The common good principle

At the 6. The Werkleitz Biennale in Halle dealt with the question of ownership

"Common Property Allgemeingut" is written on the yellow ribbon that fences off a rectangle on the lawn in front of the art academy in Halle/Saale. Who curious, pushes up the tape, however, will be disappointed, because there is only lawn bordered. 50 meters further one makes an on the one hand everyday on the other hand exciting discovery. In the middle of the city you can enter a jungle with wildly growing plants and bushes. For decades, the garden belonging to the art academy had been closed off from the public by a high wall.

The Spaniard Lara Almarcegui, whose concept includes making unused spaces in various cities accessible to the public, has also turned Halle’s wasteland into common property – installations in the context of the 6.Werkleitz Biennale in Halle, which ended on Sunday.

The name of East Germany’s largest festival of media art comes from the small town of Werkleitz in Saxony-Anhalt, where the festival was held in 1993 under the name of Werkleitz Biennale "Tapetenwechsel" was founded and housed until last year. This year the festival moved to the Hallenscher Volkspark. It was a wise decision for many reasons.

The up-and-coming University Hall attracts many more visitors, and media interest in the cultural event, which this year involved 170 artists from 30 countries, had also grown. But much more important is the thematic link between the historical site and the thematic focus of the biennial.

Starting from the premise that art and knowledge are common property – precisely "Common Property," examines how knowledge and information are increasingly becoming commodities sold on the market for the highest bids in the age of the Internet society. Whoever still insists on the principle of common property will soon get a letter from the lawyer. This was the experience of the Berlin media artist Sebastian Lutgert a few months ago, who was wanted on a warrant for his arrest. It was initiated by the chairman of the board of the Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture and art patron Jan Philipp Reemtsma.

He took legal action against Lutgert (cf. Cats were read Adorno), because the on the Internet domain two texts of the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, for which the Hamburg millionaire had secured the rights. The moral exaltation over Reemtsma was rough. Finally, he has accumulated a lot of moral credit, because he used the fortune accumulated by his ancestors involved in the Nazi system for the use of projects of enlightenment and reason.

An exaltation, however, that is ultimately only morally justified. Reemtsma did not act differently from any other owner of property rights under capitalism. This is expressed particularly clearly in the work "Culture is our Business" by the Berlin artist Ines Schaber. She asked why the photo was taken "The "Strabenkampfe in Berlin," which shows armed workers behind stacks of newspapers piled up in barricades, is today expected to pay a user fee for the U.S. exploitation company Corbis, founded by Bill Gates.

Schaper outlines the odyssey of the picture taken in 1919 by photographer Willy Romer. Like this photo, many other photos of labor movement struggles over 80 years ago are now available for purchase on the Internet with the Corbis watermark. It is not the only installation that focuses on the history of the labor movement at the Biennale.

Finally, the central exhibition building, the Hallenser Volkspark, is very closely linked to this story. In 1907 it was opened by the Social Democracy under the slogan, "to raise you from agony and suffering, that is the goal we are striving for". In 1920, the left-wing social-democratic USPD united under the slogan "The International will save humanity", in the building together with the KPD. Five years later, the young communist Fritz Weineck died during a police storming of a KPD meeting in the building. It should be called the "little trumpeter" in the mythology of the KPD historiography. His monument, erected in the GDR, was damaged several times by right-wing radicals after 1989, so that it finally had to be dismantled.

At the Biennale, it was back, as were the many GDR murals on which scenes from the world’s class struggles were immortalized on new buildings in Halle-Neustadt in the 1960s. Artist Michaela Melian has restored the long-removed utopian images on the wall of a hall.

One floor further, the Berlin artist Florian Freytag presents his reconstructed frescoes of a legendary mural painted by the Mexican artist Diego Rivero (1934 for the New Workers School in New York). It is easy to see that it shares the same utopias with the Hallenscher murals.

Those who took it upon themselves to watch the more than five-hour film "Watching "La Commune" by Peter Watkins, which ran during the exhibition, felt transported to the present time: Activists of an alternative Commune TV have smuggled themselves among the Communards and follow the short history of this revolutionary uprising until its bloody end. The actors in historical costumes answer with the original texts from the Commune and repeatedly make references to the present day.

The utopias of those who once opened the Hall of the People and those who today take to the streets against capitalist globalization, against gene patenting and for common property in the intangible sector, are also similar. Those who question property rights in the knowledge sector cannot remain silent about the power to control the means of production. It is to be hoped that next year’s Werkleitz Biennial will continue to work on this theme, both because countries with veto rights, such as France, Russia and China, and other countries with veto rights, will not be able to do so.

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