VISIT 2010–2015: The innogy Stiftung artists

June 2015: In celebration of the fifth anniversary of the VISIT fellowship programme, the innogy Stiftung offered all fellows the opportunity to display their VISIT projects as well as additional selected works in a large group exhibition held at the Kunstmuseum Bochum. This artwork was displayed in the heart of the Ruhr metropolis for three months. An open dialogue forum on the topic of artist residencies also took place as part of the exhibition.

“Artists in Resistance – Work from the Artist in Residence Programme VISIT” | Speech of Mischa Kuball at the opening of the exhibition “VISIT 2010 — 2015. Die Stipendiaten der RWE Stiftung” at Bochum Art Museum on June 12, 2015 

VISIT – The Artist in Residence Programme of the RWE Foundation involves a special challenge: its aim is to encourage the young artist generation in particular to apply with ideas. But that’s not as easy as it seems! And it has nothing to do with the fact that in Germany in particular artists are not very inclined to approach an enterprise out of their own artistic development. Especially if they work with new media and have certain technology in mind. But here, artistic designs and proposals fall on ground that is fertile and special. So special in fact that the number of applications is rising steadily. The Company is opening itself up at a neuralgic point — which is where the current debate on energy also comes into play. 

Sensitivity increases whenever the energy debate is particularly noticeable in society. In a post the RWE Foundation for Energy and Society expresses its thanks for the numerous entries, because talk of VISIT has got about at the art schools — namely in Karlsruhe, in Essen at the Folkwang University, but also in Duisburg, in Bochum at the Ruhr University and in Cologne at the Academy of Media Arts where I work on projects with students. Of course the artistic projects change with the scholarship. But what is decisive is that VISIT increasingly promotes and leads social debates that deal especially with energyrelated issues. This began as early as 2010, when Claus Leggewie from the Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) in Essen, Ursula Renner-Henke from Essen University and Peter Risthaus asked the following question in their Summer Academy dealing with the basic Promethean theme: Where does our energy come from? What will the future of the various kinds of energy look like? And as early as 2010 it became apparent that what is needed is the development of something akin to a vision. 

This is precisely where the artistic projects of the VISIT programme come in. I would like to start with Joana Deltuvaité. In 2010, the Lithuanian artist took a look around the offices of the company RWE: a very precise observation. At first glance, her photographic documentation appears to be an attempt to make a world of toys, a second world of things, accessible to us. However, this is only the first impression. At second glance, her work shows how people define their place in a large group, and how they shape their immediate surroundings. Joana Deltuvaité enables us to decipher these details and to understand what these people stand for. If someone, like Stefano Cagol, wears red shoes, for example — and you may now ask yourself: »What do red shoes have to do with anything?« —, if they wear red shoes and possibly shoelaces in a certain colour this may already be a political statement. We know from the debate about right-wing extremists that the colour of shoelaces plays a crucial role. Banal things are charged with a special meaning in the everyday world. 

And please pay attention to the edges of Joana Deltuvaité’s pictures as well, the rapport where small details, by being repeated, open up a methodical reality and perspective.  The same year also saw the exhibition of works by Sebastian Mölleken. One is tempted to think: sure, “Open-Cast mine” — a mind-blowing subject for any photography workshop to work on at length. Here at Garzweiler as maybe in Lusatia one finds similar topography. Sebastian Mölleken’s radicality lies in aesthetics. Thanks to his repetitions and changes in perspective we begin to like this landscape, which has been re-inter- preted from the ground up and only been made possible in the first place by using technology and machines. Made possible also by means of destruction. 

Here, too, ambivalence plays a crucial role. Yesterday I was in another world. I witnessed 100 people around me ordering a Lamborghini. A 760- horsepower car whose engine sound tops that of any supersonic aircraft. While there, I saw someone portrayed here by Mölleken: Ralf Richter. I was in an alternative world so to speak that contrasts sharply with questions about the present and the future, about fossil energy and renewable energy. This alternative world is characterised by an altogether different attitude towards consumption, and the sexiness factor consists precisely in not thinking about ways of reducing fuel consumption from eight to six or six to three litres, but rather: How fast can I drive with 60 litres per 100 kilometres? In other words, there is this inversion — and this limited car. I just have to say it: at 10 p.m., 600 cars had been sold. 

