Those who have frequented Konsthall C in recent years will remember the mirrored rectangle hanging under the ceiling of the main space, a permanent installation by the collective Malmö Fria Kvinnouniversitet (MFK). On the occasion of Stephan Dillemuth’s exhibition Arbetarrevyn söker medlemmar!, the reflective ceiling gained a counterpart installed in parallel on the ground, a mirrored echo of a mirror. The positioning, defined by the existing work, of Dillemuth’s new piece resulted in an awkward proximity to the entrance of the art centre: to enter the space, one needs to climb over a corner. Dillemuth copied not only the shiny surface, but the material itself, and with its gaping joints and wobbly, imperfect finish, the piece reminds of a 1970s disco environment.
In fact, the reflective surface seems to function as a stage for a group of ungainly plaster sculptures bent in shapes that call forth fragments of trees. The sculptures have hand-formed qualities, with the occasional yellow, red and blue paint splashed over them. They are supported by plaster cogwheels, which are reoccurring features in Dillemuth’s work, used for instance in the marionettes for his recent exhibition at Reena Spaulings, New York. In the place of branches, cast hands, fingers and other body parts stick out from the trees; a clenched fist points at its mirrored double in the ceiling, and a top hat dangles from one of the branches. These parts of the installation evoke mutations after a nuclear catastrophe, or remnants of an excessive party.
As one’s viewing angle changes when navigating through the space, this constellation morphs into letters forming the word “strike”. Dillemuth’s exhibition takes as inspiration what is known in Germany as “Bunter Abend” (colourful evening). Following the ban of socialist activities between 1878–90, these gatherings were commonly held by workers’ organisations, allowing their members to socialise and unionise. Dressed in theatrical costumes, participants contributed according to their skills, while the acts often conveyed political messages. By contrast, the plays about workers’ themes produced by the Volksbühnen involved professional actors, and were often seen as white-collar entertainment produced from above. Resonating with Theodor Adorno’s critique of the culture industry, Dillemuth’s proposal of a strike reads like a refusal to be a cogwheel in the entertainment factory. Or perhaps, it rather emphasises the importance of each individual contribution to grassroots organisation and collective work?
In the spirit of the “Bunter Abend”, the exhibition is the result of a collective effort. Dillemuth organised three workshops taking place at different times of the day, thereby enabling people to attend according to their working hours (“the night owls”, “the weekenders” and “the early birds”). During the workshops, the various limbs that are integrated in the sculptures were cast from those body parts that the participants utilise in their jobs, such as hands used for clicking mouses and trackpads while touching up images in Photoshop. The exhibition booklet, designed during Ciara Philips’s previous show at Konsthall C, cites Marxist feminist Silvia Federici’s assertion that the human body was the first machine developed by capitalism. Today, as theorist Franco (Bifo) Berardi has argued, we can add our psyche and emotions to the list of commodities.
The exhibition is a continuation of what Dillemuth describes as “bohemian research”: knowledge production through life rather than abiding by strict academic rules (although the artist himself has a professorship at the Munich Arts Academy). Dillemuth emphasises solidarity and community through the appropriation of formats originating from the workers’ movement. For instance, before the opening he organised a “Bunter Abend” for participants of the workshops at Konsthall C.
Dillemuth acknowledges his and other cultural producers’ entangled position in the production of surplus value, be it connected to knowledge or more material practices of economic exchange. As Pierre Bourdieu demonstrated more than thirty years ago, any sort of capital can almost instantly be transformed, from cultural to symbolic to economic. While Dillemuth points to our entanglement with this system, be it through the individual accumulation of intellectual capital or the mobilisation of community and affect, his proposal seems to favour self-organisation. How to maintain its independence as a social and productive force remains unclear. But then again, there is always the option of strike.