny Hübner, Yvonne Mattern, Sonja Oehler, Anna Rinne, Sarah Scarr, Christina Schmidt, Jan Sieber, Sophie Stock, Vera Vasilyeva, Ann-Kathrin Wehmeier, Vanessa Weiner

The project was carried out within the framework of and with support by the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union.


Aarnoud Rommens: C stands for Censorship, in: AS Mediatijdschrift 176 (2005), p. 68

Benda Hofmeyer: From Usurpation to Subversion. Foucault meets Cultural Capitalism- About a little place called AVL-ville, in: AS Mediatijdschrift 176 (2005), p. 107