"Museum Matters" video box

10 January 2017 – 7 January 2018

Is the museum a collective storehouse of knowledge or a platform for experimentation? White cube or workshop? Architectural icon or interactive place of communication?

For a long time there have been different ideas, theories and utopias about the museum. Again and again, this institution has changed throughout its history. Not least of all, artists are constantly grappling with this public place of images and pictorial experiences, which oscillates between opposites such as history and future, boom and crisis. On the one hand, museums have traditionally been educational tools and sometimes studios for them. On the other hand, artists have persistently attacked museums in their art as well as in their manifestos, critically addressing their apparent neutrality and objectivity and questioning their gestures of presenting from feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial perspectives, for example.

Under the title "Museum Matters," Videobox's current series focuses on works by younger and established artists and filmmakers who make the museum their subject. Documentary, experimental, essayistic or narrative, they take a close look at museums, their approaches, presentations and forms of mediation in order to make conditions of collections visible and to challenge alternative archives.

The Museum Matters series is made possible by:

Logo Börse Stuttgart

10.1. to 5.3.2017 Andrea Fraser "Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk"

It is the view of the environment of art and the doubt that museums and their actors are only its "neutral" mediators that characterize the work of Andrea Fraser. With her videos, performances, and installations, the artist is a protagonist of "institutional critique," which since the 1960s has focused on the art business with its social, institutional, and economic structures as well as on her own actions.

"Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk" is one of her earliest "gallery talks," with which Fraser has been investigating forms of presentation, hierarchies, and exclusion mechanisms of art institutions since the mid-1980s. The video is based on a performance by the artist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the role of the imaginary art docent "Jane Castleton," she guides the audience through the museum, which is one of the most important collections of arts and crafts in the United States, in an enigmatic and humorous manner. In terms of content, Fraser's explanations are based on documents and texts from the museum's archives as well as from psychoanalysis, economics and sociology. In the video, she speaks passionately and directly to the camera. As usual in guided tours, she first introduces the museum's history and collection. Increasingly, however, she digresses, addresses seemingly incidental aspects of the museum, such as the checkroom, restrooms, or museum store, and reflects on the social history and social functions of the museum in the United States.

With theatrical skill, she thus cleverly and critically analyzes relationships between class and taste, philanthropy and politics, and their consequences. Yet in "Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk" not only focuses on the institution of the museum and its power structures. Her captivating role-playing also explores the importance of visitors who "create" the museum and artists like herself who work with it.



7.3. to 1.5.2017 Marcel Odenbach "Can't swim in a shipwreck"

A repository of history and a place of memory is the Louvre in Paris, where Odenbach's video "Im Schiffbruch nicht schwimmen konnen" takes us: In it, three African men of different ages visit the world-famous museum. They take a seat in front of a monumental painting and contemplate it in silence. While the camera only ever focuses on the painting in sections and alternates with the men, it is easily identifiable as Theodore Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" (1819). It tells of a human catastrophe on the high seas when the French frigate "Medusa" ran aground off the coast of Mauritania in July 1816. France had just regained its colony of Senegal. Because the dinghies were not enough for all of them, the crew built a life raft for 149 people from the masts. But they cut the connecting rope. For 13 days, the castaways drifted helplessly at sea, people were pulled into the water, and they massacred each other. Only 15 people survived. The news sparked a scandal in France, and Gericault's unsparing image shocked his audience deeply.

Odenbach's sequences in the Louvre - accompanied by a balafon soundtrack by musician Ricky Ojijo - intercut footage of ocean surf off the coast of Ghana with superimposed texts. These are based on interviews Odenbach conducted with the three Africans about their flight across the sea, their lives and their feelings of being foreign. Meanwhile, "Im Schiffbruch nicht schwimmen können" already unmistakably points out in its title that even in the current refugee crisis many do not survive such a crossing of the Mediterranean. 

In this video, as in many of his works, Odenbach draws connecting lines between history and the present, Europe and Africa, and shows once again - by updating the political explosiveness of Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" - that human catastrophes and the consequences of colonial policies, then as now, cannot be suppressed.

3.5. to 2.7.2017
Karsten Krause "Arrangement of Skin"

Documenting and preserving nature was and is a need of cultures. This concern is institutionalized in natural history museums and zoological collections. Karsten Krause visited such "archives of life" in Stuttgart: In the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart and in the Wilhelma he takes a look at the human appropriation of nature for knowledge purposes with his camera. His focus is primarily on preserved animals, whose reconstruction and animation he follows in the museum's stagings.

Sometimes it seems as if the camera replaces the extinct animal gaze on humans. Krause directs it to the work of taxidermists and their post-mortem craft in the museum workshops, where they encounter decay taxidermically through storage techniques. Studied are their travails, dexterity, and familiarity in handling the dead creatures. Often the focus is entirely on their concentrated facial expressions, which foreshadow experience, care, and dedication as they cut, skin, flay, stuff, and fix - for example, on an open newspaper page with obituaries as a support. The animals should appear as natural, lively and aesthetically pleasing as possible for their exhibition in spectacular dioramas. There they make their final appearance alongside other taxidermied animals in front of idealized biotopes recreated as backdrops to meet the species that arranged them.

