Donnerstag, 18. Februar 2016

art+argument @ Fiction as Method Symposium - results

art+argument concluded day one of the ‘Fiction as Method’ symposium on the 4th December 2015; Friction were our hosts at the Nordflügel, Gessnerallee. Eduardo Simantob opened a sturdy defence of the motion ‘In fiction nothing is taboo’ by stating the necessary freedom of art. “Fiction is the best realm of the imagination, the last realm of free expression. And of course the most basic concept or conception of fiction is that it has absolutely no regard for reality or no regard for truth or facts. And more than that, art in general, fiction in particular, should never be the vehicle for any other agent or agency. It’s not in the service of any other government or idea, it’s not supposed to educate, to bring awareness or whatever. Actually I would argue that fiction is there to confuse and amuse.” Fiction might be based on reality, but retains its freedom, Simantob argued. Freedom of interpretation is essential too. “Fiction assuming itself as fiction, with no regard for facts and reality, is maybe the only last refuge of a free exercise of our imagination,” he closed.

Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

Daniel Blochwitz countered this, finding taboos in fiction, with a polemical examination of several images of historic events. Théodore Géricault may have recorded The Raft of the ‘Medusa’ in 1818, but similar images of happenings in the Mediterranean are horribly commonplace today; we have, apparently, learned little in the intervening centuries. “While the paintings affect us even years after the actual events—the way they stir our imagination and sense of empathy—photographs seem to have lost most of their ability to touch us. Even though we can conclude from the photographs taken that the photographer has personally witnessed the depicted event, we are unable to turn tragedy into empathy, let alone into solidarity and action. While Goya and Géricault were able to use their paintings to mobilize people, contemporary press photographs rarely are anything but an end in itself: they fill space and sell news.” Blochwitz posited that paintings stand for fiction, while photographs in this instance are reality. Yet fiction needs a connection to reality to have an impact, to maintain the belief and engagement of the reader or viewer. Photography “straddles both, fiction and non-fiction, with a simultaneous need for the suspension of belief and disbelief. In fact, one might call photography “realist fiction”. But this seesaw of fiction-non-fiction has an increasingly heavy burden of proof on the belief side, as we increasingly grow weary of the ratio of truth communicated through the images we consume. As Baudrillard writes in The Spirit of Terrorism, ‘The image consumes the event, in the sense that it absorbs it and offers it for consumption.’” Blochwitz went on to examine the photographic constructions of artists like Jeff Wall and Martha Rosler, and concluded with the point at which fiction, fact and taboo collide: “I wish we would give non-fiction photographs the same benefit of a doubt, cast aside our PoMo-cynicism, and suspend our disbelief. Because the alternative is that we will get used to the worst images of the 20th Century and suddenly our civilization, our communities will accept again what we thought to be absolute taboos. Taboos in a real world and horrors perpetrated against real human beings ...”
Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969

