“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” [William Faulkner]

We decided to be not so interested in a number of things: in art in general, for a start, in art history as a discrete discipline, and in culture, as art’s more cheerful other. Instead, we are much more interested in artistic productions as significant documents of their historical setting, in art history’s cutting out the political revolution from revolutionary artistic productions and in culture as a momentous subdivision of general production.

In the ”Space for Actualisation” we are attempting to work on another form of cut-out, one which plays out possibilities against realities, which measures its cuttings by the hopes it has for the present and which takes the past not for what it was, but for what it could be: An Actualisation is a cut-out from the past, pulled into the present to actualise its potentials and to supersede its own role in a history, whose revolutionary phases were much too short-lived and rare.

The “Space for Actualisation” is going to focus on the connections of artistic production, its historiographies and its roles in the fabrication of culture, because what we aim for, is to find a praxis, which regenerates the revolutionary potentials for the present which are buried in the past, with Ernst Bloch, build “an alliance, which frees from the past its possible future only in that it places both within the present”. []

As two individuals, we limited our own space of manoeuvre to that social field, in which shortness in number, much unlike the field of political action, has socially been embedded and accepted as one of its bourgeois traits, ever since German Idealism conceptualized the idea of artistic autonomy: the field of art. [] In it, we can open a very small space to put an expandable idea to the test. From the field of art we start.

We will invite twelve artists, artist groups, musicians and producers with no strict professional definition to stage twelve exhibitions in twelve months. With each project comes a workshop, investigating in the historical cut-out and the premises and potentials of its actualisation, a collection of on- and offline material and documentation on the actualised and the actualisation and, where possible, evening-discussions surrounding it.

As, within the present, mass movements are out of sight, we welcome the precarious and absurd autonomy of the arts, because it allows us to run a non-profit project- and exhibition-space, which sets out to introduce the past as an argument against the present. As we are aware of the arbitrariness of contemporary art within the field of general production, we take our undertaking deeply serious, but refuse to consider ourselves with the same seriousness.

Speaking in the terms of capital, we hope to promote the production of a defunct use-value, a figure of argumentation, which associates our own starting point of actualisation with others, in and out of the field of art. As the capitalist law of value does not stop within the arts, we, with Friedrich Engels, are conscious of the fact that our critique of artistic production has to take into account the limitations which go beyond art to make them resound but to not turn them against art itself. We are opening the Space for Actualisation in Hamburg as a project- and exhibition space because we find contemporary artistic production significant and invite those producers whose significance we would like to turn against the present perception of the past. Significance, however, does not equal action. Only after general production is revolutionised will ”the objective, alien forces, which have ruled history so far, (…) come under the control of the people themselves. It is not until then that mankind will make its own history in full consciousness, only than will the social causes which they put into effect more and more have the intended outcome. This is the leap of mankind from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom”. []

Hoping for that goal to be reached and a considerable mass movement to come into sight some day, we oppose any moral rejections of capitalist production: We do not believe that money may be evil while art may be good or that small companies may be friendly while big ones may be not, because those are assumptions, which not only result in petit-bourgeois social-envy and conservative morals of purity, but also fit what Theodor W. Adorno described so poignantly as the bourgeois’ relation to art:

„The bourgeois wishes his life to be simple and the art to be luscious. It would be better the other way around.“ []

We stress this opposition here, because the advent of the bourgeois nation state in central Europe in the mid of the 19th century and the capitalist industrialisation which came with it have to be rejected as a whole system of reproduction in which, amongst other things, art is relegated to the role of an autonomous but inconsequential commentary, cut off from any form of sustainable praxis. We do not see artistic practice as a stand-in for revolution, but rather as a historically significant context of expression (Ausdruckszusammenhang/ W. Benjamin).

The artists who we invited for the first year of our programme in the Space for Actualisation were thus not chosen because we hope that they will enact an intermitted revolution, preserved in whatever fragment of history they decide to actualise, but because we think that their production is significant, either for the present state of affairs, or for their time on which their own artistic practices concentrate.

Each of the twelve projects will, starting in March 07, create an actualisation for our space in the Talstr.17 in Hamburg. With it, the documentations which will be collected register and comment on the actualized cut-out from history, the historical fragment, as well as the actualization staged in the space itself. A web of connections between past and present will be materially built up, attempting to put into question the historical role of the actualised as of the actualisation. Until now, the only two characters available in dominant historiography are either being part of the victorious power structures, the reinforcement of the reign of general reproduction, or being part of the obnoxious underdogs, to be stylized either as the inhuman enemy or as the beautiful looser. In both cases, what the historiography of the late capitalist present has to offer, is pacification, and, as Walter Benjamin has laid out, “whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment.” []

Our aim is to pick up the bits and pieces that fell off when the triumph procession took them into their amassments. In embracing the figure of actualisation, we hope to enter into discussions and collaborations about the possible preconditions of a revised history and the practices that could lead in this direction. There are three fields of production and social debate, that we have to position our own initiative in, in order to be specific about what we are aiming for:

a) art objects
Speaking of artistic production within the system of modern capitalist reproduction, the national state and the international capitalist economy are of defining importance. In it, the distinction between “good art” and “bad art” serves two interwoven purposes.

On the one hand it gives social cachet not only to the artistic producers of what is nationally claimed as a cultural value, but also to its critics, art historians, curators and buyers. Everyone embedded in the field of art profits from the division of “good” and “bad” art in the securing of his or her social, professional and monetary position. The judgment of artistic productions by the standards of “good” or “bad” in that cater nothing but the (mostly national) history of officially approved high culture, which again, in Benjamin’s words “steps over those who are lying prostrate”, thereby neglecting their potentials, capacities and lived experiences.

On the other hand it fulfils the simple function to estimate the ideal and material price of this commodity. To make artistic productions measurable and comparable in relation to other commodities. In this realm of commodities, the art object offers perfection: where other commodities always are dominated by the misrelation of their use- and their exchange value, the art object holds what other commodities can just falsely promise: the subjectivation of both those measures. Art does not wear off.

This is not to be rejected because it is in any form morally condemnable but because it veils art’s capacity for historical significance. Only that artistic production is of interest for an actualization, which is historically significant, and in that able to supersede the context it is historiographically embedded in, and express what was not yet lived.

b) the history of art objects
Apart from being an intrinsic part of the value judgment of artistic production, art history reproduces another complex of problems, which concerns actualisations. Its discipline was founded – like all other disciplines of modern, capitalist science – on the dissection of its (art) objects from their historical surrounding. And even though New Art History has, since the 1970s attempted to enlarge that focus, taking the social history of art into account, it never broke with two assumptions:

One being that the history of artistic production has to be limited to those objects, which came into being from an ’autonomous’ artistic practice, e.g. in objects that are not utilitarian, and the other being that the specific economic condition of the object’s production cannot be taken into consideration in its art historical acknowledgement.

In the context of actualisations, this art history interests us only insofar as it provides us with materials, which document inasmuch the historical objects of their study as they comment on their own professional limitations. We attempt to accompany the Actualisations that the invited producers will set into motion on the Space for Actualisation with an opening up of their historical context, their discipline-less capacities and elective affinities with the everyday.

c) history of culture
As that which calls itself ‘culture’ until the present has led to the systematised bondage of mankind, to the ongoing scandal of hunger, the continuous presence of war and the unforgotten systematic genocide of millions of people under National Socialism, it is impossible to accept any form of cultural history, which presents itself in the constant rewriting of happy endings or ‘necessary’ sacrifices.

The Actualisations will take up happy and unhappy endings and demonstrate their capacity to not end at all, but to start new calendars and negate an image of history, which relies on the solidifying and stabilising forces of culture, to instead opt for its permanent actualisation on every level.

The urgency of this project is grasped in two aspects, which Benjamin outwrote as follows:

“It is an irrecoverable image of the past, which threatens to vanish with each present, which does not recognize itself as addressed by it.” [] “The true method of actualizing things for oneself is to image them in our space (not us in them). (…) The things figured that way, do not allow any mediating construction from ‘the bigger picture’.” []

Our Space for Actualisation is reaching for fragments of the not yet forgotten past to excavate with them present potentials, hoping that the past is never forgotten, and that the present is never forgiven.

The Space for Actualisation will open on March 15th, 2007 with an installation of works by Chto delat. The exhibition will be on show till April 8th.
On March 16th, a workshop will take place in the Space for Actualisation concerned with aspects of historiography with Roger Behrens, Alice Creischer, Hans-Joachim Lenger, Esther Leslie, Nina Moentmann and Chto delat.

You will find more information on www.aktualisierungsraum.org

Kerstin Stakemeier (1975) is a political scientist and art critic living in Hamburg/London.
Nina Koeller (1976) is an art historian and lives in Berlin