In the 1970s, film and electronic media made art reproducible and thus mobile in a very specific sense. From the outset, this art also sought and found its own paths of production and distribution: paths that were often taken collectively, producing new forms of collaborative artistic work that replaced the scarcity logic of the art market with wide-ranging public visibility and social impact. This art countered the usual object-fixation not least with ephemeral, performative media events.
Even if the commodity and proprietary logic of the art market has long since caught up with media art, it continues to complicate the question of ownership: to whom (and in what form) does an art belong that potentially multiplies infinitely, an art that can be simultaneously present on different media and in multiple presentation contexts? And when film and media art – as a performance or intervention – occur live or on a one-time basis, is ownership of this ephemeral event possible? Even if their event character has made them particularly attractive for incorporation into the museum’s experience economy of recent decades, what boundary-transcending and resistive potential can film and art present simply by bringing bodies together in the here and now in a specific spatial and temporal framework?
The question of ownership of and in art has undergone a different kind of intensification through work with found and appropriated material, which found its first concise expression in found footage and compilation films, was then also incorporated in installations in an increasingly research-based contemporary art, and took a further turn in artistic re-enactment. To this day, the more-or-less legal appropriation of third-party material from a wide variety of sources plays a significant role in film and media art and interrogates the boundaries of ownership and authorship.
The concrete social and political dimensions of ownership and property are also increasingly coming into focus and are becoming the subject of a critical artistic examination of a globalised world characterised by widening social inequality and growing economic tensions. In the face of phenomena such as data-mining and surveillance, for instance, artists are investigating what a right to one’s own image or data set, personality rights for the digital age, might look like that is immune to economic and political usurpation. The trend towards disavowal of personal property that has emerged from ecological and anti-capitalist agendas has at the same time become a blueprint for a fully commodified sharing economy, which in turn leads to artistic experiments with alternative forms of participation.
Ownership and use of human and natural resources are at the centre of the debates on the “Capitalocene “, which are also being intensively conducted through the means of film and media art. Diverse forms of land-grabbing, occupation and exploitation, but also movements for restitution and liberation are being examined in the light of their current global impact and colonial backgrounds. The question of what is culturally or genetically “one’s own” - its emancipatory potential, but also the problematic forms of its essentialisation - is also widely explored by artists today. The flip side of this examination of identities is the increasing appropriation and market-compliant processing of “other” ways of life in the art world as well as in the social mainstream, but also the role of class and cultural capital in the emergence - or non-emergence - of (artistic) careers.
Characteristic of our present moment is the urgency with which artists are dealing with these themes: For here it is not just a matter of describing a status quo, but of elaborating and experimenting with new forms of living together, with individual and collective acts of giving and sharing, of demanding or reclaiming, of self-determination and self-renunciation – in short: with new conceptions of possession beyond having and being.
The exhibition curated by Inga Seidler takes ownership and colonialism, i.e. (racial) capitalism as its starting point. The selected works deal with inequalities that this system of ownership and property rights has produced: the expropriation and deprivation of land, subjectivity, histories, memories and rights. They shed light on the ways in which this continues in the digital realm and feeds back into the connection between technology and abstraction. The exhibition also presents works by artists and activists who imagine alternative forms of ownership, different models of communality without property, and changing social realities.
Curated by Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy, the film programme entitled “The Unpossessable Possessor” considers the cinematographic apparatus as a living creature entangled in a complicated relationship with humans. Is its relationship with us parasitic or mutualistic? Are its intentions pure or corrupt? Are we its master or does it have reign over our selves? Is it human? Or something else? Does it love us? Clearly we have ceded a good part of our collective consciousness to the film machine. Perhaps it would be a good idea to find out who it is and what it wants.
Curated by Daphne Dragona, the talk programme explores what “possession” and “being possessed” mean in and for the contemporary world and how they are connected. Visual artists, filmmakers and theorists are invited to discuss property, control and sovereignty in the context of land ownership, identity and technology, and to explore how these are informed by old and new beliefs, rituals and habits. By focusing on historical and contemporary forms of colonialism and extractivism, the programme asks what it means to own, lose and reclaim one’s world/s, and explores forms of resistance, relationality and kinship.