This shows that there is an incredible need for contrasts. We must become aware of these contrasts, this double situation. People can not only be reached by information. At this point I would like to come back to the special change of roles in art. I, too, was for a long time convinced that art does not play a role in society at all. It stands for itself. But not far from here the Bochum Ruhr University celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year. That is an incredible political statement, and art played a crucial, nonnegotiable role at this university right from the start — as an intermediary and transmitter in society. Art creates meaning from with- in itself — which is precisely the secret of the VISIT scholarship. I would like to approach the work of Axel Braun. He provided us with a slogan I originally intended to turn around and place at the beginning of this introduction. I wanted to say: “Art must be cruel in order to assert itself”. I believe in an artistic message and I also think that some of the projects here are exemplary in this respect and non-conformable. First of all they are not consumable; rather, they develop their own force going beyond the idea of the first proposal within the scholarship. 

Enduring and supporting this process necessitates patience. It requires tolerance and a freedom such as the one described by VISIT artist Lukas Marx: “Nella Fantasia” — I imagine it. It is in my imagination, in my mindscape. This is the only chance to set something against the pressure created by our present and to dare to create a small piece of Utopia. In his work, using forms of expression as they are also found in economic contexts, Axel Braun insisted that the slogan “Technology must be cruel in order to assert itself” be shown in the Group’s entrance hall. There was a time when technology was so cruel people preferred to imagine that it played only a minor role in society. The political twist contained in Axel Braun’s quote is a very strong statement. 

He made sure, or rather, Daniela Berglehn and Stephan Muschick made it possible, that his work was indeed exhibited in this way at the Group headquarters. Proceeding from extensive research in the Corporate Historical Archives on one of RWE’s hydropower plants, Axel Braun reflected his critical analysis back to the Company with the means of hyper-aesthetic photography. I spoke with Steven Emmanuel earlier about how there is always a residual risk for a company such as RWE if it keeps such a foundation and mounts such projects. But RWE is willing to take the full risk. How else could the Company ultimately have dealt with the works of Axel Braun? For his work naturally gave rise to criticism and was discussed in depth by the CEO and Company employees. 

This was in 2012, the year in which Lukas Marxt also set out on his journey. “Bella Fantasia" — in my imagination, in my mindscape, which envisages an oil rig in Norway and combines the working environment there with observations of natural phenomena. You should take your time over this work. When, at the end of the tour, you feel that you have seen everything there is to see, go to the small cinema and let this work sink in. I have to stress this because the film “Nella Fantasia" proves that sometimes we must first open our senses through a cathartic, a cleansing, process. We must let go of our conceptions of things, otherwise there is no room for the new and the old will be overwritten by the new in the form of a collage, which would be fatal for this work. Peter Miller is an almost light-footed artist. An artist who tries to make us believe that the radiance of fireflies enables us to enter another visible world. Maybe he achieved this in a sense because art and illusion are closely related. And fireflies, as you know, have a beguiling effect on us. They are small flying sparks and their light energy may serve to attract the attention of sexual partners. Incidentally, any analogy to the Lamborghini mentioned above would be entirely made up … Peter Miller uses strategies of camouflage and media illusion. 

I recently heard someone ask: “Is that a digital image?" The answer was: “Yes.” The asker concluded: “Then it’s surely manipulated.” This means that in our imagination the degree of truth of an artistic expression is under suspicion. We are under critical fire and there is no one in this room to help us out — except for ourselves. We have to sharpen our tools.   

And this place, the Art Museum — and also the Campus Museum in Bochum — is a place of direct encounters. This is where artistic practice turns into discourse. This is also true of the work of Peter Miller, whose title “Photuris”, when you do not see it in writing, sounds less like photography than a future of light. Interaction designer Helge Fischer leads us into a future. He dealt with the consequences of the energy turnaround. 

During my conversation with Steven Emmanuel we reflected on what actually happened after Fukushima. Germany took some of the most radical steps to promote the energy turnaround whereas in Japan almost all nuclear power plants have been taken into operation again. There was a moment of contemplation before the country returned to nuclear power, which was also the cause of the major catastrophe following the tsunami in Japan. Helge Fischer develops a scenario for a new grid policy. This is highly topical, and heading it by the year 2042 evokes a vision that we might see become a reality as early as 2020 or 2018. Though we do not know, we must now urgently make great leaps forward and rediscuss the issues of the share and economic efficiency of renewables without delay. 

