Review / The Party
Weserhalle, Berlin

No-Shoe Policy and Decelerated Meme Consumption
by Annika Goretzki
You're standing in front of the door and in there it's happening: The Party. Amply visible from the outside through the large shop window front, a quasi-materialized meme fans out in the gallery space on large LCD display panels. People dancing to the left and right, and in the back Wojak, whose changing lines of thought are fading in at the top left. Anxiously standing in the corner, he repeats the suspected ignorance of the other party guests: »that painting is dead«, »how quickly this show came about« or that Duchamp's Fountain was »the first meme ever«. Wojak, the half-profile bald figure with a worried expression on his face, is also known to meme enthusiasts as That Feels Guy. In the iconic party scene that went viral at the end of 2020, he either goes home (playing video games) or compensates for his discomfort, as at Weserhalle, with a self-affirmation of his own qualities that set him apart from the other guests – in order to make the social situation he finds himself in bearable.
Image by Weserhalle
The exhibiting artist is Cem A., who, as the author of @freeze_magazine, enriches the international art world and a good 85k followers (and counting) on Instagram with self-referential art memes. Art memes depict phenomena in the art field with an unprecedented clarity and visibility. In this way, topics such as working conditions and self-exploitation, dominant players and impregnable role allocation are approached as well as art-historical controversies à la Paragone and current debates. In a way, this is Institutional Critique par excellence, except that the flow of information has changed significantly due to social media, so the criticism takes place inside and outside at the same time and - this is an important point - allows discussion and requests to speak in a relatively transparent manner. The seldom seen analog guest book or a feuilleton-battle, which at times may seem antiquated, are given a new immediacy in the digital world. Authors and the audience discuss topics directly on the spot, criticize and praise, cry and laugh along together. The functioning of Art Memes shows social structures in the art field which are reminiscent of an updated version of the Rules of Art by Pierre Bourdieu, of habitus and forms of capital shift. The very own precarious situation as an artist and the visibility syndrome of the art world is taken for a ride – and mostly cultural workers recognize themselves, at least that's what the comments section suggests. Anyone who is able to read the codes has already cleared the first hurdle, from an apparent vantage point that is increasingly becoming a motif itself.
Images by Weserhalle, gif by Petrus Entertainment
When entering the party: Please, take off your shoes. In addition to the presumably unintended reference to house parties with the same questionable policy, this ensures that the presence of possible physical guests does not leave any traces. In a certain way, the meme transmitted from the virtual remains untouchable, the situation does not dissolve, nor should it. The exhibition is open 24/7 anyway, so it is mostly seen without any visitors sporadically dropping in. The materialization of a meme means, above all, a new kind of visibility. And not only because we now almost look inside a phone, at coarsely pixelated screen fragments behind which cables and connections are exposed. What is so incredibly good about this exhibition? It works like a meme itself. Lingering people can choose how many variations of the meme they want to consume. En passant, only taking in the message that is already shining towards them, or standing still, waiting patiently until the next punch line appears in the otherwise largely unchanged tableau. In any case, this is a decelerated way of consuming memes. The transition from one sentence to the next takes much longer than the average swipe frequency on a smartphone. Viewers are inevitably encouraged to question their own role in this scenario - sympathy for Wojak or for the crowd dancing anonymously, a nostalgic reminder of socializing in private rooms that did not exist for such a long time due to the pandemic.
Screenshot Instagram @freeze__magazine
At the end of the exhibition, even the otherwise silent dancers have their say: »I'm glad the exhibition is finally over« is what one of the couples says on @freeze_magazine, while the other draws a line under the debate, because »seriously tho memes aren't even art ffs«. But it's not that simple, art memes will continue to be with us for a long time. And every now and then in a well-thought-out materialized form because, oh yes, that works.

The exhibition The Party was on view from August 6-29, 2021 at Weserhalle, Berlin ⟨Weserstraße 56, 12045 Berlin⟩