Without Reality There Is No Utopia. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts San Francisco
Without Reality There Is No Utopia was organized by the Centro Andaluz de Arte Conteporaneo in Seville, Spain; and curated by Alicia Murría, Mariano Navarro and Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes. Artists in the exhibition include: Alfredo Jaar, Artur Zmijewski, Carlos Motta, Chto Delat?, Ciprian Muresan, Daniel García Andujar, Dora García, Ed Hall, El Roto, Federico Guzmán, Fernando Bryce, Ignasi Aballí, Jan Peter Hammer, Judi Werthein, Katya Sander, Lene Berg, Manolo Quejido, Oliver Ressler, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Superflex, Zeina Maasri, and Zhou Xiaohu.
In the Age of Information, actual reality has been supplanted by virtual reality, computer simulation, and false narratives. Since the concept of utopia is based on the improvement of reality, the disappearance of the real also signals the end of utopia.Without Reality There Is No Utopia illustrates this premise by examining false narratives that masquerade as truth; the collapse of Communism in the 1980s; the current financial crisis, which heralds the demise of Capitalism; the contradictions inherent in geopolitics; and the explosion of democratic uprisings around the world. The exhibition includes work by more than two-dozen international artists, and features works of photography, video, drawing, painting, collage, and more.
The exhibition is organized into two asymmetric sections that consider shifts in global political realities.
Description of the Lie
In this first section, the artists focus on how truth has been replaced in the media by false narratives created to hide covert operations or secret crimes. German artist Wolfgang Tillmans’ work reproduces actual false information published by the print media under the common umbrella of “the truth”; Spanish artist Dora García exposes the inner workings of the East German Stasi, which operated as a society within society; and Danish artist Lene Berg deconstructs the happy image of a free and educated society whose actions directly respond to plans laid out by the powers that be in order to ensure their supremacy.
The second section, “Collapses,” has four parts:
The Collapse of Communism
This group of artists examines the conditions leading up to, and the aftermath of, the fall of Communism. Included are the works of the Russian collective Chto Delat? (What Is To Be Done?), which encourages the viewer to critically engage with the events that took place during the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev that lead to the demise of the Soviet system.
The Collapse of Capitalism
This section’s focus is on the current world financial crisis, and the premise that the economic collapse was not born out of greed or irresponsibility on the part of individuals or institutions, but rather was the inevitable result of a system based on consumerism, waste and the depletion of the planet’s resources. Works in this section include Daniel García Andújar’s Time Line, a chronology of events narrated through media and advertising images; and the Superflex collective’s humorous parody, The Financial Crisis, which suggests the crisis is an illness that can be cured through hypnosis.
The artists in this section question the roles of colonialism and the West on recent geopolitical uprisings. Fernando Bryce depicts colonial practices and their “civilising” discourses in his drawings. Through a collection of posters, Lebanese artist Zeina Maastri documents the civil war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. And Federico Guzmán’s installation illustrates how the consequences of Free Trade Agreements — a new form of global coloniality — affect the everyday practice of citizens.
This section traces the effects of technology on communications, privacy and assembly and how they influence democracy. Among the works are Ed Hall’s banners, which depict the micro-history of recent social struggles in England; Artur Zmijewski’s photographs of demonstrations in Belfast, Berlin, the West Bank, Gaza, Warsaw and Strasbourg, collected both as playful and celebratory events; and Oliver Ressler’s interviews with philosophers, politicians, activists and concerned citizens asking What is Democracy?
Philosophers such as Christian Salmon—a member of the Centre for Research On Art And Language—have described and analysed a contemporary phenomenon which goes beyond, and is different from media manipulation and censorship as defined since the first decades of the 20th Century: storytelling, or the machine to fabricate stories. A system to impose ideas, generate sense and control the behaviour born in the US. Art hasn’t been, and isn’t unrelated to the narrative operations ofstorytelling. In a deliberate ambiguity, it both denounces the excess of publicity or propaganda marketing, and deploys similar formulae in its production of meaning. “We all need our own story. This is the vulnerability that storytelling bases its strategy on.” And, by force of its strength, it also builds itself an imaginary.
The section borrows its title from the sixth poetry book by Antonio Gamoneda, dated between 1975 and 1976,Descripción de la mentira (Description of the Lie). A decrying, and a warning, of the deceit and fraud through which representation (or its more common formulation, the word) weaves the real of the reality it covers up. The lie as will and as a tool for the representation of the world, extended like oil and multiplied by the media of reality constitution of the truth of all there is.
This reality has become more and more evident, both in the resources used in Communist political systems, which have almost vanished in Europe with the turn of the century, and in the multiplicity of false narratives constructed in order to endorse the Iraq War, or, more recently, in the inflation of economic stories which take over the informational horizon and, at the same time, dilute realities and responsibilities. The eruption of pieces of information provided by WikiLeaks has not only made evident the known facts of double standards, covert operations, protection of certain crimes, and other similar miseries of the relationship between the powerful and their more or less legitimate representatives. It has also established, more or less clearly, the nature of the rules of conspiracy for the elaboration of the deceitful stories spread through public opinion, and, also although collaterally, how communication media are, really, filtering systems for the information to be disseminated, hidden, and, above all, the information that certain interests want to skew.
German artist Wolfgang Tillmans simulates contemporary encyclopaedic knowledge in a series of works that reproduce the information reproduced in print media on diverse issues under the common umbrella of “the truth.” The works Argentinian-Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija allude to the capacity of modification and propaganda content of the news published in print media, however different the topics covered, be it the War in Lebanon or the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Spanish artist Dora García penetrates the offices of the sinister Stasi, the ideological police of the German Democratic Republic, which has become a society within society, with its own internal rules. Danish artist Lene Berg, in turn, deconstructs the happy image of a free and educated society, revealing how many of the actions we consider intellectual nevertheless respond to plans laid out by the powers that be in order to ensure their supremacy. Finally, Argentinian artist Judi Werthein explores the anomalous construction of identities in the Renacer Colony, founded in Chile’s Araucana by Germans connected to National Socialism, who fled the German war defeat.
YBCA’s presentation of Without Reality There Is No Utopia is supported, in part, by the Consulate General of Spain in San Francisco.
YBCA’s programs are made possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Arts
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is grateful to the City of San Francisco for its ongoing support.
YBCA Exhibitions 12-13 is made possible in part by:
Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan, Meridee Moore and Kevin King and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Free First Tuesdays
Underwritten by Directors Forum Members
The San Francisco Bay Guardian
Curator’s Talk: Without Reality There Is No Utopia
Join the curators of Without Reality There is No Utopia, Alicia Murría and Mariano Navarro, for a lively discussion on art and politics from a Spanish perspective. We’ll begin the conversation with a discussion of the themes and artworks in the exhibition.