Museum of Non-Participation
Common Stage
ZKM Karlsruhe
Close Window
  • In 2011 we were invited to participate in an exhibition titled The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds After 1989, at the ZKM, through a specially organized artist-in-residence program. Twelve international artists were invited to discuss the issues surrounding the project and help to throw critical light on the exhibitions concepts through work, discussions, workshops, talks etc. This provoked us to ask the following: what does it mean to take up an invitation, to be called on to generate critical reflection or produce participation? How does one take a position, engage with an exhibition, an institution, and its titles reference to a post-1989 world; in order to interrogate the now and then, the here and elsewhere?

    The here was ZKM, Karlsruhle. We had left London where recent neo-liberal cuts to public services (to the arts in particular), the ongoing privatisation of public services and institutions and the struggles to oppose such changes, were a prevalent feature to our daily lives. We soon became aware of recent struggles taking place at ZKM. Due to a recent controversy over a sacked staff member at ZKM and their success in winning their legal case against ZKM, the institution had decided to rewrite the contractual rights of employment, which had stipulated the right to secure full-time employment. Furthermore, the guards of ZKM had recently been subcontracted to a private security contractor, adding to the precarity of labour at the institution. We were struck by the title guard for the exhibition invigilators; a term that resonated with Rancieres notion of politics as police a set of procedures whereby consent and the legitimising of power is achieved.

    As we began to speak with the guards, we found them to be knowledgeable about art. But this knowledge was subjugated as a result of their not being allowed to speak to visitors or each other, and the frustration that this prohibition involved. The oppression of their speech revealed a latent hierarchy within the institutions architecture. A particularly revealing moment arose when giving an artists talk at a conference at ZKM. We had insisted on our talk being bilingual (despite the lack of time) so as to allow the guards of ZKM to participate. But a guard, who began to participate, about to ask a question from the floor was silenced. Suddenly the social relations of hierarchy within the institution became visible.

    In response to the conflicts taking place, we produced a tele-visual blackboard-mural, which was installed on a stage. The resulting work (A Common Stage), also consisted of workshops, performances and an artists talk, which served as a space to intervene in such struggles, and to provide a stage or platform where the fight for equality within the institution of ZKM could be voiced and expressed. The workshops title added a parenthesis to the works original title, marking the absence of such equality, re-naming it (The Lack of) A Common Stage

  • An Open Invitation to the Guards at ZKM
(In German and English)

Dear Guards, Thank you for taking up our invitation to participate with the Museum of non Participation. We very much enjoyed working with you. It was a real pleasure that you shared with us the depth of your knowledge and experience about contemporary art, and your insight into the complex patterns, rhythms and hierarchies of the daily life of ZKM. Our invitation continues for you to add your voice, thoughts, reflections and questions to the collective chalkboard as and when you feel inspired. As fellow art lovers, practicing artists and in your integral role as the interface of the institution and the public we wanted to propose this Common Stage as a designated autonomous zone within the site of the Museum. A place in which you can continue to perform your private selves publicly whilst on duty, taking up an active role between the artwork and the public. We ask in exchange that you send us occasional documentation of your process so that we can maintain our dialogue together.


    Caption test
    "A museum is a place of order: The ordering of things in space and their classification - whether we understand these things as art or as historical artefacts, for example; the museum's order also refers to how one addresses things and accesses them; it's an order, in other words, that at times has to be asserted and that brings regulation with it on who may do what and what may be done, and who decides on such matters. For their project, part of the Global Contemporary, Brad Butler and Karen Mirza started from the question: When can we talk about a place or a situation as a "shared stage" on which political issues can be voiced? This question actually applies to language itself, a vocabulary which may under certain circumstances not even permit certain political statements, thus condemning some to remain silent; moreover, it also relates to the place where people can speak. Such a place could, of course, be an art museum, a venue that today is often represented as a platform for knowledge transfer and free discourse. Yet rules apply here as to when you can spek - and in what manner. For example, museum guardians as those responsible for compliance with the museum's rules, above all expect silence. Mirza and Butler placed a podium in their installation on which they join members of the ZKM's security service to discuss precisely these issues - and recorded this is a panel picture; it's a small shift in the museum's order, but one that exposes several assumed verities and power relationships within the institution of the museum. Can the guardians in a museum work in an artistic vein, and are they still guardians or should they themselves then be placed under observation" [Jacob Birken, ZKM: The Global Contemporary and Rise of New Worlds]

  • During a workshop taking place as part of the Global Contemporary, the guards of ZKM and gallery educators were invited to reflect, comment and produce collectively an artwork on protest, speech and silence. The resulting Blackboard mural serves as a ground on which the neon sign acts both as a verb and a noun, a doing and a naming of the temporary and nomadic site of the Museum of Non Participation. The sign invokes a language of resistance that questions our paradoxical, contemporary condition of participation and withdrawal. Its literal reading juxtaposes the Roman English and popular Urdu translation larta lucki ka ajib ghar, which when translated back into English reads: the museum of non participation, the house of the unexpected.