Alexander Kluge. Gardens of Cooperation

October 14, 2017 – January 14, 2018 
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island "what is a slave?"

island "cold is the chain of god"
island "unconditional love"

island "the great bottle of rain is uncorked"

island "Bifurcation"

island "the poetic force of theory"
island "nightwind"

island "gardens of cooperation"

SEVEN ISLANDS AT THE WÜRTTEMBERGISCHER KUNSTVEREIN

The exhibition Gardens of Cooperation consists of seven “islands.” Each is introduced by an image and a large-format text by Kluge. They comprise a number of videos and films, along with further images and texts. 

These islands are conceptualized as constellations of polyphonic contributions that deepen the central subject of the exhibition: emancipation as a collective process involving both the dead and the not yet alive. In doing so, the exhibition follows one of the central concerns of Kluge: exploring questions and problems in a vertical direction, in their depth, so as to be able to encounter the unexpected. Slavery and desire for freedom; the coldness of war and absolute love; the “love death of the foreign woman” in operas and the disarmament of this fate: all these subjects will be examined with regard to their subterranean bifurcations and bypasses—generating rhizomes.

1
WHAT IS A SLAVE?
HUMAN BODIES AS COMMODITY. INDOMITABILE ZEST FOR FREEDOM. OUTWARD IMPERIALISM, INWARD IMPERIALISM

The island What Is a Slave / “Death of the Unknown Woman” encompasses nine videos by Alexander Kluge dealing with the issues of slavery, colonialism, and the struggle for freedom. Thematized here is the history of the exploitation of the human body as a commodity and bartering object going back thousands of years, but also forms of resistance and rebellion on the part of the dispossessed. Speaking in this context are, among others, the historian Michael Zeuske. Kluge traces the manifestations of colonialism in the bourgeois culture of the nineteenth century, especially as also found in opera: from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s The African Woman to Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. As Theodor W. Adorno notes, all deal with European men who fall in love with and seduce exotic women before going back home again. They have a story to tell now. The exotic women die.
Also referenced is the trend of keeping black slaves as so-called “court moors” in European royal houses of the eighteenth century. The experimental fervor of the Enlightenment gave some of these “court moors,” such as Abram Petrovich Hannibal (1696–1781), the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, or Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703–1759), access to education. Amo, who attended university in Halle and Wittenberg, published the manuscript The Rights of Moors in Europe in 1729, and one year later earned his doctorate with studies on the mind-body problem, counted among the most significant philosophers in Germany for a short period. At the same time, he was faced with blatant racism.
Kluge’s film Phantasmagorias of Land and Sea Grabbing references Herman Sörgel’s large-scale colonial project Atlantropa, planned between 1928 and 1952. This endeavor was conceived to connect Europe and Africa as one continent by drying out the Mediterranean Sea. The idea was to block the straits of Gibraltar and Bosporus with gigantic dams.
Even worse than imperialism from the outside, as mirrored by such schemes, is negative imperialism, notes Kluge: “First stealing, then throwing away . . . How many slave ships are abandoned when threatened with detection? Rotting, abandoned by the slaveholders . . . Nothing is worse that a resigned imperialist.” The same holds true for political and amorous relations.

2.1
COLD IS THE CHAIN OF GOD

The point of departure of this three-part island (2.1: Cold Is The Chain Of God; 2.2: Unconditional Love; 2.3: One Week In Stuttgart) is a letter written by Theodor W. Adorno to his friend Alexander Kluge, in which this protagonist of the Frankfurt School announces a future project, one that is nonetheless never carried out: an exploration of the concept and state of social coldness. Kluge’s newly created video Kälte ist die Kette Gottes (Cold Is The Chain Of God) is conceived as a way to move forward with this still unresolved endeavor.
War—as the principle epitomizing violence organized from the top down—is one of Alexander Kluge’s main areas of investigation. The Second World War, the bombing of Halberstadt, and thus his personal experiences during this time period play a special role here. What would have been necessary and which opportunities might there have been to prevent this war and the Third Reich—through top-down action (maybe even before Black Friday in 1929)? Kluge employs tools of documentation and fiction to explore these questions in the context of broad historical depths.

