Tricksters are folkloric figures found in numerous cultures, seemingly dreamed up – or springing out of nowhere – to provide ways of undermining, ridiculing or resisting everything that is wrong, fucked up, unfair in the world, from the tyranny of gods and sovereigns, to social inequality, to the existential injustice of mortality and suffering. As ‘the creative idiot, the wise fool, the gray-haired baby’ (Lewis Hyde), trickster crosses every boundary and confuses every distinction. Michel Serres took the tricksy god Hermes – patron of communication, but also of theft, interruption and secrets – as his guiding figure and alter ego, in order to weave together and traverse disparate cultural spheres with randoneés, ‘expeditions filled with random discoveries’. Trickster circumvents the logic and techniques of power through a mixture of cunning and naivety, discovering new possibilities as much through foolishness and error as through devious shifts of identity and perspective.

The exhibition ‘BALAGAN!!! Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union and Other Mythical Places’ – taking its name from a popular exclamation used in contemporary Russian to indicate a farce, a mess, chaos – features works that in one way or another engage with such unruly states. Might it be that today’s tricksters are to be found in the creative political activity of artists and cultural practitioners attempting to respond to the oppressive mess they find all around them? Could the disarming, oblique ways in which the trickster takes on states of misrule that cannot be challenged face-on be a particularly apt strategy for resistance in times of turbo-capitalism: embracing chaos to turn it against itself? Are hegemonic oppressive forces a necessary condition for the emergence of tricksters – in fact, do the tricks and machinations of power themselves form the prototype and genesis of the trickster? As opposed to its traditionally embodied and most often male form, is the trickster of today more a mode than a figure, fragmenting and multiplying into an array of inanimate and collective forms?

Two connected events at the ICI Berlin will follow these and other leads. This first event looks for tricksters and their traces, both human and nonhuman, in contemporary art and culture. The second considers the concept of trickery in artistic and mediatic practice, and the ways it may open up alternative possibilities for resistance and deflection of power.

In English

Helena Bassil-Morozow
Katarzyna Kozyra
Via Lewandowsky

Moderator: Rosa Barotsi

Organized by

An ICI Event, organized by Rosa Barotsi and James Burton in cooperation with MOMENTUM and Nordwind Festival, for the exhibition ‘BALAGAN!!! Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union and Other Mythical Places’, 14 November – 23 December 2015 at MOMENTUM im Kunstquartier Bethanien, KühlhausBerlin am Gleisdreieck & Stiftung Brandenburger Tor im Max Liebermann Haus.

The event, like all events at the ICI Berlin, is open to the public, free of charge. The audience is presumed to consent to a possible recording on the part of the ICI Berlin. If you would like to attend the event yet might require assistance, please contact Event Management.

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