Andreas Spiegl / Weirdly exclusive / TRANSITION, Biennale Vendig / ISBN 978-3-903172-54-8

There seem to be two concepts of art – a notion of art that manifests itself institutionally and commands an apparatus of galleries, museums, biennales, universities, discourses and expert opinions on the part of production and reception, and another that critically confronts the hegemonical claims and status of this cultural-economic network. The concept of art communicated by institutions not only takes upon itself the right to raise its voice for emancipated and critical positions and (re-)present these, but also simultaneously to command the mechanisms that decide upon the exclusion and inclusion of those who should belong in that network. Despite all criticism raised against dominance and power relations, selection and reception into this institutional network serves the claim to exclusivity. Whatever is considered worthy of being shown or discussed within this apparatus has to pass through a selection process that separates the one concept of art from the other. In this context, any criticism made about power relations and their simultaneous extrapolation by institutions seems contradictory – as the »exclusive contradiction« of a process that regulates the integration process in the network with a process of elimination. The principle of exclusion is inherent to the admission process. The weirdness of the exclusive that inheres within the institutional concept of art and its economy also appears then, and especially comes to prominence, when its openness is proclaimed. The conjunctive, to be potentially selected and able to be received into the network, rushes ahead of every artistic practice and simultaneously legitimates the selection process, which assures that the conjunctive for the (mostly) unselected part represents less of a possibility than the reality: a life and an art in the conjunctive, as real and extant as this may be. The exclusive contradiction of the institutional concept of art corresponds on the other’s side to the contradictory symbiosis of the conjunctive and present: artistic works that ascribe to this other concept of art, exist in a certain way as inexistent, totally real and yet not included, as art without participation in the institutional concept of art, as peripheral phenomena. Before the background of institutionally conveyed exclusivity, these peripheries themselves appear exclusive – excluded from the exclusive.

Instead of insisting at this time on a (constantly necessary and apposite) criticism of the inclusion and exclusion processes of the institutional concept of art linked with a demand for its being opened up and an increase in the number and diversity of selected positions, it seems more appropriate to turn attention towards the practice of criticising institutions, which is »exclusively« associated with some of these peripheral phenomena – with a concept of art that confronts the institutional concept of art by being (hegemony) critical and still maintaining a concept of »art« that is precisely interested in the peripheries, where the exclusion and inclusion mechanisms, the absorption and rejection are explicitly expressed.

The art works of Manfred Grübl have identified these institutional peripheries and mechanisms for years. These peripheries are as it were the material from which and with which he develops his works. Symptomatic of this is his project »Transition« »to« Biennale in Venice in 2019. His »contribution« will not appear in any publication of the Biennale or mentioned (be); from the institutional perspective of the Biennale, his contribution will not even have existed, even though it was directly connected by it and permitted preoccupation with its inclusion and exclusion mechanisms. He planned to install a temporary footbridge over the canal that would also allow for access to the Biennale venue at the giardini without entrance tickets and without the relevant »channels« to the institutional network that distributed these tickets for the »pre-opening« only to »selected« visitors: enabling participation without a ticket, without money and without connections in an event that explicitly showcases and represents the exclusive character of the institutional concept of art. Photographs of his temporary bridge could be seen on facebook and were shared 10,000 times within the first half hour of being uploaded, and yet his project will never appear in connection with the other contributions to the Biennale. From the institutional perspective, this uninvited and unselected contribution never existed. In this sense, his intervention existed as inexistent. Existent for those who registered the unauthorised access, and inexistent for the institutional apparatus. There was no »invitation« to his project, no indication as to when and where the bridge would be installed, no sign on which the artist’s name would have been chronicled. The same is true for other projects of his – for instance, the choreography for eight visitors dressed in black at an exhibition opening in a gallery, who were assigned only to direct their gaze towards the one standing nearest to them, and for the whole duration of the opening not to leave their position: no indication of the author of the unannounced and uninvited choreography, no sign on which the name of the artist, the intervention or title of the projects would have been recorded. The work took place in the middle of the gallery and yet eluded institutional reception so that it never took place, existing as inexistent, a peripheral phenomenon in the midst of an opening occasion, a happening in an exclusive event, enclosed within the frame of the exclusion principle, excluded by exclusivity. Viewed institutionally, Grübl neither exhibited at this gallery or at this exhibition. If it was the motif of the stereotypical character of the appearance of exhibition goers at the exhibition opening that ensured the intervention received limited recognition, then it was the gondolas in Venice, the stereotypical motif of touristy conceptions, that provided the material for his installation – effectively the kitschy counter-image of the art-loving Biennale public, the periphery at which the art world ends and cultural tourism begins.

The boundary of the Biennale venue was morphed into a perforated or porous periphery at which the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms surfaced just as explicitly as those areas located outside the exclusive apparatus – the context from which the institutional politics of exclusion rises. The peripheral phenomena Grübl expresses do not represent the rest that was not selected for the exclusive and are merely asking for access so as to enjoy the same advantages of the »exclusive contradiction«. Instead they press for the concept of art not to be identified solely with its institutional representation. A glance at the history of art critical of institutions also demonstrates how much the institutional apparatus has always succeeded in ultimately integrating critical positions without ever intrinsically having to alter the structures. If critical positions pass through the institutional selection process in order to more forcefully speak out, legitimised by the representational political strength of the institutional voice, then the exclusion mechanisms of the institutional apparatus criticised previously often fade from sight. The integration of erstwhile critical perspectives does not implicitly lead to a change in institutional representational political power structures, and as a rule even inclines to affirm the »exclusive contradiction«. Precisely the Biennale in Venice with its national pavilions deploys correspondingly national representational politics with artistic positions and art concepts that indeed (almost) without exception speak out against nationalistic conceptions of art. So art works that are explicitly against nationalisation and the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms of national concepts of art can also be reframed implicitly as national representations of transnational concepts of art. The attendant ideological aporias only slightly rattle the institutional structures, which are simply upheld.

Art works and practices, like those of Manred Grübl, that confront the hegenmonic entitlement of institutions express a concept of art whose meaning is not derived from playing the role of conjunctive as a nameless and unknown periphery between the various art centres, but from focusing instead on the dubiousness of the institutionalisation of concepts of art, also then, when attention should be paid to the peripheries at which institutional boundaries essentially touch upon and engage with other areas.