The Beast and is the Sovereign


Detailed information on the exhibition and its works

The beast and [et] the sovereign, the beast is [est] the sovereign, that’s how our couple seems first to show up, a couple, a duo or even a duel, but also an alliance, almost a hymen . . .
Jacques Derrida

The exhibition "The Beast and is the Sovereign", running from October 17, 2015, to January 17, 2016, at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart, explores constructions of the political sovereign in Western traditions of thought. The focus here is placed on artistic practices that challenge, reverse, or eliminate sovereignty—as brought to bear in concepts of the sacred, the nation-state, modern institutions, humanism, virility, or the unscathed, (hetero)normative body.

The exhibition takes its name from the last seminar conducted by Jacques Derrida in 2002–03, in which the French philosopher analyzes the limits of political sovereignty in the Western tradition. For Derrida, the beast and the sovereign embody the two allegorical figures in politics that have historically existed outside of the law: the beast that is supposedly ignorant of the law and the sovereign whose power is defined precisely by the capacity to suspend the law.

This ontotheological division gives rise to a series of binary oppositions of gender, class, species, sexuality, race, and disability that structure relations of dominance. On the one hand, the beast is regarded as animality, nature, femininity, the South, the slave, the colonial site, illness, the non-white subject, the abnormal. On the other, the sovereign represents the human or even the superhuman, God, the State, masculinity, the North, health, the white and sexually “normal” subject.

In this order, the figure of the beast is not only the counterpart of the sovereign; the beast also clings to the sovereign as if to a dancing partner. The beast is indeed also the sovereign, as Derrida emphasizes by citing a French play on words: et (and) and est (is). Are not our myths—from fables to science fiction, from the sirens to the werewolf—full of hybrids between human and animal? And has not an excess of power concentration always led to a bestial abuse of power? A man is a wolf to another man, as it has been said since the time of Plautus. The exhibition highlights artistic practices that challenge and repudiate existing concepts and potencies of the sovereign. Is sovereignty possible beyond power? Can sovereignty occur by questioning these relations of dominance?

The Beast and is the Sovereign brings together the work of about thirty contemporary artists and is structured around four core concepts:

– The sacred and the inappropriate use of the sacred
Economies of debt / sacrifice and alternative economies
Dissident bodies: against the orders of species, gender, sexuality, normativity, health, etc.
Modern institutions in the throes of crisis, critique, dissolution, and redetermination

The exhibition has been organized and co-produced by the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). It is curated by Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler, directors of the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Paul B. Preciado, curator of the public program of documenta 14, and Valentín Roma, former chief curator of MACBA.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a dense events program, comprising among other things, a conference (October 16–18, 2015) and a performance program (Januray and April 2015). A reader will be published to accompany the exhibition, followed by a comprehensive catalogue at the end of the project in spring 2016.

The Conflict
At the premiere of the exhibition “The Beast and the Sovereign” this March in Barcelona it came to an éclat. Just before the opening, the MACBA director at the time, Bartomeu Marí, decided that one of the artworks was not suitable for presentation in this museum and demanded that it be removed. The work in question was a sculpture by the Austrian artist Ines Doujak that is part of a longstanding project on questions related to (neo)colonial contexts of textile production. In addition to countless other references, the sculpture—which was previously on show at the São Paulo Biennial—can also be read as a caricatur of the former Spanish King. Neither the curators, nor the artists participating in the exhibition were willing to tacitly accept this act of censorship. As a result, Marí chose to cancel the entire exhibition on the day of its opening. After a wave of protest on both local and international levels, the exhibition was opened to the public four days later after all. Marí announced his resignation. The two MACBA curators involved, Valentín Roma and Paul B. Preciado, were dismissed without notice

Our experiences at MACBA sparked a whole series of questions that we would like to discuss in the scope of a conference: a discussion, which extends beyond this concrete case and which will relate to the exhibition’s subject—dealing among other things with the function of modern institutions …
Program, abstracts, documentations and results of the conference

Exhibition of the Year 2015 AICA, German Section
Exhibition Highlight 2015 Ana Teixeira Pinto, Frieze d/e
Most Important Exhibition of ther Year 2015 Kolja Reichert, Art Kunstmagazin

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Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart