7. Werkleitz Biennale Happy Believers
Festival Program
Catalog Texts
Exhibition Floor
Picture Gallery
german version
Catalog Texts

Anke Hoffmann
Belief Systems among Media, Market, and Humanity

Solvej Helweg Ovesen
The Throne Stays Empty

Angelika Richter
On Icons, Idols, Avatars, and Other Proxies

Jan Schuijren
Traces of the next

The Throne Stays Empty
Solvej Helweg Ovesen

“There are always certain central points of reference that enable people to bring themselves into agreement – in a sense like the rites and symbolic objects Durkheim analyses in Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. Annual festivals establish such fixed points of reference for everyone who claims to be a member of a given group. And that is exactly what a cosmogram does: it puts this totality in a concrete form as the basis for new interpretations and action.”1

Happy Believers is a kind of ‘belief system’ in itself, manifested as an international biennial art event, the sum of a selection of materialised ideas and artworks on a biennial basis. One could call it a ‘cosmogram’. In the following, I will focus on a series of artworks, from the perspective that they are the materialisation of subjectively exercised ‘belief systems’, which also translate to ‘local cosmograms’.

“Often in a cosmogram there’s an aim that goes beyond mere description or depiction: it’s often a redescription, in the conditional or future tense: not the world as it is but the world as it could be. There could be a utopian intention, the goal of projecting new possibilities into a world which seemed fixed.”2

The term ‘cosmogram’ lends the notion of ‘belief system’ a certain direction. ‘Cosmogram’ means a concrete materialisation of a belief system: it is not a theory which is given attention, but a pictograph connecting symbols, a practice, and often a ritual gesture related to that representation. The ritual or performative aspect is important. In contrast, the abstract ‘belief system’ stays ungraspable – for example, as a ‘worldview’, a ‘cosmology’, or a ‘patchwork religion’.

A cosmogram hosts contradicting aspects and values in life. It is both abstract and concrete, and is thus a way of ‘reckoning with and recovering from our culture’s schizophrenia’.3 In Happy Believers, as a ‘glocal’ cosmogram, the throne stays empty. There is no banner, no cross, no Buddha, no happy believer, no icon, no colour nor any small conceptual hole in the ceiling – not even a logo, which might be the biggest surprise!

The Mandala Door
You will pass The Mandala Door when entering this year’s Werkleitz Biennale. This is a site-specific work by the Swedish artist Gunilla Klingberg originally titled Brand New View.4 This is a consumer’s Mandala of logos from, for example, Lidl, Spar, Pick Pay and Tesco, figuring as a tantric pattern and as a mosaic, which is pasted onto the vast window area of the entrance door to the Volkspark. In general, Klingberg prefers to work with cheap and temporary materials such as supermarket bags and their logos, which she graphically manipulates in serial organic patterns, and installs, for example, as wallpaper, or on a transparent surface as Brand New View.

The Mandala Door intertwines in its form the symbolical and phenomenological levels of perception, here by dissolving logos in a hypnotic pattern. In terms of perception, this is also how the traditional Mandalas function. The Buddhist Mandalas, which are among the most well known types of cosmograms, stand for “a sacred mansion, the home of particular meditational deity, who represents and embodies enlightened qualities ranging from compassion to heightened consciousness and bliss”. Normally, they are three-dimensional sand pictographs made as part of a Tantric ritual, after which they are again destroyed.5

Whereas the centre of the Mandala represents Buddha’s enlightened spirit after his body is ‘thus-gone’, the branded surface becomes the archetypal image of the ‘long-gone’ spiritual enlightenment of consumer society. When light falls on Brand New View, however, the logos dissolve into mosaic shadows on the ground in front of you.

Problem Factory
In the foyer of the Volkspark, the Danish artist John Kørner has painted and installed a ‘problem factory’. Problem Factory is a wall painting depicting a festival of problems, as well as an efficient problem production office, both of which are painted inside the interior of serial storage shelves bending under a weighty line-up of problems. Kørner has developed a categorisation system for problems in his art – mainly the not well-defined ‘how should I behave?’ kind of problems for which there are only ambiguous, heuristic solutions, if any.6

To be more concrete, Kørner has a sign for ‘problem’ or for ‘abstraction’, namely the ‘spot’. It reappears in most of his works, like in Man With 44 Problems and Problem Factory. For Kørner, a ‘problem’ can be a colour, therefore there are red, violet and yellow problems. There are old and new problems, which he joins together in his paintings, and calls, for example, A Modern Problem, referring to ‘civilisation’ and the problem of ‘modern painting’. A museum building is a problem, as is a factory. The same is true for artillery, or even a sailor. The problems continuously evolve.