Emily Rosamond’s opening echoed some of Blochwitz’ sentiments, while claiming those arguments for the defence. She unpacked the relationship between fiction and taboo. “So what is it that fiction can do with taboo, with the repressed, with the most difficult subject matter to talk about, whether that’s personal trauma, political trauma, whether that’s the massive political violence of late capitalism.” She borrowed a quote from Slavoj Zizek’s Plague of Fantasy in which he argues that fiction is fundamentally ideological. Zizek writes that narrative emerges ‘in order to resolve some fundamental antagonism by rearranging its terms into a temporal succession’. “So if narrative is in some way a base ingredient to fiction,” said Rosamond, “if narrative is in some way always a fiction, always a way of fictioning, then for Zizek it’s fundamentally repressive as a medium, because it tries to smooth over, scrape over the basic real antagonism that we are always dealing with under the surface of our everyday experience. And yet perhaps Zizek misses the point. Because it is precisely in this kind of smoothing over that narrative can achieve, that it’s possible for fiction to invent new kinds of relation between antagonisms, to actually dredge them up to the surface and air them as something to be doctored or workshopped. And so this might be likened to the idea that fiction can actually invent a symptom.” From here Rosamond moved on to Lacan’s idea late in his career that the – truly great – artist might have the chance of transforming their subjectivity and inventing their own symptom. Artists “who could actually use narration, use narrative and use fiction in such an idiosyncratic way that it could actually speak to the real. And through that produce something of a relationship to desire that would actually be fiction’s highest calling. A way of profoundly unfixing the psycho-political status quo.” She cited artists like Vladimir Nabukov, Kathy Acker and Philip Guston as among the few who can truly create abject fictions, identifying with “the most abhorrent subject position imaginable…And why might this kind of upsetting of the psycho-social status quo work best in fiction? I would argue it’s because fiction can be a kind of abstract relation to territory. So the documentary image always makes a sacrifice of its subject, and the image of the little boy washed up on the beach is the perfect example of this, sacrifices its own subject to attain its political purpose which works through an affective politics. Fiction, on the other hand, the violence of a Kathy Acker novel, does not relate to an actual person, it doesn’t have that representative.”

Damian Christinger continued with a statement that would render his opponents’ words null and void: their arguments were arguments of the 20th century – Western, male thoughts. “What I want to argue is that in the 21st century the arguments need to be different. First of all, we finally live in a truly globalised world. Which means that the Western white male approach is not the only right one. The truly globalised world means that the First Nations of Canada, and the Tupiniquim of the Amazon, for example, have as much say in the debate we’re having as the male, white, Western group. In those other societies some taboo is at the core of their understanding of the world. I don’t believe it is our right to go there and tell them that our fiction, that our fictionalisation of the world doesn’t need to respect their taboo. Why is that so important? Because in the 21st century the problems we face are global problems, they can only be addressed together.” A degree of respect is needed, leaving a core of taboo that will not be addressed by fiction, “left alone so that every culture has its own reservoir of core taboos which holds it together and which makes it able to act together with the rest of us.”

Needless to say, Christinger’s words were challenged, and the opposition too took aim at their opponents. Nonetheless, at the close the audience judged the proposition the more skilful in this instance, even if their opinions were not necessarily shared. 

Many thanks to Monica Ursina Jäger and Damian Christinger for the invitation to hold art+argument within the symposium, and to all participants, including Damian, who contributed to a highly enjoyable and rewarding debate. Please remember that the participants were playing roles they had been assigned and may not agree with the statements above!

Dienstag, 17. November 2015

art+argument @ Fiction as Method guerrilla symposium

Daniel Blochwitz, Damian Christinger, Emily Rosamond, Eduardo Simantob debate the motion:

In fiction nothing is taboo

part of the guerrilla symposium Fiction as Method 
organised by Monica Ursina Jäger and Damian Christinger

Friday, 4th December, 19h45
FRICTION, Nordflügel, 
Gessnerallee 8, 8001 Zürich

art+argument is a forum for discussing culture where the unspeakable may be said. Four cultural experts in two opposing teams debate and discuss a motion that they have been assigned. Each participant has been given a position opposing or defending the motion, and each has five minutes to argue their case uninterrupted. Thereafter the speakers challenge each other, and the audience may in turn question the speakers. The event ends with a vote for the more persuasive team. Each speaker must play his or her assigned role, regardless of whether they agree or not. Speakers benefit from temporary immunity: what they say during the debate is not necessarily their opinion and they cannot be held to their word afterwards. To find out more contact aoiferosenmeyer (at)

