Thursday 13 November 2008

Folded-in and The making of Balkan wars:The game at Monsters exhibition in Dresden

Men, Murderers, Mighty Machines
“monstra sunt in genere humano”
(“Monsters are part of the human race”, St. Augustine)
Dresden, Germany, 5/11/2008-17/1/2009

Monsters have haunted our imagination for as long as we can remember. Thanks to the Enlightenment, rationalism, and scientification neither fictional nor “real” monsters send much of a shiver down our spines any longer, whether these are ogres or people with physical deformities. Yet aestheticised forms such as horror, vampire, or splatter films are proof that monsters have never stopped fascinating us. While certain manifestations of this fascination may disappear it will always resurface in new forms. There are many monsters in existence today, even if they are not always known by that name.
The concept of the monster, with all its variations on monstrousness, has almost become arbitrary; it is inevitably applied where social exclusion is promoted, where access is denied, where lines are drawn, or in extreme cases of segregation. People create their own identity through constructing this “other”, this thing “no-longer-human”.

Monsters are counter-images of humans and human relationships. Humans cannot conceive of themselves without monsters, because these counter-images are like photographic negatives that reveal something significant about our own self-understanding – what it means to be human. The monster thus marks the boundaries of the human, and investigation of the subject can therefore be highly contentious and also compelling. The figure of the monster allows us to understand human rights as a political and cultural achievement of European bourgeois modernism, emerging from the distinction made between the human and the non-human. The concern here is not to attach labels through the explicit use of “monster” as a concept; the key point is to identify and recognise the functions of existing “monsters” which take the form of virtual mechanisms of extreme exclusion and delineation.

This project is concerned firstly with those implied forces of peculiarity or otherness that mark out individuals, groups, institutions, or even hierarchies as monstrous. Secondly it focuses on how such forces are exploited in order for the relevant social structure to achieve stability or define itself.
For example: how many – and which – artificial organs may be transplanted into a human being before that person is no longer protected by a declaration of human rights? Who should make that kind of decision? Which actions by an individual, a group, an organisation, or a state lead to exclusion from the realm of humanity, either in reality or via the media? And why? How important is it for the monster to be situated on the far side of the dividing line? Are the processes of exclusion legitimated when it is denied access? Which authority should have the last word in determining “monstrous” characteristics?

Part I: The Monstrous Individual
From Frankenstein to Hannibal Lector – artificial and human monsters
“What a chimera then is man!
What a novelty! What a monster,
What a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy”
Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)
Part I of the Monsters project is devoted to the monstrous individual.
The spectrum ranges from artificial monsters, human clones, mechanical people or homunculi, people with physical defects, through to people labelled monsters on account of their actions or those seeking to bring monstrous situations to public attention.

Part II: Beat the Monsters!
Neo-Nazis and tribal warriors, terrorists and freedom fighters, refugees and displaced persons, beggars and oligarchs.
The contributions to this part of the concept deal with mechanisms controlling the absolute and existential exclusion of groups and imagined or real opponents. The works focus on explaining the causes behind these developments or posit an antidote to reflect upon. They concern the calculated, almost inevitably violent reactions when the whole rhetorical gamut of exclusion from tribes, ethnic groups, or milieus is evoked. German right-wing extremism serves as a case study, providing the basis for artistic works and workshops and illustrating how a group seen by an overwhelming majority in society as monstrous has itself labelled other people as monsters who can be attacked with impunity. This section explores the themes of how the enemy is viewed, feelings of hate, and the way that groups of people who have voluntarily or involuntarily found themselves on the edge of society discredit others and are themselves discredited.

Part III: Your Friend the State
Monstrous institutions and (state) structures
“The state must be a diaphanous cloak that snugly envelops the body of the people. It must yield to each throb of the arteries, each flexing of the muscle, each thrill of the sinews.”
(Georg Büchner, Danton’s Death)
States, state structures, institutions, and organisations which would be heavily criticised when regarded from a Western, democratic perspective generally see themselves as upholding democratic ideals and human rights. It’s just that these rights and ideals are sometimes interpreted rather differently. Yet there has also been serious erosion of various civil rights in the West in recent years. It is often argued that surrendering these freedoms to the state results in a higher degree of security in return. The author and historian Götz Aly looks at the collateral damage that results from this kind of trade-off. Aly sees both the Nazi dictatorship and Communist East Germany as examples of prosperity being traded for a loss of political representation. The idea of a state that wraps itself around its citizens like a cloak combines bold socio-political utopias with political extremes.

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3 December 2008 at 20:06  
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