In 2013, an idea by Lucas Buschfeld was implemented. With his installation “Mendy” he created a small walk-in laboratory. You find it on the way to “Nella Fantasia”. Again, take your time. “Mendy” creates frictional force by electromagnetic processes. You can see lab components, technical elements and, next to these, this falling, almost pretty element made of paper strips. The strips seem to suck us in when we approach them. That is what we call electrostatic charging — and it is not independent of influences either. Something invisible is at work here, like the thunderstorm warning for Bochum today. Completely surprising. I was sitting on a park bench before and there was no thunderstorm, no windstorm, just that immaterial piece of information. Lucas Buschfeld invites us to become involved in a process that in fact depends on the degree of air humidity. He wants us to feel what is possible at the moment, in this situation. By our presence we change not only the temperature but also the humidity of the air. This is not a huge problem here at the Bochum Art Museum, but if we visit the Rembrandt House, for instance, insurance companies insist that only a certain number of people be present in a room at the same time so that precisely these influences remain manageable. 

No wonder that Lucas Buschfeld’s work in its reduction and radicality was also shown at the ZERO retrospective in Berlin. And I think that the liveliness of his work will take your fancy, as it is something you can experience directly and clearly. Even if — due to the air high humidity — the paper strips entirely give themselves up to gravitation.  

Welshman Steven Emmanuel posed the greatest challenge to us, the VISIT jury. The most important thing was that we were willing to go along with Steven Emmanuel when he said: “Folks, you want to do something with energy, right?” And he suggested: “In the summer of 2014 I just don’t want to consume any artificially produced energy at the Zollverein coal mine.” What exactly did that mean? First of all, he read up on the FRG ’s legislation, something he sets great store by. He did not violate the Federal Hunting Act or the NRW Hunting Act. He infringed neither the Federal Nature Conservation Act nor the Federal Forestry Act or the Arms Law. Why is this important? You will find that out right at the end of his wonderful little diary. He was out and about for 28 days and it is only right at the end that he writes about having concluded this agreement with the Zollverein Foundation. Why is that important? You will know if you yourself say: »I cook with gas or with electricity at home …« In his project, Steven Emmanuel reduces the conditions of being to their core and it seems as if, in so doing, he posed the greatest challenge to the jury. But that is wrong; instead, the radicality of his proposal was so convincing that we found: Who other but the RWE Foundation to do this project? Thus, we had to invite him and he received excellent support. Of course he was stretched to his limits; allow me to quote from his diary. On day 25 he writes: “Monday 12 August 2014 — No more messages — Last night I didn’t sleep. I stayed up all night. I had genuinely convinced myself that if I fell asleep I was going to die. I went to the doctor this morning so I could be checked out. I needed it. Psychologically it was important. I needed to know what was wrong with me. As it turns out, not much. My red blood cell count was low but other than this everything else is as it was before.” The little book is entitled “The Good Life” and you can take a look at it here at the exhibition. I learned that you cannot take it with you. “You can’t take it away, there is only one copy.” This is a very exclusive form of communication that I highly commend to you. 

In 2014, Merlin Baum convinced us with his low-tech idea. We found it fascinating that an artist reduces himself so radically when all sorts of materials are available. His work almost turns us, the viewers, into participants and, with its fans, has a strong creative dimension — and something of a poster. Another sponsor — Philips — supported Merlin Baum’s basic idea in technical terms. A very elaborate creation, which, just a moment ago, did not look as if it worked. But it does! It deals with the relationship between man and machine, with what we have come to expect of machines and what kind of energy we generate by our own presence.  

And this takes us to Stefano Cagol. He combined the question of energy with the issue of the future in a manner as simple as it is radical. For six months he travelled to places where RWE generates power. But at the same time he transformed these settings into artistic loci. With the concept »The Body of Energy« Stefano Cagol asks the question as to what kinds of energy we have and how they are imaged. I think his thermographic works are indications of a possible field of energy. Thus, he touches on a rather complex realm and I am glad that we get to see this in this exhibition. 

Many thanks for your curiosity about artists in resistance.