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What is Our Kind of World? Adrian Piper at Hamburger Bahnhof

May 2, 2017
Steffi Schneider lives as a freelance journalist and author in Berlin, studied art, literature and culture journalism in Gießen and Berlin.

Those who visit museums mostly want to either immerse themselves in the art or look at something beautiful. At the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, for Adrian Piper’s piece The Probable Trust Registry. The Rules of the Game #1-3 aesthetic pleasure is secondary. Here you sign a contract – with yourself. One of the questions posed is: Can you stop lying?

Three circular reception desks, behind which formally dressed receptionists in all black stand. Ceilings are high, walls are gray. No, here you can book no suite in Berlin’s Waldorf Astoria and the friendly ladies behind the desks won’t speak to you about your pension provisions. Here you close a contract – with your conscience. On the gray walls are three commandments, which the contract contains, in gold lettering: “I will always be too expensive to buy”, “I will always mean what I say” and “I will always do what I say I am going to do”. Anyone who signs these bids digitally will be given his or her contract, and in the future will become a part of an ethical community that, as conceptual artist Adrian Piper puts it, is “committed to playing” – but isn’t this game going a little bit too far?

Adrian Piper – The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3, 2013-2017/ Installation + Group Performance. Exhibition view, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / David von Becker. Sammlung Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. 2016 Schenkung der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. © Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin. © APRA Foundation Berlin

The Aesthetic Pleasure is Secondary

Many of those who visit museums want to immerse themselves in art, look at something beautiful or escape, thinking about other things. With those viewers in mind, the exhibition, The Probable Trust Registry. The Rules of the Game # 1-3 misses the mark entirely. The aesthetic pleasure is secondary. Instead, the exhibition is about us, the visitors. Any possibility for escape is eschewed. Regardless of whether you sign or not, the conscience is activated immediately upon entering the main hall. Am I honest, incorruptible, obliging? And if not – can I change this now and forever? Some hesitate for a long time before willingly signing; others enter the contract – as if they had always been waiting for the lifelong commitment.

The learned philosopher Adrian Piper received the Golden Lion for her interactive work at the Venice Biennial in 2015. The actual conflict was lacking, however, there and after the biennale. Piper, who seldomly gives interviews and likes to disappear behind her art, presumed, in a rare interview, the challenge attributed to her silence: “The lack of speech of the audience means that the work addresses an unfamiliar area of the mind for which the way of thinking has not yet been found.” In Berlin, in the main hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof, she now hopes for the appropriate confrontation. But what exactly will the visitor, who here becomes the activist, deal with in the future?

Adrian Piper – The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3, 2013-2017. Installation + Group Performance. Detail: The Rules of the Game #1, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / David von Becker. Sammlung Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. 2016 Schenkung der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. © Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin. © APRA Foundation Berlin

What if We Didn’t Lie to Ourselves Anymore?

It is about the question how the world looks in which we live. The question in what world would one like to live and about reflecting on our action: What can I contribute to a humanistic society? Piper has seen it on our conscience and with menacing fore finger she appeals to our reason. This may seem pietistic and will certainty roll some eyes. However, Piper does not design beautiful ideas, about which one usually things of during the duration of a museum visit, before returning once again home to the forever devastating trot and ruin of everyday life. Piper nails us by contractually sealing what is normally swept under the table. What if we didn’t lie to ourselves anymore? What if we kept our promises and finally quit the job that exploits us?

The minimalistic conceptual artwork of the New York Electoral Society is unforgivingly political. In a world which tends more and more to hollow out the values of democracy, in which Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office and Marine Le Pen wins the ballot for the presidency in France – trust for Piper is the antidote. One also needs to trust here to sign with his or her name. But, it is guaranteed: All given information will remain protected. No one can stand before me with his or her forefinger, if I sin. (Don’t understand) It remains a pact with myself – and I alone decide whether it becomes a pact with the devil.

Featured images: Adrian Piper – The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3, 2013-2017. Installation + Group Performance. Exhibition view, Detail: The Rules of the Game #1, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / David von Becker. Sammlung Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. 2016 Schenkung der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. © Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin. © APRA Foundation Berlin.