nathalie koger

What remains no longer is

On the Work Blind Date with Baldessari / Projects and Assignments
Miriam Kathrein on "Projects and Assignments" 2010/2011 at Saprophyt, Vienna

Named after a non-parasitic fungus that feeds on dead organic materials, Saprophyt is a project space in Vienna that suggests a new structure as an experiment. With the obligation that every work remain in the room for every exhibition, Saprophyt bans the clearing out of the space. Thus, according to the artists Barbara Kapusta and Stephan Lugbauer who initiated the project together in 2008, there is no white cube, no tabula rasa at the beginning and end of an exhibition. This approach poses a fundamental question: ‘where does an exhibition begin and where does it end?’ and thereby emphasizes an exhibition’s ephemeral character.

Using this concept suggested by Saprophyt, a way of seeing space opens up in which, in comparison to a museum or institutional context, other frameworks can be produced and tested: here, the dominating protagonists in the exhibition process are explicitly not the artists or the curators; the single positions and roles come together on a collective narrative level: things become protagonists, or, as Bruno Latour has suggested, ‘actants’ that are in a dynamic relationship with one another and which mutually influence each other. 1 Viewed as such, the participating artists, curators, theorists, viewers and even the light, architecture, objects, things, goals of the exhibition and space become actants in Saprophyt whose operational fields constantly intersect.

These operational fields are generated by individual protagonists or actants in the exhibition series “Projects and Assignments,” which remains aligned to the concept and artistic practice of a project exhibition. 2 In the role of curator, Andrew Berardini, the author, curator and Los Angeles art critic, proposed an exhibition project inspired by David Askevold’s 1969 Projects Class at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Canada. There, Askevold invited artists to suggest ideas to be realized by the students of his class. 3 In Vienna, however, the intention is not to repeated this project. The format of the class is not meant to be re-installed. Rather, a “gesture to think about art and exchange in a way that depends less on money and more on possibilities” 4 should be created.

To this end, Berardini invited six artists living in the USA to suggest tasks or “assignments” that would then be realized by artists in Vienna, who would be chosen by means of an open call. Liz Glynn, Scoli Acosta, Anton Vidokle, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Robert Barry and John Baldessari provided assignments for Can Gülcü & Roberta Lima, Christian Egger, Jakob Lena Knebl, Noële Ody, Josip Novosel and Nathalie Koger. This resulted in six consecutive exhibition projects in which each proceeding position created new conditions for the next artist.

If one were to enter the space during the last realization by Nathalie Koger, then the culmination of all the previous positions in this exhibition could be seen. The space is brightly lit up by fluorescent lamps. They are not, as one would expect, the standard furnishings of an exhibition space, but rather specially installed lights by Noële Ody for her assignment from Natascha Sadr Haghighian. A green painted wall forms the central element in the middle of the room. This was an installation by Josip Novosel in the previous exhibition on which clothes were draped on the front side. Framed by red silk in the shape of a theater curtain, they vicariously referred to the performers, which should have been in the space according to Robert Barry’s specifications. 5 On the backside, Novosel assembled all the previous objects and art works of the protagonists to date, including the red desk lamps from Jakob Lena Knebl that were both sources of light and objects of desire. Or then there’s the stacks of paper – copies of the letter “Revolutionary Letter #13” by Diane di Prima, which Scoli Acosta transcribed and Christian Egger spatially translated into objects, sound and video.

All of these remaining things, assembled together on the backside of the wall, built a babble of voices which told the stories of the previous exhibitions and which the realization of the next assignment affixed itself to. New and old meanings grow into a new exhibition together.

For John Baldessari’s fifth assignment “How can plants be used in art” 6, which is based on Baldessari’s assignment lists for CalArts students in 1970, Koger adopted the wall and allowed its backside to ceremoniously grow further, carefully folding Novosel’s articles of clothing and pushing the objects closer to one another. The wall is the background for a group of houseplants with the title “Pflanzenbestand Kapusta & Lugbauer vor RAL 6002 Laubgrün”(2011). With this installation the artist transferred a supplementary space into the exhibition, namely, the private sphere of the gallery owners, and thus further merged semantic levels relating to authorship and artistic intention, which Kapusta and Lugbauer have nourished for this space. Additionally, Koger invited further artists and thus tested the exchange of authorship. For instance, in the assignment developed specifically for this exhibition by Christian Philipp Müller, “Assignments for Nathalie Kroger”(2011) challenged the artist to think about how Müller’s work “Grüne Grenze”, which was exhibited in the 1993 Venice Biennale, could be executed with regards to borders and illegal border crossings.

As such, the exhibition oscillated between levels of the single artistic works, the exhibition as its own art work and a further level of the creation of subjects in the exhibition: even when the artists utilized the room, curated themselves and newly assembled things, in the end it is the things that compose a new general framework in which the viewers can put together the story of the exhibition. 7

Nevertheless, what remains after “Projects and Assignments”? Above all, considerations of how art teaches, is taught and produced; of how it can remove itself from an economy of capitalistic values and create symbolic values and make them visible; the questioning and blurring of authorship through the reassessment and reutilization of an artwork for a new artistic production. It could be that only a room remains standing. A room like an attic in which objects are placed, an accumulation of materials that, for the instant, have lost their apparent worth or meaning. Or: could you say that everything situated in a room becomes existing materials and that these by turn become part of the room? That an object becomes the thing to which an action is inscribed and the announcement or new reevaluation of the action – in the reutilization – allows the thing to become an object. 8

“Stories were persuasive because the person who told them had lived through what they contained and had committed it to memory,” writes Sven Spieker in a text about the elements of storytelling and the exhibition practices of the late 1960s. 9 In the end, the produced meaning and relationships remain, the story of the exhibition as a memory on that which was and that which will come out of it.

  • Notes


    1 "Actants are units in a narrative or in a given case in a process, which can come forward as plot bearers and have their own articulation of potential." Quoted originally in German and found in Bruno Latour, Eine neue Soziologie für eine neue Gesellschaft, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2007; cf. Reiner Ruffing, Bruno Latour, Paderborn: UTB Profile, Wilhelm Fink, 2009, p. 29ff.


    2 "‘Project exhibitions,’ a practice combining artistic, curatorial, and discursive practice that I [Marion von Osten, author’s note] posited as distinct from thematic or curated art shows, in which artworks are selected to a specific topic or issue." Maria von Osten, "Another Criteria … or What is the Attitude of a Work in the Relations of Production of Its Time?" in #KAfterall – A Journal of Art, Context and Inquiry#K, Nr. 25, 2010, London: Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design [et. al.], p. 57.


    3 "Some examples from the class: Robert Barry proposed that the students get together and ‘decide on a single common idea. The idea can be of any nature, simple or complex …’ Sol LeWitt presented a ‘to do’ list for the class which included: ‘1. A work that uses the idea of error 2. A work that uses the idea of incompleteness 3. A work that uses the idea of infinity …’ Robert Smithson suggested a work that would involve mud being dumped over a cliff. Lawrence Weiner asked students to ‘remove’ some unspecified thing ‚Halfway Between the Equator and the North Pole‘." Andrew Berardini, in: Projects and Assigments, Exhibition Catalogue, Saprophyt, Vienna 2011.


    4 Andrew Berardini, ibid.


    5 "I would suggest placing the performance at a small table somewhere in the ‘middle’ with a microphone and some small speakers placed around somewhere in the space. I thought I already mentioned that the performers can change when they get tired. But there should be only one at a time. Use as many as you need to fill the time. Attached is a script for an old Performance, MEANWHILE; 1977. One word every 20 seconds, continuous until the end of the exhibit." Robert Barry, in: Projects and Assignments, Exhibition Catalogue, ibid.


    6 "Assignment 5: How can plants be used in art. Problem becomes how can we really get people to look freshly at plants as if they’ve never noticed them before. A few possibilities: 1. Arrange them alphabetically like books on a shelf; 2. Plant them like popsicle trees (as in child art) perpendicular to line of hill; 3. Include object among plants that is camouflaged. 4. Color a palm tree pink. 5. Photo found growing arrangements 6. Or a movie on how to plant a plant." John Baldessari, Assignments, CalArts – California Institute of the Arts 1970.


    7 Here, the production of subjects plays an important role in the exhibition. On the one hand, it includes how the relationship between the artwork and the viewer is characterized. On the other hand, however, it includes how the action of viewing and the viewer enter a relationship with the artwork. The artist Martin Beck suggests the following: “For me it’s more important to talk about a politics of seeing and a politics of the body and a form of subject generation in the exhibition. That is, if I do a show, what kind of idea of seeing am I implying there? How do I position subjects within the exhibition? To what extent does exhibiting also function as that which functions like an emancipating machine?” Quoted originally in German and found in Martin Beck, “Dialog über das ‘Neue Ausstellen,’” in: K#Kunstforum International – die aktuelle Zeitschrift für alle Bereiche der bildenden Kunst#K, Bd. 186: „Das neue Ausstellen“, June/July 2007, p. 124f.


    8 “To think of artefacts in terms of design means conceiving them less and less as modernist objects, and conceiving of them more and more of ‚things‘. To use my language artefacts are becoming conceivable as complex assemblies of contradictory issues.” Bruno Latour, “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk). Keynote lecture for the Networks of Design meeting of the Design History Society Falmouth”, Cornwall 2008, in: (4.5.2011). If the verb #Kdesign#K is swapped with the act of making exhibitions, then it becomes clear that the process of exhibiting objects creates new meaning through contextualization. I don’t want to suggest here that artworks are used as illustrations of a curatorial concept, but rather to make the effort to consider which human and nonhuman actors are involved in an exhibition process: such as the artworks, the space, the special conditions, display, but also the artists and the viewers. I would also like to make the effort to consider how the dynamic, through their presences and materiality, can produce meaning conditions between themselves in the contextualization to and with one another.


    9 Sven Spieker, Bureaucratic Poems: Curating and Storytelling in the Late 1960s, in #KMJ Manifesta Journal#K, Nr. 9, 2009/2010, p. 34.