ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Lost in Translation. New Biographies of Artists

Self-images and Monologues


Guy Ben-Ner »Drop the Monkey« 2009

Text by Antonia Marten

Contemporary art thematizes the conditions of its own production with increasing frequency. For many of the artists participating in this circus of international exhibitions, it is the analysis of this complex web of relations between the protagonists, platforms and institutions of the globally networked art world that is of primary concern. This prompts the question as to what role(s) the artist himself assumes within this structure so as to maintain his or her position within it, and/or the effects of this on the constitution of present-day artistic identity.

As one of the first protagonists of the art world active at the global as well as the local level, with his work Turista (1994), Belgian artist Francis Alÿs commented on his own artistic position, both as participant as well as external observer of (Mexican) society. At the same time, he bemoans the regular flood of international Biennale jet-setters in the former peripheries of the world which fails to result in automatic, sustained engagement with the local political, social or artistic conditions. Last, though not least, the precarious circumstances within the art world responsible for bringing about such conditions just so as to remain intact are also touched upon.

Presently, it would seem that one identity or allocation of a role is not enough. On the contrary, as demonstrated among others by Tamy Ben-Tor in her astute observations of the art world (The End of Art, 2006, Artist in Residence, 2005, Normal, 2006), the multiple structures, contexts and cultural realities between which artists move today demand a high degree of flexibility and inventiveness: here, the performer of her jabbering monologizing, stereotyped protagonists of the scene is always the artist herself.

We repeatedly encounter projects in which the artist ego, as networking nomad, juggles with various cultural attributes or clichés so as to evade unambiguous definition. It appears to have established itself in a cacophonic interposition between the linguistic and perspectival multiplicity. Whereas Erik Bünger’s Woody Allen (The Allens, 2004) threatens to virtually detonate between his multi-lingual personalities, thereby giving voice to the schizophrenic state of the contemporary subject, Nástio Mosquito (Europe, Africa, America, 2010) responds effortlessly between the various perspectives of an African, an Angolan artist of the diaspora, a political activist, a post-colonial migrant or a free individual and citizen of the world; he thereby places his counterpart in the uncomfortable situation of compelling the latter to abandon his own secure position.

Finally, jetting umpteen times between his two homes and working places Berlin and Tel-Aviv for the production of the piece Drop the Monkey (2009), Guy Ben-Ner makes reference to the melancholic state of present-day artistic existence with the words: “I WISH I WAS SOMEWHERE ELSE.”


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