2.2 (Neighbor Island)
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. THE POWER OF EMOTION. BASIC TRUST

Kluge contrasts the potential for destruction harbored by war and catastrophes with the motif of unconditional love. One of the most touching narratives entails the wife of a construction worker killed in Chernobyl. The story of “King Kong and the White Woman” is read by Kluge as a tale of devotion, trust, and sense of security—in hands and feet, which are like nests.   

2.3 (Neighbor Island)
ONE WEEK IN STUTTGART

Separate from the islands 2.1 and 2.2 is 2.3: Eine Woche in Stuttgart (One Week in Stuttgart). It involves excerpts from the 1978 film Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn), which revolves around the death of Hanns Martin Schleyer and the burial of those deceased in Stammheim prison at the Dornhalden cemetery in Stuttgart. Previously unpublished is the report by the lawyer representing Gudrun Ensslin at the time, Otto Schily, on the autopsy.

3
„THE GREAT BOTTLE OF RAIN IS UNCORKED“
Homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s What Are The Clouds? 1968

This new production is a homage to the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and his short film What Are the Clouds? (1968). The film focuses on a performance of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello as a marionette theater with living people on strings. During the play, the marionettes start to question their roles. The actor playing Othello doesn’t actually want to murder Desdemona. But then the rebelling audience intervenes in the plot, killing Iago and Othello in order to save Desdemona. A singing garbageman carries away the two puppets. At the dump, Othello sees the open sky and clouds for the very first time.
Kluge associates Pasolini’s film with excerpts from opera performances at the Oper Stuttgart and the Komische Oper Berlin, among others. We encounter Michael Rehberg as Othello in an interview with the reporter Bernd Schmidt during preparations for the premiere of Othello: “You underestimate the dispassion with which I kill.” Pasolini’s basic approach of thwarting the disastrous faith in destiny on the part of the opera marionettes (who are simultaneously living beings referencing the hope of return concealed in the clouds) is given a second homage by Kluge: a description of the premiere of the opera Lohengrin on the evening of June 22, 1941, in Leningrad. This long-planned event took place on the exact day that the German tank units breached the Russian border. The political commissar for culture asked: Should LOHENGRIN be cancelled or sung today? A tiny crack of door between aggression and art opened on this day.
With the homage for Pasolini, Kluge builds a bridge to an exhibition opening in November in the Kuppelsaal of the Kunstgebäude in Stuttgart—directly proximate to Gardens of Cooperation. Its main point of departure is Pasolini’s What Are the Clouds? 

4
BIFURCATION. REVERSED DIRECTION OF THE ARROW. EXPERIENCES FROM THE TIMES OF HUNTING PLEASURES. CHRONOS AND KAIROS

Bifurcation—meaning the junctions and crossroads at which history and its events could have gone different directions—represents another key topic for Alexander Kluge. In his literary and filmic works, Kluge seeks out these moments in order to conceptually develop the potentials of a change in direction concealed therein: for example, in the fantastical mental game created together with Heiner Müller about the possibility of recollecting the fragmented bullet shot by a hunter into a stag in the body of the dead animal, recomposing the bullet, and then staging a reconstruction of its trajectory back into the rifle barrel of the shooter. The dead are not dead—they struggle against the state of death.
Kluge’s concept of bifurcation, inspired by Michel Serres, also correlates with the notion of the rhizome, that underground system of roots that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari set against the hierarchy of the tree structure. It describes moments of the unexpected whose progression remains totally open. Issues here include contingencies, the not necessary but possible, and also chance. Among the videos featured in this island, besides speculation about the slayed stag (Habe Berge versetzt, habe Wurzeln im Mund) and a conversation with Joseph Vogl (Was ist ein Rhizom?), is the unusual story of Antoine Billot (Wer immer hofft stirbt singend). The latter experienced and survived one catastrophe after the next by a hair’s breadth. Each of these catastrophes saved him from a larger one: “The man was grateful.”
In a sequence from Kluge’s film Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit (1985), someone explains to his colleague the difference between kairos, the decisive moment, and chronos, the extended period of time. Yet he, most of all, has no time.
At another point, the German literary theorist Karl Heinz Bohrer speaks about the guillotine as a category of precipitousness: that moment in which the guillotine separates head and body, death and life. It has long been discussed whether the living being sees himself die in this very instant.

