images (from left to right): Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, CPKC
Reformation and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Film What Are the Clouds?
From November 18, 2017, to March 4, 2018, the exhibition What Are the Clouds? is on view in the Cupola Hall of the Kunstgebäude Stuttgart. The exhibition is based on a network of institutions in Stuttgart, including the Württembergischer Kunstverein, the Akademie Schloss Solitude, the Schauspiel Stuttgart, the Theater Rampe, the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste, and others, and was curated by Iris Dressler and Christine Peters. What Are the Clouds? takes the anniversary of the Reformation as an occasion to reflect on freedom, emancipation, and imagination from the perspective of contemporary art. Emancipation—in the sense of rejecting existing norms and power relations and their supposed natural or God-given character—is, according to the French philosopher Michel Foucault, a process rooted in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It goes hand in hand with the reposition of the subject and concerns that great reshaping of “the way of managing and governing people”: revolutions that found expression in Europe in the Reformation, the peasant uprisings, and the Counter-Reformation.
The exhibition’s main starting point is the short film Che cosa sono le nuvole? (What Are the Clouds?) of 1968, by the political film director, author, and journalist Pier Paolo Pasolini. In Pasolini’s film, Shakespeare’s Othello is performed as marionette theater—with the life-size marionettes rendered by actors on strings. Over the course of the play, the “puppets”question themselves and their actions: Othello does not really want to kill Desdemona. The audience, which Pasolini characterizes not only as an underprivileged class but who are played by amateur actors from Rome’s precarious neighborhoods, ultimately resists the established narrative. At the end, it rushes the stage to prevent the murder of Desdemona. The schemer Iago and Othello, the “Moor of Venice,” are overpowered. Pasolini has Othello played by a white actor with his face painted black (known as “blackface”) and thus alludes to the racist tradition of having white actors play dark-skinned characters. Iago and Othello are finally disposed of by a singing garbageman. As they are unloaded at the dump, Othello sees the clouds for the first time ... When he asks, “What are the clouds?” Iago answers with an ambiguous “Ma,” which could also be understood as “Who knows?
The Emancipated Spectator
Pasolini turns from the Shakespearean tragedy by calling into action—in the words of the French philosopher Jacques Rancière—“emancipated spectators.” They are, in the truest sense of the word, actively involved in the meaning and interpretation of the play, shaping it with their knowledge (Desdemona is innocent) and desire (she should not die) and intervening in the action. In the apparent mistaking of reality and imagination, a moment of the possible opens up. The supposedly inevitable is not recognized; it is redirected. Therein lies the profoundly political and emancipatory message of the film. Even the losers win in the end: nothing less than the open sky with its unpredictably passing clouds.
About the Exhibition
The exhibition What Are the Clouds? takes up the emancipatory motif of Pasolini’s interpretation of Othello, in which the active subjected is localized by doubt, disobedience, and striving for freedom.
In addition, it takes up several motifs from and references in the film, such as blackface and audience participation, as well as Pasolini’s aesthetic methods, especially concerning the revision and alternative
reading of existing works. The exhibition presents videos and texts, installations and objects by eight other artists and artists’ groups.
It focuses on works that are based on a critical de- and re-montage from the spheres of art, literature, film, theater, and historical writing.
The subject matter includes, for example, forms, discourse, and cultures of resistance in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the protests against the Vietnam War, to which Frédéric Moser and Philippe Schwinger refer in their video installation Capitulation Project and the CPKC group in their archival installation Vietnam Discourse.
In her film Mueda 1979, in turn, Catarina Simão is concerned with the independence movement against the Portuguese colonial powers in Mozambique. All three works are about reformulating existing plays
(in the strict and broader senses) in which the role of the audience is particularly important.
Whereas the project Vietnam Discourse addresses the eponymous play by Peter Weiss, Frédéric Moser and Philippe Schwinger take up the participatory play Commune (1971) by The Performance Group in New York, which, among other things, tried to imagine the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam from the perspective of those involved. Simão’s film deals with a similar experiment: a fragment from Ruy Guerra’s film Mueda: Memory and Massacre of 1979, based on the recreating of an event in the province of Mueda in northern Mozambique in 1960. This reenactment was performed by the local residents. The lines between actors and audience are fluid. In a kind of inversion of the principle of blackface, the white figures are played by black actors with pointed papier-mâché noses.
As a direct respond to Pasolini’s reinterpretation of a Shakespeare play, the exhibition presents selected quotations from Aimé Césaire’s play A Tempest: Adaptation for a Black Theatre, which retells Shakespeare’s drama The Tempest from a postcolonial perspective and intertwines with the discourse of the American civil rights movement of blacks in the 1960s. The figure of Caliban, who is regarded as the epitome of the representative of the colonized, is a rebel in Césaire’s play, who resists the role of the oppressed man that has been assigned to him and sees through the power structure between the colonizers and the colonized.
The history and effects of modern colonialism and the slave trade, which, like capitalism itself, famously have their roots in the Reformation era, are addressed in a series of works.