For Kørner, it has been important to find new ways to relate painting to the public. He is known for staging his paintings, which he also calls ‘problems’ in the public space, as a form of confrontational art, and as a sign of direct communication. Just as often, he creates stages in the exhibition space with and for paintings and audiences. For Happy Believers and its concern with belief systems, the Problem Factory can be seen as a local cosmogram, since the biennial constitutes an intersection between serial belief systems, in which, not surprisingly, their coexistence is also a constant negotiation and production of more problems.

Folkets Park
Eriksson’s projects are in general concerned with stages, and especially with what happens on these stages when people with different sets of codes meet. She creates staged situations in order to let unpredictable public and private relations join together or to contrast with one another, to reveal the performative representation of underlying social relations between the untrained ‘performers’. Depending on the context and content, Eriksson sometimes also creates stages for missing relations, and documents the situation in the form of video works, or stages live situations.

For the Werkleitz Biennale, Eriksson has developed a new project for Halle in Malmö. Eriksson is here focussing on “Folkets Park, a recreational area originally for workers in Malmö, which rested on a belief, one that had begun to solidify in Sweden in the early nineteenth century. It was a concept suggestive of a staggering political consciousness: the desire for an open arena. The aspiration was also to provide a stomping ground that would offer an alternative to the many beer halls of the city. This space remarked, however, only an idea, formulated by people who lacked the funding and the support ever to find a physical manifestation of their brainchild. Yet, despite the bleak outlook, there was a continuing effort among workers to find a spot of parkland, a park for the people. Ultimately it was their private savings which enabled this still-standing project, a sign of an imagined future.” (Annika Eriksson)

In the last decade, she has directed diverse groups such as post orchestras and museum staff (in Stockholm, London and Tokyo, for example), where the filmed portraits map the performative contrast between the individuals in the group at work. She has set up improvisations between Brazilian music groups playing different music genres – rap and repente – producing a successful third genre in the course of the jam session. At the Frieze Art Fair 2004 she presented Do You Want an Audience?, in which she created a speaker's corner (as a displaced activity) among the gallery booths. Here she invited everybody who responded to the publicly announced question “Do you want an audience?” to take the opportunity. People got on stage and gave public cooking lessons, amateurs got up and sang after professional belly dancers performed, etc. Eriksson has in this way developed serial new possibilities for performative works, where the work itself produces incomparable parallels.

“A classmate told me that the day she decided to no longer be a practicing Jew, was when she ‘opened her eyes’ as we say, she switched on the light during Shabbat. As she pushed the switch, she was certain that at that precise instant, flames would shoot from the wall, her fingers would burst into flame, and God himself would make her pay.”
(Fabián Teruggi, Dieu, 2004)

In the film Dieu, the French film maker and artist Valerie Mréjen has asked formerly Orthodox Jews to describe the decisive moments or passages in which they violated a religious proscription for the first time – for example, on the Shabbat, or the moment they realised that they forgot about a prohibition after transgressing it (turning on the light on Saturday night, mixing milk and meat during Shabbat, going to the cinema). Mrejen focuses on how the people describe these moments in everyday language, and on the uniqueness of the deed in contrast to normal life. With a minimal setting and stable camera position, she enhances the short narratives and the humorous personal expressions of the impact that this moment had as it met with an internalized religious codex.

“When I was 17 or 18, I studied at a Bnei-Braq yeshiva. I’d never seen a film, I wanted to go to the movies. In the movies, surely lots of things happened. That meant seeing naked girls. I notice a poster for Modern Times. I say to myself, ‘Modern Times, perfect. It must be very current.’ It was at the Museum of Israel in Jerusalem. I hide my jacket and hat in a bag, I sit down, the film is in black and white. I stare wide-eyed. At the end of the film, I’d completely forgotten why I’d come. I walked in front of the museum thinking about the film. It’s amazing, that transformation in two hours. I had gone to see naked girls. I saw Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin.” (Fabián Teruggi, Dieu, 2004)

The Inner Sound That Kills the Outer
Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff is developing a new collage project for the Werkleitz Biennale, which focuses on the question of how inner universes fit into, and emerge out of other (outer) universes, and on how to contain the presence of the infinite and the unknown, or just an extra old or new worldview. She frames this topic in the notions “the potter's mind” and “the inner sound that kills the outer”.

