Democracy and Desire
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Democracy and Desire (also Democracia y Deseo) is an evolutionary exhibition project by artist Per Hüttner that develops as it travels. It has been shown in various public and private venues in Europe since November 2006. The project takes its inspiration from Zen Buddhist Koans by pairing the incompatible words democracy and desire. The project investigates how the intellectual freedom of the mind is connected to, inhibited by social order and how the human body can both support and undermine the search for mental and social liberty through social interaction.
The project uses different forms of interactions with the public to change as it travels, drawing on Hüttner's previous experiences with exhibitions like I am a Curator. In the preparatory research for the project, the artist was collaborating with a group of young creators called The Mob working within the framework of visual art research network Vision Forum. They set up an interactive website to collect material from the public and a wide variety of audiences. The website has since been closed, but much of the material that was gathered, is available in the catalogue that was published in conjunction with the second incarnation of the exhibition project.
The First Public Incarnation
On November 23, 2006 the first version of Democracy and Desire opened to the public at the gallery Vacio 9 in Madrid, Spain. The exhibition consisted solely of photographic work by Hüttner. But throughout the run of the exhibition, The Mob organized various public events that were open for audience participation; a night of performances with local and international artists like Julio Jara, Antonio Arean, Nuria Mora, Anita Wernström, Jean-François Robardet and Marie Husson; video screenings with video art from around the globe and various semi-private training programs particularly related to gender issues.
The photographic work, that was also the point of departure for the public events, was clearly inspired by the life and work by Francisco Goya  both in expression and in content. Hüttner used the contradictory relationship between political powers and private desires that can be seen in many of the great master's paintings and created images that investigated the relationship between us as individual human beings and the interacting systems that surrounds us. In a text dedicated to the exhibition it is stated:
" Some images in the series depict the traces of great despots’ megalomania or locations where books have been burned and innocent people have been killed. All the same, these places have witnessed marriages being consumed and great loves being born. Democracy and Desire acknowledges that the system is not the same as the people who perpetuate it. It asks to what degree our lives change when the political system changes and who are the people responsible for these changes? More importantly, however, it asks to what degree the system changes when the people within it change? When you grow as a human being, what does that mean for the powers in your town, city or country?"
The quote shows how clearly the artist is influenced by Deleuze’s assemblage theory and its impact on social ontology. The relationship between individuals and social structure in the public space in Hüttner's earlier work became the impetus for Democracy and Desire. French writer Laurent Devèze has written about the 2006 exhibition Repetitive Time and the constant re-negotiation between the two becomes evident.:
"Little by little, by stopping us running around even for a short moment in time, we are forced to think about the past. Or rather to reflect on the whole paradigm of a memorial: an object built in a space specifically to remind us of something that happened at a moment in time. It is this that gives your [Hüttner's] altars such a strange intensity. They hold no indication to help us understand what they represent. Was a man killed here? Did something strange or extravagant take place here, something interesting enough to be remembered? The question is pertinent because, in our old cities overburdened with history, it is very likely that any and every point could be marked: here, a man died; here, a traffic accident occurred; here, a divorce was maybe agreed or a marriage proposal was accepted or some secret love affair was begun. It is a vertiginous thought: every point in the spaces that surround us has to be remembered; they are all worthy of it. There is not a single inch in the urban landscape that, if looked at through the prism of the past, should not be remembered. Which means that we could easily be surrounded by innumerable memorials, since everywhere we turn, something happened, something essential to someone.
The ontological status of any assemblage, inorganic, organic or social, is that of a unique singular, historically contingent, individual. Although the term 'individual' has come to refer to individual persons, in its ontological sense it cannot be limited to that limit scale of reality. Much as biological species are not general categories of which animal and plant organisms are members, but larger-scale individual entities of which organisms are component parts, so larger social assemblages should be given the ontological status of individual entities: individual networks and coalitions; individual organizations and governments; individual cities and nation states. This ontological manœuevre allows us to assert that all these individual entities have an objective existence independently of our minds (or of our concepts of them) without any commitment to essences or reified generalities.
The Second Exhibition
In November 2007 the second version of Democracy and Desire opened at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and included public talks and discussions. For the exhibition the artist had created a series of drawings that were specially made to accompany each photograph. The work on paper underlined the search for personal freedom of the mind in spite of social conventions by focusing on how imagination, sexuality and creativity can liberate human beings. The work is greatly influenced by Soviet/Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin:
“What is the character of these ornaments? They impressed the connoisseurs by the extremely fanciful, free and playful treatment of plant, animal and human forms. These forms seemed interwoven as if given birth to each other. The borderlines that divide the kingdoms of nature in the normal world were boldly infringed. Neither was there the usual static presentation of reality. There was no longer the movement of finished forms, vegetable or animal, in a finished and stable world; instead the inner movement of being itself was expressed in the passing of one form into the other, in the ever incompleted character of being. This ornamental interplay revealed an extreme lightness and freedom of artistic fantasy, a gay, almost laughing, libertinage.”