Sonntag, 8. November 2015

art+argument @ Herrmann Germann Contemporary - the results

art+argument returned in 2015 with an explosive debate at Herrmann Germann Contemporary. Defending the motion ‘Sincerity has no place in an art gallery’ Anna Kanai started with intent: she claimed that sincerity has not merely no place in a commercial art space, but in art in general. “Pretence, deceit and hypocrisy are precisely [the] key virtues that make art so interesting and unique from its very beginning” she said, illustrating this with the story of how Zeuxis and Parrhasius’ challenged each other as to which was the better artist. According to Kanai the tale illustrates a viewer’s expectation of conceit. Her argument continued, via Hegel and Oscar Wilde, to conclude that contemporary art requires viewers who are able to both “cope with the critical reflection that art is just pretence and …[be] well educated in matters of style, so … able to make a fair judgement.” Returning to Zeuxis and Parrhasius, she said that “the contemporary observer [would be] no longer fooled, but is taking an active part in that hide-and-seek that art performs”.

The opposition was opened by Hannes Grassegger, who started by clarifying the role of a gallery, as a place where art is sold. A gallery being – as it is often described – a ‘white’ space, “a place where I can imagine all things becoming possible”. The gallery enables, first of all, a moment when everything is possible in the presentation of art, and secondly, a moment where price is realised by virtue of a sale of a work of art. “I would argue that the aim of the art gallery is to create sincerity by providing a room that leaves all options open beforehand“ said Grassegger. From a broader perspective, he then compared the freedom of the art gallery makes it, in our secular age, a “quasi-religious place…. there’s something sacred in it, which actually forms the core of our society, which is freedom and liberty”. Closing, Grassegger stated that insincerity in an art gallery is contradictory, a notion he would not entertain.

Florian Seedorf continued the defence of the motion by reassessing the negative reputation of insincerity. Not just falsity and frivolity, Seedorf found insincerity “interesting, playful, colourful, unusual, entertaining, funny, successful”. Seedorf detailed several artists who have employed these strategies to great effect. Paul McCarthy, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons all make or made works that sell for millions at auction today. He also suggested that collectors are little interested in the context or meaning of works – all that matters is future expectations of value. Ultimately – and Art Basel Miami is the best illustration of this – “the whole concept of art or the art gallery context is based, these days, on event culture and entertainment. People come to openings, receptions, to meet other people, to dinners, to connect and make deals. Or they come to events like this one here to connect, to meet people; it’s the event experience that they want to have.”

Stefan Burger was the last to make an opening statement, and it was the shortest. “I have to say I don’t understand the notion of sincerity” he stated. “And when I say that, that’s sincere. “

The discussion that followed was heated, and brought to an unexpected early close by the opposition. Stopping the debate in its tracks, they stood up and unfurled a poster with the message: “HÖRT ENDLICH AUF, KUNST ZU MACHEN” (Would you ever stop making art). In a statement they called on the galleries of Zurich to open their doors to the refugees currently homeless in Europe. With that, they departed. In their absence, the audience voted the proposition the winners.

Many thanks to all the participants, and to our generous hosts Tomas and Stefanie. Do not hold any of the speakers to their words! The next art+argument will be on the 4th December – more information to come soon.

Dienstag, 18. August 2015

art+argument at Herrmann Germann Contemporary

30 September 2015
Stationsstrasse 1
8003 Zürich

Sincerity has no place in an art gallery! 

art+argument is back, and taking place in the context of Jessica Pooch's solo exhibition at Herrmann Germann Contemporary. Florian Christopher Seedorf, Stefan Burger, Anna Kanai and Hannes Grassegger debate honesty and dissembling in the art space. Please join us to have your say! 

Montag, 19. Mai 2014

art+argument @ the Trudelhaus, Baden - the results!

We gathered at the Trudelhaus in Baden as a sunny Sunday afternoon drew to a close to celebrate the finissage of Rita Ernst, Clare Goodwin and Silvia Reichwein’s exhibition, and to debate the important issue: Power lies on the periphery! Defending the motion Gregory Hari drew on a friend’s experience. This friend had spent several years in a North American province, far more remote a place than exists in Switzerland, and found it formative. ‘I guess we say ‘in’ and ‘out’ [of the city, said Hari’s friend] because they are the centres where people from all directions come and go. Like the gravity of a sun which causes comets to enter and exit a solar system again and again.’ Hari put it to the audience that artists need the periphery as much as they need the city’s force to work against.

