March 8 – October 4, 2020
All images courtesy of Kunsthalle Wien and the artist
On March 8, 2020, International Women’s Day, Kunsthalle Wien opened the group exhibition … of bread, wine, cars, security and peace. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the exhibition ended up being closed to visitors just a few days later. While the pandemic is still raging in many places, here in Austria we are able to lift some restrictions, and Kunsthalle Wien is happy to be able to welcome visitors to the exhibition once again.
… of bread, wine, cars security and peace is the first exhibition WHW have curated since taking over the directorship of Kunsthalle Wien. This international group show is intended to provide an idea of the collective’s artistic and political interests, and to present some of the many artists who have inspired their work over the years. At the same time it serves as an introduction to the general orientation of the program which WHW will develop in the course of the next five years.
The title quotes Bilal Khbeiz, a Lebanese author. At the beginning of the 2000s, he mused over some of the things that made the difference between the dreams of people in the Global South and the West (Globalization and the Manufacture of Transient Events, Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, 2003). For Khbeiz that very list – bread, wine, cars, security and peace – defined an idea of the “good life” that was unattainable for much of the world. Almost two decades later, it seems that these basics are escaping more and more people – even those living in places where these things were previously taken for granted. Climate change is putting the continuation of life on earth under question, and as ecological destruction gathers pace, inequality and injustice are growing and faith in the benevolence of capitalism is becoming increasingly broken. This pandemic, which we are experiencing in different ways across the globe, is only one – albeit radical – manifestation of the fragility of our societies, making ever more clear the necessity of building accessible, public systems of social care and engendering a shared responsibility for all.
As a start, one might conclude that each element in the title has turned sour. Food is scarce and industrial agriculture has had terrible effects, while for those who have enough, bread and wine paradigmatically produce guilt, shame, obsessive self-optimization and reckless consumption. Cars are climate destroyers and therefore increasingly excluded from inner cities and places where humans are meant to share the “good life”. Security has been militarized leading to a ‘surveillance state‘, while a dystopian posthuman landscape of predictive policing, data analysis and algorithmic management looms over public spaces everywhere. Finally, the best peace on offer is a constant low-level war in many places of the world while the perceived threat of escalation drives democratic politics and populist leaders around the globe.
To put it simply: the idea of a “good life” is a fantasy persisting as “cruel attachment” to a world that is no more (Laurent Berlant, Cruel Optimism, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011). But this exhibition is not a counsel of despair or a dark critique of all that is wrong with the world. Instead, the artists and artworks on show seek to rethink the – collective and individual – “good life”.
The exhibition is conceived as a framework, experiential and cognitive, in which it is possible to envision the future in a way that is not complicit with the conditions that constitute the present. It represents a collaborative effort to understand today’s political world and reflect, motivate and assist the struggles to change it.
By presenting works by artists o different generations the exhibition posits artistic subjectivity and autonomy as a place where one can imagine abandonment of the fatal dialectic of modern capitalism and think beyond it. There are already many moral, ecological, and scientific arguments for organizing our economies more fairly: Degrowth as a principle stands for an ecologically sustainable world economy not governed by profitability but by human needs. It is not only about carbon reduction, but about celebrating the richness of the planet and all its life forms.
Through its questioning of the “good life,” the exhibition, which takes place at both venues of Kunsthalle Wien – Museumsquartier and Karlsplatz – suggests alternatives both to the fear of imminent economic and social collapse and to the return to an unsustainable “normality,” which, at present, appear to be the only two choices before us. Critical, constructive, and imaginative artists’ voices act as signals of the possibilities for social change and of new proposals for living together. … of bread, wine, cars, security and peace puts care, solidarity, and a sense of possibility at its center – values that have become significantly more precious to everyone since the exhibition’s premature closure.