Property Rites: Andre Rottmann on Andreas Siekmann

Article excerpt

WITH SOME SIX MONTHS' critical distance from last summer's hyberbolic "Grand Tour," it is now apparent that one of its most notable effects, in terms of the making of individual reputations, has been the increasing international attention enjoyed by the work of Andreas Siekmann. Indeed, the Berlin-based artist was, other than Martha Rosler, the only person represented both at Documenta 12 in Kassel and at Skulptur Projekte Munster 07. No doubt this visibility stems in part from the ways in which Siekmann's politically engaged work, as it was installed in public spaces in Kassel and Munster, clearly managed to elude both the former exhibition's curatorial framework of idiosyncratic tastes and pseudomorphologies and the latter's marketing-minded emphasis on locale (imbued with a general sense of harmless fun). The various reactions--both within and beyond the confines of the contemporary art world--provoked by Siekmann's evolving artistic practice seem to say much about the (im)possibilities and historically charged methodologies of "political art" today. Whereas critical projects since the 1960s once established site-specificity as the privileged form of a reflexive engagement with spatial, institutional, and discursive contexts, Siekmann's drawings and installations challenge traditional notions about the democratic nature of public space. While the latter play a foundational role in institutions such as Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Munster and in the ideology of the aesthetic at large, Siekmann points out neoliberalism's functionalist encroachment on the sites of artistic practice and critique--pleading the case for the continuing, yet decidedly recoded, relevance of an interventionist approach.

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For Documenta, Siekmann created Die Exklusive. Zur Politik des ausgeschlossenen Vierten (The Exclusive. On the Politics of the Excluded Fourth), 2002-2007, a carousel that slowly revolved around the eighteenth-century statue of the Hessian landgrave Friedrich II that stands in front of the Museum Fridericianum. Founded in 1779 under the feudal patronage of Friedrich, the Fridericianum was the first public museum in continental Europe; Friedrichsplatz has been a prominent site in the history of Documenta's public-art commissions ever since Walter De Maria's 1977 Vertical Earth Kilometer. Taking up this plaza as historical backdrop and institutional context, then, Siekmann's work put forward a complex allegory of globalization based on the idea of an "exclusive" power that designates certain zones as exempt from international law, so that fundamental human rights no longer apply--the power constitutes, in effect, a fourth governmental category, in addition to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. More specifically, employing a visual rhetoric that combines the documentary with the fictional, The Exclusive maps the impact and effects of governmental techniques of biopolitical and economic exclusion pivotal both to permanent states of emergency and to the operations of global capital.

Attached to the red-lacquered metal frame of the carousel are ten nearly life-size human figures (some with moving parts) and forty-three hexagonal wooden panels mounted with color prints of highly detailed figurative drawings. In this array of pictures and silhouettes, painstakingly produced by the artist with the primitive drawing tools provided in the Microsoft Word computer program, the ghostly contours of Virgil and Dante can be seen wandering through the divine comedy of today's global capitalism: Among the "circles" depicted are extraterritorial refugee camps, anti-G8 demonstrations, and Southeast Asian sweatshops, populated by NGO activists and International Monetary Fund and World Bank functionaries. (On the last note, it should not go unmentioned here that during German president and former IMF director Horst Kohler's official visit to Documenta, his route was diverted so that he would not pass by Siekmann's carousel. …