New Scenario goes beyond art curators

Piero Bisello

To be discovered: artists Paul Barsch and Tilman Hornig’s project New Scenario is an innovative online platform that challenges the way group exhibitions are done.

Just over a year ago the IX Berlin Biennale led to an outbreak of some of the most negative reviews one could find in the art world in recent years. We begged to differ and praised many of the artworks in that show as examples of contemporary art at its best. Interestingly, a huge part of the IX Berlin Biennale happened online, not in the sense of an extensive online communication but rather because of the remarkable number of artworks in that show that could only be seen on a browser. We thought some web-based artworks of BB9 were some of the best artworks in the exhibition altogether and among them we especially applauded “Body Holes” by New Scenario.

New Scenario is a project founded in 2015 by Paul Barsch and Tilman Hornig, a duo of artists who after meeting in school and sharing a studio for a while decided to collaborate on a new way of presenting, documenting, and curating artworks. If by “art curator” one understands an individual who comes up with a selection of artworks to be presented in an exhibition, Barsch and Hornig are much more than art curators. Every project by New Scenario is indeed a curated online exhibition insofar as it presents a selection of artworks through images online. But it is also a radically original and challenging “exhibiting situation”, that is to say a series of conditions the artworks find themselves in. For example, in “Jurassic Painting” the artworks in the images are situated in a jungle with roaming dinosaurs. Or in the case of “Body Holes”, we find them inside nostrils, vaginas, penises, belly buttons, assholes, etc.

In an age where every artwork seems to need an online life to have a life at all (for example through images on social networks), Barsch and Hornig thought that online documentation of artworks was missing something. As they told us: “We felt the need to give some serious consideration and creative thought on how to use digital possibilities to shape these experiences.” Almost sounding like a mission statement, they continued: “Documentation and presentation of artworks is a realm that can and must be shaped, artistically and conceptually. The internet and digital forms of presentation hold a lot of potential to create more diverse experiences. For example, our project CRASH (in collaboration with Burkhard Beschow) is a spatiotemporally fanned-out group exhibition that uses the charged and ill-designed space of the interior of a stretch limousine to establish a cinematic and narrative atmosphere in which the artworks can enfold and interact.” All considered, a project by New Scenario is then a curated exhibition and a new way to understand online documentation of artworks at once.

We mentioned Barsch and Hornig are artists, hence one might ask whether a New Scenario project is one of their artworks as well. We can think of an artwork as necessarily bearing some kind of authorship, and since the question of authorship in the case of the New Scenario project is indeed multi-layered—it includes, as Barsch and Hornig told us, “that of the individual artists represented in the individual artworks and ours, represented in the concepts and overall appearance and structure”—the answer to the question “are these projects artworks” is also complex and multilayered, or perhaps impossible to deliver. However, the question is fruitful since it points to the fact that New Scenario is a good example of an art project that challenges traditional categories and definitions in art theory. Along with the quality of the artworks and the aesthetic originality of the “scenarios”, these deeply theoretical implications brought about by New Scenario are also what we find exciting about the project.

A last point of interest about New Scenario also needs to be mentioned: not many exhibiting situations in contemporary visual art challenge the artists to work with stricter aesthetic and narrative conditions than the “scenarios” determined by the curators of New Scenario. On this point, Barsch and Hornig told us: “We provide the artists with an overall idea of what the project will be like, and sometimes, if we have them, pics of the specific space or setting. The artists are free to develop or contribute whatever work they want. In other cases we directly ask for existing works if we think they fit the concept. In some cases, like in the latest project HOPE [a virtual reality tour of some university spaces in Germany with zombie apocalyptic scenes in which artworks are shown] we offered some artists tighter frameworks, like the development of a chalkboard image or a poster work, or we collaborated with one artist to make a video more site-specific.” It seems more common in other artistic forms for an artist to be asked to deal with challenging artistic conditions. For example, we can think of great filmmakers such as Spike Lee making genre-films (see his bank robbery film “Inside Man”) or architects having to retain some usability in designing visually eccentric buildings. What New Scenario has fruitfully done is having asked contemporary visual artists to embrace challenging restrictions to similar extents and this is a choice we find rather uncommon among contemporary art curators.

July 19, 2017