where do we go from here? presents primarily new works, most of which were created specially for the exhibition, by around thirty artists. The exhibition is the latest in the “Junge Szene” series (at irregular intervals since 1984, most recently in 2003) in which the Secession offers young artists an institutional platform and international attention. Besides concentrating on “young” art, where do we go from here? emphasizes the presence of women artists and appeals in a globalized world for an awareness of Central Europe as a shared region, moving beyond tired old East/West antagonisms.
With the original intention of the Junge Szene exhibition in mind, an analysis of changing conditions over the last 20-25 years played a key role in the exhibition concept. The decision to focus on Central Europe was prompted by the huge changes undergone by the Vienna art scene(s) during this period. Vienna is among the major cities of “old Europe” to benefit most directly from the geopolitical changes of the last two decades. The former lack of exhibition opportunities for “young” artists has in recent years been corrected by an ever-increasing abundance of institutions, galleries, self-organized exhibition spaces, festivals, etc.
The question posed in the show’s title is meant to be read in different ways and contexts: taken literally, it refers to a phenomenon with a direct influence on the living and working conditions of a generation of young artists today: the call for unrestricted mobility and flexibility as a prerequisite for the chance of a successful career. Student exchange programs, work and studio grants have become both the basis for and the driving force behind this system—even some galleries now have their own studio exchange programs. In extreme cases, this development leads to a modern form of nomadism, with uprooting and isolation instead of the intended networking and integration.
In metaphorical terms, the title’s question refers to future developments within society as a whole and especially to the potential function of art (and artists) within that society. With the globalization of the art world, viewed as a consequence of the collapse of Eastern European communism, the old antagonism between artistic autonomy and political/social engagement was revived. The processes of political, social, and economic transformation in today’s Central Europe are addressed in a number of the works in the show. In their childhood and early youth, many of the featured artists grew up with the reality of communism and the division of Europe as shaping influences. Consequently, the works on show deal in very different ways with the changes—changes that had a far more direct impact in former socialist countries: documentary approaches play an important part, as do participatory strategies, or humor, irony, and nostalgia.
Finally, and in full awareness of the problems this involves, the exhibition title assumes a collective “we”. Much studied by artists the world over, the recent political theory of writers such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt appeals emphatically for a “new community” as an alternative to the dominant neo-liberal world order. Collaborative and participatory artistic practices have long become an integral part of the art scene. At the same time, the “art star” created by the art market and based on a commercial logic enjoys great success as a heroic individualistic figure. Many of the artists in the exhibition often work in collectives or collaborate for individual projects with other artists, theorists, or the exhibition audience—at the same time as constantly competing for attention, exhibitions, sales, etc.
The exhibition takes its title from Martin Luther King’s last book WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Chaos or Community?, written in 1967 when, after its first major successes, the black civil rights movement had entered a period of crisis. Today, this work is seen as his legacy and as evidence of his socio-political visions and hopes—much of it still relevant to this day. At the same time, King’s self-reflexive and critical analysis is a snapshot of a society faced with the choice of sinking into chaos or working towards a life together as a peaceful community based on equality. Without wishing to draw parallels to the black civil rights movement of the 1960s, many of the acute social problems of that period – such as racism, discrimination, unequal distribution of wealth, and class divisions—persist today.