Contribution by Jennifer Smailes on the indispensable disruption of the structure. It is often not easy for the festival architecture planned by the Architekturwerkstatt Hamburg, for it was frequently criticised as “perhaps a bit too platitudinous”, as “maritime” and “not especially new” because it already existed at Art Basel Miami (kunstmarkt.com), as “too dominant vis-à-vis the art” (synecstasy.com), as reminiscent of an “artists’ petting zoo” (Jan Holtmann, noroomgallery) or a type case for particularly rare specimens of the art world. Deliberately placed symbols such as the “white cube” of the festival hall are diverted from their intended use as refuge for storm victims, as a shelter for the homeless with burning oil barrels.But at times one doesn’t see the individual container for the container city, the individual initiative, the artist, the artwork for the off-on debates. The architecture is initially meant to function as a frame, at least that’s how Simon Putz describes it in the festival guide, the container is to function as the lowest common denominator with which the different initiatives can work. That may be problematic for some initiatives, for example, when Marita Fraser from Bell Street says that she often regards off spaces as highly sensitive and subjective spaces, the artistic practice of which has to struggle with the coldness and exposedness of the assigned containers. Or it can lead to the box shape prompting one to create small black and white cubes – almost like at art fairs, which subvision wants to counter programmatically. Konsortium from Düsseldorf took up this connotation and created a smooth, white field of gravel in the centre of a blue carpet, which no longer made a rough or bold impression and wouldn’t have been disturbing on Miami Beach either.
Other initiatives worked closer with the image of the container, which is charged with meaning not only in Hamburg: Chto delat, for example, when in their performance “Illegal Migrant” they stood on a container and read texts on suffocating Chinese refugees, while one could hear muffled cries and beating against the resonating walls in the sealed metal box beneath them, until they fell silent shortly before the end of the performance. The location, on a work by Zoro Feigl, is deliberately chosen here. The moving sculpture “Offshore / Onshore“ by the artists of De Service Garage from Amsterdam consists of a container set in swaying motion with the help of hydropneumatics. Standing in the container, one only sees a slightly moving lamp, hears the creaking metal, feels slightly seasick and senses creeping claustrophobia in the twilight. It is less a sea voyage that is conveyed here than the image of flight und uncertainty, of human and animal transport. What price has to be paid to be allowed to live a life in human dignity?
In a further work by Service Garage the notions of access and the denial of access are also negotiated – access to power and means, as well as to the spheres of art. Two stacked containers are covered with black foil, forming a hard, inaccessible landmark. The logos of the sponsors omnipresent on the festival grounds were covered but then brought to the surface again with spray paint and templates, with two flags crowning the monolith: “Private Democracy” and “Art for Power”.
“Alter‐native Spaces” by Gugulective elucidates the reverse side of this phenomenon. While viewers are allowed to enter their container furnished like a living-room, their role as observers and intruders is made clear. Lying on one’s back, one sees the flat of a family installed upside-down on the ceiling, from a divine perspective, so to speak. In contrast to God, however, intervening is made impossible through a plexiglass pane. The details reveal the political attitude of the occupants: Books left lying around, photos and slogans written on the wall document the life of activists in South Africa under the apartheid regime. The living-room in the container becomes a political cell, an alternative space and a refuge for what is marginalised.
A last example takes up this thought: The World Game, initialised by YKON, simulates a world frozen for six years, in which only the “survivors”, the players, who are protected and screened from the world, can actively intervene in the condition of society. In this case, the container functions as a greenhouse of utopias. Protected from reality, financial conditions or one’s own qualms and those of others, a vacuum was created for the participants in which they were to act freely according to their inclinations and conscience.
As varied as these examples are, they all reflect in their own way the themes and conditions of an “off”, or also the reasons why alternative art spaces emerge: Like in the container boxes, alternative art spaces are created in various contexts, some to create refuges for art (e.g. i-cabin, who transfer the production of art to a remote piece of land so as to shift the focus from the presentation of art to process and debate), others to create a possible different public sphere (like with Publish and be Damned, who regularly organise fairs for fanzines and stand up to the possibilities of conscious amateurism). But in the case of subvision, the dangers of such an approach are also revealed, namely, marginalisation by adopting a title such as “off”, by sourcing out, pigeonholing and making the unpredictable third easy to handle, and also entrenching oneself in one’s own bubble. This is the thin line on which the majority of the invited initiative manoeuvre, always against their own local background, and that is also what the discussions of the festival are about, when the issue is high culture, subculture and mass culture, off and on and the power to define all these concepts.
Berglind Hlynsdottir from Kling & Bang formulated an apt statement in this context at a panel discussion on the theme of “self-organisation”. On subvision’s exhibition architecture she said: “This is a super structure. It was created so that we can meet each other and it was created so that we can take over. And if we don’t do so, then we fail on a certain level. Of course, there is a portion of control, but we are responsible for dealing with this as well.”
Unimpressed by the clear structure of the festival grounds, the curator collective Komplot from Brussels, while setting up, thought about leaving its container completely closed. Instead, they jumped from the roof of a two-storey container onto a pile of sand at the opening: Here, too, an attempt to break the structure.