The drawings presupposes a kind of timeless Carnival where the social roles were turned upside down. The work and also suggests, just like Bakhtin writes that the whole paradigm of temporality needs to be reformulated for humans to achieve freedom. But the images also connected back to Goya's work. Human violence was introduced as possible and darker form of liberator and thus raising issues of the relationship between victim and perpetrator. The artist writes in the catalogue:
" We cannot continue to ignore the presence of our violent drives. Culture, conscience, and rationality cannot suppress the violence that is inscribed into our genes. Marlon Brando’s rendering of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now virtually incorporates all these principles or at least what can happen in an extreme situation when they have been repressed for too long. The final section of the film, which you might describe as a contemporary filmic paraphrase on Goya’s Disasters of War is an incredibly forceful investigation to humanity’s relationship to violence. Kurtz is a violent madman and is on the one hand so appealing and on the other incredibly repulsive. His acceptance of his violent drives approaches or embraces insanity. He asks Willard, the man who will shortly kill him, 'Have you ever considered any real freedoms, freedoms from the opinion of others, even the opinions of yourself?' Those are crucial words from one ruthless warrior to another – but even more so for the artist. If the artist is not liberated from his or her inhibitions, it is also impossible for the audience to live a moment of freedom, since the humanness of the artist is veiled by doubts."
Hüttner invited a group of young Swedish artists to create performances, film screenings and discussions to go along with the installation. After two months of preparations, the group declined the offer and opted to create a parallel exhibition at with the same title at Museet för Glömska (The museum of Forgetting) in the neighbouring town of Norrköping. The exhibition's curator, Giorgiana Zachia responded by arranging a series of discussions at the gallery that included the artist and fellow curator Niclas Östlind.
Another Format of Democracy and Desire
For Nothing to declare, 4th. Oberschwaben Contemporary Art Triennial in Friedrichshafen in Germany, English Curator Barnaby Drabble asked the artist to develop the themes from Democracy and Desire’s second incarnation. The artist responded to this invitation by creating an installation using photos from the project along with new drawings. The photographs dialogue with the large mural drawings, further underlined the contradictions between the private and public realities depicted. They filtered out the individual's alienation to its own surroundings and the cultural clashes that we are faced with in contemporary life. The curator writes:
" In many of the works the artist appears to stage his own ‘otherness’ proposing the modern city and the thinking behind modernism, as the backdrop against which this theatre of alienation is being played out."
In keeping with the conceptual foundation for the project, he created drawings that worked like contemporary, western shanshui paintings underlining the artist's interest in issues of alienation and inclusion. Trees drawn in the ink of modern, urban graffiti were metamorphosing into aeroplanes  and then back into a wooden ladders in a stand-still morphing of traditional eastern art. The trees, connected to the mountains, paths and rivers depicted in the photographs. The clear references to traditional Chinese painting  underlines the fact that Hüttner's focus never strays far from the human mind and how philosophy shapes the formulation of our reality.
The 2008-09 Presentation
The relationship to Zen koans was developed in the third version of the project at Abecita Konstmuseum in Borås. Here Hüttner returned to taking inspiration from contemporary ideas in mathematics and physics. He did so in a very free and creative way, just like he had done in his work from the early 1990s. By mixing theories from contemporary science with reflections on the life quality of our existence, he delved deeper into paradox and the possibility to develop sense from the absurd. Hüttner imagined alternative pasts and through that alternative futures for democracy and desire in a mural painting. Poetic texts were connected to a band of monchrome colour fields that went around the circumference of the museum. Examples from the short texts include: "The Democracy of Orgasm Act is enforced (Europe and Asia 2058-2122 AD)" and "A few hunters and gatherers discuss why their alpha male is such an idiot (Europe 8314 BC)." The visual impression of the work was very scientific and rational. But the content was filled with absurd and paradoxical suggestions related to potential future and past events related to democracy and desire respectively. The mural dialogued with the drawings and photographs and raised questions about time and temporality's role in paradoxes.
Love in the Age of Postponed Democracy/Behavior Workshop for Idiots
In May and June 2009 Lillian Fellman, director of Kunsthalle Luzern  organized “Behavior Workshop for Idiots” and the exhibition “Love in the Age of Postponed Democracy”. For the latter Hüttner showed a new version of “Some Other Histories of Democracy and Desire” where the texts had been both developed and translated into German. The approach to Zen Koans in this form was much less austere. The content was pushed towards a more blatant idiocy, humour and with a further shift to the carnivalesque and holding back the mysterious and nonsensical approach of the Buddhists. The contrast between the cool appearance of the installation and absurd content of the texts shows that the artist takes a more positive and proactive approach to the issues at hand. He moves further in the research to see how contemporary science and its outlook on temporality can be used to inspire life and art.