Visitors' curiosity is reflected in the showcase panes. Astonished whispers can be heard from offstage. The wild is observed and marveled at as an art product based on human phantasms, which nevertheless remains resistant to its object status. Thus "Arrangement of Skin" tells above all of the contradiction between scientific neutrality and creative interpretation, as well as of the imaginative desire of research, museums and visitors.

The production of Karsten Krause's video "Arrangement of Skin" was funded and supported by Akademie Schloss Solitude and MFG Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg.

4.7. to 3.9.2017
Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa
"A Short Video about tate Modern"

Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa's video "A Short Video about Tate Modern" hides what one immediately associates with the world's most visited museum of contemporary art on London's Thames Embankment: It takes no look at the converted power station or its turbine hall, shows no collection presentations or exhibition spaces, takes no interest in its cafés, museum stores or streams of visitors. And yet the video fulfills what its title announces.

Made more than a decade before the museum's just-opened extension, "A Short Video about Tate Modern" is limited to two shots, both of which show the artist. First, Wolukau-Wanambwa, dressed in black, stands silently in front of a white wall and looks head-on into the camera in a close-up. With the help of subtitles, we follow her inner monologue, in which she recounts her experiences during her participation in an art workshop on the top floor of the museum. There she realizes that she is the only "non-white" person and feels uncomfortably exposed, while behind the scenes she encounters mainly a lot of black museum staff - supervisors, security guards or kitchen staff. As an artist with access to the museum's contents, she earns their stares. The second shot of the video shows Wolukau-Wanambwa's work, which is the result of the workshop: in it, she again stands wordlessly in front of a white wall. This time she would be completely visible if a large white cardboard did not cover her and make her disappear in her surroundings. Only her black legs remain visible.

With minimal means, "A Short Video about Tate Modern" demonstrates how even a museum "open to all" reflects the social distribution of privileges. The fact that the viewer's own role is reflected as ambivalent in the field of tension between majority relations and hierarchies experienced in opposition to one another makes the video all the more haunting.

5.9. to 29.10.2017
Jem Cohen "Museum Hours"

For Johann, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is his place of work. For Anne, it is a place of refuge. The museum guard and the visitor from Montreal meet there. She is in Vienna because of her cousin, who is in a coma. Without money and knowledge of the city, Anne seeks compensation in the museum, drifts through the halls with works by Bruegel and Cranach, immerses herself in stories of the crucifixion, the fall of man and naked women in sacred form. Tentatively, the two begin a conversation, get to know each other, and soon explore art together and then unknowns in their own lives and in Vienna.

But this plot is only a loose pretext for Jem Cohen's non-love film "Museum Hours," in which the museum is the linchpin. From here, the protagonists stroll into the city - to the Naschmarkt or to bars to which only Viennese have access - and return to the museum again and again. The film lingers for a full ten minutes on a guided tour of the museum. For Cohen, art is less a mediator than a prism for Johann and Anne's themes of death, sex, history, theology, and materialism, and how these become tangible in their lives. Cohen is particularly fascinated by Bruegel's worldscapes, which are close to his own documentary-seeming street scenes.

In the steady, propulsive flow of quiet scenes, fiction, documentary, and essay intermingle - in a manner typical of Cohen's work. Again and again, reality flows into his film, for instance in the form of taken-over circumstances from the work biographies of his lay main actors. Coincidence also plays a role. The walls of the museum that separate it from the street and the life outside are thick. Cohen, however, succeeds in making them more porous with "Museum Hours."

31.10. to 7.1.2018
Katarina Zdjelar "Into the Interior (Last Day of the Permanent Exhibition)"

As institutions of modernity, museums were both instruments of the nation-state and of colonialism. The Royal Museum of Central Africa Tervuren on the outskirts of Brussels was also an instrument of propaganda. Founded by Belgium's King Leopold II in 1898 and opened in 1910-a year after the Congo ceased to be a private royal possession and became a colony of the Belgian state-it was a museum of colonial Africa. As such, it collected African art, ethnographies, and natural objects, faithfully preserving with them the pretensions, exploitations, brutality, but also enthusiasm with which Europeans long confronted the rest of the world.

Before this presumably last great colonial museum in Europe was closed at the end of 2013 and converted into a house of contemporary Africa, Katarina Zdjelar took a look behind its scenes. In her two-channel video "Into the Interior (the Last Day of the Permanent Exhibition)" she captures with her camera last moments of the museum before its "general overhaul". With a close gaze and attention, she observes actors and situations: She looks into depots, dioramas and archival material. Debris containers pointing to the imminent turn of time catch her attention. Patiently she listens to personnel who matter-of-factly check inventory numbers of decaying trophies that have neither scientific, nor cultural status - only to repackage them. In the double projection, Zdjelar juxtaposes shots of the trophies with ones presenting sections of a faded mural depicting a Congolese landscape. Hunting and painting were favorite pastimes of colonial masters, used to penetrate untouched African landscapes.

Zdjelar's tranquil footage is accompanied by a dissonant soundtrack of museum staff voices, harp music, and sounds of swept-together broken glass. The museum is ideologically decluttered. And yet the soundtrack to "Into the Interior (the Last Day of the Permanent Exhibition)" sounds like unease about whether decolonizing the museum is even possible.