Can you hear me? No, but can you see me?
What can collective artistic practice and aesthetic experience look like in times of a shutdown of social life? In times in which there is neither an audience nor a stage – not to mention a physical experience of objects is possible. In times when life only takes place in private spaces and the world has shrunk to the distance between face and screen?
Part 1 The circumstances
In this situation, the crisis-induced innovation push for digitalisation is intended to sustain social life. Digital communication systems make connectivity possible and are thus currently shaping social relationships significantly. Who hasn’t heard himself saying the absurd words „Can you hear me? No, but can you see me?“ in front of his own screen in the past few weeks. In addition to a prevailing sense of uncertainty, the spatial restriction simultaneously enable us to have a greater self-concentration. As cultural theorist Bazon Brock has pointed out, one can question the continuous operation of the inconsequential and focus on what distinguishes us as human beings. He said, it is essential „to bring those participants together into a kind of joint project that actually involves everyone, and through this involvement in the project generates the appropriate dynamics or emotional strength or impact.“ 2 With this in mind, the six artists from Helsinki, Berlin and Frankfurt have initiated a project that makes it possible to realize an exhibition series without fixed venues.
Part 2 The artistic process
What happens when common exhibition structures are evaded? Already in the late 1960s, the art theorist and curator Lucy Lippard experimented with alternative forms of art production. Lippard recognized in many of the artistic works of hertime an almost exclusive concentration on the thought process and a corresponding neglect of material aspects. 3 In 1968 one of her earliest exhibition projects took place in Latin America – the so-called „Suitcase Exhibition“. In her search for new circuits and ways of disseminating art, she discovered the following: „I tried to make exhibitions that were so dematerialized that they could be stored in a suitcase and taken by an artist to another country. Then the next artist could take them to another country and so on. In this way, the artists themselves took care of the presentation, that the shows got around and that a network was created. We wanted to bypass the museum structure.“ 4 The project „Can you hear me? No, but can you see me?“ is comparable, as the artists havedeveloped a total of 15 theme boxes with exhibits that need to be curated. The task of curating is not in institutional hands, but is left to the buyer. The usual structures of a group exhibition are undermined by this experimental procedure: The artists determine the selection of works, the buyer determines their presentation. The title of the box also becomes the theme of the exhibition. Each of the artists suggested titles themselves – and all of them agreed to work with the titles in order to realize the cooperation beyond national borders. In video conferences they took part in a discourse with the titles at the centre, as they replace the direct, physical confrontation with the works of the others. Thus each of the 15 boxes contains six works that can function as an exhibition. Onlyin the box, the art transport boxes, do the unique works meet.
Part 3 The act of showing
An exhibition is a cultural format derived from the museum. In the meantime the exhibition has become a very successful cultural event. From the variety of new museum buildings and the global spread of biennials, a media and discursive attention has developed, which flushes streams of visitors into the art institutions in the context of their blockbuster exhibitions. In this process, curating exhibitions is understood as a cultural practice of putting together, in which specific constellations of exhibits, displays, persons, institutions and discourses are designed for the public. In the exhibition series „Can you hear me? No, but can you see me?“, the artists give decisive settings with their choice of title and work – but the task of exhibiting is left to the owner. She decides for herself on the type of presentation, the relationships between the artistic works and their arrangement in space. Ultimately, the box has the potential to transform a private space into a magical, public exhibition space and to convert it to a space for communication and criticism. It is entirely up to the owner to exploit the potential and bring the context with her. With the initiative of the artists, art becomes physically experienceable again for those interested in art in times when the enjoyment of art and culture is mainly fed by online
showrooms and digital exhibitions. For physical experience is, despite everything, a criterion that remains – and always will remain – indispensable in the reception of material art.
1 For personal and formal reasons I use the generic feminine in the following. These formulations include all gender identities; of course, all are equally addressed.
2 “Why isolation can be artistically productive”, Bazon Brock in conversation with Gabi Wuttke, Deutschlandfunkkultur, contribution, 08.03.2020, URL: https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/coronavirus-warum-isolation-kuenstlerisch-produktiv-sein.1013.de.html?dram:article_id=472024 (Last access: 04.06.2020)
3 She would later illustrate her observations in more detail in the anthology “Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972”.
4 Hans Ulrich Obrist: Kuratieren!, München 2015, S. 66.
Can you hear me? No, but can you see me?
What is an exhibition?
If it is just about showing something, do we need a physical place to have an exhibition?
Do we need visitors to have an exhibition?
Can you experience art without physical perception?
How do we exchange thoughts and be able to work together without physical interaction?
On a scale from 1 – 10 how bad is online communication?
How many people physically present do you need to ruin an exhibition?
How can each of us deal with the supposedly same title or subject within our
What happens when those works meet physically?
Can this be the purpose for an exhibition or is it just about being seen?
Can I experience another persons art directly, in a way that goes beyond simply describing this experience?
Do i need to smell it?
In wich way does a title or presupposed theme affect your work?
How does it change your way of seeing?
Does online research affect my way of dealing with something i can not relate to?
Is the past child-version of me better at dealing with such things? If so, does it get worse?
Do you think a title should describe a piece of art or should the artwork describe the title?
Should art describe anything at all?
Is the possibility of an answer the immediate consequence of a question?
Can you exemplify a thought by questioning it?