Sandi Paucic countered that history demonstrates how art requires the city to become meaningful. Famous Swiss painters like Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli) and Arnold Böcklin had to travel beyond Switzerland to find success and fame, because Switzerland had no significant cities that could support culture. ‘Only since we have the wonder of Art Basel, which happens since the 1970s, since [Paul] Nizon’s ‘Der Diskurs in der Enge’ stated that Switzerland was still too small to do any cultural production, surprisingly since then, things have blossomed. There was a miracle in the 80s and 90s when the art in Zurich started to become international!’

Claudia Spinelli, defending the motion, was not convinced, and said that there were equally valid examples of artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, who had thrived away from urban centres. She also attacked the so-called virtues of the city – a large audience does not make a well-qualified audience or even good viewing conditions. ‘Let me give you an example: we spent our holidays in Paris, and my seven-year old son had seen the Mona Lisa in some comic, and so he wanted to see the real Mona Lisa. So … we went to the Louvre. It was horrible. You would see more of this painting in a reproduction, because it was covered with glass, and you have half a minute for which you are allowed to be two metres away from it. I think centres are very bad for art.’

Jacqueline Falk was the last to put her opening arguments, against the motion. She spoke of the essential role of the city for the artist, and the artist’s role in the city in turn when it comes to cyclical development and regeneration. Falk compared the city where she works – Zug – to another hub – Qatar. Even if Qatar came late to high culture, it has quickly become an important cultural centre. ‘Our city of Zug is also the centre of a canton, and it is important that the little villages around Zug … support the city and give the money to the city because that’s where everything happens. We have the institutions that provide band rehearsal spaces, concert halls and theatre stages for upcoming and well-established artists to come to our city to perform.’

After these divisive opening gambits, a combative debate ensued. The benefits of the periphery in an internet age were considered, as well as the quality of experience for artists in major urban centres. The market came to the fore frequently, ad did pleas not to consider the market and artistic life as one. There was also discussion as to whether Manifesta – the biennial of the periphery - had got lost or found itself in choosing Zurich as its next site. A close debate ended with a narrow victory for the opposition.

Thanks again to the Trudelhaus, and Sadhyo Niederberger in particular, for the invitation to debate in Baden, and to the participants. Please remember that what was said during the debate does not necessarily accord with the participants’ own opinions! All the debaters were playing assigned roles. If you want to know more about art+argument, please email aoiferosenmeyer(at)

Montag, 28. April 2014

art+argument at the Trudelhaus, Baden

Power lies on the periphery

An art+argument at the Trudelhaus, Baden

on Sunday, 4th May 2014 at 17h

Trudelhaus, Obere Halde 36, 5400 Baden

Jacqueline Falk, Gregory Hari, Sandi Paucic and Claudia Spinelli will debate the role of major cities versus regional hubs, where culture should be and where it flourishes. 

This debate takes place on the occasion of the finissage of the exhibition ERNST, GOODWIN, REICHWEIN at the Trudelhaus; the finissage will begin at 16h, with the debate at 17h.

Four cultural experts in two opposing teams debate and discuss a motion that they have been assigned. Each participant has been given a position opposing or defending the motion, and each has five minutes to argue their case uninterrupted. Thereafter the speakers challenge each other, and the audience may in turn question the speakers. The event ends with a vote for the more persuasive team. 

This is a forum for discussing culture where the unspeakable may be said. Each speaker must play his or her assigned role, regardless of whether they agree or not. Speakers benefit from temporary immunity: what they say during the debate is not necessarily their opinion and they cannot be held to their word afterwards. 

Art + Argument is an itinerant event bringing together exciting minds from the Swiss art scene and beyond. To know more, write to aoiferosenmeyer (at)