Like Césaire, Glenn Ligon makes use of a literary work—and the film made from it—in a critical way in which colonialism and slavery are reflected on from the perspective of white authors. It is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and the eponymous silent film of 1903, by Edward S. Porter. Ligon had originally planned to remake the historical film. But nothing could be seen in the first shots but a ghostly, black-and-white flickering. In the end, Ligon adopted precisely that as a reference to the disappearance of a specific narrative and the return of the repressed.
Ana Torf’s Story Generator, a kind of intertextual reading machine of 505 index cards, makes it possible to identify, in ever new ways and under ever new premises, connections in five hundred years of Belgium’s colonial and economic history. Ana Vaz, in turn, follows the traces of Brazil’s colonial history in a destroyed ecosystem in her video Amérika: Bahía de las Flechas (Amérika: Bay of Arrows). The rotating tracking shots, which literally turn the world upside down, produce a great deal of disorientation.
Coming to terms with colonialism and the modern slave trade is almost compulsory in an exhibition that examines the motifs and practices of emancipation and freedom. For the European concept of freedom remains ambiguous in its transatlantic dimension. In her work Hegel and Haiti, the American philosopher Susan Buck-Morss points out that in the eighteenth century slavery became the central metaphor of Western political philosophy of the Enlightenment: as a counterpart to a freedom that after the French Revolution of 1789 was elevated to the universal and highest good of politics. The systematically perfected slave trade, which reached its peak during this period as the driving force of capitalism, was, according to Buck-Morss, overlooked in the relevant discourses of the time. In a certain way, the European or Western concept of emancipation and the autonomous subject is therefore directly linked to racism, that is, to exploitation, dehumanization, and nonrecognition of certain ethnicities.
On a visual level, Pasolini’s film What Are the Clouds? is full of allusions to the Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velázquez. For example, the film or rather the marionette play within the film is announced on a poster featuring a motif from Velázquez’s famous painting Las Meninas (The Ladies-in-Waiting). Michel Foucault decided the first chapter of The Order of Things to that work; it was published in Italian translation in 1967, a year before What Are the Clouds? premiered. Foucault’s text on Las Meninas, a painting that constantly shifts the boundaries between the space of the painting and the space of the viewer, the depicted and the depicting, the reality and the idea, is key to questions of representation.
The deconstruction of language and writing, which belong to the central systems of representation, is one of the prominent concerns of the oeuvre of the artist, author, and theater man Tim Etchells. He is represented in the exhibition by, among other works, the wall text Of And From (On Freedom), which dissects the concept of freedom on both a phonetic and a linguistic level. In Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou Rahme’s video Only the Beloved Keeps Our Secrets, deconstruction—the de- and re-montage of image, text, and music—becomes the central method for approaching the complexity of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
A specific architecture was developed for the exhibition that makes the exhibition space at once a stage, a forum, and an agora and hence becomes a place performances and debates. The dense program of workshops, lectures, forums, performances, and film screenings is consequently an integral component of the exhibition.
In parallel with What Are the Clouds?, the Württembergischer Kunstverein is showing the solo exhibition Alexander Kluge: Gardens of Cooperation
(until January 14, 2018). In it Kluge presents, among other things, a homage to Pasolini’s What Are the Clouds?
Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme,
CPKC (Emily Fahlén, Peter Spillmann,
Marion von Osten), Tim Etchells, Glenn Ligon,
Frédéric Moser & Philippe Schwinger,
Pier Paolo Pasolini, Catarina Simão,
Ana Torfs, Ana Vaz, a.o.
Single ticket: € 5 / 3 reduced
Combo Ticket 1 with Reformation in Württemberg, special exhibition by the Landesarchiv BW in the old section of the Kunstgebäude: € 10 / 6 reduced
Combo Ticket 2 with Alexander Kluge: Gardens of Cooperation at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart: € 8 / 5 reduced
Tel +49 172 344 6977
Tues., Thurs.–Sun.: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Wed.: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
13.2.2018: The exhibition is closed.
Free guided tours
Every sunday, 5 p.m.
Guided Tours for School Students
Free guided tours for school classes, appointments upon request
Appointments upon request
60 min. / € 50 + reduced admission
Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme
CPKC (Emily Fahlén, Peter Spillmann, Marion von Osten)
Frédéric Moser & Philippe Schwinger
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Moreover, the mediatheque—in development since New Narratives: Thinking Economics Differently—with material related to publications, research, and film on the Kunstgebäude projects will be accessible for the entire duration of the exhibition.
Moreover, a public complementary program will accompany the exhibition free of charge, featuring performances, films, lectures, workshops, and discussions. Invited in addition to the artists involved in the exhibition are other international guests. In a public forum, civil society initiatives will come together and work in transdisciplinary workshops, performative actions, discussion and lecture formats, responding to issues related to active participation in and responsibility for society.
Partners and Funders
A Project by
in Cooperation with
Christine Peters, Iris Dressler