Jakob Wirth

Statement

STATEMENT

I claim an artistic practice that interferes. It confronts the realities of our society. It is aware of the discomfort it causes but remains resolute. So, my co-produced art and social practice[1] aim not only to reflect social realities and posit alternatives, but also to intervene, irritate, and support emancipation.

The canvas I use is the public space,[2] in order to be in direct exchange with others. Being in public means, for me, to confront and be confronted. Working within this dynamic—of diverse perspectives, unexpected and conflicting realities, and dissent—I find the potential for my art to work towards societal transformation.

Coming from a multidisciplinary background of social science and fine art, with a focus on social practice and performance, I see my work as a mode of research that is also a form of knowledge-production gained through the experience of a work of art. In the Institute for LEIT_Kultur I dealt with the public discourse to define “What is German?” at a time when the inclusion of immigrants, was under threat in the German society. I founded a fictional institute, with a self-declared, neutral political orientation and sterile, bureaucratic aesthetic by which I could attract people outside the artistic and bohemia bubble. In the process, I created an archive of different types of political viewpoints, collecting their statements and emotions about the topic of Germanness and immigration. From this, I developed a mobile toolbox of performative and survey-based methods—from tattooing to video messages, poems to questionnaires—to employ according to the interests of the audience.

Here, in most of my projects, I choose the format based on the context and topic. My audience is neither the artistic scene nor academia. Rather in my projects, I seek to engage with the public to co-create a social and political imagination able to thwart the closed culture of hegemonic society. Artistic and sociological methods used in the Institut to bring this imagination to light and leads to how the archive is produced and presented: online presence, press, and physical exhibition at bus-stops. So, in this example, the German Leit_Kultur is a culture created by the collective, not just by so-called “bio-deutschen” (biological Germans). As illustrated by this project

Breaking with aesthetic discourse that positions the artwork as autonomous,[4]’ I take up the question of how far artistic practice can engage with and intervene into reality, without losing its imaginative and artistic freedom and turning into a social or political work. I find aesthetic momentum in an action’s capacity to shift our empirical realities, by using and further twisting existing language and vocabulary. In works such as the Penthouse à la Parasite or Brutalistic Airbnb, I first discovered the logic of the real estate market and used it to alienate this very system, by merging fiction with  reality. In Brutalistic Airbnb, over the airbnb platform people rented a public space in combination with a “survival-kit” which made it possible for them to appropriate this space for one night. With the Penthouse à la Parasite, I offered a non-commodifable good on a real estate platform for the price of a normal penthouse in Berlin (9.450€/m2). I also offered open house to interested people. By confronting the people in their usual surroundings with another reality, the work mirrors the logic of the given order and hopefully opens up our “sense of reality”[5].

By contrast, long-term projects like Die Blaue Blume e.V. or Operation Himmelblick, I work collectively with neighborhoods, using activist strategies like squatting, self-organization structures, and creative lobbying, as well as art performances (Wiese Gesucht!) to fight for real alternatives.

Collective practice is one of the fundamentals of my practice. I work in opposition to the art system that creates its value rate and reproduces the privileges of the few by always citing and reproducing individual authorship. I am convinced that through collectivity, we gain resilience and ability to resist the directive power of hegemony[6], the individualistic artistic industry, and the dominant order of the capitalist mode of production. Suddenly, you are stronger in addressing authorities; you create your own economic mechanisms that protect you from the monetary acknowledgments of the establishment, as well as from the credibility created by the art marked and the cultural capital. E.g. with the WIK Kollektiv, we realized interventions at a car fair and police stations and entered “dangerous” grounds and by acting collectively, we got the courage to do that and we were also more protected. Moreover, because all my practice occurs in the public space, and since the discourse of the performative turn, it is clear we cannot separate actor and audience—we have to acknowledge collective authorship.

Finally, I have to acknowledge that the freedom and possibilities of my artistic, sociological, and activist engagement is ironically supported by my privileges as a white, (cis-)male-read, European person from a middle-class background. In an ongoing learning process, I seek to deal with these privileges: on the one hand, by continuing my work and fighting the structures which are built on these privileges, and on the other hand, by guarding against reproducing them. Thus, I carry these “manifesting-structures” inside my social self.[7] This means, for me to be aware and constantly open to learn and to be criticized. It also means to step back in moments where my privilege becomes a driver of inequality in counter-hegemonic circles. This is another reason I work collectively (WIK Kollektiv, Kollektiv Raumstation, Blaue Blume e.V., Operation Himmelblick): to share privileges. Another approach to the issue of privilege has been to tackle these oppressive structures from the inside, as I try to do with my current project about Toxic Masculinities, where I address cis-men in their own territory. I sneak into that territory, where I am not seen as an outsider, then I hijack their language, twisting it slightly and then planting it on YouTube as tutorials and motivational videos, so as to diversify and break the mainstream representation of masculinity, while avoiding a moralistic stance.

Footnotes.

[1] Here I mean I take advantage form both. Social practice in its sense of engagement and forming social realities and art, in terms of the creation of new imaginations.

[2] But not in the sense of “public space” given by Habermas, who doesn´t refer to the unseen and underprivileged people. I follow H. Arendt, J. Rancière and J. Butler, who talk about the “Erscheinungsraum” (Space of appearance) which should be claimed by all of us. I also take as reference Henry Lefèbvre and his vision of the urban revolution and the urban revolutionary subject, founding the Right to the City Movement, which I carry through my work.

[3] In the last years, themes such as Right to the City Movement, privatization of public goods or space, organizing of cultural and community spaces, social struggles around minority rights and identity politics on a personal scale have been the basis of my work. This wide scope of topics is combined by my understanding of art as a tool of transformation, which manages to create images of counter-hegemonic positions that are accessible to a variety of people, including the ‘demos of the shareless’ (J. Rancière).

[4] As outlined by Aristoteles, Kant, Frankfurter Schule, etc.

[5] J. Rancière, 2004, The Politics of Aesthetics.

[6] Hegemony – after Negri and Hard, Empire, C. Mouffe, Agonistic

[7] E.g. I experience this paradox situation, reproducing by fighting against privileges, happens, when by doing a work about how the german society deals with Refugees, leads to a critical discussion in the smile town I was performing (Wir heißen Sie willkommen), but as well, forms part of my curriculum and increases my privilege of access – for example an MFA program.

[8] Here I am again sticking to the thought of The Emancipated Spectator (J. Rancière), which makes clear, that emancipation in terms of communication means not to teach determination, but to teach the own ignorance and to inspire the “student” to dig into their ignorance.