There has always been an element of fantasy in Kristine Roepstorff’s work, which in the last five years has consisted in developing an ever-expanding universe through the medium of collage. Each collage generates its own temporary narrative made from manifold layers of newspaper, magazine and paper cutouts sculpted in Roepstorff’s original style of ‘appropri-arranging’. Her collaged universe operates according to an unpredictable energy, where gravity is replaced by magical attractions, implosions and explosions on the side of content and images.

“I’m working with the symbolic, with disorder and imbalance and I’m using pictures representing a given reality to assist me in that matter. (…) For the most part I work thematically in series focusing on single issues. Like the series of Mystique Harbour, which explores the wind, the waves and the fog of modern capitalism (…). One of the recent bodies of work A Handful of Once concerned the interrelation of presence and absence. How absence to a great extent can be more present than presence.”7

The notion of The Inner Sound That Kills the Outer forms a continuation of ideas from her latest series of collages, One Hand, which appears, for example, in the panel If Balance Stops and Asks Why, Balance Will Die (2006) and in the image The Infinite and the Unknown (2006). The latter features the reappearing character ‘Stop Woman’, who signals ‘time out’ in different situations, and has in her stomach an infinite space of universes in the universe. Both images have ideas parallel to the Kabbalistic theory of creation, in which God ‘contracts’ his essence in order to create space for another conceptual, independent world.

The Black Room
In the film The Black Room, the Dutch artist Melvin Moti has written and directed an interview with the French surrealist artist, Robert Desnos (1900–1945), about the obscure sleep-writing séances that took place in Paris in February 1923. This interview has been enacted for the film.

Robert Desnos was known for extraordinary skills, namely ‘a natural facility for self-hypnosis’ even during daytime, and for his explorations in sleep-writing. He apparently wrote poems and full stories in these periods, which Simone Breton wrote down. The sleep-writing séances were intense experiments, however, that only went on for a year since many surrealists – like Desnos himself – developed an addiction to them, and also sleeping and eating disorders. Not to mention Desnos' chasing writer Paul Eluard with a knife. The latter led André Breton to dismiss the sleep-writing séances in 1923.

On the image side of the film, the camera explores in a meditative pace the murals of the Roman Villa Agrippa near Pompeii.8 The panels represent free-floating ‘natural’ illustrations in infinite, ‘unreal’ black space and derive from the villa's ‘Black Room'. “This new style, springing up from Pompeii, marks the passage from realistic illusion towards an imaginary and intangible representation of the world, from trompe-l’oeil to magic.”9

Spiritual phenomena play an important role in Melvin Moti’s work together with the exploration of how experiences are transmitted and reconstructed. Moti is informed by the scientific approach to spiritualism as it occurred in the 19th century and recently also published The Biography of a Phantom, 2006. In this book you find a careful reconstruction of the serial appearances over more than a century of England’s first officially recognized medium, Katie King. Her first recorded materialisation was in 1852.

1 John Tresch: Cosmogram, in Cosmograms, Melik Ohanian and Jean-Christophe Royoux, eds., 2004, p. 69. The term 'cosmogram' is used in the context of religious studies and anthropology, and points to the practical side of a 'cosmology'. The anthropologist John Tresch points out how the concept applies to, for example, religious, scientific, or artistic worldviews' as concretisations in the form of text, architecture or image, where intersections between these fields as areas of life can take place. An example from the field of religious studies is the Tabernacle (of Moses), a portable temple for the religious life of nomadic people.

2 Ibid. p. 74.

3 Ibid. p.74 Melik Ohanian is a French artist and co-publisher of Cosmograms.

4 First realized at Henry Dunker Culture Center, Helsingborg, 2003.

5 Source: www.tibet.com/Buddhism/kala1.html

6 Cecilie Høgsbro, The Problem of Performing, John Kørner and Gl. Strand Kunstforening, 2004.

7 Kirstine Roepstorff interviewed by Max Andrew (Latitude), Wonderland (UK Magazine), August 2006.

8 The murals were found as the villa was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century. They are preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

9 Thomas Michelon, The Black Room, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, 2005.