Planetary Consciousness

June 7th to July 6, 2008

International group exhibition in the context of the project translate

Artists: Christine Meisner, Mathias Poledna, Lisl Ponger, José Alejandro Restrepo

The exhibition deals with the stories and manifestations of a collective imagination structured by the polarity of centre and periphery and which can be generally subsumed under the title »Eurocentrism«. The title of the exhibition has been borrowed from a book by the literary scholar Mary Louise Pratt (Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 1992), in which she delineates the manufacture of a European »planetary consciousness« on the basis of travel writing and the activities of collectors since the 18th Century.

The establishment of the systematic natural sciences since that time and parallel entrepreneurial European expeditions paved the way – along with adventure literature and travel writing – for a consciousness of European centrality, from which vantage point the rest of the world proffered itself both as an immense spectacle and as chaos in need of classification. Alongside the hardened techniques of economic exploitation and political control of overseas territories, »soft« literary, scientific and artistic techniques of surveying the world, the ordering of phenomena and the representation of differences shared in the consolidation of colonial ways of ruling, which in turn reached their zenith around 1900. The traces of the Eurocentric world view in the structures of individual consciousness and feeling extend beyond the colonial era, whereas since the mid 20th Century they have been subjected to post–colonial critique. The exhibition probes the current status of planetary consciousness on the basis of artworks concerned with the genesis of a European worldview in cross–genre stagings of the centre/periphery model against the backdrop of (post–) colonial dispositives. If one regards this worldview as mythical knowledge, then it is precisely artistic methods and procedures themselves that seem appropriate to evoke the often diffuse and conceptually challenging structures of feeling of centrality and planetary consciousness and furthermore to identify them – very much in Barthes’ description of the mythologies of knowledge – as »formless, unstable, nebulous condensation«.

In The Present Christine Meisner follows the traces and stages in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness in Belgium, The Congo and Poland in order to lend historical travel writing a contemporary perspective. The work is dedicated to a contrapuntal description of the divided yet differently experienced and institutionalised history of Europe and Africa. If authors such as Conrad were the ones to shape the collective European imagination of colonial lands right up to the 20th Century, then it was Alexander von Humboldt in the 19th Century who formed Europe’s planetary consciousness and particularly the image of the »New World«.

In El crocodilo de Humboldt no es el crocodilo de Hegel, José Alejandro Restrepo refers to a difference of opinion between Hegel und Humboldt, which can be read as a paradigm for inner European differences when viewing the world outside Europe, and results in turn from accessing different disciplines within the general body of knowledge itself.

In Wild Places Lisl Ponger delineates a genealogy of genres of imperialist action/representation with reference to the colonialised »other«, in which artists play a part. With En Couleur, one of the best known photographs by Man Ray, Ponger alludes to an early phase of art criticism – which was however itself still imbued with exotic projections – of European Modernism’s racist, colonialist image of the world. Ponger’s work Die Beute (The Spoils) compresses the innumerable references of planetary consciousness to an image of a (post–) modern psychopathology of cultivated Eurocentrism.

Mathias Poledna addresses the Western drive to archive everything by using a specific example, which however need not be construed from the outset as a product of a colonial, imperialist mentality. His showcases present long playing records – »Music of Southeast Asia«, »Anthology of Central & South American Indian Music«, »Voices of the Satellites«, etc. – which are taken from a Folkways Records (1948––1986) project aimed at compiling an encyclopaedic compendium of the »entire world of sounds«. The records appear here in a museum setting as documents of Western Modernism, whose sense of self feeds upon from the notion of an exhaustive visualisation and preservation of the Other.

curated by Christian Kravagna in cooperation with Kunstraum der Leuphana Universitaet Lueneburg

This project was carried out in the framework of und mit Mitteln des EU-Kultur 2000 Programms der Europäischen Union durchgeführt.