... of bread, wine, cars security and peace is the first exhibition WHW have curated since taking over the directorship of Kunsthalle Wien. This international group show is intended to provide an idea of the collective’s artistic and political interests, and to present some of the many artists who have inspired their work over the years. At the same time it serves as an introduction to the general orientation of the program which WHW will develop in the course of the next five years.
The title quotes Bilal Khbeiz, a Lebanese author. At the beginning of the 2000s, he mused over some of the things that made the difference between the dreams of people in the Global South and the West (Globalization and the Manufacture of Transient Events, Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, 2003). For Khbeiz that very list – bread, wine, cars, security and peace – defined an idea of the “good life” that was unattainable for much of the world. Almost two decades later, it seems that these basics begin to escape more and more people living in places where they were taken for granted: Climate change puts the continuation of life on earth under question; ecological destruction gathers pace; faith in the benevolence of capitalism was broken by the 2008 crash and its horizon of slow global improvement and trickle-down benefits is steadily evaporating.
As a start, one might conclude that each element in the title has turned sour. Globally, the availability of food is distributed unequally, and industrial agriculture has had terrible effects, while for those who have enough, bread and wine paradigmatically produce guilt, shame, obsessive self-optimization and reckless consumption. Cars are climate destroyers and therefore increasingly excluded from inner cities and places where humans are meant to share the “good life”. Security has been militarized leading to a ‘surveillance state‘, while a dystopian posthuman landscape of predictive policing, data analysis and algorithmic management looms over public spaces everywhere. Finally, the best peace on offer is a constant low-level war in many places of the world while the perceived threat of escalation drives democratic politics and populist leaders around the globe.
To put it simply: the idea of a “good life” is a fantasy persisting as “cruel attachment” to a world that is no more (Laurent Berlant, Cruel Optimism, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011). But this exhibition is not a counsel of despair or a dark critique of all that is wrong with the world. Instead, the artists and artworks on show seek to rethink the – collective and individual – “good life”.
The exhibition is conceived as a framework, experiential and cognitive, in which it is possible to envision the future in a way that is not complicit with the conditions that constitute the present. It represents a collaborative effort to understand today’s political world and reflect, motivate and assist the struggles to change it. Presenting works by artists of different generations in a dialogue, the exhibition offers perspectives on the “good life” to suggest real alternatives to a perpetuation of ruinous economic violence and monstrous social forms. Critical, constructive and imaginative voices act as faint signals of things to come, and of social forms emerging into life.
The exhibition posits artistic subjectivity and autonomy as a place where one can imagine abandonment of the fatal dialectic of modern capitalism and think beyond it. There are already many moral, ecological, and scientific arguments for organizing our economies more fairly: Degrowth as a principle stands for an ecologically sustainable world economy not governed by profitability but by human needs. It is not only about carbon reduction, but about celebrating the richness of the planet and all its forms of life.
The exhibition had an early start: Between November 2019 and February 2020, a series of events at Kasino am Schwarzenbergplatz produced in cooperation with Burgtheater introduced some of the issues at stake in the show, and gave the local audience a chance to find their own perspective on WHW’s curatorial propositions.
The exhibition itself takes place in all the venues and spaces of Kunsthalle Wien. It wants to open up the house metaphorically and literally, pushing the threshold of the exhibition towards the public space, while not being afraid of working with all of the contradictions this might reveal. In collaboration with studio das weisse haus Kunsthalle Wien has started a residency program for artists to stay in Vienna during the exhibition and to engage with the educational department to discuss, mediate, and elaborate on their work. The exhibition also includes the Space of Questions, an educational space that will host a series of events and serves as a simple invitation to visitors to read, think, leave comments and rest during the visit.
... of bread, wine, cars, security and peace opens on March 8, International Women’s Day, to emphasize the exhibition‘s feminist perspective. Social and ecological reproduction, as well as a serious reckoning with the ways in which the work of serving others has been shaped by gender and race are at the heart of its vision of the future. It celebrates sustaining and improving human life, as well as the lives of other species who share our world. It proposes a daily life that is less arduous and more pleasurable, with an abundance of communal luxury and collective leisure, where the “good life” is ecologically supportive and oriented toward the flourishing of all.