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ABOVE Yonamine in residence at Iwalewa-Haus FACING PAGE LEFT Yonamine, Reichsparteitagsgelände – Terrorismo Poetico (detail), 2012, mixed media FACING PAGE RIGHT Abrie Fourie, Common coral tree, 476 Edmond Street, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa, 1999, photograph
Beautiful and Edgy
KATHARINA FINk and NADINE SIEGERT describe current installations at the contemporary art space, Iwalewa-Haus in Bayreuth
‘Was ist schön?’ (what is beautiful), reads a fragment of graffiti on the facade of IwalewaHaus, a space for contemporary art from Africa and beyond, in the town of Bayreuth in Bavaria, Germany.1 The line marks the starting point of the exploration of the museum’s aesthetics and archives by multimedia artist Yonamine (Angola/ Portugal). The first part of his process-orientated project, Reichsparteitagsgelände – Terrorismo Poetico, is currently installed inside the historic sandstone building: an urn on scarlet velvet and a dangling noose in front of a still frame of the crematory of Buchenwald, Germany’s answer to the Weimar period. Engraved in the metal cap of the modest container holding his artwork’s ash is the line ‘Arbeit macht frei’: three small words which epitomise the horror of Auschwitz and its absurd cynicism. In between the outside wall and the inside installation lie uncomfortable, daring questions about the memory of institutions, questions rarely discussed with the necessary friction.
While the sober installation might allude to conventional German self-inspection in relation to the past, it in fact marks an important step in the oeuvre of Iwalewa-Haus’s most recent artist in residence. Known for his courageous views, Yonamine was invited to investigate critically the institute’s archive and collection along Iwalewa’s three lines of thought and practice: ‘archive – laboratory – utopia’. Established in 1981 by Ulli Beier as part of the University of Bayreuth’s African Studies programme, Iwalewa-Haus has since combined art and theory (in keeping with the Yoruba meaning of the word Iwalewa, ‘character is beauty’). It has evolved over the decades from featuring artworks mostly from West Africa, India, New Zealand and Australia, into an internationally acclaimed space for artistic production and theoretical discussion, with a strong focus on multimedia art. Currently, the collection features art and popular culture, with hundreds of modernist and contemporary artworks. One of its strongest sections is
Nigerian modern art, including the famous ‘Devil’s Dogs’ series by Twins Seven Seven and Muraina Oyelami’s paintings, but it also boasts work like that of Malangatana (Mozambique) and Ransom Stanley (UK). Being part of the university and a museum, Iwalewa-Haus is located in a similar ‘contact zone’ as that occupied by the Wits Art Museum. In 2012, it finds itself at a turning point – with a new generation of directors steering away from a focus on the collection in order to re-think it as an experimental space. In line with this, Sam Hopkins’s (Nairobi) work Not in the Title (2011) challenges the ‘authenticity’ of the Nigerian movie collection by creating an installation in which he integrates fake Nollywood trailers – made in Bayreuth, not in Surulere – into a screened series from the ‘real’ collection and so actively engages the archive both as material and metaphorical space. The most radical move has been Yonamine’s unsettling of the archive, which was more
rigid than the curators had expected. He worked mostly on the façade of the building, where drawings by Georgina Beier, renowned artist and wife of Ulli Beier, had been present for thirty years and part of public space. Yonamine’s intervention caused friction. Unlike Rauschenberg, who erased one of De Kooning’s artworks in the 1960s as homage to the older artist, Yonamine added to Beier’s paintings, first with brutal and deliberately ‘ugly’ black graffiti, followed by a layer of serigraphs. Similar to Rauschenberg’s symbolic ‘murder’ of his elder, Yonamine catalysed the generational break within Iwalewa-Haus. Ulli Beier’s death in 2011 seems to have cemented the establishment of new perspectives on Iwalewa’s history and personae – first explored by directors Till Förster (University of Basel) and Tobias Wendl (Freie University Berlin) from 1997 – and provided a chance for a closer look at the fault lines between different directorial approaches. This was most obvious in the approach to the ‘archive’, which considered not only its materiality but also all its intersecting stories, biographies and connections. This became one of Iwalewa’s lines of work and research, helping to trace not-yet-told histories of modern and contemporary art and interrogate the entanglements of African and European artand knowledge production. This is particularly significant in terms of Iwalewa’s location in Bayreuth, home to the clan of composer Richard Wagner and dismembered fascist narratives. History here largely follows official tracks; uncontrolled disturbance is not encouraged. This became obvious during a scandal at the beginning of the Wagner Festival 2012, when baritone Evgeny Nikitin was asked to resign following a revelation that he had a tattoo of a swastika on his chest (though it had been partly obscured by other tattoos). A few days later, the Wagners announced that German artist Jonathan Meese, known for his provocative evocations of national socialist iconography, would direct an opera during the 2013 festival. In the same city and summer, Yonamine’s interventions added another perspective to the already heated atmosphere. His work asked the fundamental aesthetic question: ‘Was ist schön?’ And who defines it? It was designed to ‘measure the temperature of the city’, the artist stated. The last layer of the work brought hot flushes to the cityscape: a serial stencil of grimaces, a tongue-poking Yonamine, with a fractured line re-iterating the words ‘Arbeit macht
