Badischer Kunstverein


Contributors Eleanor Antin, Alan Benson, Ruth Buchanan, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Kathy Brew, Kaucyila Brooke, William S. Burroughs, Jonathan Dawson, Michel Delsol, Leslie Dick & Audrey Wollen, Diane DiMassa & Freddie Baer, Michael du Plessis, Michael Hemmingson, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Gary Indiana, Anja Kirschner, Robert Kushner, Olivia Laing, Marcus Leatherdale, Sylvère Lotringer, Jackson Mac Low, Jo Mazellis, The Mekons, Karolin Meunier, Ulrike Müller, Lil Picard, Jill Posener, Steve Pyke, Val Rauzier, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Carolee Schneemann, Alan Sondheim, Kika Thorne, Cesar Vallejo, Del LaGrace Volcano

05 Oct - 02 Dec 2018

Graphics after Jill Kroesen’s cover of The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula.
TVRT / Viper’s Tongue Books, 1975. Graphic design: Hammer, Zürich and Erik Schöfer
GET RID OF MEANING is the first comprehensive solo exhibition of American avant-garde writer, poet and essayist Kathy Acker (born 1947 in New York City, died 1997 in Tijuana, Mexico). Acker was one of the most important writers of the 20th century whose work continues to influence writers, theorists, and artists today. From the beginning of the 1970s to the late 1990s she wrote numerous novels, essays, poems, and novellas. A post-punk feminist and a plagiarist, Kathy Acker’s experimental texts are situated between postmodernist and avant-garde practices and fall within a lineage from Gertrude Stein and Georges Bataille to William S. Burroughs and Marguerite Duras. Acker wrote revolutionary novels using innovative literary techniques of her own invention, driven by a sense of outrage at repressive gender structures and capitalist patriarchy. Compelled by both emotional experiences and critical theory, she was a radical in both form and content, challenging conventions of gender, race, property, and narrative.

GET RID OF MEANING is a large-scale research project consisting of an exhibition and a three-day symposium with international participants from literature, theory, and art. The exhibition examines Kathy Acker through the lens of her writing. Besides her literary work she also produced a unique supplement: a performative self, a staged persona that parallels the performative, eclectic nature of Acker’s texts. Concentrating on four texts written in three distinct periods, the exhibition addresses questions of feminism, performance, bibliophilia, and of the connection between visual art and the literary world. The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula and Blood and Guts in High School are the beginning and end of her work on identity. In Memoriam to Identity is from a middle period that moves on to a more deconstructive stance, and Pussy, King of the Pirates, her last novel, reflects her resurgence of interest in the mythological.

Book cover designs, artifacts, and a series of portraits interrogate her performative strategies, which begin in her earliest work published under the pseudonym of “The Black Tarantula.” Several manuscripts, sketches, notebooks, photographs, videos, music, and audio recordings, as well as many books from Kathy Acker’s personal archive are presented in the documentary part of the exhibition. Most of these items have never been seen by the public. The archival documents are supplemented by a reading corner with all available texts by Kathy Acker and an installation with books from her personal library, that now resides as the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne.

Kathy Acker’s proximity to the art context of the 1970s is reflected in the grounding of her writing in conceptual thought as well as her interest in procedural work. She was also intimately familiar with the work of structural filmmakers and avant-garde composers. The selected artistic contributions of the exhibition are closely linked to Kathy Ackers literary and performative work. Photographs and films by Acker’s peers, the artists Eleanor Antin, Carolee Schneemann, and Lynn Hershman Leeson, share similar concerns in terms of performativity and the female body. The performance Tasting and Spitting (1975) by Lil Picard with Kathy Acker refers to the ritualistic act of spitting between audience and performer as well as to the semiotics of the punk movement. Furthermore, artists and writers have been invited to show existing or newly commissioned works that are related directly to the texts or the persona of Kathy Acker. The film installations by Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, and Ruth Buchanan, for instance, work with selected texts by Acker or relate to her strategy of appropriation and recombining in order to address subjects such as body politics, transgender identity and strategies of empowerment. Leslie Dick & Audrey Wollen, Ulrike Müller, and Karolin Meunier produce new textual works discussing questions about plagiarism, writing methodology and copyright as well as the relationship between libraries and friendship. Kaucyila Brooke is showing parts of her photography series Kathy Acker’s Clothes selected specifically for the exhibition.

GET RID OF MEANING traces Acker’s presence in her texts and in her performance of self, giving evidence that her visionary interests anticipated current debates about gender, power, and identity. The project offers no comprehensive oversight or narrative arc but provides clues, fragments, and glimpses of a revolutionary work inventing new aesthetic forms that simultaneously craft new technologies of selfhood.

Curated by Matias Viegener and Anja Casser

Research assistant: Daniel Schulz
Exhibition design: Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga

In cooperation with the English Seminar I of the University of Cologne.

Tags: Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz