Michail Bakunin’s Dresden thought-experiment of using art for protecting democratic forces like a shield, as handed down from the May Revolution of 1849, manifests itself for the first time at its place of origin. Moreover, Ögüt’s Bakunin’s Barricade does not reside in a museum; instead, it is motivated by the cultural engagement of the newly founded Kunstverein Dresden and equipped by objects from the personal collection of its members. The responsibility of citizens to impart a living democracy, ultimately even through the deployment of their personal property, consitutes the opening statement of the Kunstverein. The Dresden edition of the artwork by Ahmet is a collective truth and a symbol at the same time.
curator: Susanne Altmann
FLASHBACK TO SPRING 1849
Founded just a few months earlier, the Dresdner Zeitung featured a series of inflammatory articles that fueled the revolutionary climate in Saxony. This particular printed matter was considered by the police as one of the most dangerous media of its time because of its “provocative content.” Indeed, the Dresdner Zeitung represented the central organ of the “extremely left wing of the non-proletarian democratic movement of Saxony” (A. Nikolajevskij) and should be counted among one of the boldest examples of the press in the entirety of contemporary Germany. The author of the combative articles stayed anonymous – nevertheless his name, along with those of his famous co-conspirators Gottfried Semper and Richard Wagner – is forever linked to the (quickly put-down) riots and barricade fighting in Dresden. We are talking about Michail Bakunin (1814-1876), whom the historical literature likes to call an anarchist. Even Friedrich Engels praised the professional revolutionary for his radicality as “one of the capable, cold-blooded leaders.” According to an anecdote from his Dresden time, told again and again, Bakunin suggested fixing the Sixtine Madonna to a barricade for protection since the Prussian troops would be far too cultivated to shoot at it. There is no written evidence for the story, but the idea alone is still fascinating today, as a consequent model of thought (not as an instruction for anarchists). This is especially pertinent, given the fact that the artists and intellectuals of Dresden considered themselves to be the carriers of republican ideas and planned the May Revolution according to their intellectual and moral standards; see for example, Semper who provided assembly instructions for the barricades.
STATUS 2014 – 2017
Inspired by the upsurges of the Arab Spring or the blockades of the Occupy Movement, contemporary artists have become more interested in their own role within social upheavals. Ahmet Ögüt, who is of Kurdish origin, livings in Berlin and Amsterdam, harbours a genuine interest in social dynamics, visuals of structural violence and insurgence. So it’s no wonder he took up the suggestion of using an artwork as a fortification that is attributed to Bakunin. Ögüt has already created barricades out of auto wrecks, tires, crowd barriers, and construction material, which could have well served as barricades in today’s street battles, in multiple cities – first, at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, then in Museum Ludwig Köln, and recently in Copenhagen. The thrill for the viewer only comes with the equipping of the barricade with valuable paintings from the respective collections – in Eindhoven, a view of the Dresden Elbe by Oskar Kokoschka decorated the anarchist barrier. The question of whether democratic values are defended by the means of art, as the Dresdener revolutionaries evoked, emerges written invisibly across the barricade. What exactly should be preserved and enforced, which hierarchies and imperatives are ruling the conflicts of the present? As part of his artistic strategy, Ahmet Ögüt insists on a contract with the acquiring institution in which he requires the institution to make Bakunin’s Barricade, all of its elements, available in case of social unrest.
Almost one hundred and seventy years after the Dresden May Revolution was defeated by Prussian and Saxon government troops, Bakunin was arrested in Chemnitz (and spent the rest of his life on the run), and a democratic, republican form of government was banished to the empire of utopia for a long time to come, it is worth not just displaying the idea of Bakunin’s Barricade there in situ, but also considering the role of art and the artist in the daily disputes about democratic civil rights and civil disobedience directly at the object. For this reason, it follows that the bulwark is not equipped with works from a state collection but from private collections of engaged art lovers. The engagement of citizens belongs to the most important pillars of civil society, together with the courageous commitment against rightwing-conservative perceptions of culture, xenophobia, and mental laziness. The founding exhibition of the new Kunstverein Dresden initiates this debate by literally putting the personal treasures of the members on the barricade. They symbolize their intention to take shared responsibility for culture in a city in which public art especially, and not just Manaf Halbouni’s Syrian bus monument, triggers dull resentment.
A publication comes out in January 2019, accompanied by a public talk and presentation.
Photo: Copyright and Courtesy Ahmet Ögüt
Dieses Projekt wird gefördert durch die Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen,
die Stiftung Kunst und Musik für Dresden und die Landeshauptstadt Dresden.