“Minorities Have Their Own Language”: Oreet Ashery at Campagne Premiere

Oreet Ashery, Animal with a Language, 2014-15, Courtesy Campagne Première Berlin and Waterside Contemporary London, photo: Jack Woodhouse.
Oreet Ashery, Animal with a Language, 2014-15, Courtesy Campagne Première Berlin and Waterside Contemporary London, photo: Jack Woodhouse.

“The interest of knowledge is in self knowledge – the minorities have to know the language of the mainstream because they have to survive in the world, but the mainstreams do not know the languages of the minorities, the minorities have their own languages, their own aesthetical languages, their own knowledge” – Oreet Ashery

You could mistake the wildly coloured ponchos on first glance, for colourful neon creations from early Nineties rave culture; so prevalent in the UK during the reign of Thatcher. Yet on closer inspection they seem to simulate more ancient aboriginal dress, with futuristic style lettering depicting phrases such as “Love Hurts…” or “The world does not have to be as you want it to be” nestled amongst rubber gloves, scrubbers and cleaning cloths they all stand rigid on somewhat altmodisch galvanised mop buckets.

Oreet Ashery’s “Animal With A Language” opened on 5 February at Campagne Première, Berlin, with a discussion with the artist, led by Heike Fuhlbrügge. “In the future, all persons performing, presenting, reading or publishing ‘Mystery-Bouffe’ should change the content, making it contemporary, immediate, up-to-the-minute.”  These opening lines of the infamous preface of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s play, written in 1921, is the task that Ashery’s show responds to.

Oreet Ashery, Animal with a Language, 2014-15, Courtesy Campagne Première Berlin and Waterside Contemporary London, photo: Jack Woodhouse.
Oreet Ashery, Animal with a Language, 2014-15, Courtesy Campagne Première Berlin and Waterside Contemporary London, photo: Jack Woodhouse.

The room feels overcrowded, yet in the corner two hammocks hang from the ceiling alongside a coordinating pink screen playing computer-enhanced imagery of a nude heterosexual couple. A woman is calmly trussed up in baking foil with an apple in her mouth, while a hypnotic voice gives the protocol of how to kill a pig by various methods such as halal, new age and industrial. This is all set to the sweet smell of sanitation which floods through the main room, rubbery industrial freshness plays with your senses as you tread on the plastic, flesh toned floor. 

It has taken Ashery just over two years to re-direct the play, using personal political situations and circumstances, to navigate these complex relations to social realties. The works on display are collaborations from her unique methodology when working with vulnerable people, most recently Freedom from Torture and UKLGIG (UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group) in the Tate Turbine Hall, UK 2014 the costumes and artefacts from the performance are on display at Campagne Première.

Ashery starts off stating she loves pigs, but using the symbolism of the Feudal system a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe, she choose pigs to represent the notion that women, land and animals were recognised as wealth, and owned by those men who could attain them. Naturally, the pig is most prevalent in works such as “How To Kill A Pig (Party for Freedom, Track 2/10 Remix)”, 2014 or “Party for Freedom XX”, 2014. But in her discourse with Fuhlbrügge she also states the pig illustrates the failed revolutions of the 21st Century, in gender, race and sexuality, which have fallen at the last hurdle. A grey dystopia stands in the place of liberation. Ashery seems to have a certain nostalgic romance for these failures, she states:

“I don’t think I can change the world or create a revolution, I am interested in the visual languages of movements, the language of the revolution”

Also, a somewhat problematic aspect that was brought up in the opening discussion was that the works explored climate change and activism, yet most of the works were created in the Tate Turbine Hall. The Tate has continued to stand by its longest-running and most controversial sponsor, the oil company BP, despite widespread criticism, even after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010, the largest spill in petroleum industry. Yes, dissidents should inherit the world, not the large corporations, as I believe Ashery and Mayakovsky wish, but I do hope climate activism will not become another failed movement to add to the others in Ashery’s collection.

Text by Penny Victoria Rafferty

“Animal With A Language” is on until 14 March 2015 at Campagne Première in Berlin

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