Their expression is frozen, their faces serious. A disturbing group photo. A few days after the attempted coup in Turkey on 15/16 July 2016, the guilty were presented to public view. They are high-ranking military officers. Many other men also wear leisure clothes and not the uniforms in which they were arrested. Some of the men display clear signs of having been mistreated. “Der Coup der tadellosen Männer” ("The coup of the blameless men”) was the title one newspaper gave it. And the group of artists G.R.A.M. has seized upon just this enigmatic-dubious word order as the title for their latest presentation in the Christine König Gallery in Vienna.
For years already, the group has concerned itself in its performative stagings with press photographs, which it subjects to a multi-layered artistic interrogation in the form of its reenactments. They create a pictorial world that seems to be familiar yet which nonetheless appears strange. G.R.A.M. captures the pictorial raw material of the spirited, garrulous photo reportage in the mass media, and brings unrest into the world of the images using the artistic means of repetition and displacement.
In the most recent performances, political scenes are frequent, as they were already in their earlier works. The American Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, shows up: during a meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, or alone on the telephone, surrounded by bodyguards during the Iranian atomic negotiations in Vienna. Or Barack Obama, at home, within the circle of his family, barefoot, watching TV. Or at the traditional “"family photo”" for the heads of state: seconds before the shutter clicks, when posture, hairstyle and knot of tie must be quickly adjusted.
Amongst the many suit-wearers, women mingle only very rarely. “The coup of the blameless men” is therefore not only a quotation that is coined for a specific press photograph after the attempted coup in Turkey, but also probably – a little tongue-in-cheek – for the broad squad of the “blameless men” who, day by day, week by week, take up their position in front of the press cameras. In their reenactments, the artists are repeatedly concerned with the choreography of power. Meticulously, they spell out the gestural vocabulary of politics, they precisely observe the body language of the politicians, not in order to compromise them, but in order to lay open the framework of the public – and the published – poses.
For the most recent presentation, the photographically reenacted scenes have been printed again on newspaper. These are – in addition to photos, posters and photographically printed wall hangings – to be viewed as exhibition pieces. In this manner the images create a loop from the newspaper back to the newspaper. What is clear: in this way the images are altered, but so is our perception of them. They do not fulfill the promise of attaining certainty through detailed contemplation. Far rather, the “Coup of the blameless men” leaves us behind, questioning. Or baffled, or astonished.
(Anton Holzer, 2016)
Schleifmühlgasse 1A, A-1040 Vienna