frei’. Context matters here: Iwalewa-Haus neighbours the local synagogue and a lively Jewish community that returned to the city after the end of World War II. It is also the hub for many young scholars from the African continent and elsewhere.2 Its self-perception as a space free from racism and a site of public discourse was suddenly challenged by the critique, particularly from international colleagues: should art become a smoke screen for fascist reiteration? Staff of Iwalewa-Haus decided for an intervention in spite of censorship – a contested step. Text was added as a covering layer to Yonamine’s – which led to a productive conflict carried out on the museum’s walls – visible ‘tectonics,’ as Piesche and others describe such actions. It resulted in a performative burning of some works by the artist and the installation featuring the urn. A projection of the artist himself with a noose around his neck interrogates the role of curators and artists: Who is speaking? Yonamine’s work poses powerful questions: how does an institution work with its own past beyond an overt navel-gazing, or taking over ‘everything but the burden’3 by delegating uncomfortable institutional questions to artists. How to accommodate aesthetic ‘intimacy’? ‘Merely to know about the past is not enough; what is needed is the sense of intimacy, the intensely familiar interaction with antiquity …’4 This points to the second major line of thought and practice of Iwalewa-Haus: the laboratory as place of artistic experiments with undetermined outcomes. Artists are invited to enter, disturb, mash up the archive with the intention of questioning authority, authenticity and power relations that materialise in systems and methods of categorisation, cataloguing and digitising. While Yonamine’s ‘terrorismo poetico’ threw questions around global memories onto the exterior wall facing the city, the room on the interior of the same wall contained a more silent and subtle approach with a different texture: Hydra Decapita by the Otolith Group, in which the ocean alludes to the history of the Black Atlantic, and kara lynch’s O Paradise – Welcome to the Archivist Vault. The exhibitions have been shown in the context of Afro-Sat, a platform for artists to engage questions of Diaspora, the Black Atlantic and the Black Indian Ocean. Residencies such as the recent one by lynch, curated by Anna Schrade (Hampshire College) and Henriette Gunkel (University of Bayreuth),
engage traces of slavery and racism. Lynch’s work subtly disturbs conventional accounts of urban space in Bayreuth. The audio of O Paradise5 challenges the master narratives of Bayreuth by turning the visitor into an active participant and ‘Wanders(wo)man’6 guided by the artist’s voice via MP3 player. These different takes on the investigation of memory and imagination in the in-between of Europe and Africa gesture towards crucial questions about the role of museums in local contexts. Iwalewa-Haus sees its mission as going beyond exhibiting contemporary art to engage with history, memory and amnesia. This ties in with the attempt to make the museum more public, to become a ‘leaking museum,’7 as Alexander Opper described it. And it locates Iwalewa-Haus in the ‘third space’ – a utopia – of thought and practice. KirshenblattGimblett defended the museum as a ‘refuge’ for utopian thought. In Iwalewa-Haus, this can only be realised through a philosophical take on aesthetics: character and (edgy) beauty as inherently entangled concepts. It also means a conscious step out of the comfort zone right into the ‘contact zone’.8 This is still a challenging task for contemporary art spaces – and a vision. In 2014, Iwalewa-Haus will move to another building – likewise laden with the not-yet-told history – allowing for fresh perspectives for artists, and more walls to ‘stir up’ the city.
1. Iwalewa-Haus was founded in Bayreuth in 1981 and is part of the University of Bayreuth. Currently, it is exhibiting Abrie Fourie’s Oblique, as well as Traces on Lampedusa by Deiniger/Jaugstetter, and Tom Maruko’s photographic works ‘Picturing Refugees’. In 2013, it will present an exhibition entitled virtual/material – logbook style, featuring South African bloggers and artists. www.iwalewa.uni-bayreuth.de. 2. As part of a larger academic network with African partner universities. See Bayreuth International Graduate School for African Studies: www.bigsas.uni-bayreuth.de. 3. Greg Tate (ed.), Everything But The Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture, New York: Broadway Books, 2003. 4. David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985, 378. 5. The audio installation can be downloaded from www. iwalewa.uni-bayreuth.de. 6. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984, 100. 7 . A concept introduced by Opper during Iwalewa-Haus’s thirtieth anniversary in 2011. 8. James Clifford, ‘Museums as Contact Zones’ in Routes: Travel and Translation in the late Twentieth Century, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997 .
Nadine Siegert is deputy director, curator, teacher and researcher at Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth. Katharina Fink is press, research and art officer at IwalewaHaus.
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