The Future of Demonstration

October 31–November 11, 2017





The German term VERMÖGEN and its semantic field are highly ambivalent. On the one hand, Vermögen refers to economic denotations such as »wealth,« »asset« and »property.« On the other hand, it relates to meanings like »faculty,« »ability« and »skill.« Vermögen comprises the social reality of capitalism and its biopolitical power as well as the capacity of an individual or collective to know or do something (including incapacity in its antonym Unvermögen), thus embracing concepts of education and agency.

In its classical Aristotelian sense, Vermögen refers to the means available to alter someone or something. In modern philosophical history, the term delineates a critical moment in the divergence between the philosophies of Spinoza and Kant that continues to resonate today, as, for example, in the work of Deleuze: On the one hand as an immanent potentiality whose possibilities multiply by sharing; on the other hand as a transcendental order of rational morality to which the individual complies. Its appropriation in the liberal and neoliberal eras subjected the term’s ethical and aesthetic notions to a derivative of capital, and so impoverished the concepts of »virtue« and »fortune« in contrast to Adam Smith’s wider philosophical debate. While Bourdieu countered this mutilation by diversifying the notion into economic, social, cultural, and symbolic capital, Marx posits the term Vermögen – and its negative Unvermögen – as crucial for the dialectic development of universal individuality in capitalism.

In Ernst Bloch’s reading of the Aristotelian “active potency,” potency – what one can do – combines with potentiality – the reality of a situation – to arrive at a “concrete utopia.” What a person is able to do or what we can do jointly demonstrates collective life in a society. Vermögen can stand for parameters of lived democracy where the competencies and processes of decision-making need to evolve continuously to fill participation with life. The term thus refers to »having« but at the same time means »becoming« in the sense of encouraging imagination towards (self)-empowerment and agency.

VERMÖGEN refers to the point of intersection between absolute interiority and radical exteriority, a space where post-digital art operates. In a time when, for instance, data is a new Vermögen (as under black box conditions, the proprietary collection and exploitation of knowledge), we are faced with the question of how we can invigorate the potentiality the term offers. At issue is the attempt to transgress the modes of critical engagement towards new forms of resistance where facts, fiction, images and narratives enthuse us with a new artistic-activist culture, as we move towards post-global ecologies and societies.

For us today, the diversity and potentiality of the term Vermögen (and inability or insufficiency expressed by Unvermögen) is a powerful origin to conceive trajectories for repositioning art and discourse towards new formats, practices and agencies. While the episodes focus on specific aspects of VERMÖGEN, they share a conceptual and artistic outlook that exceeds both the scope of contemporary art and the mere critique of capitalist violence – the episodes reorient media-, data- and biotechnology against established power relations and institutions. Consequently, they demonstrate the collective potentials of Vermögen and hence the capacity for effective resistance.