Articles | Visual Arts
"Uncertain States – Artistic Strategies in States of Emergency"
Source: Akademie der Künste, Berlin

In times of uncertainty, art and culture become free spaces to transform cultural differences and political conflicts. “Uncertain States”, the Academy’s main autumn programme, opens up a space of artistic resistance to the loss of cultural memory, and to violence and xenophobia.

This artistic research, which relates the present dramatic situation of refugees to the historical experience of flight and exile between 1933 and 1945, focuses on the fragility of individual and societal conditions triggered by wars, poverty and terrorism. Approximately 50 selected objects and documents from the Akademie der Künste archives of Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler, Valeska Gert, Lea Grundig, Lilian Harvey, Heinrich Mann, Bruno Taut, Kurt Tucholsky and others are juxtaposed with and related to contemporary art works reflecting today’s experiences of crises and flight, instability, violence and loss. The works on show are by 32 artists including Francis Alÿs, Reza Aramesh, Ayşe Erkmen, William Forsythe, Mona Hatoum, Isaac Julien, Sigalit Landau, Marwan Kassab-Bachi, Maziar Moradi, Graciela Sacco, Nasan Tur, Micha Ullman and Arkadi Zaides.Selected objects and documents from the Academy archives of, among others, Walter Benjamin, Valeska Gert, Heinrich Mann and Kurt Tucholsky, find their equivalent in the current experiences of crisis and flight reflected in 35 contemporary artistic positions, including works by Francis Alÿs, Ayşe Erkmen, Mona Hatoum, Isaac Julien and Arkadi Zaides.

Uncertain States is an exhibition which investigates the significance of memory and narrative within processes of social and cultural transformation through art. By combining an experiential space created from objects found in the Academy’s archives with an exhibition of contemporary art and lectures  it creates a thinking space (Denkraum) for scholars, activists and artists.

In an era of grave uncertainty fuelled by the destabilising state and social order in the eastern Mediterranean region as well as terrorism and new forms of nationalism and racism in Europe, artists take up the responsibility for the “History of the Other”, for communicating in an open and differentiated way where our own artistic position is located in relation to the other.
The fragility of individual, societal and political conditions, triggered by wars, poverty and terrorism, are the focus of an artistic investigation, in which the currently dramatic situation surrounding the refugee movement makes reference to historical experiences of flight and exile between 1933 and 1945.

This involves dealing with such concerns as collective traumatisation, the loss of identity, empathy and the attempt to understand, and the experience of profound precariousness. Through their works, visual artists offer a platform not just for sharing and exchange, but also with the potential to transform experience. For this reason, the exhibition is structured around two equally essential elements – political, social and cultural studies research and debates as well as a series of remarkable documents and objects from the Akademie archives presenting artists' memories during conditions of states of emergency in Germany between 1933 to 1945. Together, in the media of film, video, photography, sculpture and painting, these elements create an interplay of discursive, documentary and narrative contributions.

Revolver owned by Kurt Tucholsky, after 1926; photo: Nick Ash
Passport issued to Walter Benjamin, Berlin Grunewald, 10 August 1928; photo: Nick Ash
 Heinrich Mann's pocket calendar, February 1933; photo: Nick Ash

Ammunition box with personal documents from Ella Jonas-Stockhausen, no date; photo: Nick Ash

