|Clemens von Wedemeyer
The Illusion of a Crowd
Lindenstr. 35, 10969 Berlin
|7 April – 31 May, 2020||Reg. opening hours, see gallery website|
Clemens von Wedemeyer’s new films undertake a probing exploration of the phenomenon of human crowds. What happens when they grow exponentially? How can their behavior be predicted, and how can it be controlled? What distinguishes digital hordes from physical ones? And how is the individual human being part of a crowd, or many crowds, even in isolation?
The current situation lets us see the themes of Majorities, a recent exhibition of Wedemeyer’s work at Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, and In Gesellschaft (In Society), a show at Kunstmuseum Luzern that closed in February, in a different light. In collaboration with Clemens von Wedemeyer, KOW releases the films from the Berlin-based artist’s most recent cycle in the inaugural presentation of a new series of KOW ISSUES ONLINE.
The centerpiece of Wedemeyer’s new film cycle, 70.001, is a reconstruction in the digital realm of the Monday demonstrations that filled the streets of Leipzig in October 1989. But two key differences set the computer simulation of the mass movement apart from the historic events: The crowd is flowing through the digital Leipzig of today. And it doesn’t disperse in the evening as people go home. The algorithms don’t need a break and, day after day, add new protesters to yesterday’s crowd. Soon enough the streets are packed as far as the eye can see with animated clones, turning the demonstration into a viral sea of stereotyped bodies. Is there actually a will that propels them? And if so, what do they want? Is their behavior preprogrammed?
Wedemeyer presents his animation in the form of a video wall set up in the gallery space. For viewers who now stream it on their computers at home, it raises another question: Will we one day send our digital avatars out to demonstrate in virtual streets while staying at home ourselves? Will the digital political public of the future organize Monday demonstrations in the data space? And has that future perhaps already arrived?
In Transformation Scenario, a trust-inspiring voice speaking in a soothing tone summarizes the latest science on the behavior of crowds and individuals—from riots to Woodstock. As powerful cinematic footage fills the screen—simulations involving large numbers of extras evoking a menacing power of the multitude that might infect any society—the voice touts a new understanding of the human being: someone who, when caught up in a complex situation, no longer needs to decide for himself or herself what to do. The insights of mass psychology, the voice argues, now make automated control of the individual possible, relieving him or her of all anxiety, doubt, and uncertainty. Guided by artificial intelligence, every one of us can at long last be free and completely himself or herself, the promotional clip promises.
Crowd Control is a simulation software designed for police and military forces and security services that enables the user to control the dynamic of mass protests and rehearse countermeasures. Wedemeyer’s film of the same title shows the construction of different model scenarios in which protesters clash with police and the crowd wrests itself free of the state apparatus’s iron embrace. Or it doesn’t. Depending on who dominates the game.
For Faux Terrain, Wedemeyer staged a scene that interweaves the isolation of a lone protagonist with a seemingly absurd concatenation of mass events, ranging from the Yellow Vests protests to Cold War-era security measures and back to the year 1871, when Switzerland granted asylum to 87,000 French soldiers, the birth of its modern identity as a neutral humanitarian nation. In the present, however, such neutrality gives way to chaos: ambling through the deserted white halls of a museum, the lonely young woman is abruptly swept along by a frenzied crowd aimlessly rushing through the disorienting White Cube.
An accident strikes. But things could be much worse. A few people have sustained light injuries for exercise purposes—a hundred servicemembers are on the scene to assist them. In Wedemeyer’s Katastrophenübung (Disaster Response Drill), the health care system lovingly tends to minor scratches, but also, and more importantly, to itself. The drill without a disaster shines a spotlight on the public authorities’ need for organization at a time of crisis, when communicative and bureaucratic routines cocoon the individuals in a closed society even as each one of them may actually have only himself or herself to depend on.
Wedemeyer’s films prompt us to rethink our own positions in the real, media, and digital spaces of assembly and isolation. The crowd, in the sense of an impulsive collective of affected bodies and stirred emotions, is a constant presence today, both a menace and potential source of solidarity. The regulation and control of those bodies and emotions and their agency will be a pivotal issue in the political debates, and likely also the art, of the near future. Wedemeyer’s work is an eye-opening introduction to its complexities.
Text: Alexander Koch