5
THE POETIC FORCE OF THEORY. ‚HIRNHÄUSLEIN.’ BREATH IN THE OPERA. MUTENESS. THE PRINCIPLE OF ORALITY 

The starting point for this “island”, which is dedicated to the “poetical power of theory,” is Martin Luther’s perception of the human brain. Luther is astonished that faith and thinking are situated and immured in the bones of the cranium like in a prison. This jail would have only one door, the ear—so that truth can only penetrate through the ear and reach us. In Kluge’s work, the human ear represents balance and equilibrium, as well as voice and orality. This concerns tightrope walking as much as dialect.  Thus, impaired speech, muteness, and sign language are the main aspects of this island: from the weakened voice of Heiner Müller directly after an operation to the “Mute of Portici”, protagonist of an opera about the fishermen’s uprising in Naples in 1647, to Hegel in Swabian dialect. And above all the floating Charles Chaplin (and others) on the trapezoid. “Reason is an animal of balance.”

6
NIGHTWIND. ON SOME NIGHTS MARX APPEARS AS A GHOST AND TALKS TO PEOPLE. BALLET OF POWER. “THE SQUEAKING OF POWER WHEN IT PUTS ON THE BRAKES.” REVOLTS, REVOLUTION. SIRENS IN THE AGE OF TECHNICAL REPRODUCIBILITY

Capitalism, revolution, counterrevolution, and neoliberalism are the cornerstones of this “island”. Stubborn female pieceworker meets industrial robot. An unreleased film fragment by Rainer Werner Fassbinder deals with terms which at the time were meant to counter the idea of work—yet, some of them we would today, in the age of cognitive, creative capitalism, designate as work. In the scope of the G7 summit in 1982, the advent of neoliberalism celebrated itself in a very fine manner: at a place no less impressive than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Resistance, revolt, and revolution are permanent, collective, and nonlinear processes. According to Christoph Menke, a good revolution is “not available under 800 years.” Traditionally revolutions involve a willingness to overcome the sanctity of property. The destruction of property, for instance by the machine breakers or Luddites in early nineteenth-century England, has to do with a sense of justice rather than anarchy, says Patrick Eiden-Offe.
For this island, a series of new videos was created. In addition to the video Wie beginnt eine Revolution? conversations between Kluge, Menke, and Eiden-Offe are to be found, followed by a triptych on police operations of all kinds, ranging from the G20 summit in Hamburg early years of the Third Reich to the G20 summit in Hamburg. Another work relates to the 1647 fishermen’s revolt in Naples. The latter was thematized in the opera La muette de Portici, which in turn inspired a revolution in Brussels.

7
GARDENS OF COOPERATION. “OH, SIRIUS / OH, MANDELBAUM UND STERN / ALL WE LOVE ARE STILL ALIVE”

Cooperation, community, emancipation, and education are pivotal motifs in Kluge’s artistic, theoretical, and political practice. The garden functions as a metaphor for the necessary protective and open spaces of thought and action: for other institutions and counterpublics that have to be newly, decentrally linked and created collectively again and again. They conform to the principles of the rhizome, of the root system branching out underground.
Cooperation here, for Kluge, implies the exact opposite of those neoliberal structures of collaboration where all individual powers are bundled and committed to a predefined objective in the name of efficiency. Instead, it involves forms of exchange in which space is made precisely for the unsuspected, random, and resistive, in which “ego gates” (Kluge) are lowered in order to give rise to a third facet between the negotiating parties.
Here, the commons is not only a matter of the present; it also thrives off the fact that each individual person is already a polyphonic plurality through whom many generations (both bygone and coming) speak (deliberately or not). The seventh island of the exhibition functions as archive and collective workshop for the exhibition. It contains extensive films and documents related to the show.

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Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart