10 02 06

Do you want to be protected?

Brener and Schurz at the "benevolent museum"

Marina Gržinić

On 16 of November 2005 Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz, artists from Europe (having no fixed place of residence, traveling from Austria to Spain, from Turkey to Slovenia, returning for a short period in Austria, and at the moment being in Switzerland) had a lecture at the Post-Conceptual Art Practices Class at Akbild in Vienna.

Brenner and Schurz were invited to have their lecture already in the end of October 2005, before their “MUMOK case”[1]! But, after the “Mumok case” this coincidence became important, as it was obvious that it is a necessity in the student circles and in the art and cultural “life” of Vienna to discuss about the event. After their lecture performance the numerous public profoundly questioned the status of contemporary art and tried to answer what to do in contemporary art today, if we are to develop forms and thoughts in art that are socially and politically pertinent.

Brener and Schurz present themselves as visionaries, iconoclasts and vagabonds in constant troubles. They try to evade documentation and archivization. They do not believe in art history and His-story in general. Consequently they do not accept the idea of curriculum vitae etc. At the core of the Brener and Schurz project are not physical attacks, but a performative action to establish a critic and draw a line of separation in what they call normalization of the cultural field in contemporary art. Normalization for them means that art and culture are through art institutions, museums and galleries, art markets, criticism etc., becoming the most oppressive fields in contemporary societies. Art creativity is today caught only and solely in mechanisms of empty rituals, hierarchy and abstraction, all tightly ruled by power and capital.

We have to reflect Brener and Schurz actions and their performative histories in the only possible way: that is strictly political. The moment we are tempted to criminalize a work of art as it was the case also with Critical Art Ensemble, the American artistic group that was accused by the USA authorities a year ago of being bio terrorists, this can be seen as the beginning of the end of contemporary art today.

With their performance actions it is possible to tackle the level of functioning of the Institution of Contemporary Art that means it is possible to question the position of contemporary museums and galleries today. Let us take a detour in order to try to explain this statement. In the 1970s, Harald Szeemann insisted and formulated the idea of the open museum; attempts were made to make social contradictions visible in the museum, and consequently to free art from being sentenced to the museum, by connecting it once more with the world outside. The formula phrase was: Art must awake, museums are prisons! In the 1980s, Harald Szeemann stated: The museum is a house for art! and moreover… art is fragile, an alternative to everything in our society that is geared to consumption and reproduction… that is why art needs to be protected, and the museum is the proper place for this. The museum is not what it seemed to be – the museum is therefore not a prison! In the 1990s, and in the beginning of the millennium, the catchphrase is: Does modern art need museums anymore? – Rhetorically announcing the potential death of the obscene paternal figure – the museum – in art.

In short, this circularity of catchphrases is based on the impossibility of the museum to encounter itself, its proper position. At first the institution is troubled by some insistent message (the symptom), but then it seems that the museum could be able to assume the message as its own. “Does modern art need the museum anymore?” can be read as the assertion of the castration: the “father” is already dead, castrated.

This is why the figure of the castrated father is the figure of an excessively exuberant father, similarly to the figure of museums of our present. Museums are so empowered on the surface, with exuberant, excessive architecture, that it is almost not necessary to go inside the museum; it is enough to see it from the outside!

What we get in the end are strangely derealised museums, blind museum mechanisms that act immediately, with no delay! For example the museum is asking security guards at the museum’s door to take care of the safety of the visitors of the museum with preventing those who produce “troubles” to enter it!

That is why Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz action at Manifesta 2000 in Ljubljana can be viewed as beyond just an act of barbarism. What was most striking in the action of Brener and Schurz at the press conference of Manifesta 2000 in Ljubljana? – They put forward an action! In contrast to the elusive spectral presence of the audience, who tried with questions to undermine and to clarify the position of this international exhibition (some Byelorussians’ asked politely about the border of this New Europe and got an answer that was almost a mockery – something to the effect of: please do not bother us, the curators – we did not have enough time to go everywhere, etc.), Brener was direct, verbal and physical. The conclusion of his action was a direct self-commodification and self-manipulation.

Alexander Brener was not functioning as a truly dangerous entity, not as a real serious figure and authority: he was hyperactive, exaggerated, almost ridiculous and melodramatic. After partially destroying the table of the organizers of the press conference, he just lay on it, as if on the beach, waiting for the security guards, and while they were pushing Barbara Schurz out of the hall, he just shouted her name, as if in some highly melodramatic Hollywood film.

Here we were also able to see the most exact depiction of authority that we rarely have the chance to see so transparently. The Manifesta 2000 press conference was “exploding,” but not the authority ritual. They – the Manifesta core organizers – continued the press conference immediately after Brener was removed, without a single word of reference to what happened. Here, as Slavoj Žižek would say, it is possible to see how difficult it is to effectively interrupt the ritual of authority that sustains the appearance. Even after the embarrassing situation, the press conference continued as if nothing, absolutely nothing, had happened, and similarly the symbolic ritual in itself persisted. It is therefore no surprise that at the end, it was all concluded with a party and a huge amount of food; this conclusion was what the organizers pretended Manifesta to be, a common celebratory toast and festivity.

In conclusion: the true horror is not all these benevolent institutions and museums, that protect us from Brener, Schurz and similar artists, but exactly the reversal of this situation. The truly suffocating and psychotic generating experience in itself is that this protective care (that protects in the end only, and obscenely visibly, the institution in itself) erases all traces of difference, of different positioning, etc. and normalizes art and culture as the most oppressive fields of contemporary societies.  


This text was published in German in the February 2006 edition of the Viennese magazine Malmoe and it is an intro in the edited debate artists Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz had in Vienna on 16, November 2005. The debate followed their lecture-performance that took place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna at the Class for Post-Conceptual Art Practices/Prof. Dr. Marina Gržinić. The debate was transcribed, edited and translated by Henning Schorn and Eva Egermann, students of the Class.



[1] Before their lecture in the Class for Post-Conceptual Art Practices Brener and Schurz had an appearance at MUMOK, Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. At MUMOK their questioning (and behaving) after a public lecture there resulted in what was described as a “physical attack” on the speaker and on those who sided with it. This naming of what was going on there is at the core of the case as well. Every word has to be weighted in the description of the event. Because, it was reported as well that the next day bodyguards were at the MUMOK’s entrance in order to protect the public with preventing Brener and Schurz to enter a public institution!


Marina Gržinić