We are watching the tsunami coming…
Which swimming costume are you going to put on?


Aktion Iconby Leopold Kessler

/// 28th of March
Zielpunkt, Stiftgasse 5-9, A-1070 Wien
08:30 – 20:30 ///

Aktion solange der Vorrat reicht

To the invitation to critically reflect upon the concept of downfall, Leopold Kessler has answered by pulling three fishes out of the hat.

The intervention AKTION/ Interspecific bargain, consists in producing packages of 3 fishes belonging to 3 different species and then display them to the gaze of the public of a supermarket as if they were actual special sales.

Work’s Context

The context chosen by the artist to make his intervention already traces the frames of the work’s understanding. Kessler choses the supermarket for its being the cathedral of the consumerist society, in which everyone of us, willing or unwilling, is called on to ritually renew his/her belief, his/her belonging to the system.

Stepping into a supermarket, in fact, we inevitably begin a dialogue which takes shape through the convergence between consumer behavior and invitation to consume. In the attempt to disclose this dialogue as much as possible, the distribution industry has developed a series of complex symbolical strategies: Labeling, Branding, Packaging…These aim at distinguishing the undistinguished, in order to hit the targets and begin with them a private dialogue. The product becomes, then, the inter-face through which the consumers mirror themselves as symbolic instances of a discourse which they belong to.

There is, however, an as much primitive as efficient form of addressing the audience, which actually turns its messages to every anonymous passer-by, and this is the AKTION! (in German SALE, special offer or bargain, but also action in the sense of artistic intervention ).

Behind the package

AKTION! represents the temporary ceasing of the search for a private dialogue which normally articulates the production-distribution-consumption circle as a mediation game. In this, the AKTION! is somehow an anti-label, an anti-brand, for it deprives the product of its peculiar representation. It makes, so to say, the package transparent. At the same time, it also represents a meta-label, a meta-brand, for it abstracts the product form the dialogic game of the dis-play (or mirror-play). More generally, it points out the very structural frame behind this simulated dialogue. Indeed, far from being an invitation, an offer, AKTION! is first and foremost an imperative, an ORDER. In it, the whole fragility of the system comes to the light. AKTION! means, abruptly: I have to sell it! You have to buy it! That’s how IT works!.

In this meta-frame, the action only amplifies that familiar feeling of distrust that everyone of us already felt in front of this kind of offers. The insertion of 3 different fishes in the same package underlines the sense of urgency, that imperative of having to sell or to sell-out what has been produced anyway, even at the price of having to randomly fill up the shelves with those products that don’t find, or did not find a place within the conventional standards.

Thus, the performance uses that intrinsic transparency of the AKTION-package and aims at enhancing the feeling of perplexity in front of a product without a name, without a history, indeed, with no sense. As a result, the consumer is implicitly invited to consider consumerism’s mechanisms a little less trustfully, highlighting its imperative character as well as its intrinsic dysfunctions and excesses.

Behind the consumerist system

Once we overcome the package, and we consider the product as such, another element of the intervention becomes somehow disturbing. The 3 fishes, of 3 different species, also have three different sizes. To get them together in the same package almost pedestrianly refers to the most familiar schematic representations of the food-chain: “Big fish eats small fish”. In the moment one gets this reference, s/he is immediately threw out beyond the bazar of consumerist representation game s/he is dipped in, outside of that quasi-religious system of belief and rituals, which shape the supermarket-cathedral, and regains access to the more ecological and eco-systemic dimension of his/her consuming.

Beyond the product

Even trespassing the invisible threshold of packaging, even understanding the product as a paradigm of a human-centered nutrition ecology, the fishes are nonetheless food, and this fact remains at the origin of our perception of the object we hold in our hands. But the work still hides a last element of interpretation, which further brakes the contextual borders within which the intervention takes place. Such element explicitly refers to the concept of “interspecific” which is announced in the work’s title.

Beyond its strangeness with relation to the commercial standards of distribution (which aims at unveiling the consumerist categorical imperative: AKTION!), beyond the eco-systemic element that recalls the role of the human being as the ultimate consumer, the interspecific packaging also traces out the taxonomic display of natural sciences museums. The observer is thereby invited to definitely abandon the perception of the product as being a consumer good, as food, as Lebens-mittel (lit. means for living) – and to recognize the three fishes as forms of life, as Lebensformen.