In this short compilation of this great event, we will deal only reproduce what is said in the catalogue about the two participating Iranian artist. For more information visit the website mentioned at the end of the page)
Maziar Moradi, from his 1979 series
Maziar Moradi is particularly interested in people and their search for identity – a search which can falter in the face of radical societal and political turmoil. His series 1979 traces the blows of fate suffered by his family during the Iranian Revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq War (1980–88). Here, many of Maziar Moradi’s family members are exemplary for the fractures and dramatic change experienced by nearly all Iranian families in these troubled years. Maziar Moradi has elaborated key re-enactments from those scenes which his family described, and then captured images of the scenes with the people involved as the performers in their own stories. In conversations held over months, he researched the details of individual experiences. Photographs taken in Iran show family members re-enacting these experiences – images that become ciphers of a family now scattered across the globe by political and cultural upheavals.
Maziar Moradi, from his 1979 series
Maziar Moradi, from his 1979 series
Born in 1979 Iranian artist Maziar Moradi’s photo series 1979 comprises 37 works reconstructing the life journey of his family who fled their home in 1985 during the Iran-Iraq War. To create the series, Moradi, who based his work on intensive research with those involved, decided to use staged photography at the original sites of the family’s escape. Through his method of personal, authentic re-enactment, he has not only created impressive photographs in the service of memory, but also triggered a process of working though the trauma of flight. The images become symbolic codes for a family that today, due to political and cultural upheavals, are scattered across the globe. Moradi's works is on show in the section called Cultural Memory as Resistance.
Action 117. Viet Cong Prisoner, Thuong Duc, January 23rd 1967, 2016
The Iranian artist Reza Aramesh adopts a similar strategy in his monumental triptych Aktion 117 (2011) in which the gesture of the suppressed is projected into a black-and-white photograph of the baroque interior of Louis XIV’s Versailles. In all his works the artist demonstrates a profound knowledge of the history of art, film and literature of both the orient and the occident. The mass media images from war zones and photographic reportages form the raw material for his numbered series of silhouetted figures. The actions 175–179 are generated from decontextualized snapshots of prisoners in crisis regions across the world, but this abstract outline remains in a subordinate position that is completed by photo prints of landscape images. The constant representation of violence in the mass media can induce a sense of fatigue as we move as voyeurs among the group of silhouettes, encountering our own mirror image. Aramesh’s anonymous figures become protagonists in his exploration of the mechanisms of violence. His works is on show on the section called Narration as an Act of Decolonisation.

Between the Eye and the Object Falls a Shadow (2008)
Born in 1970 in Ahwaz, Reza Aramesh is a painter, photographer and sculptor. He takes his war photography motifs from archive documents, as well as press, Internet and social media reports on the conflicts in Vietnam, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea. But instead of bloody bodies and violence, Aramesh shows invisible human suffering, with his works often recalling the poses of martyrs. In its sheer monumentality, the triptych Aktion 117 creates a direct connection to the image narrative in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles – but orchestrated with refugees. In this way, Aramesh creates several often contradictory associations: poverty and wealth, the beauty of the body and of the space, intimacy and public space, Versailles as the epitome of absolutism in Europe set against colonialism and its long-term consequences. (for more information about Reza Aramesh, see Reaz Aramesh featured artist at Tavoos-online)
Walking in the darkness of a promised light (2011)
In addition, a series of lectures and special events will address current political questions on themes such as neo-colonialism, the causes for flight and migration, and the new rise in nationalism in Europe, posited from within the context of cultural and artistic positions. A thinking space will be created through lectures, debates, concerts, film presentations, performances and theater, turning the “Uncertain States” into a thinking and action space in which artistic positions are linked to current discourses.

The speakers in the “Discourses” lecture series include Nikita Dhawan, Natasha A. Kelly, Grada Kilomba, Claus Leggewie, Michael Lüders, Katharina Lumpp, Norman Manea, Chantal Mouffe,  Jochen Oltmer, Gesine Schwan and Rita Süssmuth and Armin Nassehi, the German-Iranian sociologist.
Born in Tübingen in 1960, Armin Nassehi is one of the most prominent Sociologists in Germany. The 1960 born son of a German and an Iranian questions the so-called ‚traditional society’. In his speech he will focus on the chances that can result from the society’s “disintegration“, triggered in part by both forced and voluntary migration.

His research primarily focuses on the sociology of culture, knowledge and politics. Aside from his work in the university context, Professor Nassehi is also active as a journalist, speaker and consultant. Since 2012 he has been the editor of the cultural journal Kursbuch.

DISKURSE, a series of lectures and discussions, addresses today's key issues. Europe is facing challenges such as xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. What are the causes of this new fundamentalism? How can the growth of right-wing populism and racism be curbed and overcome? How can immigration policies be improved? And what role does art have to play in coping with the crisis?

 "Uncertain States' exhibition and Events which opened on 15 October 2016 will run until 15 January 2017.
For more information see: