Marcel Meury, a Swiss performance and installation artist, made the ‘revolution’ phenomenon and its relevance to today’s society the subject of an elaborate exhibit. The spacious area of Neue Galerie is simultaneously this artist’s base of operations for probing research and the testing ground for his attempts to incite a revolution of his own.
What value has a potential, if not realized?
Marcel Meury demonstrates a conceptual work that conducts a stress test of the possibilities of a subversion in the 21st century. The exhibit is divided in three acts.
Firstly, the planning and setting up of the underground network composed of accomplices.
Secondly, the broad involvement of random people, which puts the revolution in the public eye and uncovers the mechanisms of a movement. The liaison with the people forms part of the concept and removes the artist’s influence, opening the doors for anonymous authorship.
Lastly, it is situated on a symbolic route in Bern, which is announced as the grand opening of the exhibit. The participants are surprised to discover that both the opening and the reading of a collective written manifesto do not mark the beginning of "The Revolution in Bern must be postponed". On the contrary, the revolution is adjourned sine die, in other words, in a manner consistent with the exhibit’s title.
The announcement of a revolution in the Swiss capital, "The Revolution in Bern ..." and the qualifying clause "... must be postponed", is, in effect, a confession that the artist himself doubts the eventuality of such a movement. Hence it appeals to our curiosity whether the revolution truly takes place or if it loses its steam in order to become a reality.
It is an element of the concept that the viewer is left room for reflection about the imaginary as well as tangible space. This should raise questions concerning the whole purpose of this revolution-provoking exhibit, possibly in line with Joseph Beuys assertion: "Every revolution starts with stupid questions".
The title of the exhibit points at the impossibilities of the artist's own undertaking and plays with the taboo issue of failing in art, or in this case, moreover, in society.
The eternal risk of a collapse is a fundamental premise of Marcel Meury’s work. Postponing the initiation of change implies that we can lean back and dedicate our time to thinking about it, without ever being forced to make an actual effort - somehow representative for our generation.
Each past revolution had its own roots, reaching deeper than the loose foundations of the era’s zeitgeist. So does the exhibit, but intentionally without any signs of urgency.
When observing the complex social behaviour of the present without any knowledge of the future, our generation feels irritated and at the same time older generations fall instantly back in time. Memories of revolution and resistance seem to last forever.
But how do we have to picture an exhibit which, by its own definition, is not supposed to exist?
The ongoing performance over six weeks finds its inception and activity in the underground - far beyond any public monitoring. The heart of the exhibit, a planning office behind a fake twelve meter long wall at the Neue Galerie stays impenetrable for visitors - except for the access of around 20 revolutionary minded viewers.
The hidden space becomes a platform of social interactions and diminishes the elitist atmosphere that art can sometimes project. The installation provides room for privacy and allows space for mental work and the implementation of communication strategies for the second act. The leaking of information is part of the concept. As any revolution builds up on communication, this sphere is crucial to any pre-revolutionary phase, respectively to the exhibit.
With the inclusion of accomplices we take note that a grass roots movement relies on the faith and that it brings up the fact, that any revolt requires allies in order to grow in importance and to one day become what we call a revolution.
There are posters printed and displayed all over Bern, leaflets passed out to pedestrians and supporters mobilized - this all with the help from the intellectual allies. Projections, visible from the outside the gallery, reveal insights into the pre-revolutionary phase.
Pedestrians passing by are offered glimpses of activity, without being made aware of the artist‘s intentions. The visual display includes videos taken from cameras in the back room, which disclose the artist's practice and his elusive task of making the invisible visible. In addition, visitors find meticulously written records online, which shed the light on the extensive activities behind the fake wall.
This exhibit revives an approach by artist Martin Kippenberger, whose 1984 exhibit in Cologne led him to the conclusion that the time was not ripe for this kind of revolution and therefore had to be postponed in answer to the east-west political tensions in Germany. Kippenberger's unique practice has clearly influenced Marcel Meury’s subversive studies of questioning authorship and the role of the artist within the system. If art recognizes limits at all, they seem to be aligned with social constraints. Challenging social boundaries may, on the contrary, be used to explore the potential of art and to recognize its limits.
André Bréton and Diego Rivera similarly argued that the highest assignment of art is the active preparation of a revolution. In an incisive manner describes Hannah Arendt that over the course of a revolution: "The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution".
Marcel Meury analyzes and illustrates with his exhibit the interaction between art and social conditions. Thus he covers many aspects of the social affection for a change and the ubiquitous animosity to actual participation in change. By forcing us out of our comfort zone, Meury instills the unpleasant reality that you are about to leap into the dark. He is not afraid to display symptomatically the signs of the times by asking if we are just too set in our ways to fight due to the lack of conviction.
The elaborate exhibit brings into a single perspective ideas and events usually approached separately, namely knowing that any movement is an accumulation of factors to form an integrated whole: in this case a revolution. This leads us to the more fundamental question, namely, What value has a potential, if it is not realized? Finally the revolution has taken its place between wishful thinking and feasible utopia - at least for the time being.
Maybe Russian- American conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov was right when he states art is made for utopias and never for reality.
Text by Sandino Scheidegger
Link to the Collaborative Manifest
The intervention took place from February 17 to April 9, 2010 at the Neue Galerie in Bern, as well as in the public space.