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An interview with Bart van der Heide on exhibitions as structures of care and power on the frame of the second chapter of TECHNO HUMANITIES, at Museion, Bolzano, Italy.

How shall we enter this anti-kingdom conquering the ruins of the museums?

Yeah, where to start?

On an abstract level, I guess.
I've always worked in public institutions, experiencing firsthand the growing identity crises of museums in which they are increasingly losing relevance. It's more and more difficult to communicate why a museum is important. The reason for museums’ identity crisis is that they do not practice what they preach. They communicate values of democracy, inclusivity, and solidarity. But if you look at the organizations themselves, they pretty much remain very traditional and, in a sense, not very democratic. By democratic, I don’t mean an open-door policy in which everyone has freedom to say whatever they want, but as a dialogue; understanding which values are and are not held by the museum, and use those as a starting point for dialogue and solidarity. That is what museums, in my opinion, need to do. There is the necessity to join larger discussions around globalization, technology and ecology that is why these are the main topics of this exhibition. We do this on the level of programming, but also on the fundamental institutional level. So, shows like the Kingdom of the Ill also generate institutional change that is longer than the exhibition period itself.

Museums were not originally conceived as spaces for democracy. There were other public spaces for that,  whilst the museum was to be held as a temple, with a very clear hierarchy. Now, centuries later, we see intentions flashing into the future: Can curatorial work really be etymologically transformed into forms of healing and spaces of care? With that spawn and hold of tension, would you say that the museum is somehow an “ill” architecture?

That's a very nice reference to the work of Pavel S. Pyś who, for instance, sees the museum as a body. As a body that is toxic. For me, museums are the template of a society that you want to stand for. In order to establish that society, you first need to create an organization that allows it. In that sense, a museum is very context-driven. Giving meaning to our status as global citizens carries a responsibility that is very much locally-driven. So, the values that we are having or how we work will be different from museum to museum. That is what these TECHNO HUMANITIES shows do, what these two shows – TECHNO and Kingdom of the Ill – have in common: a mutual interest to abolish a rhetoric of opposition. And that, of course, with Kingdom of the Ill, is the distinction between either a healthy body or an unhealthy body. Sara Cluggish and Pavel S. Pyś raise the question: who decides? In today's times of growing anxieties, mental health crises and COVID, can we ever say that we're truly healthy?


Going off of this very tense age of anxiety, the question of vulnerability, and how it may have become more visible during or after the pandemic: could anxiety dissipate the antagonism between health and sickness or serve as a metaphor for the museum in the overarching ambition you're describing?

Maybe ten years ago, a museum professional would have been considered weak if they allowed the museum’s programming to be influenced by external groups. “You have to have a vision, leadership, and direction.” For instance, all of our public programming vis à vis our exhibitions are developed together with an autonomous forum of very broadly disciplined poets, techno party organizers, and theater people. So, their needs, ambitions, and desire for networks are influential on decision-making. I see it as a really big strength in building relevance together, also through declarations of solidarity, in which we declare that we cannot be in solidarity with everyone. Vulnerability is very much a question of definition for me. That is also what you see in the works in this show.

How is the body being addressed by TECHNO HUMANITIES? Are you also avoiding a certain kind of universalism?

Absolutely. We try to unpack the humanities as something not ego-driven. We raise the question: what does a more interdependent understanding of the humanities (between living and non-living things) look like? How can a museum informed by that discourse open new perspectives? In TECHNO, it was clear to me that the first show had to investigate electronic music outside of the definition of the subculture and related more to a general post-industrial condition; how techno music and the club really became part of this post-industrial labor force of the freelancer. It brought techno music out of the dark of the club and into the light by really seeing the club as an alternative model for social coexistence. The same is happening with Kingdom of the Ill and its reference to Susan Sontag’s essay, Illness as Metaphor. There, she's talking about this dual citizenship [of the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick]. She's also dedicating lightness and darkness to either living as a healthy body or living as an unhealthy body. In this show, it is bringing the Kingdom of the Ill out of the darkness and into the light as a model of social coexistence and solidarity.


It's interesting how techno is happening in the dark room; a rave also happens to have a very specific relationship to light.

It has a complex relationship to time.

Can you say more about that? I feel that you also go to trance or go across the definition of techno and humanities not only from your academic upbringing, but also through an experience in the club. This is a peculiar counter-reading of techno, since for Mark Fisher, techno parties/raves are mechanisms adopted by the new post-industrial labor force in order to sabotage the body (also through drug consumption), and unconsciously avoid a work routine.

Techno influences the way I see the world, and I think that I experienced it very much during the pandemic. How techno was integrated in this post-industrial labor force of the freelancer and the culture freelancer/producer. As a freelancer, you're constantly in a state of production and productivity, but in order to be productive, you also need to have these calculated moments of release. This is where techno on a global scale really embedded itself. During the pandemic, you saw that the commercial side of the freelancer was immediately facilitated through digital platforms. But these moments of release could not be simulated by technology. For that, you need a club. You need people. You need the music. You need the loss of time. With my peers, during the pandemic, this absence of the club led to an increase of anxiety, exhaustion, depression and substance abuse. In all of the exhibitions I've seen so far about rave culture, techno culture is profiled from a historical or subcultural angle. It remains a story of the eighties/nineties. It's very important to understand the historical starting point, but that also excludes the contemporary role of techno in being a productive body, or maybe an exhausted body, and their relation to health and freedom...

Or a reality.

That's why I find these types of historical shows very sloppy, and I don't see myself represented in them. I was there in the nineties, but techno has evolved into something more fundamental and shared on a global scale. I think there is a way to unpack techno outside of the confines of the club. For instance, the other day I had a discussion with all of the techno communities in South Tyrol. A woman came up and said she comes from the techno communities of the nineties, and has young children who are growing up in the current school system. She acknowledged that kids do not learn how to look after each other. It is such a competitive field that does not allow lessons on solidarity. But that is what one learned in the techno club. If someone is having a hard time, you look after them. It's not a question, it's part of the culture. 

So what would be the coordinates of the Kingdom of the Ill? Solidarity. Participation.

Activism. And Care. What Sarah and Pavel did is relate these topics to larger developments of globalization, ecology, and technology. In a way they picked up where the last TECHNO show finished, because the last chapter of this exhibition was about exhaustion: regenerating loops of life between productivity and exhaustion, where exhaustion is not an endpoint, but actually a moment of recovery to be productive again. Through this cycle, I think what you see in this show is really powerful. The exhibition architecture by Studio Diogo Passarinho is also very important, because it allows the visitor to become part of these stories, supporting them to find this interrelationship between other positions, merging more into each other. If these positions were in a white cube, there would be a distance and/or maybe a declaration, or a demand for the visitor to take a position here. This architecture appeals more to the generosity within the works toward becoming part of that story; becoming part of the research. This is the same with the club, where sonic architecture is essential in creating this collective experience of solidarity, and of course for some, drugs. These elements that continue to facilitate other types of discussions and other times of realities.


It's substantial to come back to the question of power structures for this exhibition: To how the duality of the healthy and the ill, of suffering and pleasure, are intertwined in building a thread between the floors and the programming. The avoidance of suffering and pleasure as something that has been crucial in the establishment of power structures, as punishment and reward, is important to underline. For example, this dichotomy, resulting in drug consumption, turns emblematic to a specific state of mind. I think about the body of the workers and the body of the visitor, and the level of relation that we're able to connect to through the experiences of illness, grief, stress, or pleasure and how these categories play a role in the exhibition. There's a form of distress that is possible, or through a kind of pleasure, is possible. A specific form of a process of transgression. 

I can only answer from the position of the institution. A lot of museums are under pressure from different influences to standardize ways of working, while managerial rhetorics rampantly infect the organizations of museums. It is like a virus when discussing museum issues, because it is working with people who are very ideological and identify with the value produced within these museum structures. That is something, as a director, I'm very much concerned about: keeping my team feeling fulfilled by doing something that is important for their society, the museum, and the future of the museum, and making sure that they have agency in that process.

As publishers and editors, we also long for that kind of liberation, trapped in a very adjacent emotional technocratization of labor, while trying to build up the structures that could stabilize its conditions.

Museums have always been bureaucratic because it's public money and very regulated. What you see is a managerial culture that is infesting museums in the same way as it does our public life. We are witnessing a managerial shift which has a damaging effect on the balance of these organizations and also the power relationships within organizations. People are isolated, not heard, and these are people who extract a large part of their identity from their work. That's also why I find it to be such great to work at Museion; it's a young museum in which we can still establish a way of coexistence as a team, and the director is an art professional whose final decisions will be taken from the perspective of the art and the content.

