• Tue 04 04 – Thu 13 07 2017 •
Enigmatic Majorities


The silent majority has spoken – so at least the populists would tell you. All over the world, minorities are being pushed back into place. New culture wars erupt, as self-proclaimed national mainstreams reassert their ethnic, religious and political identities. But what does it really mean when “the people” themselves suddenly appear in uncountable numbers, as enigmatic majorities?

In the short films featured in this show, artists face “the people” in moments when that category is celebrated or only just constructed, manifesting itself in uncanny images and bizarre social configurations. Confused orders of battle replace any clear geometry of left and right. There is no clear ideological vector; the compass is broken and its arrow can swipe to any side.

This is how political theorist Ernesto Laclau described the notion of “the people” at the heart of populism: a floating signifier, ready to gravitate this way or that. Laclau insisted that this openness was something positive. It could supply democracy with truly universal concepts of justice and good. But today, we observe quite the opposite: democracy is abolished by popular demand, majorities become enigmatic, inscrutable, and threatening, while difference is drowned in the silent static of unanimity.

In the European context, it was the great French Revolution that created the first images of the people. One of these is Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, provocatively read in Cristina Lucas’ video re-enactment La Liberté Raisonnée (2009). It serves as the prologue to the show. In disbelief, we witness the tragic aftermath of the revolutionary événement. It is in this perverse reversal that the very emptiness of the notion of the “people” reveals itself in its unpredictable oscillation.

Such emptiness is to be found at the very heart of the pageantry invented to reaffirm national identities. A belligerently anti-Western popular re-enactment of the fall of Constantinople in Ferhat Özgür’s film on contemporary Turkey (Conquest, 2016) strangely rhymes with the somewhat boring idyll of Tomáš Rafa’s Swiss National Day in Rütli (2011), where “real” Swiss citizens (and no migrants) celebrate a relatively new national holiday, oblivious (or proud) of their “cleansed” ethnic monotony.

Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Myth of Modernity, filmed during the Thai political crisis of 2014, shows the empty signifier of the “people” in the moment of its emergence. It floats up as a pyramid-shaped modernist abstraction that at the same time represents traditional Buddhist forms of worship, as mass experience gives way to idealistic reveries. It is another variety of such enigmatic mass experience that Chinese dancers impart to middle-aged Germans in Xiao Ke and Zi Han’s choreographic piece Republic of Dance (2016), performed and filmed in Weimar.

How to resist these enigmatic majorities, when they are less innocuous, and nationalism and obscurantism take the upper hand? One answer can be found in Anand Patwardhan’s rousing fragment from a much longer anti-fascist film he is currently producing. The voice of reason dares religious mercenaries and nationalists to stop the wheel of progress; rational thinking will triumph regardless, even when it finds itself in the minority.

As a postscript, the exhibition features a series of photographs by Anne Arndt that depicts the uncanny phenomenon of individual bunkers built in Germany during the Second World War. The sadness and loneliness of these shelters lost in the middle of nowhere serves a metaphor for contemporary fragmented neoliberal humanity, where there is no longer such a thing as society. New grandiose collective identities, tribal as well as imperialist, claim to overcome this fragmentation, when in fact, they only amplify its scale, creating illusory individual discursive bunkers for entire nations.

opening hours:
Thu / Fri 15:00 – 19:00
Sat / Sun 14:00 – 18:00
venue: ACADEMYSPACE, Herwarthstraße 3, 50672 Cologne
free admission