The artists and curators: Fatos Ustek, Hristina Ivanoska, Yane Calovski, Mari Brellochs, Albert Heta, Sixten Kai Nielsen and Martin Rosengaard, participated in the workshop which dealt with many of the issues treated in the previous incarnations of Democracy and Desire. Hüttner also arranged a collaborative performance with the other participants. They were each given a copy of the catalogue of the exhibition and were asked to find alternative ways to read the catalogue while traversing the town and then climbing a mountain. Each participant found a different way to approach the task. Mari Brellochs for instance cut the entire catalogue into heart-shaped messages and gave them to people and left them in strategically chosen places in nature.
La Caméra horloge, 2012
Within the framework of the Nordic festival Les Boréales in Normandy in France, Per Hüttner showed a new incarnation of the project at Le Radar in Bayeux. The exhibition brought together a large number of the original photographs with more recent video work thus moving the focus to temporality like the title suggests (The Timekeeping Camera). In the press release the curator underlines that the core questions of Democracy and Desire remain and yet find that they are reformulated with more focus on time.
"While destabilizing the eye, the artist opens for other interpretations when he compares the title of the exhibition to a Koan, a deliberately confusing formula for the enlightenment of Zen monks. The observer is invited to take on a challenge, to move beyond appearances to reach a deeper awareness of the world by means of exploring the photographs on display. Per Hüttner voluntarily invites the visitor to update his or her subjectivity by discovering the conditions of any perception of reality. Time and space become measurement standards that allow the personal to aid to appreciate the beauty of the changing the world around them. Yet his photographs reveal the fleetingness and infinite in paradox. Intuition, feelings and reason coexist, but not without friction. Indeed his photographs raise questions of enigmatic and spiritual nature while at the same time investigating scientific concepts such as space-time continuum and quantum physics."
A catalogue with the title Per Hüttner: Democracy and Desire designed by international design group Åbäke was published in 2007. It uses the special typeface developed by Thomas Moore for his Utopia on the cover as well in the pages of the book.. Which was developed from a collaboration with Dent-de-Leone and Aurélien Froment where the entire 1516 novel is set in the typeface developed by Moore  and thus virtually impossible to read.
- Per Hüttner, "The Pain of Realising a Dream", p. 43, Reflejos culturales de Europa en España, The Embassy of Germany in Madrid, Madrid, 2007 ISBN 92-79-03260-7
- Hüttner, Per (2005). "Introdictionary". I am a Curator (DOC). Stockholm: Föreningen Curatorial Mutiny. ISBN 91-631-5132-4.
- Official Vision Forum website
- *Vacio 9 on Artfacts.net
- Interview with Hüttner in Art Review
- Pleins Phares, Fabienne Fulcheri, Musée National Collection Schlumpf, Mulhouse, 2007 ISBN 978-2-7541-0250-6
- Slashseconds issue 001/004, London, UK, 2006
- A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, Manuel DeLanda, (Continuum, New York, 2006) ISBN 978-0-8264-8170-2
- Per Hüttner: Repetitive Time, 2006, 116 pages including 30 colour plates, texts by Lena Boëthius, Laurent Devèze, Claire Canning and Stéphanie Nava, language: English, design by Henrik Gistvall. Published by Göteborgs Konstmuseum. ISBN 91-631-7127-9
- A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, Manuel DeLanda, (Continuum, New York, 2006) p. 40, ISBN 978-0-8264-8170-2
- *RKIS website (Swedish only)
- See example
- See example
- See example
- Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, p. 32, 1984, Indiana University Press
- Per Hüttner: Democracy and Desire, 2007, 158 pages (A3) including 10 colour fold out pages. Languages: English, Swedish, Spanish and Romanian. Design by Åbäke. Published by Vacio 9 and The Romanian Cultural Institute. ISBN 978-91-633-0548-1
- *Museet för Glömska website (Swedish only)
- Barnaby Drabble, Nothing to Declare, Verlag für Moderne Kunst Nürneberg, ISBN 978-3-940748-27-0
- Per Hüttner, "The Pain of Realising a Dream", p. 41, Reflejos culturales de Europa en España, The Embassy of Germany in Madrid, Madrid, 2007 ISBN 92-79-03260-7
- See example
- See example
- See example
- "Elias Arnér and Per Hüttner,” Tom Sandqvist, Siksi, January 1993, Helsinki, Finland
- (Anti)Realism p.57-58, D'Ailleurs (Mobile), Mumero 1, Ecole Regional des Beaux Arts De Besançon, November 2009, ISBN 978-2-9518588-4-8
- Les Boréales un festival du nord 2012, p.29, Le Centre régional des Lettres de Basse-Normandie, Caen, 2012
- Gallery's official Website (French only)
- Per Hüttner: Democracy and Desire, 2007, 158 pages (A3) including 10 colour fold out pages. Languages: English, Swedish, Spanish and Romanian. Design by Åbäke. Published by Vacio 9 and The Rumanian Cultural Institute. ISBN 978-91-633-0548-1