And yet again, the curator remains in the background of this exhibition. There is no predominant voice or voices that are telling you how to navigate the space. Even though the structure or the architecture of the space can be difficult, you can walk around. You are also confronted with artworks that allow that. For instance, Enrico Boccioletti obliges us to hold up our camera in order to read what is on the shelves, or Carolyn Lazard's corner that is alienating, but at the same time, so familiar. It's interesting how curatorial work can operate while remaining in the background, while the background is still redefining itself. 

TECHNO HUMANITIES is a direction. Projects that are related to it are developing in dialogue, such as research teams with Sarah Cluggish, Pavel S. Pyś, Diogo Passarinho, and Frida Carazzato, who discuss and challenge each other. There are creatives around the table who need to work with each other, and they don't know each other. A techno producer is sitting together with an opera set designer – what do they have in common? But, together, they need to find ways to work out: what are the issues in our community? What I'm trying to do is take away the pressure of representation out of individual projects, because I think that is what museums always need to do. A museum is more than the sum of its exhibitions.





Kingdom of the Ill, an international group exhibition occupying the entire building of MUSEION, will be open until March 5, 2023. The exhibition marks the second installment of TECHNO HUMANITIES, a long-term research program initiated by Museion Director Bart van der Heide.

Kingdom of the III seeks to respond to the current debate on health and illness, contamination and purity, care and neglect by asking how and by whom a body is defined as healthy or sick. The title of the exhibition is a critique on American author Susan Sontag’s work Illness as Metaphor (1978), which investigates the relationship between the individual and the contemporary social, corporate and institutional systems that influence our experience of healing and well-being.

Kingdom of the III includes works by Enrico Boccioletti, Brothers Sick (Ezra e Noah Benus), Shu Lea Cheang, Heather Dewey-Hagborg & Phillip Andrew Lewis, Julia Frank, Sharona Franklin, Barbara Gamper, Nan Goldin e Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.), Johanna Hedva, Ingrid Hora, Adelita Husni-Bey, Ian Law, Carolyn Lazard, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Juliana Cerqueira Leite & Zoë Claire Miller, Mary Maggic, Mattia Marzorati, Erin M. Riley, P. Staff and Lauryn Youden.

    Lynn Hershman Leeson, Twisted Gravity, 2021, Etched plastic, LED lights, Aqua Pulse system, water, wood, cables, wire, and metal hardware, 182,9 x 47 x 47 cm each, Courtesy of Altman Siegel, San Francisco. Kingdom of the Ill, 2022, exhibition view, MUSEION Museum of modern and contemporary Art Bolzano Bozen.
    Credit: Lineematiche/Luca Guadagnini.

    Ingrid Hora, Collective Effort (detail), 2022, Mixed media, Variable dimensions, Courtesy of the Artist Back: Ingrid Hora, Collective Effort / Squize, 2022, Video, color, silent, loop, Courtesy of the Artist, Video recording: Santiago Torresagasti and Luca Zontini, Edit by Santiago Torresagasti Kingdom of the Ill, 2022, exhibition view, MUSEION Museum of modern and contemporary Art Bolzano Bozen. Credit: Lineematiche/Luca Guadagnini.

    Mary Maggic, Genital( * )Panic, 2019, Gynecology chair, medical trolley, 2 calliper, mirror, box of latex gloves, wallpaper, QR code, monitor, genital 3D print, Variable dimensions, Video 7’ 05’’, Courtesy of the Artist Kingdom of the Ill, 2022, exhibition view, MUSEION Museum of modern and contemporary Art Bolzano Bozen. Credit: Lineematiche/Luca Guadagnini.

    Nan Goldin, Self Portrait of My Lips Sewn Shut, New York, February 2018, 2018, Oil on canvas, 35 x 46 cm, Courtesy of the Artist Center: Nan Goldin, Memory Lost, 2020, Archival pigment print, 109 x 162,5 cm, Ed. 3 + 1 AP, Courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, NYC Right: Nan Goldin, Dead Flowers / Sackler, 2020, Archival pigment print, 76,2 x 167,5 cm, Ed. 3 + 1 AP, Courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, NYC Top: P.A.I.N, Banners/Guggenheim Action, 2019, Grommeted, laser print cloth, 300 x 92 cm each, Courtesy of P.A.I.N. Kingdom of the Ill, 2022, exhibition view, MUSEION Museum of modern and contemporary Art Bolzano Bozen. Credit: Lineematiche/Luca Guadagnini.



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