Contributed by Loren Britton / When Skulptur Münster began in 1977, no one expected it to continue beyond its first iteration. In the early 1970’s, artist George Rickey placed his kinetic sculpture Drei rotierende Quadrate in the city, causing a public outcry against the installation of the piece. Attempting to transform public understanding about contemporary art in public spaces, the director of Münster’s Westfalisches Landesmuseum (LWL Museum) organized a series of lectures and presentations that set the groundwork for Skulptur Projekte Münster, a lively art festival that, since 1977, has taken place in Münster every 10 years.
Located in the North Rhine-Westphalia Germany, Münster is considered to be the cultural center of the Westphalia region. With a population of around 300,000, the city features a mix of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, where an historically significant, hand-painted astronomical clock has traced the movements of the planets around the charming city of Münster since the mid-1500s.
The organizers of this year’s Skulptur Münster, perhaps inspired by the workings of the ancient astronomical clock, created SP17-Navi, an app that directs its users towards the nearest sculpture. Orbiting about the city, one can spot other Skulptur Münster tourists by their comfortable shoes and iphone-directed gazes, as their phones send sculpture notifications. The app includes sculpture from this year, as well as nearly 40 sculptures that remain throughout the city from previous iterations of the Skulptur Projekte. A pop up window appears– “Skulptur Near!” — and one must decide whether to “Look?” or “Ignore?”
Press “Look?” and Münster transforms into a scavenger hunt of site-specifically installed artworks, a new one around each corner. The city becomes a space for discovery.
Within the bowels of the Münster Municipal Public Library, in the red curtained room, adjacent to the gamer space, Gerard Byrne has installed his work Our Time. The Irish artist from Dublin uses his videos and photographs to scrutinize how media is constructed and manipulated through his highly produced and documentary-style video installation. With two large speakers impeding our view of the video, the video shows a radio show host in his studio from the Reagan-era recounting Reagan’s relation to the Soviets and his fumbles and successes in negotiations with them. In what feels like an acute and uncomfortable reminder of the global tensions during that era and its inextricable ties to the political reality of the current, Byrne’s work poses the question: How far have we come?
Emerging from the library onto Roggenmarkt Strasse, I discover the Elephant Lounge Night Club where the collaborative video of German artist Benjamin de Burca and Brazilian artist Bárbara Wagner entitled Bye Bye Deutschland! is housed. De Burca and Wagner are known for their site-specific collaborative work that investigates socio-economic relationships, and Bye Bye Deutschland! continues in this trajectory. Focusing on the schlager, a stereotypical German style of pop music; this musical-meets-love-opera-to-the-schlager includes lyrics such as “you are my daily sunshine” and “all we wanted was eternity” and “All I want is the Illusion that you live only for me.” Working in high hyperbole, the video’s aesthetics point to the incredible staging of schlager videos that began in the 80’s. In a recent interview de Burca comments that Bye Bye Deutschland!, which was created with the local arts community in Münster, is perfectly suited to this city because it is a “secenographic background in itself – a staged city reconstructed after World War II – literally a replica of its former self. The schlager was also a tool in a post-war rebuilding effort, only this time for recreating a sense of collective identity that looked beyond its recent dark past and returning to a nostalgia for Heimweh and Fernweh (homesickness and wanderlust).” The over-production of Bye Bye Deutschland! functions like drag, poking fun and loving the schlager in a way that only a local can.
Navigating out of the city center on some narrow and steep streets, over the river and through the woods to the Westdeutsche Landesbausparkasse (LSB savings bank) we go. Hito Steyerl’s HellYeahWeFuckDie is installed in the lobby and cashier’s hall of a futuristic looking building commissioned and built from 1969 to 1975 by well-known German architect Harald Deilmann. According to Billboard, the title of Steyerl’s work comes from the five most frequently used words in the English language music charts of the past decade. Steyerl’s installation comprises four video screens. Three of them make up one area of the transformed lobby with video works including simulations of lab documentary footage of robots that are being tested for balance. One way to test the success of a robot is to see their balance behavior, if you push them…. Do they fall over?
Another monitor further inside the installation plays footage of the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in Southeastern Turkey, the center of which was destroyed in 2016 by the Turkish military in the civil conflict with the Kurdish minority. The engineer and artist Al-Jazari worked in Diyarbakir in 1205 and he wrote a book called Boat of Automata. In the video, the artist uses images from Al-Jazari’s book, both of his inventions and the boat. Drone footage of the destroyed city of Diyarbakir is included, too. On the voice-over, a child’s voice asks Apple’s robot helper SIRI: SIRI, are robots today developed to save people in disaster zones? SIRI, what do you want to do? From the robot lab to the disembodied space and the destruction in Diyarbakir, Steyerl’s installation explores the aftermath of violence, the production and utilization of robotics, and the abuses of power that sit uncomfortably together. The piece raises troubling questions about the global structures of violence that permeate both embodied and disembodied experiences.
Skulpture Projekt Münster is a project that centers its engagement around educating and broadening the art experiences of the community and supporting artists in a meaningful way. Despite the active engagement with the locals, the reality of vandalism is still unfolding. Koki Tanaka’s Provisional Studies: Workshop #7 How to Live Together and Sharing the Unknown had equipment stolen mid-exhibition and Nicole Eisenman’s Sketch for a Fountain was damaged twice–first when the head of one of her plaster sculptures was removed and again, on the eve of the German elections a week before the exhibition closed, when one of Eisenman’s queer figures was spray painted with a swastika and phallus. Post-election, as the AfD (the Germany’s far right Nationalist party) is poised to enter the German Parliament for the first time since the end of World War II, we are reminded that the role of public art is anything but apolitical.
“Skulptur Projekte Münster,” artistic director Kasper König, featuring work by Ei Arakawa, Aram Bartholl, Nairy Baghramian, Cosima von Bonin, Andreas Bunte, Gerard Byrne, CAMP (Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran), Michael Dean, Jeremy Deller, Nicole Eisenman, Ayşe Erkmen, Lara Favaretto, Hreinn Friðfinnsson, Monika Gintersdorfer / Kurt Klaßen, Pierre Huyghe, John Knight, Xavier Le Roywith Scarlet Yu, Justin Matherly, Sany, Christian Odzuck, Emeka Ogboh, Peles Empire, Alexandra Pirici, Mika Rottenberg, Gregor Schneider, Thomas Schütte, Nora Schultz, Michael Smith, Hito Steyerl, Koki Tanaka, Oscar Tuazon, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Cerith Wyn Evans, Hervé Youmbi, Bárbara Wagner / Benjamin de Búrca. Münster, Germany. June 10 – October 1, 2017.
About the author: A recent grad of Yale’s MFA program, Loren Britton is a co-founder of the curatorial projects Improvised Showboat (with Zachary Keeting), lcqueryprojects (with Christie DeNizio), and Queering Space. Britton also maintains a solo curatorial and art practice that shape shift in form from project to project.