Jonas Höschl

TW: Europe

21.1. - 5.3.2022

Opening: 21.1.2022, 5 - 9 pm

Critical art, Adorno writes, must elude capitalist exploitation and the “identity requirement of reality”. Art reflects its production conditions, it is true. But for Adorno, explicit engagement stands “in dangerous proximity to propaganda and proves itself implicitly in agreement with the existing conditions”. For the field of contemporary political art, however, formal aesthetic, substantive, and personal overlappings between art, activism, journalism, and law are symptomatic. Investigations and research projects related to pictures implement aspects of the factual, as well as of supposed authenticity, in the exhibition room. But where does critical art end and engagement begin? And how can one’s own engagement harmonize with the profession of artist, if the two are not to merge seamlessly?

In his first solo exhibition TW: Europe, Jonas Höschl approaches these questions by reflecting upon himself and the media. At the showing’s center are two spatially expansive, multi-media installations: Europe is lost (2018) and 09. September 2015, Röszke (2021). Both works create an associative, sometimes violent spatial structure in which the artist deals with his subjective feeling of being torn between art and activism. Europe is lost (2018) consists of three work elements distributed in the exhibition space: a large-format, black-and-white photograph, mounted on a wooden movable wall; a sound and video work on the reverse side of that wall; and a series of black-framed woodcuts distributed in the room. The latter show portraits of people whom Höschl got to know in refugee camps. The depictions take up the thread of a pictorial- and media-historical iconography of police identification photography. With it, the artist points to the frequent criminalization of people who have fled and whose public perception is crucially determined by the media’s forms of depiction. The wooden wall shows a large-format black-and-white photo. In it, the contours of two figures can be made out in a landscape swathed in thick fog. This recalls Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic paintings of figures seen from the rear and a pictorial tradition of German Romanticism. As scenes of an idealized past, their fields of mythical motifs are to this day part of nationalistic, identitarian, and ethnic ideologies of history. Höschl marks them as a foundation of the current European politics of isolation.

On the back of the wall, an iPhone shows montaged footage of crowds of storming people in border areas. The accumulation of obvious pictorial-cultural codes creates an overdetermination. With it, the artist attempts to decipher a (rightwing) populist pictorial language and to reveal its mechanisms. This criticism of journalistic reporting is repeated in his most recent work, And let my cry (2022): it is the transcript of an (internal) recording the Bavarian Broadcasting Company made during the setup and rehearsal for the memorial service for the victims of the racist attack in Munich’s Olympia shopping center in 2016. Although none of the nine victims were Christian, the service was held in Munich’s Catholic Cathedral of Our Dear Lady. This implies a specific ignorance and blindness that manifested itself in the reporting on the attack and the subsequent investigations: false reports led to panic in the city, and despite the perpetrator’s unambiguous statements in chat forums, authorities long pointed to his psychiatric treatment as a motive for a supposed killing spree.

Höschl proceeds with similar reflection about the media in 09. September 2015, Röszke (2021). The large-format installation comprises 10 black-lacquered, steel stand-up displays. Widely distributed across the exhibition space, they bear glass plates into which translucent four-color silk screen pictures are burned. These are screenshots of individual online articles from which the artist has foregrounded depictions and uses them to make his own activist practice the theme again: as a photographer and activist, Höschl documented in the summer of 2015 the catastrophic conditions in a camp for refugees at the European Union’s external border between Serbia and Hungary. The image of a Hungarian camerawoman using a leg to trip a person fleeing during unrest was seen around the world. At the moment when the picture was taken, Höschl was standing next to her. The photo testifies to his eyewitnessing and asserts her own. It remains unclear what role the artist was playing when the camerawoman took the picture. As a leftist activist, he protested against the pan-EU policy of isolationism; as a photographer, he strove to document the events. The Hungarian camerawoman transformed from an observer into an actor and co-perpetrator with the security forces. What influence did Höschl have on the events? What impact did his presence have? Could he have intervened? Can the photographic image have a repressive or emancipatory effect similar to that of physical intervention?

A strength of Höschl’s artistic works is that they ask these questions instead of wanting to answer them with supposed factuality and authenticity. In this, Höschl’s works are distinct from an engagement that declares itself in agreement with the existing conditions. The artist does not seek to predetermine an unambiguous way of interpreting his installations and the media representations they deal with. Rather, in the tradition of aesthetic willfulness, their immanent openness to different interpretations and multifacetedness makes it possible to question what is shown and, with that, the necessity to render it discursive. An accompanying film program from nine different positions underscores his ambition to understand this project of discursivization as that of a multiperspectival and polyphonic collective. The participating artists come from the artist’s milieu of activists, friends, and artists: Dominik Bais, Anna Baranowski, Cana Bilir-Meier, Cihan Cakmak, Tim Erdmann & Christina Gotz (with a music video for Disarstar featuring Nura), Frankfurter Hauptschule, Laura Leppert, Kalas Liebfried and belit sağ. In widely divergent ways, each of them deals with urgent themes of our present: racism and discrimination; populism and rightwing extremism; debates about restitution and monuments; many-layered constructions of identity and the politics of memory; collaboration and solidarity; and trauma and tenderness.


Text: Mira Anneli Naß
Exhibition views: Peter Oliver Wolff, Berlin